the forgotten decade of rock? In the rush to canonize the boomers, the 1950s are usually brushed aside in favor the decade that the Beatles built. Stylus is here to give you a non-definitive look at the decade that built the Beatles…


Honey Hush


Before he was a crooner of top-selling mush in the early 60s, Johnny led one of the nastiest rockabilly groups of the Fifties. All the dangers that fellow Memphian Elvis Presley implied were brought out in this one song, originally cut by Big Joe Turner a few years earlier. "Honey Hush" is a triumph of the low-end theory; Paul Burlison's stinging Telecaster is practically buried by a bass-toned boogie axe, which only adds to the song's swaggering narration. The man who would later make a mint singing "You're Sixteen" spends the whole track yelling at his woman to calm down and get back in the house, punctuating things with a gleeful red-zone howl. Theme-against-the-city antics of the Dead Boys as well as the relationship-rock of X have three spiritual forefathers in the JB3. "Come in this house, stop all that yakety yak / Come in here woman, stop all that yakety yak / Don't make me nervous, 'cos I'm holdin' a baseball bat." Whoa. Does "The Whisper Song" sound any better now?
[Brad Shoup]


Crackin’ Up


Oh, Bo, you a hog. You were Robert Johnson, done slung midnight deep at the crossroads with a backbeat jackknifed in your head. You done stole Muddy’s Chicago-blues, dusted it in Cajun heat, and beefed up the funk, yes you done did. You drove beyond the Chess-sound for the sturm und drang of modern rhythm. “Crackin’ Up” is a shaky samba jam with barbershop-quartet vocals shadowed around tribal rhythms and Amazonian rhythm guitars. There could be no Sly and The Family Stone or Sex Machine-era JB without you. On “Crackin’ Up,” you presaged the spray-paint jerk of early hip-hop; you ground down your sound to simple, repetitive rhythms and a playful, persona-driven delivery too cool for school and too goddamn cold for the unbold. Of all the classic blues-men, you were the Godfather of Beat Music: rhythm soured foul, seismic and broken, a rabid seminal bitch of funk with far too much junk in the trunk, baby.
[Derek Miller]


Love Potion Number 9


This stylishly devastated shaggy dog story—don’t underestimate how much it bugs the narrator that he’s been a “flop with chicks” for three years—mostly works because of the brevity of the misadventure and the fact that the Clovers were, along with the Drifters, among one of the greatest vocal R’n’B groups. The story is utterly silly, but all the singers make you feel sorry for the poor guy after he kisses a cop and gets his ass kicked. This kind of curio (written by Leiber/Stoller!) is not only the group’s biggest hit but also a leftover reminder of a form that used to regularly fly up and down the charts, the not-quite-novelty hit.
[Ian Mathers]

Lloyd Price – Stagger Lee


Before your Godards, Mellvilles, and Tarantinos, there was Lloyd Price. Leading his swing band on a tour of Asian U.S. military posts, he'd re-enact the gangster lyrics of the blues classic "Stagger Lee," casting grunts in the various parts. When he got stateside, he decided to cut the song with a brass section. And the result? Simply effing perverse, y'all. Crooning the intro ("The night was clear and the moon was yellow / And the leaves came tumbling down…"), which doubles as the fake-out, he tears into the sordid tale of guns, gambling, and dead husbands. Never had outlaw culture been so explicitly and boldly celebrated on the pop charts: horns punctuating the galloping rhythm section, a mixed-sex choir who just wail "Go, Stagger Lee!" at the top of their reverent lungs. Price himself was on the right side of unhinged, directing the madness with yelping aplomb. Others have tried to capture this kind of magic. James Brown's funk lockstep was, surprisingly, too reserved to evoke, and Nick Cave's funless turn onMurder tests the bounds of human patience. Lloyd's is still the best, and Billy had it coming.
[Brad Shoup]


Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby


Like many, my first encounter with Carl Perkins’ music came by way of other artists. But it’s easy to be overshadowed when some of your biggest fans—Elvis, the Beatles—are far and away the defining icons of rock ’n’ roll history. Half a century later, the finest elements of “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby” have yet to grow stale. There will always be a place in modern music for simple, catchy choruses, uplifting drums, and, above all, concise and focused guitar solos. Only a handful of people can rightfully claim that rock never would have been the same without them, and Perkins must have died in peace knowing that he was one of them.
[Ross McGowan]


