Rock n' Roll
Copernique Marshall


This column originally appeared in the 25th of March 2013 edition of Le Castor™.

I find it odd that kids, today, aren't interested in the origins of the music they listen to. Seems like they are convinced that they're listening to the newest thing around the block when they're actually listening to a rehash of something composed and played sometimes decades before. - Isn't Paul Dubé who - My God ! Five years ago - made us listen to a disco recording made in 1959 (see : Enregistrements, page 3, no. 135). - Nothing surprising there, particularly concerning Rock n' Roll and its derivatives. After all, it's made of three chords, all flattened : a flattened third, a flattened fifth and a flattened seventh. Add a back beat, riffs and you got it made. But then, there's the sound.

The early pioners (mid-fifties) didn't have much choice. No wah-wah pedals and no flingflang guitars with 10 000 watts amplifier : their music had to be simple: so simple, the recordings they made have become classics. Two questions : what is rock n' roll and has it evolve over the years ? - First question : like Armstrong said about jazz, if you gotta ask, you'll never know. Second question : not that much. Which is why the Chuck Berrys and the Little Richards of this world are still around and so are their heirs : the Rolling Stones, The Who's, ZZ Top and countless others. - Please don' send me a list.

Two names I'm afraid to mention when it comes to Rock n' Roll : Elvis Presley who was a great performer but The King of Rock n' Roll ? Be serious, yet I do have a surprise concerning him in what I believe to be ten top rock recordings ; and then there's the Beatles. No thank you but... well you'll see. - And then there are names that I just can't include here : the wonderful Beach Boys, the unbelievable Marvin Gaye, the great Ray Charles, Bo Didley, Roy Orbison, CCR, The Boss... they partially fit my definition of Rock n' Roll singers or bands. And why not ? Hell, the Rock n' Roll Hall of fame - check it up - even have Hank Williams, ABBA, Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong in their inductees... What's the matter ? They're ran out of names ?

And then there's Crissie Hynde, Grace Slick and Aretha Franklin. A lot could be said about Rock n' Roll female singers.

But enough. Here's list of what I consider great Rock n' Roll recordings. Not the greatest of all times. - For that, I'll wait another seventy years and see what will remain (know what I mean ?).

In no particular order :

  • Like a Rolling Stone (Bob Dylan - 1965) - His last "Aw" ("Aw, princess on the steeple and all the pretty people...") is remarkable. And check out the Rolling Stones' 1995 version.

  • Sympathy for the Devil (The Rolling Stones - 1968) - Perhaps not the best song that The Rolling Stones recorded but, as a show opener, it's a killer. - See YouTube for a live extended version. - For pure energy, I'd recommend "Turd on the Run" or "Rip this joint", part of their Exile on Main Street double album. - And for Keith Richard's à-la-Chuck-Berry, you know what to get. - Hey, these guys have been around for fifty years. I'm sure I could find at least ten of their songs that could make this list.

  • You Can't Catch Me (Chuck Berry - 1956) - Typical Chuck Berry Song : great opening riff, very simple bass line, with so and so lyrics but so catchy. Guess one could prefer "Johnny B. Goode" or "Maybelline" ; I personally like "Memphis". - Can you believe this guy will be 87 years old this year and he's still going. Surprisingly, his output (number of songs he composed) is rather limited.

  • That's All Right Mama (Elvis Presley - 1955) - Thought I'd surprise you with this one. It's the first commercial recording ever made by Elvis who went on to record other Rock n' Roll stuff such as "Hound Dog", "Don't Be Cruel", "Hard Headed Woman", but soon turned to "It's Now or Never", "You Were Always on My Mind", Gospel songs, a Christmas album, Country songs... - Like I have no objection but please don't call him - except for that first song - a Rock n' Roll Singer.

  • Precious (The Pretenders, Crissie Hynd, vocal - 1979) - Quite a life this girls has had : several boyfiends (you can't count them), three husbands, two daughters, owned a restaurant for a while, involved in animal rights, and so on but this song, with its background music and its rhythm belongs amongst the best of them.

