January 29, 2016

180 Chuck Berry (1926-2017 ) “Maybellene” 1955

“The invention of rock ’n’ roll was a collaborative effort, yet many music buffs trace its beginnings back to a singer, songwriter, and guitarist named Chuck Berry. Taking what he knew from the blues, big band, swing, country, and pop, Berry developed a style and sound that uniquely spoke to the experience of the American teenager, and that appealed to white as well as black audiences” (Contemporary Musicians).

179 Big Joe Turner (1911-1985) “Shake, Rattle and Roll” 1954

“The premier blues shouter of the postwar era, Big Joe Turner’s roar could rattle the very foundation of any gin joint he sang within—and that’s without a microphone. Turner was a resilient figure in the history of blues—he effortlessly spanned boogie-woogie, jump blues, and even the first wave of rock & roll, enjoying great success with each genre” (allmusic.com).

Big Joe Turner “Shake, Rattle and Roll”

178 The Spaniels “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight” 1954

The group formed in an Indiana high school in 1952. “It was the R&B and rock and roll sound of The Spaniels that brought about the formation of one of R&B’s legendary labels, Vee Jay Records…The success of ‘Goodnight’ prompted the McGuire Sisters to cover it for the white market” (vocalgroup.org)

177 The Robins “Riot in Cell Block #9” 1954

“California’s first ‘bird’ group was formed when Ty Terrell Leonard and the Richard brothers Billy and Roy met at Alameda High School in San Francisco in 1945, and formed ‘A-Sharp Trio’” (angelfire.com). “Despite having only a few national hits, the Robins, nevertheless, were an essential part of West Coast Rhythm and Blues” (uncamarvy.com). 

176 Elvis Presley (1935-1977) “That’s All Right” 1954

“Elvis’s recordings first were played on radio station WHBQ. Elvis hid in a theater because he was afraid people would laugh at him…But the record sold 7,000 copies in Memphis that first week.” In truth, “he was a self-aware artist who worked hard at building up a style, rehearsing a recording and creating a performance technique” (The Elvis Reader). His 1954-1955 Sun sessions are listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

Elvis Presley “That’s All Right”

January 22, 2016

175 Elvis Presley (1935-1977) “Blue Moon of Kentucky” 1954

When he graduated from high school, Presley worked as a factory worker and truck driver. He made a record for his mother at Sun Record Co. in 1953, which he said “sounded like somebody beating on a bucket lid.” Sam Phillips asked him to record a song the following year. “After a coffee break, Elvis started singing a song with a rock ‘n’ roll beat. Phillips and the others liked it” (The Elvis Reader). His 1954-1955 Sun sessions are listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

174 The Penguins “Earth Angel” 1954

“Formed in 1954 in Fremont High School, Los Angeles, the Penguins were one of the most important R&B vocal groups from the west coast.” They “took their name from a penguin on a cigarette packet” (The Encyclopedia of Popular Music). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

173 Muddy Waters (1913-1983) “Hoochie Coochie Man” 1954

Willie Dixon told him about a song he had written and taught it to Muddy in a nightclub washroom during a band break. When he returned onstage, he launched into the number, leaving the audience shrieking for more. “Hoochie Coochie Man” became “a trademark of Muddy’s career” (Muddy Waters The Mojo Man). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

172 The Moonglows “Sincerely” 1954

The founders of the group, Robert Dallas and Harvey Fuqua, performed as a duet in Louisville, Kentucky. They added Prentiss Barnes and Danny Coggins and “initially called themselves the Crazy Sounds.” After minimal success with Champagne and Chance labels, they signed with Chess, which produced their first major hit, “Sincerely” (Encylopedia of Rhythm & Blues and Doo-Wop Vocal Groups). The song became a pop hit with the McGuire Sisters. 

The Moonglows “Sincerely”

The McGuire Sisters “Sincerely”

171 The Midnighters “Work With Me Annie” 1954

“When we recorded the song in 1954, we couldn’t even get it on the radio. We tried to tell the radio people that ‘work with me’ just meant dancing…And now they’re playing it on television” (Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul). 

