Rock and Roll
Rock and roll emerged as a defined musical style in the United States in the early to mid-1950s. It derived most directly from the rhythm and blues music of the 1940s, which itself developed from earlier blues, boogie woogie, jazz and swing music, and was also influenced by gospel, country and western, and traditional folk music. Rock and roll in turn provided the main basis for the music that, since the mid-1960s, has been generally known as rock music.
The phrase rocking and rolling originally described the movement of a ship on the ocean, but was used by the early twentieth century, both to describe a spiritual fervor and as a sexual analogy. Various gospel, blues and swing recordings used the phrase before it became used more frequently - but still intermittently - in the late 1930s and 1940s, principally on recordings and in reviews of what became known as rhythm and blues music aimed at a black audience. In 1951, Cleveland, Ohio, disc jockey Alan Freed began playing this music style while popularizing the term rock and roll to describe it.
Because the development of rock and roll was an evolutionary process, no single record can be identified as unambiguously "the first" rock and roll record. In terms of its wide cultural impact across society in the US and elsewhere, Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock", recorded in April 1954 but not a commercial success until the following year, is generally recognized as an important milestone, but it was preceded by many recordings from earlier decades in which elements of rock and roll can be clearly discerned.
The term "Rock and Roll"
The alliterative phrase rocking and rolling was originally used by mariners at least as early as the 17th century, to describe the combined rocking (fore and aft) and rolling (side to side) motion of a ship on the ocean. Examples include an 1821 reference, "...prevent her from rocking and rolling...", and an 1835 reference to a ship "...rocking and rolling on both beam-ends". As the term referred to movement forwards, backwards and from side to side, it acquired sexual connotations from early on; the sea shanty "Johnny Bowker" (or "Boker"), probably from the early nineteenth century, contains the lines "Oh do, my Johnny Bowker/ Come rock and roll me over".
The hymn "Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep", with words written in the 1830s by Emma Willard and tune by Joseph Philip Knight, was recorded several times around the start of the twentieth century, by the Original Bison City Quartet before 1894, the Standard Quartette in 1895, John W. Myers at about the same time, and Gus Reed in 1908. By that time, the specific phrase "rocking and rolling" was also used by African Americans in spirituals with a religious connotation. The earliest known recording of the phrase in use was on a 1904 Victor phonograph record, "The Camp Meeting Jubilee" by the Haydn Quartet, with the words "We've been rockin' an' rolling in your arms/ Rockin' and rolling in your arms/ Rockin' and rolling in your arms/ In the arms of Moses." Another version was issued on the Little Wonder record label in 1916. "Rocking" was also used to describe the spiritual rapture felt by worshippers at certain religious events, and to refer to the rhythm often found in the accompanying music.
At the same time, the terminology was used in secular contexts, for example to describe the motion of railroad trains. It has been suggested that it was also used by men building railroads, who would sing to keep the pace, swinging their hammers down to drill a hole into the rock, and the men who held the steel spikes would "rock" the spike back and forth to clear rock or "roll", twisting it to improve the "bite" of the drill. "Rocking" and "rolling" were also used, both separately and together, in a sexual context; writers for hundreds of years had used the phrases "They had a roll in the hay" or "I rolled her in the clover".
By the early twentieth century the words were increasingly used together in secular black slang with a double meaning, ostensibly referring to dancing and partying, but often with the subtextual meaning of sex.
In 1922, blues singer Trixie Smith recorded "My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)," first featuring the two words in a secular context. Although it was played with a backbeat and was one of the first "around the clock" lyrics, this slow minor-key blues was by no means "rock and roll" in the later sense. However, the terms "rocking", and "rocking and rolling", were increasingly used through the 1920s and 1930s, especially but not exclusively by black secular musicians, to refer to either dancing or sex, or both. In 1927, blues singer Blind Blake used the couplet "Now we gonna do the old country rock / First thing we do, swing your partners" in "West Coast Blues", which in turn formed the basis of "Old Country Rock" by William Moore the following year. Also in 1927, traditional country musician Uncle Dave Macon, with his group the Fruit Jar Drinkers, recorded "Sail Away Ladies" with a refrain of "Don't she rock, daddy-o", and "Rock About My Saro Jane". Duke Ellington recorded "Rockin' In Rhythm" in 1928, and Robinson's Knights Of Rest recorded "Rocking and Rolling" in 1930.
