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.



The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Chuck wrote history of rock’n’roll music | Letters
Letters: His set of classic rock’n’roll numbers was explosive


20, Mar, 2017 @6:47 PM

In praise of … stage names | Editorial
Editorial: The fortunate are born with the right name, such as Marlon Brando or Elvis Presley. Others need the magic of a makeover


20, Aug, 2012 @7:57 PM

Article image
Million Dollar Quartet – review

Jerry Lee Lewis is the standout in this musical celebration of a great day for rock'n'roll back in 1956, writes Michael Billington

Michael Billington

28, Feb, 2011 @10:15 PM

Article image
Rock’n’roll America review – the gospel truth about a music revolution
It wasn’t that long ago that Elvis Presley was denounced as the devil’s disciple. The way the first rockers tell it, though, it was more about impressing girls…

Lucy Mangan

11, Jul, 2015 @6:00 AM

Article image
Leader: In praise of ... Chuck Berry
Leader: Fans across the world are hoping that Chuck Berry will choose this evening to play one of his occasional Wednesday gigs at the Blueberry Hill in his native St Louis. For today is the brown-eyed handsome man’s 80th birthday, a rare milestone in a musical world in which too many others have died before they got old.


17, Oct, 2006 @11:09 PM

Article image
Chris Isaak: 'My advice is: if you've got to be miserable to write great music, then drive a truck!'

The singer on recording his new album of covers in the legendary Sun studios – and the secret of his quiff

Tim Jonze

01, Mar, 2012 @8:00 PM

Article image
The 100 greatest UK No 1s: 100-1
Look back on our complete countdown of the greatest UK No 1s, from the Beatles to Baby D, and So Solid Crew to Suzi Quatro

Ben Beaumont-Thomas, Alexis Petridis and Laura Snapes

05, Jun, 2020 @8:00 AM

Article image
The Guardian view on music and poetry: growing up together | Editorial
Editorial: Cultural forms built with words were once all indistinguishable, but in popular culture they are again coalescing. Figures such as Chuck Berry and Derek Walcott were part of bringing them together


19, Mar, 2017 @7:45 PM

Article image
Readers recommend: songs about scandal | Peter Kimpton
Sex, drugs, money, sport, politics or hypocrisy? Sift through your songs to craft a collection of controversy, exposing the wrongs that pretend to be rights, says Peter Kimpton

Peter Kimpton

08, Oct, 2015 @7:04 PM

Article image
Hail, Hail, Rock'n'Roll | Laura Barton
Laura Barton: When we are young and hoping to live as passionately as music we love; be it Beethoven or dubstep, it speaks for us when words fail

Laura Barton

01, Jul, 2010 @10:30 PM