A Music-Related Request

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.

elvis presley-hound dog

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?


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Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

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92 thoughts on “A Music-Related Request

  1. I’d skip most of the 1950s and I am going to concentrate solely on Rock and exclude Soul, Motown, Brill building stuff, etc:

    1. Johnny B Good

    2. La Bamba

    3. I Wanna Hold Your Hand

    4. Play with Fire

    5. Tell Her No

    6. My Generation

    7. A Well Respected Man/Dedicated Follower of Fashion

    8. Purple Haze

    9. Heart Full of Soul

    10. Gimme Shelter/Paint It Black

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  2. Homework.
    Add a list of songs that he needs to listen to, thus extending the top 10 list. Perhaps list the genre and era so that if he likes a particular type, he can search for more of the same.

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  3. Why go so far back, tho? And why force the study to be systematic or structured? I dunno, maybe he likes it that way, but it feels a bit like school. I say jump around, all eras. See what he likes. Reinforce success.

    Does he like the hard stuff? Throw on Deep Purple’s Machine Head. If he says “OMG fuck yeah,” then jump ahead to some Iron Maiden.

    Try Space Oddity. Does he say “Oh heavens how did he do that?” then grab some King Crimson. Meander around in prog.

    For me, a “background” in rock has little to do with the 50’s, which was always my parent’s music. For me it was middle school, when Back in Black came out and everything changed.

    (My mom had the patience of a saint.)

    Yeah, the 50’s stuff is cool. But music forms develop, hit high points, reinvent themselves in countless way.

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  4. But if you were going to be broader and make Rock basically popular music from 1955 on, you would need to include

    Sam Cooke: Cupid/A Change Is Gonna Come
    Bob Dylan: Just Like a Woman/Like a Rolling Stone
    The Shangri-las: The Train From Kansas City
    James Brown
    Aretha Franklin
    Janis Joplin
    Joni Mitchell

    and lots of other stuff. There is too much. I focused mainly on the British invasion for some reason.

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  5. I’m confused about the criteria… Are you looking for examples of rock & roll from various eras to get you all the way to present day, or do you just want to share the original stuff from the 1950s? If the former, that would require some thought. If the latter, I think your list is pretty solid. I would probably add “Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On” (1957)

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    • The music he was most moved by was from the 70’s. The song that explains (to me, anyway) the music of the 70’s was Helter Skelter.

      I want to give the foundation of the songs that made Helter Skelter possible.

      And the first song that it seems to me that is necessary to provide context for that is probably Rocket ’88.

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          • But… they didn’t blow up everything. One thing your friend might learn from this exercise is that genres might blow up commercially, but there’s always a history of lesser-known bands and musicians bubbling under the surface.

            Though culturally, punk was a reaction to the bloat of mid-70s prog rock, the stripped-down outsider sound has its own history. Heck, the first Ramones and Clash albums both predate Never Mind the Bollocks.

            Before that, you could look to Velvet Underground, Modern Lovers and Nuggets-style garage as predecessors. There’s so much to work with!

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  6. A lot of eary punk had strong ’50’s roots, simple rhythms and catchy lyrics. It also brings a lot of elements together, often in surprisingly crisp and timeless ways

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  7. Can’t be done in ten songs.

    Oddly enough, I was thinking about this the other day, how the music I listened to when I as very, very young shaped things I listened to as I grew older.
    That really says a lot more than it looks like, because I was the guy into heavy, heavy music, fronted a hard rock band, went to a black gospel group from there, and now play mostly Spanish guitar. And I tend to listen to classic prog rock.

    That said, for me, rock music started with the Beach Boys, then went to Paul Revere & the Raiders, before heading to Chuck Berry. Then to Kiss, then Rush, and then expanding out to all sorts of directions.

    Hendrix: Axis:Bold as Love, as in the whole album, is the proper introduction to Hendrix. Every song on there is good, if not great. Not a lot of big hits, but a few signature songs, e.g., Castles Made of Sand.

    Paul Revere: What’s Happenin’ is the proper introduction here.

