In the three years after that seminal Elvis recording session all the basic building blocks of rock n roll were put into place via the first hit songs of several artists. Before taking a look at the chronology, let's acknowledge two other 1954 recordings that helped start rock n roll - Shake Rattle n Roll by Big Joe Turner and Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley & The Comets. The former reached #22 on the pop charts that year but while the latter had some chart success that year it did not become a mega-hit until it was re released in May 1955 after being featured on the soundtrack of the hit film Asphalt Jungle.
July 1955: Maybellene by Chuck Berry. The first Chuck Berry Guitar Solo (TM) though not quite as polished as some of his later efforts (for instance, Johnny B Goode from 1958). Berry deliberately and cannily targeted a white teenage audience with his songs, singing about cars, school, girls and just having fun, skillfully modulating the R&B sound in the process. From his Rock n Roll Hall of Fame induction:
"while no individual can be said to have invented rock and roll, Berry arguably did more than anyone else to put the pieces together. As rock journalist Dave Marsh wrote, “Chuck Berry is to rock and roll what Louis Armstrong is to jazz.” On “Maybellene” – Berry’s first single, released in 1955 – he played country & western guitar licks over a base of rhythm & blues. The distorted sound of Berry’s guitar captured the rough, untamed spirit of rock and roll."
In the live clip below you can watch Chuck doing his famous Duckwalk during the guitar solo. On the other hand, maybe he just learned everything from Marty McFly.
While no individual can be said to have invented rock and roll, Berry arguably did more than anyone else to put the pieces together. As rock journalist Dave Marsh wrote, “Chuck Berry is to rock and roll what Louis Armstrong is to jazz.” On “Maybellene” – Berry’s first single, released in 1955 – he played country & western guitar licks over a base of rhythm & blues. The distorted sound of Berry’s guitar captured the rough, untamed spirit of rock and roll. The song included a brief but scorching solo built around his trademark double-string guitar licks. It kicked off Berry’s career in style and paved the way for a steady stream of classics over the next decade. - See more at: http://rockhall.com/inductees/chuck-berry/bio/#sthash.4xIwFuhr.dpufNovember 1955: Tutti Frutti by Little Richard (aka Richard Wayne Penniman). Manic and unrestrained hollering from the wild man of rock n roll. Pat Boone had a couple of hits recording tamed versions of Little Richard tunes, including Tutti Frutti. Little Richard is relatively restrained in the video below.
January 1956: Blue Suede Shoes by Carl Perkins. Rockabilly strikes! Covered by many other artists, including Elvis.
(Photo from the-jime.dk)
January 1956: Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley. Elvis becomes ELVIS! The followup single was a little toe-tapper called Hound Dog.
May 1956: I Walk The Line by Johnny Cash. The country sounds bleeds into the emerging rock era.
March 1957: Bye Bye Love by The Everly Brothers. Mixing pop and country with gorgeous harmonies which later influenced The Beatles.
(Photo from Huffington Post)
May 1957: Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On by Jerry Lee Lewis. Jerry Lee shook up a lot of older folks with this and his followup hit Great Balls of Fire which were considered too raucous and overtly sexual.
May 1957: That'll Be The Day by Buddy Holly & The Crickets (originally recorded summer 1956). Melodic rock pioneer.
Suddenly, it was over. In late 1957, Little Richard announced that God had told him to repent of his secular music career and he enrolled in Oakwood College to study theology later becoming a minister before returning to rock n roll periodically over the years. On March 24, 1958 Elvis was inducted into the Army and disappeared for two years, returning to release a lot of schlock until reviving his career with a 1968 TV special. In May 1958 news of Jerry Lee Lewis' marriage to his 13-year old cousin became public and his career collapsed. Buddy Holly died (along with Richie Valens and the Big Bopper) in a February 1959 plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa and in December of that year Chuck Berry was arrested, and later convicted, for alleged violations of the Federal Mann Act (transporting underage women for immoral purposes; THC can think of many comments to add here but has decided that prudent silence is the best course). Meanwhile, after two further hits in 1958, Johnny Cash disappeared from the pop charts for five years though he continued to have reach the country charts and Carl Perkins faded away after his initial success, though he retained his popularity in England and The Beatles were later to cover several of his songs. Only The Everly Brothers continued to churn out hits without changing their style.
The one essential artist who just misses this time period is Ray Charles. Starting in 1953, Ray had sixteen Top 10 hits on the R&B charts but had not cracked the pop chart Top 10 until the release of What'd I Say in July 1959 which introduced soul and R&B into the rock n roll mix.
A few of these pioneers are still around. Chuck Berry is 87 years old and only recently stopped touring. Little Richard is 81, Don Everly 77 and defying predictions Jerry Lee Lewis is alive and still playing at the age of 78.