August 04, 2013

Rock 'n' Roll Will Never Die — But it Did (Part 1)

... at least, it did for me sometime in the mid 1990's. The scene had changed. Boy bands, hip hop, rap, grunge, spicy girls dominated the charts and it didn't do much for someone who'd grown up with Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, the Blues, Otis Redding, James Brown, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes, Motown ....

I'm not trying to knock the "rock" music of today — every generation has their musical heroes -- and the generation before mine certainly had their problems with that "devil music" rock 'n' roll. What I guess I'm saying is each generation of music reflects the cultural changes that inevitably happen with the technological advances available at the time, leaving behind those who get older and can't identify with the new music being presented.

I'm certain I've missed some good rock 'n' roll bands since my self imposed exile from listening to the current scene (my brother keeps telling about Tragically Hip), but my problem is there is so much stuff out there that doesn't interest me at all, I don't have the time or energy any more to wade through it all to find a few gems.

I started high school in 1963. It was quite a year. In November, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Us high school kids were shocked, along with the rest of the world. And then, in December of 1963, I heard a Beatles song for the first time. We went from one low, low point when it seemed as if the world had gone mad, to the calming effect this band of merry Englishmen brought to the world and culture suffering through a major heart wrenching disaster.

Dion singing Ruby Baby
Of course, I was into rock 'n' roll before The Beatles. My hero before December of 1963 was Dion DeMucci, better know as just Dion. His music came out of the doo wop craze of the 1950's and his songs are infectious and finger snapping great. From the whiny teeny bopper laments of Teenager in Love and Lonely Teenage, to the very adult Ruby Baby and Runaround Sue, Dion, who started out with The Belmonts before going solo, rocked right up there with Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and all the great pioneers of rock n roll. Last time I checked, he was still at it at the age of 75ish.

You know how certain songs or bands remind you of certain people in your life? Well Ruby Baby always makes me think of my older brother, Dennis, who is also a big Dion fan. It's a song I can listen to over and over again and sometimes I can't get it out of my head -- or want to. I'm so glad Dion didn't take that plane ride with Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens when, according to the great Don McLean in his epic song American Pie, it was the day the music died.

Many people believe that rock 'n' roll started on the day in July, 1954 when Sun Records released Elvis Presley's single That's Alright Mama/Blue Moon of Kentucky. I was barely out of diapers at the time so I can't really say one way or the other. My earliest memory of Elvis happened a few years later when our family was driving through the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee on our way to our Florida vacation. It was kind of scary driving high up in the mountains. For my two brothers and me, the scenery was exhilarating and our ears kept popping and on the radio Elvis was singing I'm All Shook Up. We were certainly feeling a bit shaky as we looked down at the trees and river so far below.

John Lennon was quoted as saying, "Before Elvis there was nothing."

However, Elvis actually disagreed with Lennon, when he said, “A lot of people seem to think I started this business. But rock 'n' roll was here a long time before I came along. Nobody can sing that kind of music like colored people. Let's face it: I can't sing like Fats Domino can. I know that.”

He was right. The term rock 'n' roll was actually used by white radio disc jockeys at the time for white audiences to cover up the fact that this so called new music was actually rhythm and blues made popular by so many great black musicians in the late 1940's and early 1950's. For a detailed history of the origins of rock music, you can check out Wikipedia here: Rock and Roll

Three months before Elvis recorded That's Alright Mama, Bill Hailey & The Comets recorded Rock Around The Clock, a key milestone song that was not a major hit at the time. However, when the song was used in the opening sequence of the movie The Blackboard Jungle, it caught on big time with teenagers and set the rock 'n' roll craze in motion.

Chuck Berry
And so, early rock 'n' roll was actually rhythm and blues with a white face, but in time it integrated to include major innovators who pioneered the sound that would eventually break off into so many categories it makes your head spin. I still listen to those old rock 'n' rollers -- Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Dion, of course and many others. The music is as fresh and fun as it was the day it was released.

However, a new form of rock music invaded our society and culture in late 1963 that would change everything. More on that in Part 2 and how this "invasion" turned so many of us teenagers into guitar players, driving our parents, teachers and neighbors crazy.


  1. Glenn- Just reread your blog on the history of rock that mentioned that it died, I think that's why Rolling in the Deep by Adelle hit a chord and her album which had some fantastic stuff up with the Beatles. Her slow songs were terrific and it just kept selling and selling. You may say more pop. Food for part 2.

    There's a reason why there are successful revival tours by aging old guy rock groups, and why classic rock stations are still around and almost as many as those playing the latest junk.

    Yep after the 90's The Tragically Hips' song got too Pop.

    The problem with many groups that do come out with rock songs that have the sound of the '70-80's they only have 1 or 2 decent songs on an album and you never hear of them again- i.e.

    Like Wolfmother- 'Woman'- they may have had other good songs- but I never heard them or checked out their album- then of course they broke up and now have new members.

    Gee, how long ago was Allanis Morrisettes- Jagged little pill?- was that in the 90's? - Time fly's by- not quite Heart but pretty rocking.