Rock and roll is just rock and roll. That is what the late Bon Scott of ACDC once wrote in a song. But is rock and roll just rock and roll? It is so splintered that at times it’s hardly recognizable.
Let’s look at the history.
It supposedly began when Bill Haley rocked around the clock. But Bill only opened the door with a term. Rock and roll was around long before 1955. Ray Charles is arguably the first rock and roll artist. Perhaps the Ink Spots could claim to be the first “doo wop” group. Or maybe it was the Mills Brothers. And tell me, what were the old blues artists doing? So you see, even in its earliest days there was a lot of music lumped into rock and roll. And quickly after Bill Haley and Chuck Berry started rock and roll, rockabilly came flying out of Memphis with Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and of course, Elvis Aaron Presley. Have you ever wondered how it may have changed had Elvis been named Bob… Elvis was just the perfect name for Elvis… Central casting in Hollywood couldn’t have given the character a better name.
Anyway, from that simple matrix, doo wop, rockabilly and blues were all rock and roll were all eventually fodder for more to come in the 60’s. Rockabilly died off and artist’s scurried to find shelter under other headings. The Beatles did that to many. So during the 60’s folk rock came in followed by psychedelic rock, bubblegum rock, acid rock and finally hard rock/heavy metal. And then came punk rock, new wave rock, pop rock…
Well throughout history there have been great songs in each genre and style. That is something that unfairly isn’t given proper recognition. For example, what was the first real heavy metal song. Fingers will be pointed in many directions. Some will say it’s the Troggs’, “Wild Thing”. Others will claim it’s the Kinks’, “You Really Got Me” and still more might say it’s Jimi Hendrix’s, “Purple Haze”. I’m not saying any of these are wrong. But if you look back at the dates of these songs, the Kinks came first in late 1964. But the question isn’t when it was released so much as what was going on around it?
If one were to ask me, simply put, the first heavy metal song was written by Graham Gouldman who eventually would lead the British band 10cc. Hardly a hard rock act by any stretch of the imagination. But prior to that, in the mid-1960’s he was a friend of Giorgio Gomelsky who had under his guidance a band by the name of the Yardbirds. Having previously penned their first hit, “For Your Love” which could be part of this argument itself, he gave the band their second single which had the title of “Heart Full of Soul”. Gomelsky thought the song should have a sitar intro which coincided with their use of a harpsichord on their previous hit. But the group didn’t think that was the right sound and so then guitarist, Jeff Beck, said, “Let me have a go at it…” and the rest is history. Jeff turned up his amp with a heavy fuzz tone box attached and gave us one of the most recognizable guitar riffs in the history of rock and roll. As far as I know, that song and it’s follow up, “Shapes of Things” were the first uses of feedback and distortion for purposes of turning up the volume on rock and roll. So for me, rock music began with the release of “Heart Full of Soul”.
In the future, we’ll explore other members of the rock and roll family. There are great songs that truly did open the door to what could be done and changed history…