In 1932, the phrase "rock and roll" was heard in the Hal Roach film Asleep in the Feet. In 1934, The Boswell Sisters had a pop hit with "Rock and Roll" from the film Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round, where the term was used to describe the motion of a ship at sea. In 1935, Henry "Red" Allen recorded "Get Rhythm in Your Feet and Music in Your Soul" which included the lyric, "If Satan starts to hound you, commence to rock and roll / Get rhythm in your feet..." The lyrics were written by the prolific composer J. Russel Robinson with Bill Livingston. Allen's recording was a "race" record on the Vocalion label, but the tune was quickly covered by white musicians, notably Benny Goodman with singer Helen Ward.
Other notable recordings using the words, both released in 1938, were "Rock It For Me" by Chick Webb, a swing number with Ella Fitzgerald on vocals featuring the lyrics "...Won't you satisfy my soul, With the rock and roll?"; and "Rock Me" by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a gospel song originally written by Thomas Dorsey as "Hide Me In Thy Bosom". Tharpe performed the song in the style of a city blues, with secular lyrics, ecstatic vocals and electric guitar. She changed Dorsey's "singing" to "swinging," and the way she rolled the "R" in "rock me" led to the phrase being taken as a double entendre, interpretable as religious or sexual.
The following year, Western swing musician Buddy Jones recorded "Rockin' Rollin' Mama", which drew on the term's original meaning - "Waves on the ocean, waves in the sea/ But that gal of mine rolls just right for me/ Rockin' rollin' mama, I love the way you rock and roll". In August 1939, Irene Castle devised a new dance called "The Castle Rock and Roll", described as "an easy swing step", which she performed at the Dancing Masters of America convention at the Hotel Astor. The Marx Brothers' 1941 film The Big Store featured actress Virginia O'Brien singing a song starting out as a traditional lullaby which soon changes into a rocking boogie-woogie with lines like "Rock, rock, rock it, baby...". Although the song was only a short comedy number, it contains references which, by then, would have been understood by a wide general audience.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an early use of the word "rock" in describing a style of music was in a review in Metronome magazine on July 21, 1938, which stated that "Harry James' "Lullaby in Rhythm" really rocks." In 1939, a review of "Ciribiribin" and "Yodelin' Jive" by The Andrews Sisters with Bing Crosby, in the journal The Musician, stated that the songs "...rock and roll with unleashed enthusiasm tempered to strict four-four time".
By the early 1940s, the term "rock and roll" was also being used in record reviews by Billboard journalist and columnist Maurie Orodenker. In the May 30, 1942, issue, for instance, he described Sister Rosetta Tharpe's vocals, on a re-recording of "Rock Me" with Lucky Millinder's band, as "rock-and-roll spiritual singing", and on October 3, 1942, he described Count Basie's "It's Sand, Man!" as "an instrumental screamer.... displays its rock and roll capacities when tackling the righteous rhythms." In the April 25, 1945 edition, Orodenker described Erskine Hawkins' version of "Caldonia" as "right rhythmic rock and roll music", a phrase precisely repeated in his 1946 review of "Sugar Lump" by Joe Liggins.
A double, ironic, meaning came to popular awareness in 1947 in blues artist Roy Brown's song "Good Rocking Tonight", covered in 1948 by Wynonie Harris in a wilder version, in which "rocking" was ostensibly about dancing but was in fact a thinly-veiled allusion to sex. Such double-entendres were well established in blues music but were new to the radio airwaves. After the success of "Good Rocking Tonight" many other R&B artists used similar titles through the late 1940s. At least two different songs with the title "Rock and Roll" were recorded in the late 1940s: by Paul Bascomb in 1947, and Wild Bill Moore in 1948. In May 1948, Savoy Records advertised "Robbie-Dobey Boogie" by Brownie McGhee with the tagline "It jumps, it's made, it rocks, it rolls." Another record where the phrase was repeated throughout the song was "Rock and Roll Blues", recorded in 1949 by Erline "Rock and Roll" Harris.
|Louis "Moondog" Hardin|