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1950s Rock'n'Roll is the original Punk music. Here are the rawest, raunchiest platters that shatter.
Leather up and let's ride!
The Hydrogen Jukebox
The real '50s was dangerous.
Forget "Sappy Days" and kitsch retro diners. The 50's was McCarthyism, the Civil Rights Movement, nuclear fears, and the explosion of the first youth culture. Every revolution has its voice and for the youth that tonsil-shredding howl was Rock'n'Roll.
Rock'n'Roll isn't simply a sound, it's a concept: putting cool things together makes a new thing even cooler. It is a mutation process that is exponential.
It has infinite branches and came from myriad roots; listen closely to those original wax sides and you can hear not just edgy blues and jump jive boogie, but also clanging honky-tonk, bluegrass fluidity, gospel chorals, scronking jazz, classical strings, Cajun hoedowns, New Orleans rippling keys, Hawaiian pedal steel, Mexican folk ditties, Vaudeville slapstick, Cuban cha cha cha, Tin Pan Alley torch songs...an all-inclusive, all-inviting sonic maelstrom.
It was everything those new world kids had ever heard combined and it spoke for them when they hadn't existed on the social radar before.
Playing "duck and cover" under the school desk wasn't going to save you.
The soothing consumable fantasy that they were being sold at every turn was a lie, and they knew it instinctively: Where is Democracy in segregation? Why is Rosie the Riveter back to being a house slave? Who tends the fields for no fair pay? Who beats up or executes the whistleblowers?
Despite the Red Scare, the "Enemy" wasn't Out There, it was right here; in the smiling duplicity, in the rampant poverty, in the corrupt police system, in the arms race to erase the human race.
Teenagers were considered a larval stage meant to become pod replicas of these mad liars. Something must be done to liberate oneself from this spirit-crushing machine. Some kind of movement...
It was in their hips all along.
To have a movement ya gotta move first. This is the Beat Generation, unbeaten, beatific, blasting beatitude to thebeat thebeat thebeat. The dance is rebellion, the dance is liberation, the dance is seduction, the dance is fornication. Dancing together ends constriction and induces new conceptions. The physical has become political. No more segregation, no sexual repression, no fear, no devil's due, "no more cryin' the blues". Gather together, get it on.
And, of course, Rock'n'Roll was a euphemism for DOIN' IT.
'Hey great-balls-of-fire, time to huckle up to the hucklebuck and shake rattle and roll that train all night long. The girl can't help it if she's the one who hollars more more more, so shake a leg coz when she's starts eruptin' ain't nobody gonna make her stop. Mercy!'
This is the generation "burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night!" (Ginsberg). These are the first teens, this is the regeneration, this is the declaration of self. This is the future.
"Angel headed hipsters" cavorting to the Devil's Music. It's the crossroads paved by Robert Johnson, careening frenzied between heaven and hellfire. "Gonna run through the world 'til he understands his pain/ Somebody help him get the demon home again," roars Screamin' Jay.
Or maybe, just maybe, it's the end of all that Either/Or chess game. Maybe This-vs-That just got aced by the full spectrum of things. No more Black and White, no more cold war, no more madonna or whore. Every body, everybody everywhere, needs more more more. 'Goin' down that road, move hot rod move me, boom-chicki-boom-chi-bop-bop!'
This is the modern world. This middle decade is the crossroads to tomorrow.
Freeways to anywhere, radio towers strobing the night, TV theme songs and Sci Fi movies, cheap paperbacks and loose money. Use these tools to subvert it all, upstarts, to revert it to its promise which has been lost. Find yourselves, find the future. Who you are, who you aren't. 'Walk 47 miles of barbwire, sprinkle oogley-oogley all under your bed, just move on up try for further coz you're in a frenzy.'
"Rocket 88" is arguably the first Rock'n'Roll song. It's a '48 jump jive song called "Cadillac Boogie" retooled with a kit on it. This time it's faster, sung by horny teenagers who want to carouse crazy in a fast car on cheap wine. The guitar amp got damaged before the studio gig and emitted a snarling angry fuzz. There it is, that hard clang, that brutal buzz, that lascivious sneer. The jukebox is now a jackknife, baby. These are the first punk songs that rocked the sisters and brothers like furthermuckers.
And the Edge wasn't always in the guitar, it's in the hipgrinding sax, in the rollicking keys, in the pounding drums, or the singer's furious shreik. Kid Thomas' gutter growl on "Rockin' This Joint To-nite!" (backed by Link Wray) slashes like a switchblade.
Rock'n'Roll cut quicksilver through every border, separation, and preconception. It immediately greasefired through jukeboxes, radio waves, indie labels, and sock hops. By 1959 -even as fate and force took down Elvis, Buddy and Ritchie, Jerry Lee, Chuck, and Little Richard- it cascaded unabated through cover bands in Britain and France, Mexico and Spain, and by 1960 elbowed bold through Cuba, Japan, the Netherlands, Germany, and more dominos beyond. And contrary to any deleters, it was full of Rockin' women who fought harder for their shot at a blasting 45rpm than anyone. This was their moment, this was the renewed now.
This is the new music, tight, terse, loud, abrasive, cackling with wild abandon. It doesn't care what you think coz it knows how it feels. "Rave on, it's a crazy feeling/ I know it's got me reeling." It is our new communal faith, something to believe in with all our heart. That beat that beat that beat...
Rock'n'Roll is liberation.
© Tym Stevens
CHUCK BERRY: The Guitar God and His Disciples
BO DIDDLEY: The Rhythm King and His Disciples
BUDDY HOLLY: Rock's Everyman and His Disciples
LITTLE RICHARD: The Voice of Rock and His Disciples
JIMMY REED: The Groover of Rock, From Motown To Sesame Street