littlerichardLittle Richard kick-starting his piano, 1958

I think it is safe to say that Rock n Roll is sixty years old this year. In reality, it’s older than that – but I’m talking in terms of the musical use of the term being translated into mainstream ‘hit records’ as we used to say in days of yore: during those years before tapes, mainstream disc albums, tape cassettes, album videos, compact discs, spelling disc ‘disk’, downloads, Itunes, clouds and all the other virtual stuff.

In 1955, a middle-aged swing and rockabilly singer called Bill Haley emerged with his Comets to take the Number Two slot in the US with Rock Around the Clock.


The song was the credits music to a Glenn Ford movie Blackboard Jungle – very much in the genre of the Crazy mixed-up Kid stuff like Rebel Without A Cause a year later….possibly James Dean’s worst ever acting performance, and definitely the most didactically arch expression of Freudian nonsense ever filmed.

But Haley grasped his place in musical history by saying in a couple of interviews that he and his band played Rock n Roll. The term was musical by then, but had originated from black jive slang for sexual intercourse. Very different to Shakespeare’s ‘beast with two backs’, but equally descriptive nevertheless. So Bill became a youth icon associated with jooovniyall delernquenceee – and in the UK, with ‘Teddy Boy’ vandalism. Until, that is, he arrived there…and was revealed to be a rolly-polly bloke with receding hair and a very odd kiss-curl to the forehead.

The Comets were very much my elder brother’s music. The following year, Elvis arrived with ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and rather more about him that suggested he might be a force for sedition. As I was eight years old at the time, I took almost no notice of him until the release of All Shook Up in early 1957. Anyway, in the meantime an addictive rock n roll single called Long Tall Sally had reached our shores in late 1956, and this launched the career of the inimitable Little Richard.

Little Richard and Elvis Presley shared two commonalities in my experience at the time: they both had background rhythm sections that made it impossible for me to sit still, down or up. The only option was to leap around the room. And second, they both spoke a language which might as well have been a dialect of Neptunion for all the sense it made to me.

I remember very clearly hearing the Presley track and seeing it in my mind as Amarlshacoop. This made some kind of sense in a context where he was itching like a man in a fuzzy tree and wild as a bug. But what made the record an enormous hit was the base piano going ba doom a doom a doom a doom in the background. It just made you want to move.

Little Richard’s song (he co-wrote it with two others) wormed its way under your skin with a sax and percussion backing that topped out the ‘Oh Baby’ lyric with a dodoodidaddadoodidadda beat leading into “Yeeeeeees baby!” that nobody has ever matched in sessions since. But here too, I was clueless as to what he was singing about: It seemed he had….

A Taliban Mary boun up a join/ she claim she had the mizzy but she hadalodda ferrn

….. and also, God forbid he….

Saw uncle John wid bald-head Sally/ he saw my merry comin an he jumback in der alley.

It really didn’t matter. This was music that made the calves jiggle and the neck-hairs erect. This was seriously dangerous stuff.

One more track topped my bill in 1957: this was Jerry Lee Lewis and Great Balls of Fire. I’ve been hopelessly hooked by Lewis’s honky-tonk piano thumping ever since…and that unique use of tinkly top keys to punctuate the immediacy of sexual desire:

dadadada You shake ma nerves and ya addle my brain/too much love’ll drive a man insane/

you broke my wheel/ but whadda threel/ dadada Gooderness geracious GREAT BALLS O FIRE

dadadadah kiss me baby eeeeerm feels gooourrd dadada hold me baby weeeeuurrl/ I wanna love yer like a leeerrver should/ babababa

you’re fine babababa/so kindbababa/godda let this world know yer mine mine mine mine tertinkletick

I bite ma nails an ah twiddle ma thumbs/I’m real nervous but it sure is fun/yer lerrv is mine/sure is fine/ Goodernous geracious GREAT BALLS O FIRE babababam.

It was a funny old time, the late 1950s. A grey world of rationing, grey flannel trousers, grey-haired politicians and grey flickering television screens was about to give way to The Beatles, mods, motown, and all the colours of Carnaby Street leading Brit rock bands and then flower power. In the interregnum, we had the one-hit wonders, Bobby Vees, Fabians, Cliff Richards and – astonishingly – Ray Charles.

