Did You Know?...That
Amazing Rock and Roll Facts
Key Recordings: Early 1950s
…that "Boogie in the Park"
by Joe Hill Louis, recorded in July 1950 and released in
August 1950. It featured Louis as a one-man band performing
"one of the loudest, most overdriven, and distorted guitar
stomps ever recorded" while playing on a rudimentary drum kit
at the same time. It was the only record ever released on Sam
Phillips' early Phillips label before founding Sun Records.
Louis' electric guitar work is also considered a distant
ancestor of heavy metal music.
…that "Hot Rod Race"
recorded by Arkie Shibley and His Mountain Dew Boys in late
1950, another early example of "rockabilly", highlighted the
role of fast cars in teen culture.
…that "Sixty Minute Man"
by the Dominoes, recorded on December 30, 1950, was the first
(and most sexually explicit) big R&B hit to cross over to the
pop charts. The group featured the gospel-style lead vocals of
Clyde McPhatter, and appeared at many of Alan Freed's early
shows. McPhatter later became lead singer of The Drifters, and
then a solo star.
…that "Rocket 88"
was recorded on March 5, 1951 by Jackie Brenston and His Delta
Cats - actually Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm - and
covered later in the year by Bill Haley and the Saddlemen.
Brenston's version - produced in Memphis, Tennessee by Sam
Phillips and leased to Chess Records - was highly influential
for its sound and lyrical content, and was a big hit. It
reached #1 on the Billboard Rhythm and Blues chart on 9 June
1951, and set Phillips on the road to success by helping to
finance his company, Sun Records. Haley's version was one of
the first white covers of an R&B hit. The song also features
an early example of distortion, or fuzz guitar, played by the
band's guitarist Willie Kizart.
…that "How Many More Years"
recorded by Howlin' Wolf in May 1951. Robert Palmer has cited
it as the first record to feature a distorted power chord,
played by Willie Johnson on the electric guitar.
…that "Cry" by Johnnie Ray
was recorded on October 16, 1951. Ray's emotional delivery -
he was mistaken for a woman, as well as for a black man - set
a template for later vocal styles and, more importantly,
showed that music could cross racial barriers both ways, by
topping the R&B chart as well as the pop chart.
…that "Hound Dog",
by Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton, was recorded on August 13,
1952. A raucous R&B song recorded with Johnny Otis' band (uncredited
for contractual reasons), it was written by white teenagers
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, covered four years later by
Freddie Bell and the Bellboys, and then in turn, more
famously, by Elvis Presley.
…that "Love My
Baby" and "Mystery Train"
were recorded by Junior Parker with his electric blues band,
the Blue Flames, in 1953, "contributing a pair of future
rockabilly standards" that would later be covered by Hayden
Thompson and Elvis Presley, respectively. For Presley's
version of "Mystery Train", Scotty Moore also borrowed the
guitar riff from Parker's "Love My Baby", played by Pat Hare.
…that "Gee" by The Crows
was recorded on February 10, 1953. This was a big hit in 1954,
and is credited by rock n’ roll authority, Jay Warner, as
being "the first rock n' roll hit by a rock and roll group".
…that "Crazy Man, Crazy"
by Bill Haley and his Comets, recorded in April 1953, was the
first of his recordings to make the Billboard pop chart. This
was not a cover, but an original composition, and has been
described as "the first white rock hit".
…that "Mess Around"
by Ray Charles was recorded in May 1953, one of his earliest
hits. The writing credit was claimed by Ahmet Ertegün, with
some lyrics riffing off of the 1929 classic, "Pinetop's Boogie
Woogie". "I've Got a Woman", recorded in November 1954 and
first performed when Charles was on tour with T-Bone Walker,
was a bigger hit, and is also widely considered to be the
first soul song, combining gospel with R&B; its tune was
derived from the gospel song "My Jesus Is All The World To Me"
by Alex Bradford.
…that "The Things That I Used to Do"
by Guitar Slim was recorded on October 16, 1953. It was an
electric blues song that had a major impact on rock & roll and
featured distorted overtones on the electric guitar a full
decade before Jimi Hendrix. It is listed as one of The Rock
and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
…that "Work With Me, Annie"
by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, was recorded on January
14, 1954. Despite, or because of, its salacious lyrics, it was
immediately successful in the R&B market, topping the R&B
chart for seven weeks, and led to several sequels, including
Ballard's "Annie Had A Baby" and Etta James' first hit "The
Wallflower", also known as "Roll With Me, Henry". Although the
records were banned from radio play and led to calls for rock
and roll itself to be banned, the lyrics were soon rewritten
for a more conservative white audience, and Georgia Gibbs
topped the pop charts in 1955 with her version, "Dance With
…that "Shake, Rattle and Roll"
by Big Joe Turner was recorded on February 15, 1954, and was
covered later that year by Bill Haley and his Comets. Turner's
version topped the Billboard R&B chart in June 1954. Haley's
version, which was substantially different in lyric and
arrangement, predated his success with "Rock Around the Clock"
by several months even though it was recorded later. Elvis
Presley's later 1956 version combined Haley's arrangement with
Turner's lyrics, but was not a substantial hit.
…that "Rock Around the Clock"
by Bill Haley and his Comets (recorded on April 12, 1954) was
the first number one rock and roll record on the US pop
charts. It stayed in the Top 100 for a then-record 38 weeks.
The record is often credited with propelling rock into the
mainstream, at least the teen mainstream. At first it had
lackluster sales but, following the success of two other Haley
recordings, "Shake Rattle and Roll" and "Dim, Dim The Lights",
was later included in the movie Blackboard Jungle about a
raucous high-school, which exposed it to a wider audience and
took it to worldwide success in 1955. The song itself had
first been recorded in late 1953 by Sonny Dae & His Knights, a
novelty group whose recording had become a modest local hit at
the time Haley recorded his version.
…that James Cotton's "Cotton
Crop Blues" and Pat Hare's "I'm
Gonna Murder My Baby" (both recorded in May 1954),
were electric blues records which feature heavily distorted,
power chord-driven electric guitar solos by Pat Hare that
anticipate elements of heavy metal music. The other side of
Cotton's "Cotton Crop Blues" single, "Hold Me in Your Arms,"
also featured a heavily distorted guitar sound by Hare that
resembles the "distorted tones favored by modern rock
…that "That's All Right"
by Elvis Presley, was recorded on July 5, 1954. This cover of
Arthur Crudup's tune was Elvis' first single. Its b-side was a
rocking version of Bill Monroe's bluegrass song "Blue Moon Of
Kentucky", itself recognized by various rock singers as an
influence on the music.