The First Rock & Roll Song

You're gonna bring me back my baby tonight
                 Blue Moon of Kentucky - Elvis Presley


D Vautier
8/2013


I think the origins of Rock & Roll music can be traced way back to as early as 1897 with the first appearance of popular ragtime.  In fact the word ragtime itself carried about the same kind of insouciant spirit that Rock & Roll initially did.  Popular Ragtime (as opposed to Classic Ragtime) was a type of free moving fast tempo music stressing a heavy down-beat usually in full time and marked by a stress on syncopation.  The tempo had to be such as to increase heartbeat to a point of moderate exercise and this itself is something that encourages dencability.  I did address this in my discussion of the long continuing but little noted controversy between ragtime purists and the popular ragtime culture around the turn of the previous century.  But anyway that's another discussion.

Popular ragtime was a fad which flared up beginning in 1897 but by 1905 had generally died out only to be shortly revived again by Irving Berlin with his hugely successful Alexander’s Rag Time Band some ten years later, which some said was not ragtime at all.  So my suggestion is that the spirit of this genre never really died although it slumbered away for 35 years or so obscured by other popular forms of music.

But that all came screaming back in the mid 1950's.  There is no question that the undisputed beginning of modern Rock & Roll came in July 1955 with Haley’s Rock Around the Clock which topped the charts that month, although Haley had made the charts almost a year earlier with Shake Rattle and Roll.  Many will dispute these claims I suggest but there is no denying that Haley and his group were the first prominent leaders in this type of music.

As regards to the first Rock & Roll song, it is my opinion that Teresa Brewer beat everybody with her Ricochet in December 1953, well ahead of the rest of the pack and actually a good six months before Sh-Boom by the Crew-cuts.  Sh-Boom is more like Rhythm & Blues or Do-wap anyway and it doesn't belong in this genre.  But the whole issue of who was first is moot anyway.  It all happened just the same and it happened fast.

In all events, those heady times were well remembered and very exciting to live through for me as a kid because I spent all my time listening to KJR out of Seattle where a full pack of irreverent DJs spun new rock songs non-stop. It was certainly a great time to be alive!  In July 1954 KJR constantly played the song That’s All Right by a young unknown Artist called Elvis, who was rumored to be a black singer from Memphis because only a black singer could sing like he did.  The song was pure heaven and so me and my brothers immediately raced down to the local music store and got the 78 RPM record.  On the flip side was Blue Moon of Kentucky which I liked even more.  For hours on end we danced around the living room to the wild and crazy strains of this guy Elvis much to the chagrin of our folks who dismissed it as probably just a stupid fad that would hopefully soon pass (like ragtime).

Almost one year later we youngsters had the same reaction to Rock around the Clock and it wasn’t until almost two years later in may 1956 that Elvis destroyed the pop charts with Heartbreak Hotel.  What fun times!