    Beach Boys: I would say go with the Endless Summer compilation.

    Chuck Berry: Greatest Hits, Vol. II. That’s the one that did it for me.

    Kiss: Love Gun

    Rush: Either 2112 or Permanent Waves, if not both.

    I’m thinking Celtic Frost’s Into the Pandemonium is probably out of place in a recounting of the history of Rock, but it’s a very important album, just as King Diamond’s Abigail practically defines the Scandinavian sound.

    I’ll have to put my thinking cap on and get back to you.

    As far as the Beatles & Stones go, there is a lot to consider there. I think Revolver is a better album, but Sgt. Pepper’s or Magical Mystery Tour are likely better choices as defining moments.
    Also, the Kinks early stuff is really important.
    Van Halen saved guitar rock at a critical moment, just as Stone Temple Pilots did at a later date, and Nirvana saved pop from synthesizers.

    And King Crimson, the stuff with Adrian Belew.
    Point of Know Return.

    There’s no distilling it down to ten songs.

    EDIT:
    Deep Purple In Rock. A much better album than Machine Head. Fireball rocks.

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    • Oooh. The Beach Boys.

      I didn’t even think about them.

      I don’t think I’ll get to Scandanavian Rock with the guy (“This is Amon Amarth! Listen to them when you’re working out! Amon Amarth means ‘Mount Doom’ which should paint these guys in your head not as badass viking warriors but as dorks!”) but just want to set up for him a handful of songs that will let him accessibly appreciate the evolution of the stuff he likes.

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      • You have to be mindful of what is culturally significant apart from what is musically significant.
        The introduction of 7th chords into the progression was a major innovation from skiffle to the British Invasion.
        This set the stage for Jimmy Page’s use of the Mixolydian mode later. It just makes sense.

        Blues was always more minor key stuff. Most guitarists (blues-based) learn to solo in either Em or Am, and whichever it is, that’s the one that feels more comfortable for them for the rest of their lives.

        “Hair of the Dog” has a blue note in it. It’s the third note, if you count the first two open E’s as one note. That one is common.
        Going to F from Am has a very distinctive sound. It’s the third chord in the verse here. The song is in Am & that riff in the intro is minor pentatonic.
        That intro to “Fairies Wear Boots” is all minor pentatonic. The first riff is in Gm, then it modulates to Em for the solo parts.
        Have to know the minor pentatonic to rock & roll.
        IIRC, most of the solo in the intro to “The Song Remains the Same” is minor pentatonic.
        It’s all over the place.

        Also, Elvis Costello: Armed Forces, though again, that strays from “Rock” proper into pop.

        EDIT:
        Forgot to mention that “Dead or Alive” also has that same F from Am move in it.

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  8. Maybe what’s needed here isn’t a master class that goes from “Rocket 88” on forward. A lot of people who appreciate rock have done so by working backward from songs they know and like.

    If your friend did listen to pop music on the radio, the odds are there are some songs he already really likes. Those songs and the bands that performed them have histories and influences. Work back from there.

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    • Those songs and the bands that performed them have histories and influences. Work back from there.

      Well, then I’d start with The Who and Led Zeppelin.

      Which basically means that I’d be talking about, respectively, the British Invasion and Cultural Appropriation in general and then, when talking about the British Invasion, I’d have to talk about Cultural Appropriation in general which would bring me back to Rocket ’88.

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      • I’m not sure the best way to introduce someone to a genre of art is with why everyone involved should feel bad about themselves. Cultural appropriation is a complicated conversation and a bit of a downer to start on.

        Music fans start out as 13-year-olds who discover something different on the left side of the dial. They start out when someone’s older brother says, “if you like that, you have to listen to this,” and tosses you a tape. I really like “Rocket 88,” but all the politics that goes along with early rock seems beyond a 101 level when you just want to expand someone’s horizons and introduce them to something they might like to listen to.