I Put A Spell On You


Endlessly wavering between kitsch and non-kitsch, “I Put A Spell On You” can easily weather being used to sell Doritos without losing any of its spooky powers. “96 Tears” is probably one of the few singles of the 60s to pick up on its deranged air of menace, albeit on a different tack, but nothing really equals Hawkins screaming “I DON’T CARE! IF YOU DON’T! WANT ME! I’M YOURS!” We can all remember the way he hollers and whoops the title line, but listening to the whole song reminds one of all the hidden good bits, from the sax squawk to the way Hawkins sings “stop the things you do” and then laughs as if he’s been skipping his meds. The song, and Hawkins’ career, ends with a devolution into “savage” nose-in-bone shtick, but for a little over two minutes you wouldn’t cross this man for the world.
[Ian Mathers]


Rumble


"Rumble" defines cool. It's outsider, cigarette, and leather jacket; it's dirty, scary, and deep-ache sexy. Link Wray created the sound of a fight and a fuck and he put to shame every piece of guitar feedback that would follow. Musically, his brilliance lies in simplicity. He's built the track primarily around a few slowly-strummed chords, allowed to hang out and stare at you until you nervously turn the corner. This song is every tough you didn't want to walk past, and the part of you that wanted to be that tough. While Fonzie had to snap his fingers to get the girls, Wray just has to vibrate. Having beaten every other greaser to a pulp, "Rumble" let’s us know that the quintessence of bad-ass rock is a one-lunged sneerer who doesn't care if you think he's cool or not.
[Justin Cober-Lake]


Yakety Yak


“Yakety Yak” takes only a minute and fifty-three seconds to occur. The Coasters waste no time whatsoever getting to business—the first sounds you hear on the record are the first orders given by the Parental Units: “TAKE OUT THE PAPERS AND THE TRASH.” Each missive from the P.U.s is dispensed over just one bar of music and directed at the poor teenager with equal accent and even velocity: there are only those three chords and the bass and saxophone play the same melodies each time, starting on the root of whichever chord they’re on. It keeps things in the pocket—each verbal order is somewhat abrupt and abrasive, beginning with a bit of a jerk on an upbeat.

Rock and roll is, in part, a celebration of trashiness. “Yakety Yak” includes references to both “trash” and “garbage,” as well as such non-poetic, everyday things as the kitchen floor, the household pets, and the laundromat. Sociologically, we are maybe a little bit trashy as a people, too: “Just tell your hoodlum friend outside you ain’t got time to take a ride.” This is not punk rock, though. The intimidating father with the deep voice gets the last word. Or does he? It’s the kid’s song. The kid gets to make this celebratory joke out of it behind his parents’ back.
[Tim Ellison]


La Bamba


Valens original lacks the forward momentum of many of the innumerable covers that have appeared over the decades, but this “La Bamba” has a rambling, kitchen-sink charm that the speedier versions miss. Instead of a race to the finish there’s an easy lope that could easily captivate for ten times as long. And the sound is much richer, even compressed as it is: Those hollow drums, a surprisingly great bassline, the castanets, the classic guitar and Valens’ own performance, moving easily between reverie and bravado (complete with rolled Rs). Most importantly this is probably the best version of one of those songs that we can all, almost without exception, sing along to. The melody is probably engraved on your heart, and when Valens bursts out with “ba-da-ba-da-ba-la bamba!” after the middle eight it’s hard not to join in.
[Ian Mathers]

Norman Fox & The Rob Roys - Pizza Pie



As sand falls through the hourglass, the future seems to revel in complexity while the past struggles to avoid become a paean to a "simpler time." Doo-wop is perhaps the biggest victim of this syndrome, feeling incredibly virginal, innocent, and pristine even when compared to the modern soft rock my parents listen to. But this frozen purity is the continuing joy of "Pizza Pie." When else but the '50s could an ode to pizza remain so sincere and charming? This song is about a guy who discovers a pizza parlor, marries his wife because she makes him pizza pies, has kids who grow up strong because they eat pizza, and dies with a pizza inside his coffin. It's pure comedy wrapped in chastity. Here in 2005, we want music to be so much more to our world, but listening to "Pizza Pie" reminds me that for all the things we have gained in music, the innocence we lost can be relived.
[Michael F Gill]


