Hail, Hail, Rock and Roll

Like most men of his generation, born in the ‘thirties, my father school at 14 and, in the new world of full employment, got a pretty humdrum job in a paint factory. Then, come age 18, he was summoned to do his national service, before coming back to work in the job he was to do for most of his working life. Aged 24, he married in the newly prosperous world of the ‘fifties, but their world was very much their parents’ world too.

The pop music my parents loved was that of the crooner. My mum loved the teen heartthrob Eddie Fisher; my dad, who always had better taste, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra (though he was a very big fan of Doris Day too).

Meanwhile, down In Tennessee.

Perhaps, to get the full effect, you need how good the sound was on the record.

American music of the time was deeply, racially segregated. The only real exceptions in any form were jazz, and folk music. What would come if you did the same for what were two great but very racially segregated forms of music: blues (often styled, in its more modern up-tempo form, rhythm and blues) and country? This was the answer: Rock and Roll. Elvis’ Hound Dog was a cover of a r’n’b song by the black Rufus Thomas. And then there was Little Richard.

If the economic growth of ‘fifties created the teenage consumer, arguably rock and roll created the teenager. It’s hard for us to grasp now quite how revolutionary that music was. Like all great music, if you have ears to hear, the best of it still sounds as fresh as the day it was recorded.

As is so often the case, great commercial success also came to those who were less good. The appeal of Bill Haley and the Comets seems somehow elusive, but they wee the first to cross the water. In their wake came our own home grown rock and rollers, notably Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard.

At the time, it was thought guitar music was a fad, and wouldn’t last. Tommy Steele spoke of his aspiration to become an ‘all-round entertainer’; Cliff made movies. Ironically, so did Elvis, and they were awful too.

Of the supposedly dying guitar music? It would prove very much alive by the time Beatlemania arived (more of which anon). But even before that, 1960 saw the first authentically great British rock and roll record.

That at first rock and roll generion would be supplanted. But, in Chuck Berry’s words: ‘Hail, hail, rock and roll, deliver me from days of old.’

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