I have a friend who, for a handful of reasons, has never really gotten into music at all. He listens to top 40 and maybe some older top 40, but (until very recently) he’s never listened to the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd or anything like that.
Recently, however, he was nudged to listen to a couple of songs and he said “Wow! This is really good! I don’t even know what I should ask you what I should listen to!”
As such, I’d like to give him an essay demystifying Rock and Roll and giving him a handful of songs that he would be best served to listen to that will explain to him what was going on with music.
The equivalent of starting someone with a couple paragraphs of Homer, then jumping to Plato, then mentioning Socrates, Aristotle, and Alexander before leaping to Marcus Aurelius, Thomas Aquinas, and Chaucer. And then taking a deep breath and saying “And now we’re ready to talk about Jimi Hendrix.” Or the equivalent, anyway.
I am asking you to help me hammer out the best way to give him the best background for Rock and Roll. Maybe not even get him to Zeppelin, just “here’s what you need to know to be blown away by what you’re going to hear.” I’m hoping to give 10 songs that will provide the foundation for Rock and Roll.
Here’s what I have so far.
You asked for a bit of background on Rock and Roll and the biggest problem I have is the whole issue of where to start. Surely I shouldn’t start with the monks who invented music notation (and, from there, wander through the various forms of classical that evolved into opera and jazz and rhythm and blues and country and… should I go back further? How we’ve interpreted the word “selah” in the Psalms to mean “guitar solo”?) but the problem always comes down to finding a good place to begin because I always feel like I have to tell you another story before I can give you the background to this one.
I’ll just have to bite the bullet and pick a spot to start. Here are the 10 songs you need to hear before I can really get rolling.
As such, I’ll start with “Rocket 88”. If you asked a group of music historians “what was the first Rock and Roll song?” 3 or 4 out of 5 of them would say “Probably this one.”Rocket 88 (Original Version) – Ike Turner/Jackie Brenston
If they’re right, rock and roll started in 1951 at the hands of “Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats” (which consisted of Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm). There are a lot of stories surrounding this song. Some involve the fuzzy amplifier sound that come from a damaged amplifier. Some say it got damaged when it fell to the ground when it was being loaded or unloaded from the car, Ike himself says it got damaged from some rain, I’ve heard another story that said that Ike got frustrated at one point and beat the amplifier up. No matter… the point is that they used a fuzzy amplifier and this was the first true rock and roll song.
From there, I don’t know the best way to jump to Bill Haley and the Comets and have a discussion of “cover bands” and segregated radio stations (and talk about “Sh-boom (life could be a dream)” and The Coasters/The Crew Cuts) or if that will get weird.
(Perhaps an important note, the friend for whom I will be writing this is African-American.)
I suppose talking about that would allow me to transition to Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog” and, from there, jump to Elvis Presley’s cover of it.
From there, point out how devastating it was when Buddy Holly (a link to “That’ll Be the Day”), Big Bopper (“Chantilly Lace”), and Ritchie Valens (“La Bamba”) died in a plane crash.
All that to say, if I’m giving the foundation of Rock and Roll, I’m going to need a top ten list.
So here’s my Top Ten:
1. Rocket 88
2. Rock Around The Clock
3. and 4. Sh-boom (life could be a dream) (and do both versions)
5. and 6. Hound Dog (both versions)
7. That’ll Be the Day
8. Chantilly Lace
9. La Bamba
10. Johnny Be Good
And, already, I find myself thinking “There are so many I’ve left out!” and “at this rate, I’m never going to get to Helter Skelter which is the real song that he needs to listen to!”
But if I wanted to start at Rocket 88 and get to Helter Skelter at #10, I can’t even imagine what numbers 2-9 would have to look like.
Which is why I’m coming to you guys. If you were going to give someone who asked you to give them a crash course in Rock and Roll… what would your top ten songs to provide the foundation of rock and roll look like?