But the Fifties played out with a whimper rather than a bang. There was some great stuff from the Everley Brothers, Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochrane: but then Elvis went into the army, and from that moment until October 1962, there was little more than Chubby Checker, Little Eva, The Allisons, Helen Shapiro and John Leyton. In that era, I was quite taken with Del Shannon and Ricky Nelson: but my passion for music didn’t really come back until Love Me do.

The Beatles’ first single was seen by many as a throwback. For me, it was the button marked ‘fast forward’. Rock n Roll had been reborn.


Bill Haley became an alcoholic before succumbing to a brain tumour on February 9, 1981.

Elvis Presley went on to make several forgettable Hollywood movies and one dramatic comeback, but eventually became morbidly obese, and died of heart failure on August 16, 1977.

Little Richard is aged 83 and still with us.

Jerry Lee Lewis will be 80 years old on September 29th this year.

Buddy Holly was killed in a plane crash in the early hours of February 3rd 1959. He is cited as a formative influence by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan. Little Richard wrote in his memoirs that Holly had “the biggest dick I’ve ever seen”, although we aren’t told the exact details of how he discovered this fact.

Eddie Cochrane was killed in a UK car crash on April 17th 1960.

Bobby Vee is 72 years old, and suffering from tertiary Alzheimer’s Disease. He filled in for Buddy Holly at his venue after the fatal plane crash of the day before. One of his backing artists was one Robert Zimmerman, better known as Bob Dylan. In later years, Dylan paid tribute to Vee as “one of the most meaningful musicians I ever met”.

Cliff Richard is alive, well, a highly committed Christian, and battling against ludicrous allegations that he is a paedophile. He is preparing to sue various organisations for suggesting this. Some of us eagerly await the outing of the false accusers…and their foul motives.

Ray Charles went on to complete an unparalleled career as a jazz, soul and rock pianist and vocalist. He died of liver failure on June 10th 2004, having sired twelve children via ten women.

Of the Everley Brothers, Phil died January 4th last year of lung cancer, and Don is still with us. They had a bitter breakup, but eventually reformed, performing at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1983 and 1997. The author attended the latter performance, and left feeling forty years younger.

Chubby Checker will be 74 years old on October 29th this year.

Little Eva died of cervical cancer on April 10, 2003. Her record ‘The Locomotion’ was one of the biggest dance hits of all time.

Helen Shapiro will be 69 later this year. She was the headliner on the Beatles first ever UK tour in 1962.

John Leyton was 80 on 17th February this year. He had a massive hit with Johnny Remember Me in 1961, and went on to have cameo roles in various movies, most notably The Great Escape. He still tours with his band The Flames.

Del Shannon had a string of hit records from ‘Runaway’ to ‘Swiss Maid’ in the early 1960s. A long-time sufferer from depression, he committed suicide on February 8, 1990, killing himself with a .22-calibre rifle at his home in Santa Clarita, California.

Rick Nelson recorded 19 Top 10 hits and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on January 21, 1987. Sadly he’d died fourteen months earlier in a plane crash, on December 31, 1985. His massive hit ‘Hello Mary Lou” has a middle eight instrumental that is amazing, and one of the few things I can play competently on guitar.

36 thoughts on “ANECDOTAGE

  1. Small item on the 6 pm BBC news on radio , the Fed is considering raising interest rates. That’s all there was but I don’t think we’ll have to wait much longer for the sky to start falling in!


  2. Thank you, JW. I could sing along to every one of the top ten listed above … now feeling a little older :-)


  3. Interesting (Peter Cook) Fact: Elvis served the US Army at Grafenwöhr in Germany 2 years (my office for a year).

    John – one of my faves from that time was The Hollies. Or were they later?


  4. Thanks for the memories, JW. In Blackburn, we had all the big bands to dance to plus all the greats you mention, what a time! “All Shook Up” – my first record that my mother had to listen to over and over and over until I could afford to buy another one. Been in love with Bobby Zimmerman since 1965, aah, if only …!


  5. What happened to the slog:”
    by John Ward
    Difficult to see this mini-rally in gold as anything other than genuine (that makes a change) US safe-haven response to impending eurozone chaos:”

    When you click on, it’s been replaced by Anecdotage.