January 9, 2016

170 The Midnighters “Annie Had a Baby” 1954

Led by Hank Ballard (1927-2003), the group originally called the Royals caught the attention of Johnny Otis at a Detroit talent show audition. When their Annie songs became major hits on the U.S. R&B charts and in England (Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul), they changed their name to the Midnighters (Billboard 2003).

169 Bill Haley (1925-1981) and his Comets “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” 1954

Record producer Dave Miller refused to record the song because he disliked one of the songwriters, Jim Myers, even though the song “brought out a frenzied audience of student fans.” After Haley switched labels, he recorded the song that “provided the pivot point for rock & roll’s recognition and mass acceptance” (Bill Haley The Daddy of Rock and Roll). 

168 Lowel Fulson (1921-1999) “Reconsider Baby” 1954

“born on the Choctaw Indian Strip” and “proud of his native American heritage,” Fulson worked as a cook and served in the Navy. He started a band in Oakland, California, which included pianist Ray Charles. This career hit was “covered by everyone from Elvis Presley to Prince” (Encyclopedia of the Blues).

167 The Crew Cuts “Sh-Boom” 1954

“Formed in Toronto, Canada, in 1952, the Crew-Cuts were a white vocal quartet that had success in the early 50s by covering black R&B songs. Their version of ‘Sh-Boom’, originally a number 2 R&B hit for the Chords in 1954, became a number 1 pop hit for the Crew-Cuts” (Encyclopedia of Popular Music). 

166 James Cotton (1935- ) and Pat Hare (1930-1980) “Cotton Crop Blues” 1954

Harmonica player James Cotton recorded a rendition of Roosevelt Syke’s 1932 “Cotton Crop Blues” with guitarist Auburn “Pat” Hare, “who favored a crunching, distorted sound years ahead of its time.” Both joined Muddy Water’s band. Hare was later imprisoned for murder; “as a model prisoner, he formed a jail-house band” (Encyclopedia of the Blues).

165 The Chords “Sh-Boom (Life Could Be a Dream)” 1954

In 1951 three Bronx high school groups merged with another to form the Chords. Their record label, Cat, “grudgingly issued one of the group’s own songs, ‘Sh-Boom’, which became a milestone in rock ‘n’ roll music” (The Encyclopedia of Popular Music).

164 The Chordettes “Mister Sandman” 1954

Their style was influenced by founder Jinny Osborn’s father who was a member of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing. “The group’s big break came in 1949 with an appearance on Arthur Godfrey’s immensely popular talent show.” “Mister Sandman” especially reflects this quartet style influence (Contemporary Musicians).

The Chordettes “Mister Sandman”

163 Ray Charles (1930-2004) “I Got a Woman” 1954

He “virtually invented soul music by bringing together the fervor of gospel, the secular lyrics and narratives of blues and country, the big-band arrangements of jazz, and rhythms and improvisational possibilities from all of them…He learned how to play several instruments and wrote music in Braille at the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind when he was an adolescent” (The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll).

162 Ray Charles (1930-2004) “Sinner’s Prayer” 1954

Ray Charles “proved himself uniquely able to transcend idiom and become a master of many, finding the subtlest currents of each and the mighty musical river that runs beneath them all” (Ray Charles Man and Music).

161 Ray Charles (1930-2004) “It Should’ve Been Me” 1954

“The sound he was developing was new, arresting, unique. Could they sell it?” The song proved Ray Charles could sell records (Ray Charles Man and Music). 

Ray Charles “It Should’ve Been Me”

160 The Charms “Hearts of Stone” 1954

Founder of the group, Otis Williams, named it after the candy. Their first hit was originally recorded by a former gospel group, the Jewels (http://www.uncamarvy.com/Charms/charms.html).

