Thursday, September 16, 2010

History Class: The First Rock Song...

          With the break through of rock and roll, America started its struggle, embrace and eventual love of rock and roll. Rock and roll was the antithesis to conservative America and once its presence was made rock and roll became as much a part of America as the stars on the flag. But when was that defining moment in which rock and roll first came on the scene?  Before exploring the origin of the first rock and roll record, perhaps it would be wise to first define what rock and roll is. 
Good Rockin'? YES PLEASE.
             Rock and roll is an umbrella term that encompasses many different facets of music including rhythm and blues, soul, rockabilly, progressive, and many more. But rock and roll is also more than the defining electric guitar riffs, the narrative ballad, or the four and eight bar song stanzas that riddled early rock. Rock and roll is a feeling, a swagger, and catalyst for change. Rock and roll is a movement, whether it is on the dance floor or a statement of the times, rock and roll can be seen in all facets of American life. That movement began on May 1st, 1948 with Wynonie Harris’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight”. Wynonie Harris’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight” conquered the charts as well as the title as the first rock and roll song.
            Traditionally, it has been taught through American popular culture that rock and roll started from the likes of Elvis Presley or Bill Haley and his Comets. Unfortunately, America was not comfortable with the idea of equality among races and the real foundation for rock and roll was overlooked because it was built upon the grounds of “negro music”. Blues, jazz, soul, set the stage for the very first rock and roll songs. The upright bass and the horns in Wynonie Harris’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight” are clear examples of the influence that jazz had on rock and roll.  However, the sound is distinctly rock and roll. The saxophone solo sets the stage for later electric guitar solos and the claps and beat of the drum motivates the listener to dance.
that Wynonie, making purple cool since 1948
            In rock and roll fashion “Good Rockin’ Tonight” has a narrative structure with suggestive lyrics that flew under the white radar. In fact, the term “rocking” in this song is a euphemism for sex.  Lyrics like  “I’m going to hold my baby as tight as I can, tonight she’ll know I’m a mighty man” fit the bill for rock and roll’s attitude. 
            Wynonie Harris’s version of “Good Rockin’ Tonight” also broke through to both African American communities as well as main stream America by ranking number one on both the R&B charts and the popular charts.  This is significant because part of rock and roll is the impact it has on the people who listen to it. “Good Rockin’ Tonight” was a record that broke racial barriers and introduced a simple rock and roll record to the masses. Evolution of rock became apparent after this song. “Good Rockin’ Tonight” takes a step away from the jump blues genre and lays the groundwork for other rock and roll records.  “Good Rockin’ Tonight” may not be the hardest hitting example of rock and roll but its sound, its movement both on and off the stage, and its swagger make it the first rock and roll record.

Wynonie Harris - Good Rockin' Tonight
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