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Ike Turner's Rocket 88, first rock'n'roll song, turns 60 but remains obscure in music history

Ike Turner's Rocket 88, first rock'n'roll song, turns 60 but remains obscure in music history

Sixty years later, many historians consider [Rocket 88 by Ike Turner] the first-ever rock 'n' roll song, and musicians revere the tune, as well as the band's livewire performance, wrote The Canadian Press May 22:

And yet, most regular people don't know that the track even exists.

"If I went to my local grocery store here and stopped 20 people, if I found one who knew about it, I'd be shocked," said Grammy Award-winning York University music Professor Rob Bowman [Faculty of Fine Arts], who's been lecturing about Rocket 88 since 1979. "It's definitely not as well known as Elvis's hits or Jerry Lee (Lewis)'s big hits, or Rock Around the Clock. This is (before) the massive explosion.... You don't hear it as a golden oldie. You listen to oldies radio, and you'll hear Hound Dog, you'll hear Great Balls of Fire, you'll hear Maybellene by Chuck Berry, you'll hear Little Richard's Tutti Frutti – you won't hear Rocket 88.”

Other elements of the song were different as well.

As Bowman explains it, the song's whole groove is underpinned by riffs, which were derived from the blues tradition and became a crucial element in rock music.

"(The song's) significance on white teenagers in '51 probably wasn't huge, but it was a huge record on the black charts," Bowman explained. "I mean, some white hipsters who were listening to black radio at the time did hear it, and I think it had a big influence on those musicians."

"Besides its significance historically, it's just an unbelievably great, exciting record," Bowman enthused. "This record's got distorted electric guitar, it's riff-based, it's got the honky tenor sax tradition encoded within it, it's got boogie-woogie piano, it's got lyrics that are a series of sexual automotive metaphors, and it's at a souped-up tempo.

"What's not to love?"

Posted by Elizabeth Monier-Williams, research communications officer, with files courtesy of YFile – York University’s daily e-bulletin.