This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He’s been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter’s bio here and find links to all his columns here.
Okay, put on your blue suede shoes, your tangerine or turquoise socks and anything else you think appropriate and get up and rock. Or, perhaps, given the demographic of the column, sit in your rocking chair and rock. I’ll be doing just that.
Here are some very particular rock & roll songs from the fifties. I could produce a whole year’s worth of columns on this topic and still have vast amounts left over, so I’m going to go with particular favorites of mine, ones I noticed at the time and even bought a 45 of some of them, maybe most of them.
For anyone whose first musical consciousness was that of the early fifties, rock & roll hit like a laser beam. It turned a grey musical world into Technicolor (sorry about the mangled metaphors).
Here are rock & roll songs that mean a lot to me. There are others by several of these artists, probably all of them, that could have been included but I’m restricting myself to one from each. All the usual suspects are here today.
I’ll start with maybe the most frantic (as we used to say back then) record from that time, Bop-A-Lena by RONNIE SELF.
There may have been others more so but I can’t think of them. I really liked this one and wanted a copy. I couldn’t afford it as I was quite young and it couldn’t have been around my birthday or Christmas otherwise I’d have made a request.
Perhaps I did and mum had heard the track and decided to get me a Dinky toy or something instead. I have since rectified the omission.
Ronnie looked like a really nice sort of a lad but when started singing, look out. Just when you think he has given his all for the song and milked it for what it’s worth, he rams it up another notch that you didn’t think was possible. What a performance.
The family who lived next to us in the small country town where I was born and bred went elsewhere in 1957. The father returned a couple of times in the next year or two for a visit – he was a Lands’ Department inspector so that was part of his job.
Once I remember very well indeed, as he brought an EP of LITTLE RICHARD for me. He said that his son really liked it.
It is one of the greatest EPs in the history of EPdom, with Long Tall Sally, Rip It Up, Tutti Frutti and Ready Teddy on it. I don’t know what mum’s reaction was but I thought it was great.
That gesture of bringing this EP stays with me to this day as another small step on my musical education. Any of those songs would have worked but I’m going with Long Tall Sally. I still have trouble with the words of the song even though I look them up every now and then to check what they are.
BUDDY HOLLY’s place in the sun lasted only 18 months.
In that time he established himself as one of, if not the, most important artists in the first ten years of rock & roll. I’ve used his songs several times previously including this column dedicated entirely to him. This is one of the 45s I bought of his way back in 1958, Oh, Boy!.
There’s really nothing more to be said about ELVIS PRESLEY.
I decided to use a song today not featured on those two columns, so here is I Need Your Love Tonight. One of many I could have chosen, as I was a big fan back then. Well, that’s the point of this column.
Rock & roll was pretty much a male sport. The female artists tended towards ballads and the like. But not always, and foremost among these was WANDA JACKSON.
The song of hers I’m including was actually released in 1960. However, from a mathematician’s point of view (and I’m one of those, or at least I used to be), that is technically part of the fifties.
Wanda started out in country music and drifted into rockabilly. She drifted back into country when rockabilly faded from the scene. She’s still rocking with the best of them. Let’s Have A Party.
FATS DOMINO has been making rock & roll records since 1949, when he had his first gold record with The Fat Man, another contender for “first rock & roll record.”
From that time to about 1962 he had more than 40 songs that made the charts. Most of you would recognize most of them. Here is one such, I’m Walkin’.
CHUCK BERRY was one of the two great singer/songwriters from fifties’ rock & roll. Buddy was the other one, of course.
Chuck, however, was the greatest guitarist of the decade (and some would say, the best rock guitarist ever). His licks are still being pinched by anyone who picks up a guitar even now and plays rock & roll.
This is one of dozens I could have chosen, but this I remember with fondness, School Days. Perceptive listeners will determine where I pinched the title of the column.
RICKY NELSON had an advantage over the other rockers back then because we got to see him each week on TV, yes even here in Australia.
I don’t know if it was this or perhaps his resemblance to Elvis that caused him to be generally downgraded at the time as a performer. It was only later when people checked his back catalogue that they realised what an important artist he was.
I always knew; I liked Ricky from the start. Here’s another 45 I had, Just a Little Too Much.
The first and best of the Australian rock & rollers was JOHNNY O’KEEFE.
Johnny’s (very appropriate) nickname was The Wild One. He even wrote a song called that. It was also known as Real Wild Child. This came out 1958 and several visiting singers liked the song so much they recorded it themselves – Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers in particular, but others as well.
Johnny led the full rock & roll life with all that implies – living fast and dying young. Well, youngish, he was 43 when he finally succumbed in 1978. Here is The Wild One.
To ease you out of this Sunday I’m including THE PLATTERS even though they don’t quite fit in with the others. But I really liked them back then. I still do.
I’ve mentioned before in my series on “years” that there have been many versions of The Platters over the years, often several at the same time. This is the original and best version of the group with Tony Williams singing lead.
This is probably the closest they came to rock & roll, The Great Pretender.