In praise of … rock'n'roll | Editorial

It was 60 years ago that Bill Haley recorded Rock Around the Clock and Elvis released his first singles

You can get into arguments about it – and people have done, for decades – but for those who are not musical pedants, 2014 marks the 60th anniversary of the birth of rock'n'roll: 1954 was the year Bill Haley recorded Rock Around the Clock, the year Elvis released his first singles.

While the phrase "rock'n'roll" – originally a euphemism for sexual intercourse – had been around since the 30s, 1954 is also believed to be the year it was first used to describe a style of music, by the American DJ Alan Freed.

While it's almost impossible now to imagine a world without rock'n'roll – you would have to be in your 70s to have entered your teens before the rock'n'roll explosion – it's still easy to listen to the early hits of Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Cochran or Chuck Berry and feel the tremors of excitement.

Here was a music that didn't bother with circumlocution or with delicacy, but offered a simple, pure hit of adrenaline. Little Richard's Keep a Knockin', even at this distance, might still be the single most exciting couple of minutes ever committed to tape in the name of pop music – no wonder that when Led Zeppelin recorded a song called, simply, Rock and Roll, they just pilfered the drum introduction as the most obvious signifier of what they wanted to convey.

Sixty years on, rock'n'roll may no longer have the same meaning as Alan Freed intended, but the fact that even now young groups will declare themselves to be "a rock'n'roll band" proves the old song title was right: Rock'n'Roll Is Here to Stay.

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