Mannish Boy


P. Diddy and his Bad Boy cohorts claimed to have Invented the Remix three years ago, and although Loon did his best on “I Need a Girl, Pt. 2” to cement this outlandish assertion, they must have known that ultimately, no one would believe them. It’ll be a long time before anyone forgets the trilogy of one-upmanship that Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley produced fifty years ago. Waters took the Willie Dixon-penned “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” and threw down the blues gauntlet to all his peers, and Diddley responded by ripping the same beat, only to add better lyrics, with “I’m a Man.” The end result was “Mannish Boy,” and to this day, some permutation of this common beat still serves as the universal introduction to the blues. This act, two artists of incredible stature taking each other’s work and using it to heighten an entire genre, laid the groundwork for many of the best collaborations found in hip-hop and electronic music. And some of the worst.
[Ross McGowan]


There Goes My Baby


Part doo-wop, part rock 'n' roll, the Drifters gave pop music a way to be vulnerable without being cloying or treacly. "There Goes My Baby" encapsulates teenage puppy love breaking apart, and that feeling resonates as well now as it did closing out the '50s. The string arrangement (presumably the first used in rock) shows more restraint than many of the songs that followed would (culminating in a cliche of schmaltz that echoes in Vegas still). That subtlety puts the emotional focus on lead vocalist Ben E. King, who sings the Leiber and Stoller number as a man holding himself together in the face of loss. As hurt as the narrator is, the song feels good to hear, probably because it makes you pull your dance partner closer as the little spots of light reflect around the room, and you consider how much you need your own baby, and how glad you are to be right on that gymnasium dance floor—warm and close to kissing.
[Justin Cober-Lake]


At The Hop
Ostensibly notable mostly for the way it marries doo-wop harmony vocals with Jerry Lee Lewis-style barrelhouse piano, “At The Hop” remains simply more infectious than most of its contemporaries by dint of sheer momentum. The classic opening with all four singers slowly layering their voices together sounds amazing on headphones, and the way the backing vocals interweave during the later choruses indicate a possible source for the Futureheads’ magic. Technical considerations aside, this is pure sugar rush: drums flailing and singers tripping over each other to assure you that, yes, the cats and chicks are indeed getting their kicks with the kind of lyrical simplicity and directness that can only endear when coupled with such energy (they implore you to go to the hop dozens of times in a scant 2:29). There is no possible way the Hop was actually as fun as these guys made it sound.
[Ian Mathers]


Lucille


At the very beginning of the record, you hear Little Richard just kind of jabbing at the piano, but he quickly becomes excited enough that he’s pounding the thing. Then comes his voice—full force out of the diaphragm and the throat, but with this huge resonance that fills the room and bounces off walls. His performance is like some psycho game of peek-a-boo. Notice how he keeps starting the lines ballistically, but then almost shyly trails off a bit, as though he’s turning away only to be right back in your face at the beginning of the next line. The whoop he lets out before the saxophone solo doesn’t just celebrate the intensity of the song, but adds to the notion that you’re on a really wild ride.

Just as he seems to be singing at the limit of the volume he can produce, some of the notes he hits seem to be at the limit of the speed he can produce. The aforementioned piano pounding is in triplets—that’s a rate of over 430 articulations per minute. The most virtuosic vocal thing he does on the record is to sing these three note descending triplet melismas at this same speed at the end of many of the lines (“Lucille, please come back where you belo-o-ong”). How in the world did he do that so well?
[Tim Ellison]


That'll Be The Day


The lyrical approach of Elvis Costello’s early career is pretty much completely anticipated in the surprisingly vicious “That’ll Be The Day,” wherein Buddy Holly boasts about the way he takes his girl’s love, kisses, and “money too”—it’s basically him laughing in her face as she threatens to leave, because he knows she’s too weak to follow through. Toxic stuff, modulated only by Holly’s familiar gulping geek delivery and the soft chug of the Crickets—those “ahhs” in the background are painfully incongruous given the rest of the song. Costello’s great leap forward was to aim some of that bile at himself, but Holly doesn’t allow the slightest hint of doubt to soften the blow. Near the end the drums suddenly step out and hammer out a beat as Holly laughs off her claim that one day she’ll make him cry, and suddenly he seems like the cruelest man in pop.
[Ian Mathers]


