Sat | Nov 17, 2018

Rock ‘n’ roll's musical explosion

Published:Sunday | January 24, 2016 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
Elvis Presley
Fats Domino

Having explored the rock 'n' roll-influenced doo-wop music genre in last week's Music Diaries, makes it quite appropriate to follow-up with rock 'n' roll music in its full-blown state. In its full-blown state, rock 'n' roll was nothing more than a musical explosion, characterised by a heavy uptempo rocking beat that oftentimes included blues elements.

Research has shown that this was the pace at which the genre entered popular music between 1949 and 1950, when artistes like Fats Domino, The Dominos, and Jackie Brenston recorded The Fat Man, The Sixty-Minute Man and Rocket 88, respectively. Some time in 1951, the genre had slowed down to a more manageable pace with groups like The Clovers, The Moonglows, The Penguins, The Five Satins, Little Anthony and The Imperials, Shirley and Lee, and later, The Platters and The Dells, playing dominant roles.

Rock and roll, sometimes termed rock 'n' roll, was in fact the offspring of the urban-American, heavy-beat, instrumental-driven music called rhythm and blues (R&B) which was influenced by the black-Revivalist, hand-clapping, foot-stomping, church-goers of the late 1940s. Black artistes like Roscoe Gordon, Louis Jordan and Joe Turner were also cited as being among the main catalysts in the development of rock 'n' roll. The white hillbilly country music from the southern hilly regions of the USA were also important ingredients in the big melting pot that moulded rock 'n' roll into the biggest pop music genre that the world has known.

From all accounts, the artiste that perhaps made the biggest impact on the genre was the Mississippi-born Caucasian, Elvis Presley. It is not surprising that Presley became known as The King of Rock and Roll because his early life was immersed in black gospel concerts. In an approximate 20-week blitz, beginning on February 10, 1956, the rock 'n' roll genre was set ablaze by Presley's first four recordings for the Radio Corporation of America (RCA records): - (Heartbreak Hotel, I Want You, I Need You, Hound Dog, Don't be Cruel), all of which reached No. 1 on the US R&B charts. He followed up with another five No. 1 hits between August 1956 and April 1957.

A black guitar-playing genius named Chuck Berry, born in October 1926, and some eight years Presley's senior, was rated by many as Presley's equal in terms of the quality of his rock 'n' roll output. He was certainly the most flamboyant of the rock 'n' roll stars, with the distinction of being rock music's first guitar hero. He pushed the electric guitar to the forefront of popular music, which would eventually make it a major influence in rock music of later years. The wavy-haired vocalist/songwriter would oftentimes create ecstatic scenes when he demonstrated his signature duck walk gait and guitar acrobatics on stage. A contemporary of Presley, Berry had a ton of hits, which oftentimes featured his exhilarating guitar solos that became a trademark of most of his recordings. They included hits like, Maybellene in 1955, Roll over, Beethoven in 1956, Rock and Roll Music in 1957, and Johnny B Good in 1958. In one of his more popular cuts, Sweet Little 16, Berry focused on consumerism and teenage life, as he sang:

"Deep in the heart of Texas

All round the Frisco Bay

All over St Louis, way down in New Orleans

All the cats wanna dance with sweet little sixteen."

Also assisting rock 'n' roll to become the biggest pop music genre that the world has known was the incomparable piano-playing vocalist, Fats Domino, who was erroneously reported dead during the devastating Katrina floods in Louisiana a decade ago. Born in New Orleans on February 26, 1928, Domino became famous for his hard-driving piano playing and his corpulent frame, which inspired his first recording, The Fat Man, in 1949. Domino's recordings, masterminded by the incomparable songwriter, music arranger and band leader - Dave Bartholomew, and spanning both the slower and uptempo styles of rock 'n' roll, have had regular visits to the top of the R&B charts. Between 1955 and 1960, Domino was at his commercial peak, producing the hits, Aint That a Shame, When My Dreamboat Comes Home, Josephine, Sick and Tired and Be My Guest, in which he invited his party guests to:

"Come join the party and meet the rest

Everything's gonna be alright

so be my guest tonight."

According to the liner notes from his album, The Wonderful World of Fats Domino - 24 Golden Hits, "Fats earned his last gold disc (million-copy selling) - his 20th - in 1960 with the recording, Walking to New Orleans. He also had 35 top-40 American hits.

Other great rock 'n' roll stars of the 1950s included Bill Haley and The Comets, who had a triplet of hits, beginning with the historic Rock around the clock in 1954. It was the first rock 'n' roll single to top the pop charts, and is credited as the song that launched the rock era. The Comets followed up with the other big hits, Shake, Rattle and Roll and See You Later Alligator in 1956.

The male-female singing duo, Shirley and Lee, dubbed The Sweethearts of the Blues, had record fans buying record after record in order to keep abreast of their continuing love saga of break-ups and make-ups, as depicted in their recording. I'm Gone was a top-10 R&B hit for them in 1952; was their best known hit. Others followed like A True Love Never Dies, and Shirley Come Back, in which Lee pleads:

"I love you, I hope you'll understand

I just wanna be your man

Shirley come back to me,"

followed by Shirley's rebuttal:

"You don't love me

I could plainly see

You make a fool of me

I must leave you Lee."

Little Richard came good with Good Golly Miss Molly and Long Tall Sally, while Bobby Day was rocking all corners of Jamaica in 1958 with his full-blown rock 'n' roll hits, Rocking Robin and Over and Over. Bobby Darin's Queen of the Hop and Clarence 'Frogman' Henry's Aint Got No Home were also very popular.