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            • *shrug* most of my African-American friends find appropriation to be a pretty 101 topic, regardless of their other experiences. They’d hardly be surprised to have it be part of the woodwork of whatever new thing, they are enthused about discovering “the story behind the story” kind of things, and if Jay didn’t acknowledge it (see below) it’d be A Thing He Is Avoiding Talking About, rather than irrelevant.

              For a lot of people, understanding context and culture adds a ton to their enjoyment of listening to things, regardless of whether they’re newbies or not, and regardless of the genre.

              YM obviously Vs.

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      • I’m with LTL FTC on this. Why talk about cultural appropriation at all? Thinking about it, your list is more like a cultural history of rock than an introduction to the early years. I assume you know this person better than I do and you’re making a calculation for a reason, but it’s not obvious why.

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          • There doesn’t have to be a cultural appropriation dynamic. If someone wanted a guide to meandering, unpleasant opera, I could recommend Wagner without discussing his racial views. You’re one of the people on this site I’d think is least likely to treat people differently based on race, so I don’t know why you’re doing it in this case. If you’re studying art, you need to understand context, but if you’re looking for a playlist, you just need a bunch of good songs.

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          • It seems easy enough to say, “Yeah, there is a whole cultural appropriation debate here, but it’s complicated and I’m not sure if I have much to add. On the other hand, this music was important historically. Also, some of it is pretty good. Anyway, here it is…”

            For example, and while it’s not specifically “appropriation” as such, there is a bunch of complicated trans-political stuff regarding Hedwig and the Angry Inch (which was written by a cis gay man). But still, the music is the music. The show is the show. If a cis person wants to discuss the politics with me, they can. It’s complicated. (Honestly, it can get tedious and I’m kinda bored with the debate.) On the other hand, if they wanted to talk about the music with me, on its own terms, they might just say, “I’ve heard there is a lot of trans politics stuff here. But that said, I love the show. You wanna talk about the show?”

            Which I’d be happy to do. I happen to love the show.

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            • He’s not someone who is up to date on the whole Cultural Appropriation debate. I’m not entirely certain that he’s even familiar with the term.

              He’s never really been interested in politics or music or any of the things that we are delighted to vivisect daily… until the last year or so.

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              • He’s not someone who is up to date on the whole Cultural Appropriation debate. I’m not entirely certain that he’s even familiar with the term.

                Good lord! Why poison the well by trying to get him up to speed on that nonsense? His ignorance is a blessing. If he cared he’d already know.

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                • Because the The Coasters/The Crew Cuts thing *WAS* bullshit and you can’t talk about the British Invasion without pointing out that these guys cut their teeth on playing what was known at the time to be music for (whatever the appropriate term is/was) people.

                  I’m not trying to induct him into the whole moral part of the debate. Good Lord.

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                  • I’m trying to find the quotation but can’t so…

                    Remember in The Last Waltz when Levon Helm says something like “well I grew up in a place with roots in Delta Blues and gospel and bluegrass and country and it all started getting mixed up together with a danceable beat” and Scorsese says “what’s that called?” and he says “rock and roll”?

                    That’s maybe a good place to start a story about the history of rock and roll, but it’s pretty unwieldy. IOW, it wasn’t just the blues, tho the blues figured prominently in shaping bands like Zeppelin.

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                    • http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077838/quotes

                      Levon Helm – Drums: [Talking about the region around Memphis, Tennessee where Levon grew up] That’s kind of the middle of the country, you know. back there. So, when bluegrass or country music, you know, if it comes down to that area and if it mixes there with rhythm and dances, then you’ve got a combination of all those different kinds of music. Country. Bluegrass. Blues music.

                      Martin Scorsese – Interviewer: The melting pot.

                      Levon Helm – Drums: Show music.

                      Martin Scorsese – Interviewer: What’s it called then?

                      Levon Helm – Drums: Rock-n-Roll.

                      Martin Scorsese – Interviewer: Rock-n-Roll, yes, for sure, exactly.

                      I’ll include that in the new draft.

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        • Cultural appropriation isn’t far off, but “inspiration” would be a more accurate term, and it was no accident.
          Some of those old blues acts went to London to play a circuit of schools as part of a cultural awareness thing, and it excited a bunch of young British kids. They weren’t very popular acts in the States at the time, but they started selling a lot of records in England as a result.

