I was recently asked if I could name one record that epitomizes rock & roll—one track that embodies its spirit and pulse, in all its insolent glory. A preposterously tall order I thought. But I was already hooked.
So I pondered the great rock tours-de-force over the years, from 'Satisfaction' by the Rolling Stones to 'Rock & Roll Hoochie Coo' by Rick Derringer to 'Old Time Rock & Roll' by Bob Seger. I thought I might even include a recent tune for my short list: Green Day's 'Know Your Enemy'.
But the truth be told, these songs—and many other such classics from the last four decades—rocked more than rolled. The real heart and soul of this musical revolution, in my humble opinion, is best captured in the swaying, fluid rhythms of its 1950s pioneers—the true R&R architects—who had some swing in their rock.
But so many choices still! There's Chuck Berry's 'Roll Over Beethoven' and 'Sweet Little Sixteen'—the very first record I bought (while barely out of the crib). But there's also Elvis's 'Hound Dog' and 'Jail House Rock'. And let's not forget Jerry Lee Lewis's 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On'.
All these tunes had an elegantly simple but audaciously compelling feel. But finally I had to settle on this flawless gem by little Richard Penniman of Macon, Georga—the gay preacher man who terrified the culture police by inciting teen hysterics whenever and wherever he pounded a piano. A drum roll, please, for the greatest rock & roll record of all time…
And here's the original track of the song, sans video. It holds up mighty well fifty-two years later. The vocal is R&R perfection! (Feel free, of course, to register your dissent to this opinionated choice.)
Almost forgot: a business lesson from this? Get sage legal counsel before you sign a contract! With a few exceptions, these early rock & rollers were taken to the car wash by managers, producers, and record companies.
Wishing you a rollicking holiday as you rock around the Christmas tree, Chanukah lights, or Solstice log.