50 Songs That Gave Birth to Rock and Roll


Give me a sec to explain how I ended up at that link on TheBestSchools.org, checking out a write-up on pre-rock n’ roll songs:

So I was listening to WTF where Marc Maron was interviewing Peter Guralnick, author most recently of a great book on Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records, discoverer of Howlin’ Wolf, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, etc.: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=778000

In the interview, they discussed Rocket 88, which is the “conventional best answer” to What is the First Rock n’ Roll Song? It was recorded by Phillips, who decided that the distorted guitar tone, caused by a problem tube, sounded fresh.

While they were discussing that, Guralnick discussed that Sam declared it the first RnR record early on, but a number of other songs could be argued for. One he mentioned was **Downtown Blues by Frank Stokes **.

I wanted to check that out, so I found it on YouTube: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Sor7vbJpgzY

What a fun, rockin’ song. I can see why Guralnick name-checked it. So I want to find a bit more out about Frank Stokes, so I start Googling him. There really isn’t a lot on him. But while I am look, I stumble across this link.

This is a great, great write up! It cites a bunch of proto-rock songs, noteworthy for their use of the words, the use of a backbeat rhythm, the use of a honkin’ lead sax, the first hot rod hit record, etc. It stays off some of the main typical cites - there’s no T-Bone Walker, or the early blues masters like Son House or Robert Johnson. But I love the choices they make. The phrases where you hear who Chuck Berry was listening to, or Little Richard. The original versions of songs that became rock songs, e.g., Rock this Joint (popularized by Bill Haley and also a claim for first rock song, this is this original version) or Train Kept a Rollin before Johnny Burnette rocked it up.

So I didn’t find out more on Frank Stokes - my quest continues - but anyone wanting to get more grounded on proto-rock songs and influences will get a ton out of this. It is a great complement to the history of Pop Music I just posted about a couple of weeks ago: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=780366

Check this out first.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I have. And if you can figure out why the heck it is on a website discussing top colleges, I am all ears!!

Great list, with links to every song.

No idea why it’s in that magazine but I’ll read it anyway.

Well WordMan, you have a run posting interesting music links after your Aretha thread. I’ve read the introduction and skimmed the list in the article, and it’s really well written and the compilation sounds interesting and eclectic, though there are many songs I hadn’t heard before, but I’m eager to explore them. You have given me something I’m looking forward to do this evening for a musical introduction to the weekend. Maybe I’ll come back to comment on it afterwards. Dang, and then I’ll have to catch up on all your recent threads on music literature and biographies, but that’ll take some time…:slight_smile:

Yep, I am a music geek, it is true. I hadn’t heard a lot of these songs either, but really appreciate the brief write-ups of each and why they are included - then having a link to hear the song right there.

And some are just wonderful - #15 Roll 'em Pete, by Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson - oh, to be able to sing like Joe or play like Pete; that’s boogie woogie! And #16 Sister Rosetta Tharpe, whom I have praised in many previous threads. I am ashamed to say I hadn’t listened much to #20 Arthur Smith’s “Guitar Boogie” but really hear how it is a missing link between piano boogie and rockabilly. An important track, historically! And it sounds great. And that’s just Page 2. Wonderful music.

Damn you, I was planning on being productive this morning. :mad:

That is a great article. I’ll just listen to one of the songs…

Killer find, WordMan. Thanks for passing it on.

It’s funny, that very first song, by Trixie Smith, sounds like it should have been the soundtrack for one of Walt Disney’s first efforts. I’ve never really thought about it, but I would bet those early cartoons did as much to popularize jazz and boogie as they did animation.

What’s funny is that my oldest is a high school senior - you think I would’ve found the article by ending up on the darn site to look at universities!

Yeah, I hear “soundtrack” music in a lot of these songs. Or songs that I have heard as the “sonic wallpaper” during documentaries and such. That song Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar is one I have heard many, many times, but never thought to try to contextualize. This write-up does a nice job of it…

I’ve pointed to Hank William’s Move It On Over as being early rock n’ roll and was much gratified to see it as #32 on the list.

Great link and post

Hmmm, they got Muddy but missed on Howlin’ Wolf. Smokestack Lighting was another seminal piece released in 1956. I’d have to actually look up another one of his that pre-dates 1955 but it is without doubt that the Wolf was a huge influence on rock n roll.