          That said, when I heard Kiss Destroyer for the first time, I was very unconcerned with appropriating anything cultural from Jews or New Yorkers.
          But that music lit a fire under my ass.
          It transcends culture.

          EDIT:
          Also, England in the 1950’s was a very different place than the U.S. in the 1950’s.
          That fits into the story somehow.
          From what I’ve heard, England had (pre-OPEC) rationing for a long time after the War.

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  9. I think the genre ‘early rock ‘n roll’ is artificial, so my foundational list would be different in that it would include music that usually gets categorized as something else for whatever reason:

    Muddy Waters, Rollin’ Stone (electric blues)
    Louis Jordan, Caldonia (jump blues)
    Ray Charles, What’d I Say (soul)
    Carl Perkins, Blue Suede Shoes (rockabilly)
    Ritchie Vallens, La Bamba (chicano rock)
    Professor Longhair, In the Night (rumba boogie)

    I’d mix in a representative song from Chuck Berry, Elvis, Little Richard and Fats Domino. I personally don’t think Rocket 88 and Rock Around the Clock are very good songs, so I don’t think they would build an appreciation for early rock ‘n roll music.

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    • Oooh. That’s a good way to look at it.

      Different toolkits that you’ll recognize in modern music.

      (And I agree about Rock Around the Clock but it’s not really a rock song in the first place. It’s practically swing. It’d be a great demonstration of how one genre blends into another.)

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  10. The Forrest Gump soundtrack:

    “Hound Dog” performed by Elvis Presley – 2:16
    “Rebel Rouser” performed by Duane Eddy – 2:21
    “(I Don’t Know Why) But I Do” performed by Clarence “Frogman” Henry – 2:18
    “Walk Right In” performed by The Rooftop Singers – 2:33
    “Land of 1000 Dances” performed by Wilson Pickett – 2:25
    “Blowin’ in the Wind” performed by Joan Baez – 2:49
    “Fortunate Son” performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival – 2:18
    “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” performed by The Four Tops – 2:43
    “Respect” performed by Aretha Franklin – 2:27
    “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” performed by Bob Dylan – 4:35
    “Sloop John B” performed by The Beach Boys – 2:56
    “California Dreamin'” performed by The Mamas & the Papas – 2:39
    “For What It’s Worth” performed by Buffalo Springfield – 2:38
    “What the World Needs Now Is Love” performed by Jackie DeShannon – 3:13
    “Break On Through (To the Other Side)” performed by The Doors – 2:28
    “Mrs. Robinson” performed by Simon & Garfunkel – 3:51

    “Volunteers” performed by Jefferson Airplane – 2:04
    “Let’s Get Together” performed by The Youngbloods – 4:36
    “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” performed by Scott McKenzie – 2:58
    “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)” performed by The Byrds – 3:54
    “Medley: Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” performed by The 5th Dimension – 4:48
    “Everybody’s Talkin'” performed by Harry Nilsson – 2:44
    “Joy to the World” performed by Three Dog Night – 3:16
    “Stoned Love” performed by The Supremes – 2:59
    “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” performed by B. J. Thomas – 3:00
    “Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man)” performed by Randy Newman – 2:46
    “Sweet Home Alabama” performed by Lynyrd Skynyrd – 4:43
    “Running On Empty” performed by Jackson Browne – 4:56 Additional Bonus track on Collector’s Edition CD 2001
    “It Keeps You Runnin'” performed by The Doobie Brothers – 4:13
    “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination” performed by Gladys Knight & the Pips – 3:30
    “Go Your Own Way” performed by Fleetwood Mac – 3:39 Additional Bonus track on Collector’s Edition CD 2001
    “On the Road Again” performed by Willie Nelson – 2:29
    “Against the Wind” performed by Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – 5:33
    “Forrest Gump Suite” composed and conducted by Alan Silvestri – 8:48

    Not perfect, but a pretty nice way in, especially if he’s seen the movie.