  6. Ah, yes…. all that’s gold doesn’t glister……. I quite like a bit of glister now and again (on the grounds that gold is far too expensive!)


  7. God! Is this embarrassing or what?
    I can remember 8 out of ten of them.
    I think, as Phil Coulter has often said, that they were better written and better selected back then.
    He has written thousands of songs and is very proud of the ones that caught on and
    were popular or commercially successful (not necessarily the same thing!).
    Neil Sedaka also wrote thousands of songs but the ones that were hits were unexpected and his favourites weren’t necessarily hits.
    His mother finally forgave him for quitting (as a piano scholarship student) the Juillard School when he bought her a house and a Cadillac with his earnings as a composer.
    I can hear the 1955 songs as I type…
    Thanks JW


  8. Great lyrics – I could really feel the music, like it’s never left.

    Is Helen Shapiro really gonig ot be 69 this year? She was stunning as a 16(?) year old on TOTP, but I was 12 in 1963, which is strange ‘cos I really fancied her and I’m sure I was much too young at 12 to know what that was.

    Didn’t John Leyton sing “Lonely City” as well?


  9. Absolutely marvellous!!!! I must admit a weakness for the Big O though. The DVD made of his last concerts is a treasured part of my collection.


  10. A real “down memory lane”article.I remember the tunes & most of the lyrics to most of those mentioned.Also,stuck in my mind -from an early to mid 50’s song – is a line from the chorus that goes “at Gillygillyossenfefferkatzanellenbogen-by-the-sea”.Amazing the utterly irrelevant crap that the human brain can store.


  11. Yes InLooker -Max Bygraves – Gillygillyetc – also I’m a Pink Toothbrush, You’re a Blue Toothbrush – I must’ve got more crap in my brain than most……


  12. Pingback: John Ward – Anecdotage – 19 March 2015 | Lucas 2012 Infos

  13. Yes, Ed P, she was a stunner. My claim to fame? I helped double glaze her chislehurst home.
    She was a cheeky cow then, & hopefully still is. :)

    My musical tastes are a tad later: Always preferred The Kinks to their contemporaries, & Simon & Carbuncle are kings in my ears.


  14. Ah yes! New Orleans and Quarter to Three. All playable on a Dansette record player. As well as a crystal set listening to Radio Luxembourg on 208 meters and the completely forgettable Horace Batchelor. Wow! I do believe Alzheimers hasn’t set in yet.


  15. Jeremy
    The Hollies topped the bill regularly @ Manchester’s Jungfrau Club during 1962-3: I know because I was there. The B-Band at the time was Herman & the Hermits: they were crap. We used to nip round the Cathedral pub for a pint when they came on.
    Hollies were fabulous performers and produced many hits I still adore – The Air that I Breathe probably being the best. Graham Nash of course later teamed with Crosby & Stills, and fathered Joni Mitchell’s child, lucky bastard.


  16. Bagerap

    I don’t bother even blog about censorship any more: having one’s stuff taken down is like car crime in 1977: there’s no point reporting it.


  17. jdseanjd
    Ray Davies is without question the greatest pop composer of the second half of the 20th century. A genius, and a really nice, unassuming chap.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Runnin’ scared! Still brings a tear to my eye today. Wonder what he was on when he wrote ‘A candy-coloured clown they call the sandman’?


  19. Ohh, I thought John Barry was the mid 20th Century’s pop composer extraordinaire.

    Joni Mitchell “… I bore her, but I could not raise her..” from Chinese Cafe. I didn’t realise Hollie Nash was to blame.


  20. Nice to have my taste approved, JW, thanks.
    My better half reminds me of another small claim to fame. Our brother in law was in business for years, in a camberwell music shop, with Rick Huxley of the Dave Clark 5, & her parents used to do cloakroom duty at the Bromley Court Hotel for Brian Mason, who was presenting acts like Eric Burden & the Animals. Mason would drop in to family parties with Kenny Lynch. Happy days. :)


  21. Pingback: John Ward – For Once, I Have To Admit That Nigel Farage Is Right…But For All The Wrong Reasons – 20 March 2015 | Lucas 2012 Infos

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