Earliest use of the crunchy guitar sound/power cords in rock

Last night I was watching VH1’s 100 Greatest Hard Rock songs. The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” made the list. It was released in 1964. Iggy Pop called it the first punk rock song and I’ve heard it called the first hard rock song. Is this the earliest appearance of the crunchy guitar sound?

George Beauchamp was the first to use a guitar with a power cord.

Willie Johnson was intentionally using distortion on recordings with Howlin’ Wolf circa 1950-51. You can hear it on Memphis Days: Definitive Edition 1.

Not much old Howlin’ Wolf on You Tube, alas. There are a smattering of blues recordings from the 50s that have distorted guitar but may or may not meet your personal definition of “power chords”: try, for example

Pat Hare, “I’m Gonna Murder My Baby” (1954)

This rockabilly tune inches closer: Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio, “Train Kept A-Rollin” (1956)

Link Wray more or less nails it with “Rumble” (1958) but without the speed.

I believe it was Dave Davies who said, “It wasn’t called Heavy Metal when I invented it.”
(I don’t think I made that up)

And if you like it without as much distortion, I recommend Duane Eddy.

The difference was that Davies made holes in the speaker to get the sound. AFAIK, no one else had tried that, and it made a much more obvious “buzz.”

Peter Green got some decent crunch out of his axe. Not the first, but still tasting strongly of awesome.

You want Link Wray and his Raymen. Mr. Wray invented the power chord.
His best known song is Rumble…

But I always liked Switchblade better.

Consciously or not, he was emulating Link Wray (“Rumble”, 1958) and Ike Turner (“Rocket 88”, 1951), who got fuzz tones from damaged speaker cones.

Hold on a sec. Let’s define terms here, since “power chord” is not the same as “crunchy guitar tone.”

A power chord is simply the root note and the fifth note of the scale played together. It’s not technically a chord, since it is only two notes, but it can be easily modified to make all kinds of interesting sounds on guitar. On a guitar, a rhythm power chord is usually played with the index finger on the root note, and the ring finger two frets up, on the next string down. That’s it. That configuration can be moved anywhere (on the top four strings, at any rate), and is the very heart and soul of a considerable percentage of all rock music. It has nothing to do with crunchy guitar tone (although it sounds really good that way!)

Yep. They’re technically “power intervals,” but that just doesn’t have the same macho swagger to it, does it? :wink:

Anyhow, I’d imagine you can make a link back to early blues for this, where the guitar played alternating root-fifth and root-sixth intervals.

Just getting back from a couple of weeks of vacation…

The two most referenced uses of crunchy guitar tones before Dave Davies / The Kinks that I am familiar with based on my 30+ years of following this stuff are:

  • Per Ichbin Dubist above, Train Kept a Rollin’ featuring Paul Burlisonon guitar.

  • Before then, you’d have to go back to 1951, to the song regularly acknowledged as “the first rock and roll song” - Rocket 88by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats but actually recorded by Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm fronted by Brenston. (enjoy the worn-out clips of Bettie Page putting on garters included in this particular youtube clip - it happened to be the first one that came up…)

In both cases, there are stories about an amp getting dropped and a tube socket getting dislodged which resulted in the distorted tones you hear. With Rocket 88, heck, I think its *because *of that distorted tone (you have to listen for it tracking with the bass and the boogie low-end of the piano) that folks began categorizing it as rock n’ roll vs. jump blues or boogie woogie.

And as for Rumble - **here’s a clip**from the documentary It Might Get Loud of Jimmy Page listening to it - he had cited it as the guitar that blew his mind…

Howlin’ Wolf, 1951.

With all of this in mind, I’d like to point out that bare fifths feature prominently in the operas of G.F. Handel. And check out the hair - the guy was obviously a rock star ;-).

In the original version of “Roll Over Beethoven”, Chuck Berry uses some fairly full chords in the “roll over Beethoven, roll over Beethoven” chorus. And, his version definitely swings a great deal more than the later covers by white artists, in spite of the popular conception of Chuck as a crossover artist who “played white”.

If I understand you, you’re referring to the eighth-note shuffle beat that was characteristic of a lot of early rock and roll, but that’s not the same as a power chord.

But there were still bare fifths present. Power chords as such only came about as a need to minimize distortion on the modulated electric guitar, but there’s something of a lineage to be said.

Bolding mine in the quote - to be accurate, power chords emphasize specific harmonics that sound great with an overdriven guitar+amp, because the I-V interval removes the harmonics introduced by playing additional notes in addition to the I and V…in other words, you want to be able to increase distortion on the notes and harmonics of a simpler chord…

This is coming from a musicology major who knows little about rock music, but I always thought it was more because triads sounded bad overdriven, rather than bare fifths sounding great. That is to say, if the chord third is present, the chord sounds so muddy and distorted, that it won’t “function” as a major/minor triad, anyway. The bare fifth is so consonant that the distortion in each individual tone becomes negligible to the overall chord’s sound.

EDIT: after the fact, it sounds we’re pretty much saying the same thing - my bad!