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  11. Hmm, I’m going to go a little different direction. I like @veronica-d’s suggestion of looking at the whole thing, not just the early parts. But I think you should recommend albums, and particularly albums that suggest other places to explore should they prove interesting.

    So, here are 10 albums to listen to, in no particular order.

    1. Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon
    2. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV
    3. The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
    4. AC/DC – Back in Black
    5. Nirvana – Nevermind
    6. Rush – Moving Pictures
    7. The Clash – London Calling
    8. The Who – Who’s Next
    9. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced
    10. The Eagles – Hotel California

    Honorable Mentions:
    Queen – A Night at the Opera – This leads to nothing else but more Queen, not that that’s bad.
    The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers (others might say Let it Bleed. I say fie on them.)
    Yes – Fragile
    The Grateful Dead – American Beauty
    Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Deja Vu
    Radiohead – Ok Computer
    Daft Punk – Discovery
    Creedence Clearwater Revival – Cosmos Factory

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  12. First, I envy your friend and all the new experiences he’ll get. Sometimes I wish I could wipe my music memory and hear Led Zeppelin or the Who with fresh ears. Remind him how lucky he is to explore and “discover” great music.

    Your list seems a bit odd to me as “rock.” Most of those songs would now be classified as golden oldies (I think). No disputing that they’re rock, but if it was 70’s songs that did it for your friend, perhaps recommending the Who, the Stones, and the Beatles wouldn’t be a bad idea–you could focus the recs to specific songs.

    You might also think about discussing rock in terms of genres. Your recs were primarily “oldies” and the 70’s stuff now falls under “classic rock.” Depending on his tastes, you could steer him through other genres. Avoid the hair bands of the eighties and go for the good heavy metal: Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. If he likes the hard stuff, give him Metallica–Master of Puppets and Ride the Lightning. And so on and so forth. I gotta agree with give him a chance to do some curated exploring.

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  13. A quibble about Rocket 88 being the first rock and roll song. It’s a continuum, like everything else: how are you going to identify the elements of rock and roll — common time with emphasis on the upbeat, swing dance pace, electric guitar, the 1-4-5 blues chord structure, integrating jazz chords into twelve-bar blues arrangements, black and white musicians performing together in the same band? I could go on.

    I was taught as a young man that Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline” was the first rock and roll song, but that’s far, far too late in the melding of the rockabilly. Rocket 88 is a fine candidate for the first significant release that drew together all of the various elements, and is a really fun song to boot, but jeez, if you want the structural elements of rock and roll all in a single song, you can probably go all the way back to Robert Johnson. For example: Sweet Home Chicago, which has common time with the emphasis on the upbeat, a blend of jazz and blues elements, guitar riffs, strong percussion (with the two bass strings on the guitar), blending of twelve-bar call-and-return as well as sixteen-bar A-B-A-B lyrical structures, memorable vocals, and to boot a celebration of American culture in its lyrics. The song seems simple to modern ears, but I think he’s got the whole package there. Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters followed in his footsteps, and these guys are thought to precede rock and roll by a lot of musicologists.

    Certainly by the time disc jockeys were talking about this thing called “rock and roll” in 1951, there was already a significant corpus of music out there that we can credibly call “rock and roll” for them to publicize. Some editor on Wikipedia decided to name “Rock Me” performed by Sister Rosetta Tharpe as the first real rock and roll song, and it doesn’t take much to hear the jazz, swing, blues, rockabilly, and electrified mountain music elements in it. I think that one was released at or near the end of 1944.

    “Rocket 88” is a damn fun song and your friend will surely enrich his appreciation of this new-to-him genre of music with it. I’m not knocking it at all. I also think you’re on the way right track to underline the roots of the genre: a lot of people point to Elvis Presley as defining early rock and roll music, but so many of his songs were covers. Check out Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog” which came way before Elvis did it — she’s got the twelve-bar blues structure, she grounds her voice aggressively, she’s got a racy subject matter, there’s a strong guitar riff woven in through the vocals. Again, we’ve got it all, way before the more famous white artists who got a lot more of the promotion. (Which isn’t to knock Elvis, either: the man had an amazing voice, transcendent charisma, and was singularly important in bringing the music into the mainstream culture.)

