Light melodies, sweet lyrics, wholesome singers.
Innocent and inoffensive songs. All of this can be said about the
music of the Early Fifties.
Yet, all that white American complacency could not hold back the
vitality of Black R&B music, so a whole new sound emerged - Rock and
Most of the songs of the Early Fifties were "feel-good" tunes, which
genuinely reflected the mood of post World War II America. Artists
like Pat Boone, Rosemary Clooney and Perry Como dominated pop charts.
This bored the newly independent life form known as teenagers. Mom and
Dad's music wasn't, you know, "cool, Daddy-O."
this time, a Cleveland DJ named Alan Freed (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
inductee, 1986) began playing Black R&B tunes. Freed moved his show to
New York in 1954 and began including live performances, especially of
the artists with the vocal harmonies he favored.
He called this sound Rock and Roll. Fittingly, he
is the first Rock DJ. And many consider his Moondog Coronation Ball,
held March 21st, 1952 in Cleveland, to be the very birthdate of Rock
Although gaining in popularity, these black artists originally did not
sell as well as their white contemporaries, who had rerecorded the
same songs as what is known as a "cover version." If you have ever
heard Pat Boone's "cover" of Tutti Frutti you will understand why,
thankfully, this practice of having whites "cover" black artists
In the South, where Country and Western had ruled the charts, Sam
Phillips (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, 1986) opened the
Memphis Recording Service - the first place a black musician could go
to record. His motto, "We Record Anything, Anywhere, Anytime."
Which appealed to a certain young truck driver. Sometime during the
summer of 1953, Elvis Presley came to the Memphis Recording Service to
make a record, ostensibly for his mother's birthday, but with hope of
being discovered. In this initial session Elvis recorded "My
Happiness" and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin."
this same time frame a newcomer was on the horizon. Wallace Van Riper "Wally Deane", still a
teen when brought from Bivens, Texas to Globe Records by Tex
Dean, cut three very fine rockabilly performances with
accompaniment that included hot fingerpicking a la Scotty
Moore, whose guitar had done much to enliven the debut
releases of a Sam Phillips discovery, Elvis Presley.
Presley's initial success had not gone unnoticed by Lillian
McMurray (trumpet Records-Globe Records) nor by Wally Deane.
Wally's Hiccupy, excited singing showed he was
firmly aboard the same haywagon that presley, Buddy Holly, and
Carl Perkins were riding towards stardom.
In Chicago, two brothers, Phil and Leonard
Chess (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, 1987) took the
best of the black bluesmen performing in their nightclub and
began recording them on their Chess label. Chess Records, a
storefront on Cottage Avenue in the "Little Mississippi" area
of Chicago, was already home to the great Muddy Waters.
Still, what both Phillps and the Chess
brothers needed was a crossover artist - someone who had the
energy of Rhythm and Blues and the marketability of say, Pat
Boone. Someone who could sell records.
Phillips found just such an artist - Elvis Presley. And the
Chess Brothers, well, they found Chuck Berry.
1952 a band out of Chester, Pennsylvania began to enjoy some modest
success with a sound that was part Country and part R&B. They recorded
one song in 1954 that brought only modest success. Then the song was
used as the theme for a movie, The Blackboard Jungle, and that got
them a whole lotta attention. The song was Rock Around the Clock and
the band was Bill Haley and His Comets. (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
These diverse factors influenced the music of the Early Fifties. The
bubblegum sweetness would eventually fade away, like the blush of
America's post war optimism. Whereas Rock and Roll, with its
irrepressible energy - well, Rock and Roll was here to stay.