Rock ‘n’ Roll is the well from which much of the music that we enjoy today sprung. Pretty much any genre with ‘rock’ in the name or which features the traditional drums/bass/guitar/vocals combo can trace its roots back to the work of these 1950s musical pioneers.
While not entirely original in itself – Rock ‘n’ Roll can trace a lot of its ancestry to Blues and Gospel music – the seismic influence on America, the UK, and the rest of the world that the acceptance of what were then regarded as ‘black’ musical forms into the homes of white teenagers around the world can’t be underestimated. It was a powerful, life afforming sound that they heard – and they realised that they didn’t simply have to following the parent’s footsteps.
Okay, so a lot of cultural water has thrown under the bridge and most people now can barely imagine what it was like to experience this musical explosion for real at the time. But, while some music of the time can sound dated and a bit twee, the best rock ‘n’ roll albums still sound as visceral and meaningful now as they did then – many sound more modern than many recordings from the similarly explosive Punk movement of the 1970s.
So, check out these wonderfully recorded, incredibly magical tracks and albums and try and think yourself free of the last sixty years or so of popular music.
Elvis Presley – Track Mystery Train
(Album: The Sun Sessions)
This exemplary collection includes the majority of the tracks Elvis recorded at Memphis’ legendary Sun Studios in the mid 1950s. These fantastic recordings projects you straight to the tiny studio, while the band – featuring Scottie Moore on guitar put on the performance of their lives. There are so many great tracks to choose from, in this collection that never stops giving.
Gene Vincent – You Better Believe
(Album: Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps)
Gene Vincent’s excellent second album was released only four months after his debut, and was recorded under in-auspicious circumstances. However, the new line up and the introduction of more original material didn’t lessen the album. Far from it, and we tend to turn to this record more often than we do the more polished Bluejean Bop.
Bill Haley & His Comets – Shake Rattle and Roll
(Album: Rock Around The Clock)
Bill Haley & His Comets were the first white musicians to bring Rock ‘n’ Roll to the attention of a wider American audience. This sublime album is a document of that early popularisation of the format. And, importantly, it still sounds blisteringly powerful today – we can’t begin to imagine how a teenager hearing it for the first time in 1954 would have felt!
Buddy Holly & The Crickets – That’ll Be The Day
(Album: The “Chirping” Crickets)
Recorded when the band was simply The Crickets, this excellent recording finds the young Buddy Holly in fine form from the start – kicking off as it does with a knockout one-two of Oh Boy! and the Holy penned Not Fade Away, which went on to find even more fame a decade later with the Rolling Stones. This incredibly spacious, open recording helps make this great debut far more than a simple museum piece.
Chuck Berry – Brown Eyed Handsome Man
(Album: The Great 28)
Yes, this is a compilation album, but we don’t care. It sounds so amazing, and the tracks on it are all winners! This collection delivers over an hour of classic Berry – primarily performed in the late 1950s and taken from the original recordings. The guitar sounds exemplary throughout, as does Berry’s voice. And check out this video: Chuck, Robert Cray and Keith Richards!
Little Richard – Long Tall Sally
(Album: Here’s Little Richard)
Many artists played a role in creating rock ‘n’ roll, but few had as big a part in the dynamic performances often associated with the genre than Little Richard. This piano-thumping showman had a close to 70-year career before finally retiring in 2013. But it’s his 1957 debut that wins us over – not only because of its place in history, but because on a great system you can almost feel the electricity in the room!
Bo Diddly – Little Girl
(Album: Go Bo Diddly)
Bo Diddly was one of a handful of Blues legends that led the transition into Rock ‘n’ Roll, and his influence is still felt to this day. His incredible chopping guitar playing and signature ‘Bo Diddly beat’ influenced everyone from the Beatles and the Stones to modern hip-hop.
Jerry Lee Lewis – High School Confidential
(Album: Live at the Star Club, Hamburg)
If you like your live recordings powerful and the energy turned all the way up to 11, then this is the album for you! It kicks off at 100 miles an hour and never lets up. Recorded in 1964, this blistering set includes most of the songs that made Lewis such an important figure in rock ‘n’ roll – and it sounds simply stunning.
Carl Perkins – Matchbox
(Album: The Dance Album)
This sensational album was the result of Perkins’ sessions at Sun Studios, around that same time that Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash were also in residence – there must have been something in the air! As with a lot of Sun recordings you can really hear the small room it was performed in, which just adds to the excitement and enjoyment of this amazing document.
Eddie Cochran – C’mon Everybody
(Album 12 of his Biggest Hits)
It seems strange that one of the early leading figures of Rock ‘n’ Roll should die in Chippenham, Wiltshire, but that was Edie Cochran’s fate – as was almost Gene Vincent’s as he was in the same car. His career may have been short, but his legacy is assured with this amazing album. This is pure Rock ‘n’ Roll, with a wonderful rebellious spirit; but the marvellously talented Cochran also experimented with overdubs and multitrack recordings and it sounds fantastic.