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This, We Agree, Was The First-Ever Recorded Rock And Roll Song

What was the first recorded rock and roll song?

Before we can answer that question, we have to go back and figure out the ingredients of rock and roll. We can identify three most important ingredients: gospel, jump and blues. 

1. Blues For Raw Emotion And The Dominant Guitar

Let’s start with the blues element, represented here by John Lee Hooker’s 1948 “Boogie Chillen":

Boogiechillen-mp3.mp3
John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillen"

It’s the primal sound, the African sound, with guitar driving the rhythm. It’s the guitar riff that launched a million songs. Without Hooker, you don’t have ZZ Top.

2. Gospel For Uplift And Abandon

The next ingredient is gospel music, music from the black church. Listen to the Golden Gate Quartet from 1938: 

Rockmysoul-mp3.mp3
Golden Gate Quartet's "Rock My Soul"

3. Jump/Swing For Rhythm And Rebellion

Out of the types of music we’ve heard so far, this sound most like early rock and roll. In fact, some people say the first rock and roll song is Louis Jordan’s “Saturday Night Fish Fry” from 1949. 

Satnightfishfry-mp3.mp3
Louis Jordan's "Saturday Night Fish Fry"

This music is also really danceable. It has a great sense of fun in it. And in these lyrics, we hear that spirit of debauchery that’s so essential to rock and roll.

And The First-Ever Rock And Roll Song Is (Drumroll, Please)

There’s still one very important ingredient in rock and roll: a distorted guitar. And that’s why we agree that Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88” from 1951 should be considered the first rock and roll song.

Rocket88-mp3.mp3
Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88”

It was one of the first songs to use a distorted guitar, and it happened by accident. The guitar amp was damaged on the way to the studio. And when they plugged it in, it made a sound that nobody had ever heard before — distortion. You might call it a buzzy, fuzzy sound.

Distortion is a sound, but it also implies a sense of being out of control. Rock and roll is not safe. And if it is safe, it’s not rock and roll. 

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What do you consider to be the first recorded rock and roll song? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

John has worked as a professional bassist for 20 years, including a 15 year stint as Musical Director of the Mountain Stage radio program. John has been at KNKX since 1999 where he hosts “All Blues”, is producer of the BirdNote radio program, and co-hosts “Record Bin Roulette”. John is also the recording engineer for KNKX “In-Studio Performances”. Not surprisingly, John's main musical interests are jazz and blues, and he is still performing around Seattle.
Nick began working at KNKX as a program host in the late 1980’s and, with the exception of a relatively brief hiatus, has been with the station ever since. Along with his work as a Midday Jazz host, Nick worked for several years as KNKX’s Music Director. He is now the station’s Production Manager and also serves as a fill-in host on KNKX’s jazz and blues programs.