Try Me


James Brown’s massive influence on hip-hop isn’t lost on anyone, but “Try Me” wasn’t exactly the first (or twentieth) record that Kool Herc went reaching for when he needed to set off one of his legendary block parties with a super-bad drum break. “Try Me,” Brown’s foremost soul ballad, will always hold up for its timeless sentiment, affecting harmonies, and poignant saxophone solo, but one of its principal impacts was perhaps an unforeseen one. After numerous singles that ranged from mild successes to disappointing failures, “Try Me” was Brown’s first major hit, showing rough-edged artists everywhere that if you really want to break through to the mainstream, you’ve got to reach out to the females too. LL Cool J famously pulled this trick for hip-hop with “I Need Love” in 1987, and Busta Rhymes’ (“Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See”) and DMX’s (“How’s It Goin’Down”) similar crossover triumphs are just two recent examples of yet another off-shoot of Brown’s unrivaled legacy that doesn’t appear ready to die out anytime soon.
[Ross McGowan]


Summertime Blues


"Summertime Blues" epitomizes youthful rebellion and angst just as teenagers had secured their place as an identifiable cultural group. The attitude, as well as the memorable riff, would influence groups like the Beatles, the Who, and pretty much any kid who ever wanted to use his guitar to break out of the adolescent doldrums (which would have been a far worse title). Adding the deep voice to portray adult oppression turns it away from a potential whine and into an attack, Cochran's rant still strikes for wheel-less teens, frustrated students, or anyone who's workday highlight is a trip to the coffee machine. He's managed to express our thoughts with simply his guitar, voice, and smirk.
[Justin Cober-Lake]

The Flamingos - I Only Have Eyes For You


It’s not solely vocal, there’s a piano and some brushed drums and other instruments, but all you’re going to hear are those voices. Narcotic and nocturnal, “I Only Have Eyes For You” still works as a signifier of absolute devotion, those backing vocals converting from nonsense chirps to that somehow arrogant, swooning massed devotional of the title—sure, the lyrics could be read as “Every Breath You Take”-style stalkerisms but the performance renders such a possibility ridiculous. The lead singer sounds like soft velvet, everything else disappears from view, and anyone capable of tearing themselves away from this song is suffering from a serious lack of romance in their life. The Tunnel of Love in song form.
[Ian Mathers]


Why Do Fools Fall in Love


You wouldn’t call this record “lo-fi,” and yet, the drumkit, Frankie Lymon’s voice, the bass voice at the beginning, and the saxophone during the solo are the only things you really hear clearly throughout the record. The bass is mud, you don’t hear much of what the guitar and saxophone are doing while the singing is going on, and you can’t even hear the other Teenagers doing the doo-wop stuff in the background very well. Chalk it up to the mysterious magic of early rock and roll producers who knew how to make records sound good even when you couldn’t hear everything clearly, I guess.

What makes the record, though, is Lymon’s extraordinary vocal performance. You just sail on his vocals through the two minutes and twenty seconds. The perfection of the record is not just the fact that none of the notes are “wasted” compositionally, but that Lymon doesn’t waste an opportunity to do something sweet with each note either. Hearing it again, you know every move he makes by heart.
[Tim Ellison]


A Teenager In Love


For once, someone doesn’t think the benefits of love outweigh the drawbacks. Dion admits how good his girl makes him feel, but since he can’t control whether things work out or not, he wishes he could just stop. It sounds callous, but the delivery certainly isn’t, and teens of both genders have long wished they could just stop feeling the way they feel. He’s so afraid that they’ll break up that he wishes he could just… break up with her, and the paradoxical, solipsistic nature of his dilemma has, for better or worse, remained the same down through the ages. He’s not anti-love, just anti-raging hormones, even if he admits eventually that he’ll just have to accept the whole mess. They should have played this one over the end credits of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind—both are about learning to live with the loss of control that love brings.
[Ian Mathers]


Riot in Cell Block #9


This song sounds exactly like its title, opening with its siren and gunfire—epitomizing gangsta when that still meant tommy guns and fedoras. The chorus vocals sound like a sweaty prison and the sax explains the frustration of the incarcerated. But don't think for a minute that there's a wrongly convicted man here; our singer's a pissed-off murderer, and he seems to be recording this track in the down time between fashioning a shiv and sticking someone. One of the backup vocalists hasn't eaten anything but cigarettes or drank anything but nicotine water in a week. This song makes me want to chant "Attica! Attica!" and I don't even know what that means.
[Justin Cober-Lake]


