Rock and Roll before 1955

As 2015 comes to its end, we acknowledge that rock and roll officially turned 60 this past year. (You can make all the old-age jokes you will about it, as long as you don't say rock and roll is "dead". That's my pet peeve). 1955 is generally thought of as the year that rock and roll was born, because that was the year in which Bill Haley and the Comets topped the charts with the first number one rock hit "Rock Around The Clock". But 1955 was really not the year of the birth of rock and roll; it was merely the year in which rock and roll roared into the mainstream.

It’s hard to say when rock and roll really began. Some people argue that the first rock and roll song was “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats (aka the Ike Turner Band), mainly due to its accidentally distorted electric guitar sound. That song was released in 1951 – but rock and roll certainly dates back farther than that. Some would say that its earliest seeds were planted way back in the days of the pre-Civil War south, when slave laborers performed field hollers (which were the foundation for the blues). The first known rock and roll recordings arguably were made in the mid-to-late 1920’s, predating the invention of the electric guitar.

The legendary Cleveland DJ Alan Freed was credited with coining the term “rock and roll”, using it as early as 1951 to describe the rhythm and blues songs he was playing on the radio. But there is evidence of the term being used in the 1940’s as well, although the genre was more typically known at that time as “race music”, and was not well known outside of the black community. One notable early mention of rock and roll can be found in the 1937 Ella Fitzgerald & Chick Webb Orchestra jazz song “Rock It For Me”, in which Fitzgerald croons, “Today the rage is rhythm and rhyme, so won’t you satisfy my soul with the rock and roll”.

In the two YouTube playlists embedded below, I’ve tried to compile essential examples of pre-1955 rock and roll songs. The first playlist contains 20 rock and roll songs from the early 1950’s, when the genre was on the verge of breaking through to the mainstream. The second playlist goes back farther, containing 30 songs recorded between 1925 and 1949 which can reasonably be described as rock and roll songs. I hope you enjoy these playlists!

Early 1950's rock and roll songs:

1. "Hot Rod Race" – Arkie Shibley (1950)
2. "Boogie In The Park" – Joe Hill Louis (1950)
3. "Sixty Minute Man" – The Dominoes (1950)
4. "Rocket 88" – Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats (1951)
5. "Rocket 88" – Bill Haley and the Saddlemen (1951)
6. "How Many More Years" – Howlin’ Wolf (1951)
7. "Hound Dog" – Willie Mae Thornton (1952)
8. "Mystery Train" – Little Junior Parker (1953)
9. "Gee" – The Crows (1953)
10. "Crazy Man Crazy" – Bill Haley and the Comets (1953)
11. "Mess Around" – Ray Charles (1953)
12. "The Things That I Used To Do" – Guitar Slim (1953)
13. "Rocker" – Little Walter and his Jukes (1954)
14. "Sh-Boom" – The Chords (1954)
15. "Work With Me Annie" – Hank Ballard (1954)
16. "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" – Big Joe Turner (1954)
17. "Cotton Crop Blues" – James Cotton (1954)
18. "I’m Gonna Murder My Baby" – Pat Hare (1954)
19. "Rock Around The Clock" – Sonny Dae and His Knights (1954)
20. "That’s Alright Mama" – Elvis Presley (1954)

Rock and roll songs 1925-1949:

1. "Shake That Thing" – Papa Charlie Jackson (1925)
2. "It’s Tight Like That" – Tampa Red (1928)
3. "Crazy About My Baby" – Blind Roosevelt Graves (1929)
4. "The Twelves" – Kokomo Arnold (1935)
5. "They're Red Hot" – Robert Johnson (1936)
6. "Skippy Whippy" – Mississippi Jook Band (1936)
7. "Oh Red" – Harlem Hamfats (1936)
8. "You Gotta Do Your Duty" - Casey Bill Weldon (1938)
9. "Roll Em, Pete" – Pete Johnson and Joe Turner (1938)
10. "Strange Things Happening Every Day" – Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1944)
11. "Guitar Boogie" – Arthur Smith (1945)
12. "Let’s Have a Ball" – Jack Dupree Trio (1945)
13. "Rocky Road Blues" – Bill Monroe (1945)
14. "Early In The Morning" – Sonny Boy Williamson (1946)
15. "That’s All Right Mama" – Arthur Big Boy Crudup (1946)
16. "Rock And Roll" – Wild Bill Moore (1946)
17. "Good Rockin’ Tonight" – Winonie Harris (1947)
18. "Boogie Woogie Baby" – Delmore Brothers (1947)
19. "You Got To Run Me Down" – Jazz Gillum (1947)
20. "Move It On Over" – Hank Williams (1948)
21. "Boogie Chillen" – John Lee Hooker (1948)
22. "Muddy Jumps One" – Muddy Waters (1948)
23. "Let’s Have Some Fun" – Jesse “Babyface” Thomas (1948)
24. "Bounce Pee Wee" – Pee Wee Crayton (1949)
25. "Rock Awhile" – Goree Carter (1949)
26. "Hole In The Wall Tonight" – Albennie Jones (1949)
27. "Rock This Joint" – Jimmy Preston (1949)
28. "The Fat Man" – Fats Domino (1949)
29. "Saturday Night Fish Fry" – Louis Jordan (1949)
30. "Atlanta Boogie" – Tommy Brown (1949)