Clem Sunter

The royalty of rock 'n roll

2011-07-20 12:30

Clem Sunter

On a recent weekend radio show, someone asked what was the greatest rock record of all time. I think the answer given was "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen.

It got me thinking because I was there when rock was rock 'n roll. It all started when Bill Haley topped the charts in 1955 with "Rock Around the Clock". The "roll" was removed when The Beatles and The Rolling Stones rose to fame in 1963. This column therefore addresses a more focused question: What was the greatest record of that eight-year period and who were the Kings and Queens of Rock 'n Roll?

I know that for young readers this is like asking about Arthur and Boadicea when we live in the time of William and Kate (sorry Catherine now). Nevertheless, the source of modern pop music was that incredible era when songs involved three chords, guitars were acoustic, microphones were crystal and amplifiers were combined in small boxes with speakers. The dance was The Jive.

Let me start with my choice of royalty. The king, of course, was Elvis when he played with Scotty Moore (lead guitar), Bill Black (upright bass) and DJ Fontana (drums). It all started with "That's All Right" recorded at the Sun Records studios. It ended when he went into the army and Tom Parker, his manager, reinvented him afterwards as a smooth balladeer.

Coming close to Elvis in the royalty stakes are Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis: Holly and Orbison because of the range of their voices; Berry because of his classic rock compositions; and Lewis because of his mesmerising piano-playing technique. Interestingly, there was no super-star female singer like Madonna at that time, but Brenda Lee and Connie Francis produced the odd rock 'n roll hit like "Sweet Nothings" and "Stupid Cupid".

On the other side of the Atlantic, Britain only produced copycats like Cliff Richard, Tommy Steele and Billy Fury. None of them cracked it in the United States; so it was one-way traffic until The Beatles arrived on the scene.

Be that as it may, let's get back to the first question of the best rock 'n roll record of all time. Here is my top 10 in descending order:

1. Blue Suede Shoes by Elvis Presley
2. Rock Around the Clock by Billy Haley
3. Peggy Sue by Buddy Holiday
4. At the Hop by Danny and The Juniors
5. Jailhouse Rock by Elvis Presley
6. Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On by Jerry Lee Lewis
7. Tutti Frutti by Little Richard
8. Hello Mary Lou by Ricky Nelson
9. Wake Up Little Susie by Everly Brothers
10 C'mon Everybody by Eddie Cochran

There you have it. It's one for the money, two for the show! "Blue Suede Shoes", written by Carl Perkins and turned into a hit by him at the same time as Elvis Presley, is for me the quintessential rock song. However, Elvis' version takes the prize because of his insanely vibrant voice and Scotty Moore's awesome guitar solo.

Send your comments to Clem

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