Rocket 88

From Academic Kids

"Rocket 88", a rhythm and blues song from 1951. It is claimed by Sam Phillips - owner of Sun Records, and pioneer rock and roll record producer - to be the "the first rock and roll song".

The record was credited to "Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats", but the band did not actually exist. The song was written by Ike Turner and recorded by him with his band, the Kings of Rhythm. Brenston (1930-1979) was a saxophonist with Turner who also sang the vocal on "Rocket 88", a hymn of praise to the joys of the Oldsmobile "Rocket 88" automobile (see: Oldsmobile 88), which had just been introduced in 1949. Brenston was given author credit rather than Turner; it is now agreed that Brenston's contribution was overstated for financial reasons.

Working from the raw material of jump blues and swing combo music, Turner made it even rawer, starting with a strongly stated back beat, and superimposing Brenston's enthusiastic vocals and tenor saxophone solos by "Raymond" and Brenston. The song also features one of the first examples of distorted, or fuzz guitar ever recorded. Reportedly, a speaker was damaged on Highway 61 when the band was driving from Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee but Phillips liked the sound and used it.

"Rocket 88" is the prototype for hundreds of other rock and roll records in musical style and lineup, not to mention its lyrical theme, in which an automobile serves as a metaphor for romantic prowess.

The claim that "Rocket 88" was the first rock and roll record is perhaps overstated, but it was the second-biggest rhythm and blues single of 1951 and much more influential than some other "first" claimants.

"Rocket 88" was successfully covered by the country music group Bill Haley and the Saddlemen early in Bill Haley's career, which led to his own impact on popular music with "Rock Around the Clock". Those who subscribe to the definition of rock and roll as the melding of country music with rhythm and blues believe that it is Haley's version of the song, not the Turner/Brentson original, that is the first rock and roll record.

Turner's piano introduction was copied note for note by Little Richard on his "Lucille" several years after that.

Brenston left Turner's band after the record's success and released several more singles between 1951 and 1953, but they were minor variations of the original and had little success. Brenston rejoined Turner's band as a saxophonist in 1957 and continued with him until 1965. He passed away in 1979.


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