Something that annoys me, as a lifelong fan of 1950s rock 'n' roll, rockabilly, r 'n' b and so on, is the way that any and every TV or radio documentary on the music of that period—and especially British music—manages to insinuate that it was all just a kind of precursor to the Beatles and their single-handed re-invention of rock music. And they probably invented the 1960s pretty-much on their own too. Without them, so we're led to understand, music would have died sometime around 1963.
British rock 'n' roll and related music of the period was very much alive and well, thank you very much, and just once I'd like to watch a documentary on the subject which treats the music of the period with the respect it's due in its own right; and which doesn't end on the line, spoken in an awed tone, "And in a club in Liverpool, four young men were getting ready to change everything…"
Anyways, having done my part in talking about '50s Brit music without mentioning the dreaded mop-tops by, erm, mentioning them—ahem—here's six slices of rock 'n' roll from the period, all hailing from this side of the pond. Well, I say rock 'n' roll, but…
I doubt there's a single genre of music that arrives fully-formed, with an easily pinned-down date of birth attached; and rock 'n' roll is no exception. As an easily-defined craze, it's generally acknowledged to have begun with either the release of Bill Haley's Rock Around The Clock in '54 or that song's use in the title sequence of the movie Blackboard Jungle, the following year. Ask most people who have an opinion though, and they'll generally cite Jackie Brenston's 1951 Rocket 88 as 'the first' rock 'n' roll recording. At which point, Gentle Reader, my jaw drops. Wynonie Harris. Nineteen-forty-bloody-eight! (And if you'd quibble that as being more r 'n' b than rock 'n' roll, compare to Alan Freed's Rock 'n' Roll Orchestra, 1956.)
This being an import from the US, Britain didn't have quite the same run-up at rock 'n' roll, but in retrospect, check this one out. No, it wouldn't have been named so at the time, but so far as I'm concerned, you can jive to it, '50s style (well if you're young, fit and fast on your feet you can), so it fits the bill. Possibly best known for her The Poor People Of Paris and Black And White Rag, here's the inestimable Winifred Atwell (a sadly much-forgotten talent, these days) from 1953, with Five Finger Boogie.
When the rock 'n' roll craze hit these shores, music promoters wanting to cash in had one giant, and obvious, problem. The artists performing it were several thousand miles away across a rather inconvenient ocean. The equally obvious response was to find someone over here willing to perform it; and the first such tended to be jazz musicians, who already had experience playing the big-band style r 'n' b that formed the most obvious root of the style. The best of this bunch, in my not-so-humble opinion, was Ray Ellington; singer, drummer, bandleader and regular provider of musical interludes on the BBC's Goon Show. (He also took part in quite a few sketches and could, if you wanted, be claimed to have been 'the fifth Goon.') With a nod to the boogie-woogie style exemplified in the last video, here's the much more standard rock 'n' roll number, with amusing interlude, Left Hand Boogie.
But, talented though artists like Ellington were, they were generally older men; none of them the teen heart-throb that was much-desired for teens to dream about, scream at or emulate, as their tastes might dictate. Enter Terry Dene; the first 'British Elvis,' and something of a Bad Boy to boot—he vandalised a telephone!, much to the horror of the press and probably the delight of teens everywhere. His first hit was a 1957 cover of Marty Robbins' A White Sport Coat, (and how was that song ever classed as any stripe of rock 'n' roll?), but here's a much better number. A b-side (such often being better, punchier rock 'n' roll than the tame, pop-tinted a-sides) from later that year; Baby, She's Gone.
It would be hard to do a piece on Brit music of the 1950s without mentioning Cliff Richard, but do I really have to say anything about him? Well okay, one thing. There was actually a time, hard though it may be to imagine such a thing, when the man was cool, and this was that time. Here's another b-side (Does anyone else out there miss proper b-sides or am I the only one who thinks three different edits of the same song is a cop-out?); his 1959 Dynamite.
I wanted to save the best (again, in my not so humble opinion) 'til last, but I ended up with two 'bests.' So I flipped a coin, and Vince Taylor came up heads. A Briton by birth who'd grown up in the States, where he'd already done some amateur singing before re-crossing the pond, Taylor got a band, the Playboys (neither the first nor the last of that name) together via the usual London recruiting-ground, the 2i's Coffee Bar in Soho.
Although not as successful as other artists in the 'trashy rock 'n' roll' style (my own, personal pigeon-hole label) like Johnny Kidd or Gene Vincent (during his Brit years), Taylor, over a somewhat stormy career, produced some of the hardest-punching rock 'n' roll this country would see until Crazy Cavan And The Rhythm Rockers jumped into a beat-up Ford Transit van. Here's his, the original, version of a song that's been covered by everybody and their uncle's dog's brother. Brand New Cadillac.
And last, but certainly not least, comes Billy Fury. Which may surprise those who remember him mostly for his early '60s pop-ballads, but the album this comes off is, quite simply, the best rock 'n' roll album to be produced in Britain in the 1950s, and rates pretty high in the ranks of rock 'n' roll albums produced anywhere during that decade. (I'd urge anyone with twenty minutes to spare, to listen to the whole thing.) Not only is the musicianship superb (music geeks might wish to note that the guitarist is Joe Brown), but at a time when Brit rock 'n' rollers were still getting most of their material by covering US originals, all ten tracks on the album were self-written by Fury.
Oh, and Fury was from Liverpool, where four young… Damnit! Stop me now!
Here, from the album The Sound Of Fury, is Turn My Back On You.
You may use these HTML tags in comments
<a href="" title=""></a> <abbr title=""></abbr>
<acronym title=""></acronym> <blockquote></blockquote> <del></del>* <strike></strike>† <em></em>* <i></i>† <strong></strong>* <b></b>†
* is generally preferred over †