    So I’d nudge the guy towards the blues, even though some Robert Johnson may be not well-suited to modern tastes. I’ve updated the song on the sidebar to Elmore James, for another place you might go. You’ll find blues elements throughout rock and roll’s history. Your friend likes Led Zeppelin especially? Hell, yes, he does. I’d pick “When the Levee Breaks” from Led Zeppelin IV as the specimen there: it was already forty years old when they released their cover. Your buddy digs the 70’s vibe? Eric Clapton, Foghat, early (pre-Stevie Nicks) Fleetwood Mac, ZZ Top, the Allman Brothers, Jeff Beck and Faces, Eric Burden and the Animals, Carlos Santana, CCR, Jefferson Airplane, and of course the 70’s era Stones… Oh, there’s just too much to pick from.

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    • I picked Johnny B Good in my original list… Hrm. Should I pick Maybelline instead? Mention “there are five or six first rock songs… here they are…”, something like that?

      Big Mama Thornton’s version of Hound Dog was better than Elvis’s. It works in a way that his doesn’t.

      Of course, he’s exceptionally photogenic.

      Would you pick Maybelline over Johnny B Good?

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      • I think it comes down to whether he’s just enjoying the music or taking the time to deconstruct it a little bit to understand what the elements of rock and roll are all about. JBG is much more accessible to modern ears; the style is more fully developed and it could be covered by an artist today with very few changes. Maybelline is that style in development. Its longer notes and very fast (for the era) lyrics are closer to the Appalachian music influence that is one of rock’s tributaries.

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        • I’m going to say that, as far as Chuck Berry goes, you can’t go wrong with “Roll Over Beethoven.” It’s really the sound that stands out to me, because it was recorded really hot. It’s one step away from just smashing your head through the amp. But the song is a lot more driving and hard than “Johnny B. Goode.”
          Compare for yourself:
          One, Two.

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  14. I know this is not really in the DIY spirit of the post, but this is honestly one of the most successful documentaries of its kind that’s ever been produced, and anyone looking to learn about rock n’ roll really should at least be aware it exists. The DVDs are probably available at your friend’s local library.

    Once he’s taken that in, whatever particular emphases you might want to push for him are going to make a lot more sense.

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  15. What’s interesting to me is that we like to think that a lot of popular things like rock or big bluster movie or video games are universal, especially in the United States/Developed World. We expect everybody should kind of know who Elvis, Chuck, the Beatles, and the Stones were or know about Star Wars and Star Trek or Spiderman and Superman or Mario and Zelda. We don’t assume that people should have in depth or perfect knowledge but they should be able to have some shallow knowledge. Yet, a lot of people do not know much about what is considered even the most popular pop culture. Its fascinating.

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  16. SECOND DRAFT OPENING!

    Hey My Man.

    I have been thinking about rock music since I last talked to you and I’m putting together a list of songs that I’m going to need to talk to you about *BEFORE* I can start recommending music to you.

    These probably qualify as “oldies” and I know you’ve heard some of them before but they provide the building blocks for the masterpieces of architecture that I want to share. Some of the songs aren’t very good. One or two of them are probably songs that you only need to hear the first 20 seconds or so and then you’ll have pretty much all of the information you’ll need.

    There are a lot of political dynamics here (I mean, we’re going back to the 50’s) and there’s a lot of weird dynamics including effectively segregated radio stations (radio stations played music by either black artists *OR* white artists (but not both!) there for a while) and that led to some weird places as well.

    There are a lot of really good songs that I want to share but, before I do that, I want you to see some of the building blocks that those more recent songs use as their foundation.

    I originally thought about giving you 10 songs to give you a crash course on the 50’s and 60’s but talked about it with some folks and they made a handful of suggestions that struck me as more useful to you and will do a better job of getting you to see them.