Too Much Monkey Business


For a guy in sight of his thirties, Mr. Berry knew how to stir the current of the nascent youth movement. But he saved his bluest fire to gift the G.I.s. Rock's greatest songwriter is at peak form here, committing hit-and-runs with the gamut of working-class masculine hassles. He's fired from the mill at the track's start, and ends things at beck 'n' call in the filling station. His fiercest delivery goes toward education ("Same thing every day, gettin' up, go to school / No need for me complaining, my objection's overruled"), but it's all bluff. What Bandstander cared about Yokohama? When the salesman "says you can buy it, go on try it, you can pay me next week," and Mr. Berry lets out a dismissive "Ahhh!"—I get shivers. And for a guy who specialized in writing the same (albeit nifty) song six or seven times, this is a unique creation, with the possible exception of the equally-massive "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man". The stutter, zest, and rhyming—not to mention Chuck's skin tone—would make you guess ur-rap, but really, any lyricist/showman in the rock sphere owes him ash out-out.
[Brad Shoup]


Thirty Days


When was the last time that someone wrote a song that was pretty much the same as another one that he or she had written, and yet still managed to make each song unique entities unto themselves (both of them also happening to be totally GREAT)? Probably Chuck Berry with his first hit “Maybellene” and the follow-up record “Thirty Days.” (He did the same thing again later with the songs “School Days” and “No Particular Place to Go,” though those two might actually be less distinct from one another than these two.)

“Grunge rock” didn’t earn the term enough. “Thirty Days” is grunge. Listen to that first chord he hits after the intro! He quickly cuts back a little bit, but only to leave room so that his wordplay shenanigans are front and center. Sixteen seconds later, he’s already laid this whole business on you:
I’m gonna give you thirty days to get back home
I done called up a gypsy woman on the telephone
I’m gonna send out a worldwide hoodoo
That’ll be the very thing that’ll suit you
I’m gonna see that you’ll be back home in thirty days
The reason I like “Thirty Days” more than “Maybellene” is that the refrain that follows each verse is more melodic – to a silly extent, even, given the fact that he’s supposedly really upset and layin’ it on the line about how his woman better be back home in THIRTY DAYS.

Compare the bit about the congressman in Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” to the all-out comedic genius in this song’s second and third verses:
I got to talk to the judge in private early this morning
And he took me to the sheriff’s office to sign a warrant
They gonna put a cross charge agin’ ya
That’ll be the very thing that’ll send ya
I’m gonna see that you’ll be back home in thirty days

If I don’t get no satisfaction from the judge
I’m gonna take it to the FBI as a personal grudge
If they don’t give me no consolation
I’m gonna take it to the United Nations
I’m gonna see that you’ll be back home in thirty days
And you wanna hear grunge? Check the solo on this song.
[Tim Ellison]

Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats - Rocket 88


Actually recorded by Ike Turner and his band the Kings of Rhythm, "Rocket 88" set the template for much of the rock 'n' roll that would follow. The walking bassline and jump blues performance style became a staple in the burgeoning genre. Add the lyrical ode to a car and you've got just about everything you need for the emblematic '50s rocker. The saxophone solo moves away from its blues roots to carve out a territory that prefigures the guitar solos that wouldn't start for a few more years. You can hear the sound of Chuck Berry and Little Richard starting to form, and you can still play this anywhere you swing dance (or any time you feel like putting on a poodle skirt or sweating down a pompadour).
[Justin Cober-Lake]


Tutti Frutti


The last time this guy made the news, it was for the release of 1997’s In a Metal Mood, Boone’s disgraceful retread of eleven of popular metal’s most beloved hits (as well as Nazareth’s “Love Hurts”). Hard to believe, but that was far from the first time Boone had bastardized an entire genre of music; forty years prior, he made his name on the sale of soulless rehashes of some of black rock ’n’ roll’s greatest material, “Tutti Frutti” being his most hideous offender. People who try to couple Boone with Elvis Presley (not that he’s without his critics) as an artist to be commended for bringing black music into white homes should dragged into an alley somewhere and shot. The stain of “Tutti Frutti” can be detected anytime a seemingly abrasive form of non-white music is filtered through a middle man so as to be approved of by more genteel audiences. Rob Van Winkle, meet your maker.
[Ross McGowan]


By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2005-08-08
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