  • Tutti Frutti (Little Richard - 1955) - Definitely not Little Richard's best song but I'm saving that one for another performer who sang it like nobody could. - Crazy song, a bit risqué, "Tutti Frutti" caught on as soon as it was released and made Little Richard an international star. Elvis recorded it and even... Pat Boone. - Weird. - See also "Ready Teddy" on YouTube.

    • Tutti Frutti (Little Richard - 1955) - Definitely not Little Richard's best song but I'm saving that one for another performer who sang it like nobody could. - Crazy song, a bit risqué, "Tutti Frutti" caught on as soon as it was released and made Little Richard an international star. Elvis recorded it and even... Pat Boone. - Weird. - See also "Ready Teddy" on YouTube.

    • Québec Love (Robert Charlebois - 1969) - Lyrics by Robert Gadouas, music bu Charlebois. Surrealistic. Probably the best song ever recorded by Charlebois. Remember :
  • Pis les États c'est à personne
    C'est a Babel c'est pas note bébelle
    Qu'ils se l'arrachent pis moé je m'en sacre
    Moi j'ai mon arche, arche de Noé
    Joyeux Noël. Tremblay ça c'est à nous autres
    Comprends-tu ça comprends-tu ça ?

    • Slipin' and Slidin' (John Lennon - 1975) - This song was written and first performed by Little Richard (see above) and remains perhaps his best. Hearing him play the piano in his very unusual style (Little Richard's) is a delight but John Lennon made it his own in an entirely different way. A must.

    • My ninth song was, for all intents and purposes, totally forgotten and so was the group who recorded it in the first place along with its lead singer, a chap by the name of Gene Vincent... that is until John Lennon (yes, him again) who re-recorded it again in 1975. The group was called The Blue Caps and then Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps. The song was Be-Bop-A-Lula which the group recorded in 1956 always a favorite of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Jeff beck and Jimmy page.

    • Sea Cruise (Frankie Ford - 1959) - Ok, give me a break : this is no rock n' roll song but if you never heard it, you should. Sounds like. - There's a lot of Rock n' Roll and Rhythm and Blues musicians hanging around New Orleans who are practically unknown outside of Louisiana. Fats Domino is one of them. Occasionally, one of their recordings gets national attention and, all of a sudden, they become overnite megastar. Except they don't last that long. So they go back to New Orleans where they're always welcome. Frankie Ford, believe it or not, had one hit in his career and it was this song that sold well over a million copies. - Outside of New Orleans ? I'm the only one that still remembers it. - The piano playing is fantastic. - Check his live version in  small café on Youtube.

What else ? Ah yes, there are a lot of songs out there associated with Rock n' Roll and which aren't. Everything that came out of Mowton, for example, was Soul or Rhythm and Blues oriented (and then Disco). They did have a lot of influence on Rock n' Roll through Dire Strait, Phil Collins, et al ; all the way to Neil Diamond. Stuff like "I heard Through the Grapevine" or "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye or "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" by the Temptations or even "Where Did I Love Go" by the Supremes. - Perhaps some other day.

As to the Beatles, a great friend of mine said that they did a couple of songs in the R. n' R. idiom. I agree. So did Elvis. - Sorry I wasn't around when they showed up and I was never impressed by them. - Yes, I know : I know nothing about music. - Until they went their separate ways, that is. "You're sixteen" by Ringo, I found interesting. The Rock n' Roll album by Lennon, yes. But I'd rather listen to the Stones or, if you want me to really go back, I'll take "Subterranean Homesick Blues" by Bob Dylan anytime.

Come to think of it, anyone out there remembers Strawberry Alarm Clock or The Byrds ? Very popular when they came out. And so were Janis Joplin, Sha-Na-Na, Country Joe and the Fish, the Grateful Dead, Sly and the Family Stone, Ten Years After, the original Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Jethro Thull and even Led Zeppelin... (And I remember a girl who swore that the greatest band in history was Chicago).

Sure enough, there's gotta be, out there, people who are still fan of Aerosmith, Santana, Pearl Jam, Queen, Rush, The Eagles, The Kinks, Foreigner... and - why not ?&nbs