    There’s a quote from Levon Helm in an interview where he was talking about growing up around Memphis. Where he said, and I’m paraphrasing this, “That’s kind of the middle of the country back there. Bluegrass or country music mixes there with rhythm and dances, and all those different kinds of music. Country. Bluegrass. Blues music. Show music.” The interviewer asked him what they called that blend of music styles… and you already know the answer: “Rock and Roll”.

    So, from there, I wanted you to listen to The First Rock And Roll Song but since it’s all of these different styles going together, nobody knows what the first Rock and Roll song is.

    You ask a dozen music historians this question and you’re going to get a half-dozen answers. I could probably give you a list of “Top Ten First Rock And Roll Songs” but I’m not sure that that would be *THAT* useful to you.

    So I’m going to pick the one that would have 3 or 4 of those dozen music historians agreeing was the first Rock and Roll song:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gbfnh1oVTk0

    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. Well, one of the top ten first rock and roll songs, anyway.

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    • That’s pretty thorough, and full of factual information.

      Were it me, I’d start by setting up a very big, broad playlist with a lot of different sub-genres (Rockabilly, Garage, Prog, Jam, Funk, Punk, Kraut etc.*), asks what he likes from that list and move forward. Lots of good recommendations in these comments for the first decade at least.

      Just don’t slide into a tone that would make your friend think, “will this be on the test?”

      * Yes, disco isn’t rock (just ask the White Sox), but maybe throw some disco on there too. If he missed Zeppelin, he probably missed Donna Summer as well.

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    • Okay, I’ll append this at the end:

      But before I really start digging in, I should probably ask if you just wanted me to give you a list of 10 songs that you should listen to or if essays like this one that get into more detail are what you want.

      Which do you want?

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  17. So on a complete tangent, what one song has been covered in the most rock/popular genres? I’ve heard “House of the Rising Sun” in everything from old folk song to straight blues to psychedelic rock to funk to uptempo punk to heavy metal. For the cultural appropriation angle, The Animals were touring in England with Chuck Berry when they picked it up from a local folk singer who had brought it from America, and turned it into a British blues hit.

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    • I’m not sure on that one, but I recall that Unchained Melody is the most covered song. (670 artists and 1,500 recordings).

      A trivia question:

      Q: Unchained Melody was written for a movie. Can you name the movie?

      A: Unchained

      That usually produces a “duh” moment.

      It was a 1955 prison film about an escape attempt from Chino.

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    • My immediate gut feeling is that it’d probably be a soldier’s song/drinking song from the 1700s or a hymn/Christmas carol or something.

      Something that a big band would have covered, and then another big band would have have to have covered to prove that they weren’t no slouch, and then a swing version would have come out…

      But given that I can’t immediately answer the “like what?” question, it might not be that… but surely there were standards that made someone say “now we can finally put that on a wax cylinder!” ten minutes after the wax cylinder was invented. And artists then kept being introduced to that standard and then it made it into their own repertoires.

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    • And that’s not necessarily even counting Dolly Parton’s oft-cited-as-canonical version… Not sure what genre it fits in (sounds like a fusion to my untrained ear), but that song really has to be sung by a woman, with the original lyrics.

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  18. How come nobody has listed any songs by Duran Duran? They were the new Beatles.

    And what about Bananarama, Wham, Culture Club, Men at Work, the Thompson Twins, Spandau Ballet, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Tears for Fears, and Milli Vanilli?

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  19. Strongly support Helter Skelter – far and away the best Beatles song.

    My list focuses not on what are the most classic rock and roll songs, but on choosing artists with songs that create a widest possible range:

    1. Band – The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
    2. Beatles – Helter Skelter
    3. Cave – The Mercy Seat
    4. Cash – Sunday Morning Coming Down
    5. Doors – Five to One
    6. Dylan – Visions of Johanna
    7. Heads – Life During Wartime
    8. Hendrix – Voodoo Chile
    9. Queen – Somebody to Love
    10. Tangerine Dream – Stratosfear
    11. Zeppelin – Achilles’ Last Stand

    This one goes to 11!

