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Debate, divide continues over first songs recorded in genres

Published:Sunday | December 6, 2015 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
Derrick Morgan
Alton Ellis
Stranger Cole
Hopeton Lewis

The issue concerning which song was first in any particular genre of music is one that has always spurred enormous debate. In Jamaica, for instance, musicologists and aficionados of music are still divided on the matter concerning which were the first songs recorded in the ska, rocksteady, and reggae genres.

The confusion seems to have arisen because there was no proper and precise documentation of the dates and times of occurrences during the embryonic stages of Jamaican popular music. And the explanation for that is quite simple: There were very few individuals at the time who considered documentation as being important. Producers were primarily concerned with completing the final product as quickly as possible, while the singers' only concern was the joy of hearing their songs being played on the radio, which blinded them to the realities of financial rewards.

With so many musicians and singers experimenting with the the beat in a close time frame, there arose many claimants to each genre-defining track that ushered in each change. The result was producer Clement Dodd's claim that Larry and Alvin's Nanny Goat was the first reggae song, while Producer Harry J laid a claim with No More Heartaches by the Beltones.

Ska singer Stranger Cole vehemently said in an interview that I had with him that Bangarang, which he recorded with saxophonist Lester Sterling, was the first reggae song, while in another interview, producer Clancy Eccles said: "My musicians and myself made reggae music: They used to call it women streggae, and I was doing a tune named Feel the Rhythm, and when I went down to the bottom, I said, 'Reggae for days and extra days', and so, reggae was born".

All this happened between late 1967 and 1968.

The rocksteady beat, which reigned from late 1966 and into 1967, saw recordings like Hopeton Lewis' Take It Easy, Alton Ellis' Girl I've Got a Date, Roy Shirley's Hold Them, Derrick Morgan's Rougher than Rough, and the Uniques' People Get Ready laying claims to being the first rocksteady recording.

In 1961, Eric 'Monty' Morris, Prince Buster, Owen Gray, and Derrick Morgan laid the foundation for the ska upheaval a year later with Humpty Dumpty, You Got to Go, Please Let Me Go, and Shake a Leg, respectively - songs that were done so chronologically close that it presented a challenge to musicologists and journalists who were attempting to disseminate relevant historical data.

The genesis of American rock and roll, which helped to shape Jamaica's early music, seemed to have suffered a somewhat similar fate as rock and roll aficionados encountered some difficulty in determining what the first authentic rock and roll record was. Many at the time considered songs in which the drums were played on the second and fourth beat to be the style mostly used on authentic rock and roll records.




Perhaps the earliest piece of anything that sounded like rock and roll was done by the New Orleans-born Antoine 'Fats' Domino in 1949. Blessed, as he saw it, with a corpulent frame, he sang glowingly about himself in his first recording and first hit titled The Fat Man, the first stanza of which ran:

"They call, they call me the fat man

'Cause I weigh 200 pounds

'Cause the girls, they love me

'Cause I know my way around."

Soon after, Domino became the strongest force in 1950s rock, becoming an exciting pianist-vocalist who attracted whites, blacks, adults, and teenagers alike with a type of music that sometimes bridged the gap between rock and roll and pop ballads. Seemingly innocuous to the political forces trying to stop rock and roll's wilder side, Domino followed up with Ain't That a Shame, I'm in Love Again, My Blue Heaven, Blueberry Hill, Blue Monday, and others.

In March 1951, Chess Records recorded in Memphis what they termed "the first piece of authentic rock 'n' roll ever executed by man" in the form of Jackie Brenston's Rocket 88. According to Chess, it was a rhythm and blues tune backed by Ike Turner (Tina Turner's husband) and his Kings of Rhythms band for which Brenston served as saxophonist and sometimes vocalist. The only hit for Brenston, it climbed to No.1 on the R&B charts.

But almost a month before that, Atlantic Records recorded at their Apex Recording Studios in New York the slow-tempo rock 'n' roll piece Don't You Know I Love You by The Clovers on February 22, 1951. The accompanied liner notes by Atlantic read in part:

The Clovers have as much right as anybody to be called the first rock 'n' roll group, and their first release, Don't You Know I Love You could just as easily be called the first rock 'n' roll record."


Sixty-minute man


The Sixty-Minute Man by The Dominos - a black quintet that included the great Clyde McPhatter and a recording led by bass singer Bill Brown - was issued in May 1951. Many musicologists consider it the first real rock 'n' roll recording based on the arrangement of the beat. By the end of the month, it reached No.1 and stayed there for 14 weeks. It also climbed to No.17 on the pop charts and became the song of the year. A risquÈ ode about man's sexual prowess, Brown boasts about satisfying his girls unconditionally as he sang:

"Looka here girls, I'm telling you now

They call me loving dan.

I rock 'em roll 'em all night long

I'm a sixty-minute man.

If you don't believe I'm all that I say,

Come up and take my hand.

When I let you go, you'll cry 'oh yes',

He's a sixty-minute man.

There'll be 15 minutes of kissing

Then you'll holler, 'Please don't stop'.

There'll be 15 minutes of teasing

And 15 minutes of squeezing

And 15 minutes of blowing my top."

The song was written by pianist and group leader Billy Ward and Rose Marks.

The list continues with others, including Shirley and Lee's big hit of 1952, I'm Gone.