159 The Cadillacs “Gloria” 1954

“A distinguished Fifties R&B group whose legend has grown appreciably over the years.” Their manager, Esther Navaroo, “persuaded them to change their name [from Carnations] to the Cadillacs and helped them record ‘Gloria,’ a song she had written…Their stage show included flamboyant attire and tight choreography, a precursor of and influence on the Motown style” (The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll).

158 LaVern Baker (1929-1997) and the Gliders “Tweedle Dee” 1954

“major record companies, particularly Mercury Records, had been ‘stealing’ hits by covering R&B songs with white artists…The independent Atlantic Records company, Baker’s label, had decided to strike back at this practice by recording its black artists with pop arrangements…But Mercury Records…refined its larceny by copying LaVern Baker’s song…A subsequent appeal to Congress publicly challenged the practice of larger record companies from stealing both songs and arrangements from smaller companies” (What Was the First Rock ‘n’ Roll Record).

157 Hank Williams (1923-1953) “Your Cheatin’ Heart” 1953

“It takes economy and simplicity to get to an idea or emotion in a song, and there’s no better example of that than Hank Williams. Hank had a voice that cut through wood” (Burckhardt, Rolling Stone, 2005).

Hank Williams “Your Cheatin’ Heart” 

156 Hank Williams (1923-1953) “Kaw-Liga” 1953

“It was a proto-rockabilly record that stretched the tenets of country music.” “Kaw-Liga” was the B-side of the more famous “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” but “on the refrains, Hank and the band gallop into what Carl Perkins would after say was something hittin’ close to rockabilly music” (What Was the First Rock ‘n’ Roll Record).

155 Dinah Washington (1924-1963) “TV Is the Thing” 1953

Her “lifestyle was flamboyant and her career tumultuous…She was noted for her coarse and vulgar language, quick temper, and competitiveness. Washington was also noted for her spontaneous generosity to friends and strangers…She was both vocally and financially supportive of the efforts of Martin Luther King, Jr.” (American National Biography).

154 Big Joe Turner (1911-1985) “Honey Hush” 1953

“It was an early linkage of Kansas City jazz with New Orleans rhythm and blues, two key locales for the birth of rock ‘n’ roll.” Turner said, “I ad lib a lot of things in my records, I just pop something into my head, I’ll put this in there.” “Not only did his ‘honey hush’ ad lib fit into the song, it became the song” (What Was the First Rock ‘n’ Roll Record). 

153 Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton (1926-1984) “Hound Dog” 1953

The link between blues pioneer Ma Rainey and “’60s blues-rock queen Janis Joplin.” “Hound Dog” made her a star, but like many performers of her day, she saw little of the royalties (The Big Book of the Blues).

152 Professor Longhair (1918-1980) “Tipitina” 1953

Born Henry Byrd, he “rocked as hard as the toughest of the barrelhouse pianists…yet his command of nuances was subtler, more rhythmically sophisticated…If the music’s attitude seems today to be pure rock and roll,…it’s worth remembering that the same attitudes had been permeating blues for decades” (Bluesland). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

151 Junior Parker (1932-1971) and the Blue Flames “Mystery Train” 1953

A multi-talented singer, harmonica player, bandleader, and composer, “one of the best to come out of the late-1940s Memphis blues scene.”  In 1952 he formed the Blue Flames and recorded the song on Sam Phillip’s famed Sun label the following year. “He died of a brain tumor in 1971” (The Big Book of Blues).

150 The Orioles “Crying in the Chapel” 1953

One of the founding members, Tommy Gaither, died in a 1950 car accident that also injured George Nelson and Johnny Reed. Nelson left in 1953; his replacement, Gregory Carol, sang on the top R&B hit, “Crying in the Chapel” (Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul).  

149 Merrill Moore (1923-2007) and the Saddle, Rock & Rhythm Boys “House of Blue Lights” 1953

Merrill said, “We were doing that—rockabilly—before I ever heard of Bill Haley. I never knew those guys until later. But we were doin’ that in 1948, yessir. And I tell ya what, we’d take a bunch of Hank Williams tunes and do the boogie-woogie to ‘em. Yessir (Unsung Heroes of Rock ‘n’ Roll).