They also missed with Muddy that
a) Willie Dixon played bass in the band and wrote a bazillion songs (or at least got credit for writing the songs) that have become blues and rock classics
b) Bo Diddley played in Muddy’s band (and owned I’m a Man vs Muddy’s Mannish Boy)

it’s kinda nitpicking (and I’m not 100% sure if they predated 1955) but need to name Earl Hooker, Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Little Milton, Buddy Guy and others from the Chess/Checkers labels. Jelly Roll Morton deserves an honorable mention. I’m missing more that will probably come to me after I submit…

Thanks for the Frank Stokes. :slight_smile: I hadn’t heard that one. How about:

Leadbelly’s wife: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5tOpyipNJs

Big Maybelle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bp11vxr_pD4 (since you mentioned Jerry Lee, this was his inspiration)

Slim Harpo, 50s (one of my all-time faves): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWLvm11MAaM

Rosetta Tharpe, late 40s (check out the intro! and 1:30 on…) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xzr_GBa8qk

Willie Johnson, 20s (!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_o4omd8T5c

Wow, I somehow missed the important link in the OP…I am so digging the raunchy Lucille Bogan song!! Worth the price of admission, well, as far as I can understand it! :wink: I see my other musicians were mostly mentioned, if not the exact songs I listed.

If y’all like the songs mentioned in the OP link, may I recommend Texas blues/swing band Asleep at the Wheel. They’re kind of hokey, but they cover a lot of these old songs. :slight_smile: I’ve enjoyed them since I was a kid.

PS I also loved Hank Williams “Move it on Over”…hadn’t heard that before. Really bridges the gap between blues-shouting and C/W.

A bit more:

“60 Minute Man”…I never heard this bawdy little number till a recent video game soundtrack, but it’s awesome! Glad to see its inclusion in the list.

Great stuff. I haven’t listened to it all yet, but Lucille Bogan’s “Shave ‘Em Dry” is all kinds of awesomeness!

Hey if you had “nipples biggern’ your thumb” wouldn’t you want the world to know about it? Yeah, the raunch of that song and her direct delivery are amazing.

So glad folks are finding this good stuff!

China Guy - I’ve been pondering this. This list clearly looks at rock’s blues influences mainly one step removed. Rhythm & Blues, Jump Blues (represented in this list by Louis Jordan), Boogie Woogie, etc. were all Blues-based. And the Swing represented here sure did, too (Sing Sing Sing)

Near as I can tell, this is reasonable - we look at the direct influence of the Blues through the backward-looking lens that includes the early-‘60’s Folk Blues Explosion and the UK Blues Rock invasion. With Folk, the originals showed up on stage like Son House and Rev. Gary Davis at Folk Festival. With Rock, (mostly) Brits jumped over the previously mentioned genres and focused on the Blues sources. But in the years leading up to Rock n’ Roll, Blues was too raw for much crossover success.

I generally like the list, but this little bit of misinformation makes me not want to read anything between the links.

Ummm, no. The reasons why each of those men were blind might not be precisely clear, but we don’t have any evidence that they lost their vision through drinking anything. All but one of them became blind in childhood or were blind at birth, and the remaining one became blind from an untreated childhood disease. That’s inexcusably lazy writing.

Hey all,
Thanks for reading and listening with enthusiasm. To address the first mystery here, the reason you found this at a site called Thebestschools.org is because, while we are an educational site, we believe rock and roll is an important and oft-overlooked historical subject worthy of academic discourse. Your lively and insightful discussion here proves the point quite well.

To Scabpicker, thank you for bringing our attention to an editorial oversight, which has since been corrected. While it is certainly the case that moonshine contributed to blindness among poor southerners, especially in the prohibition era, it was not the cause of blindness for any of the artists included in our list. I can see how that was misleading. Thanks again for calling this to our attention.

Happy listening friends!

Wow - how cool is that. Thanks Dave! It really is a great write-up, which is why I started this thread and linked to your page. Feel free to hang out, especially if you have more to share about rock n’ roll or music in general.

scabpicker - you good? Any other issues you need to insure get in? :wink:

It’s a fair point. Blues is a pretty well known influence, while these lesser known folks are not. And it’s an education site. :wink: And honestly, if you’re trying to keep to a list of 50 (Hi Opal), throwing in more bluesmen would reduce these other artists.

Wow, I’m completely flattered. I’m a big fan of the players mentioned, and the original rubbed me the wrong way. Thanks for editing it!

All in all, it’s a very nice list. I’m only familiar with about half of it. Thank you for publishing it in the first place, as well.

Hehehe, nope. Nothing more to complain about yet, but you know I’ll find something. :wink:

And welcome to the Dope! BestSchools/Dave!