    Honorable mention:
    Floyd – Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
    Airplane – White Rabbit
    CSNY – Lee Shore
    Tap – Stonehenge

    Also, show him this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lg7aPhMVKG0

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  20. On reflection, I think we are all beating the wrong drum. What is really needed, indeed is essential to the idea of showcasing rock, is a single thread that one can follow and in the process find all the threads that come to form the great tapestry of Rock and Roll. Obviously that thread would need to touch on the earliest days of rock, directly influenced by the delta blues, a major influence on country, with all the outside pain that good Rock and Roll wears on her sleeve. But changeable, both genre defining and breaking. Able to sing the old songs truthfully, the ballads of work and God and murder, but able to carry the modern tunes like Rusty Cage and Personal Jesus.

    I am talking about the Man In Black.

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  21. All Along the Watchtower – Dylan

    All Along the Watchtower – Hendrix

    Somethin’ Else – Eddie Cochran

    Somethin’ Else – The Sex Pistols

    Surfin’ Bird – The Trashmen

    Surfin’ Bird – The Ramones

    I Fought the Law – Bobby Fuller Four

    I Fought the Law – The Clash

    Sister Ray – The Velvet Underground

    Roadrunner – The Modern Lovers

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    • Hmmmm . . . I guess I never knew this: “Indeed, it has been argued that Richman’s “Roadrunner” is, considering its distorted organ solo (provided by producer John Cale) and chordal similarities, largely a reworking of “Sister Ray” in musical terms, although Richman’s positive and life-affirming lyrics about the joys of driving around suburban Boston are in marked contrast to Reed’s detached saga of “debauchery and decay.””

      This is the kind of thing I cannot hear. But in the spirit:

      Johnny B. Goode — Chuck Berry
      Pink Flag — Wire (*)

      (*) The answer to the question: What would happen if you rewrote ‘Johnny B. Goode’ using only one chord?

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  22. I was recently talking to R’s father, who was Ray Charles’ valet, and later road manager, in the 50s and 60s (he also worked with every other black artist from the period you can think of, including Duke Ellington… frigging Duke Ellington!) — here his is, and here, and here and so on — and one of the things we were talking about is how, among black musicians, the jazz of the 40s was bleeding into what was becoming rock’n’roll in the 50s. That is, the scenes heavily overlapped, so the musicians were all hanging out with each other. So you had people like Ray Charles, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole all hanging out, shooting the shit and exchanging ideas musical and social. I mention this because the impression I kept getting was that it was the social stuff, particularly stuff related to race, that kept coming up in conversations. He couldn’t tell the story of that time, and the people and music that defined it, without race and other social issues.

    A interesting tidbits from recent convesations: 1) Ray Charles and his crew, almost all black men, loved touring Europe, because while Europe certainly has its issues with race, they were different and less impactful. So they did long tours of France and Germany, where they were wildly successful, and partied pretty heavily with the locals in a way that might not have been possible in much of America.

    2) Apparently while playing shows in the PNW, an Oregon hotel manager refused to rent Charles and his entourage rooms, saying that they had no vacancies when they clearly did (and had a sign saying so). Ray Charles left the hotel and immediately called his accountant. He buys the hotel and rolls into the hotel with the same entourage the next day (or maybe a couple days later); he manager says they still don’t have rooms, and Charles replies you don’t have a job.

    Practically, to get rock’n’roll you get the influence of late boogie woogie (you might include “Kansas City Boogie Woogie”), big band jazz and swing in particular, etc., but also the generally rebellious spirit of a social conscious musical scene. I don’t think you can do rock’n’roll without venturing into places like Harlem and the black neighborhoods of Macon, Georgia, Kansas City, or pretty much anywhere in southern Louisiana in the 30s and 40s. So you have to have at least some Little Richard, Roy Brown (“Good Rocking Tonight” was also covered by Elvis in the early 50s), Ellington, Big Joe Turner, hell, maybe even Cab Calloway.

    Also, everything’s about sex. That’s important.

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