Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Masters: 50's & 60's Early Rock & Roll - Best Studio Albums

RtBE loves listening to new music and prides itself on keeping tabs on up and coming artists but in 2019 we are also going to have a monthly spotlight on legendary artists who we really love. We are calling this series The Masters. It will focus on the best albums, live records, transcendent shows and other odd ways we appreciate the artists and their contribution to music, culture and our formation.

For November The Masters Series focuses on Early Rock and Roll

Like we did back in March with The Blues, when RtBE dives into the foundations of rock and roll it is impossible to pick just one legend to focus on, so we are going to try to give thoughts on the whole era this month.

The truth is more than any other era of music, RtBE has been digging this time period over recent years and continues to be amazed at the sheer number of artists who crafted cool tunes which we never heard of. Artists like Hank Ballard and The Midnighters, The Flamingos and H-Bomb Ferguson were unknown to RtBE until 2019 and we are sure to find many more artists in the upcoming years from this golden era of sound.

That fine line between rhythm and blues songs and rock and roll numbers has never truly been defined. "Rocket 88" is a good starting point, and while a lot of these songs stuck to a formula that was selling, it is amazing how small nuances create great listening. The intersection of commercialism and art was at the beginning as artists would try to recreate hits with basically the same song, but then once in a while magic broke out. Sure The Beatles and Stones, took these artists influences and formed something new through their British ears...but it is time to pay respect to the forefathers of the genre. 

Unlike other top studio albums lists in this series, all of these will be greatest hits or some sort of deviation of, as these artists did not make full length albums at one sitting when they were at their peak. Instead they shot off 45's to appease the fan base, cranking them out to make as much money as their shitty contracts allowed. There are so many racial, financial, exploitative dynamics at play with these artists, but we will try to keep those at bay as much as possible when just trying to discuss their output.

If we limited to just individual albums, a few like Wanda Jackson's Rockin' With Wanda and Solomon Burke's Rock 'n Soul might have come close...but even those were compilations (although it took looking them up to know that). I may be wrong, but I feel like full albums really came into vogue with or February Masters focus The Beatles, but maybe someone else knows better. Feel free to comment below...

This list is not definitive, but it is just what we think are the best of an that somehow doesn't get the love it truly deserves for inspiring, racial desegregation, a British invasion and a generation of change in popular music. Also we kept country and soul artists mostly out of here even though all of these artists were clearly influenced by both...So in the spirit of starting discussions as opposed to ending them, here are the top five studio collections from early rock and roll...

5. Fats Domino - 20 Greatest Hits the Way You Originally Heard Them

When we started putting this list together there was one artist who we knew had to pay some respect to and that was The Fat Man. Fats Domino is a legend, but even when the greats of rock and roll get talked about Domino seems to be forgotten and criminally underrated. He scored more pop hits in the '50s than anyone except Elvis, Pat Boone, and Perry Como.

This collection of twenty tunes is mega, and flies by, each is a gem and there is no filler. There are larger collections, but this is what you need to really get a sense of his piano and drums style which he perfected with Dave Bartholomew. That partnership helped solidify a New Orleans  rock and roll sound and this collection captures its essence. We mentioned completest 12 CD box set recently but sometimes less is more.

While there was a push to include the influential likes of Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley, Ray Charles and The Everly Brothers and more, all were considered for the 5th spot on our list, yet 'The Fat Man' wins out as an RtBE Personal Favorite. He deserves more credit for the rock and roll sound that he helped popularize, here is a little bit. 

4. Elvis PresleyELV1S: 30 #1 Hits

While Domino sometimes gets sold short, Elvis never does and he would probably top most lists dealing with the birth of Rock and Roll. The man was an amazing singer, a hell of a performer and looked like a million dollars, there were always teen idols before Elvis, but after him few could compare. The hits just never stop "Hound Dog", "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" "Suspicious Minds" they are all here and top flight "Heartbreak Hotel", "Burning Love", "Can't Help Falling In Love" and "It's Now or Never" the man is a major legend for a reason.

It is true however, RtBE aren't massive Elvis fans (hence three other artists/albums top this one) but while this two CD collection of thirty of his number one hits is our go to, if anything we probably could have found a bigger release of Elvis tunes, because he was a beast.

From his early gospel days through his late Vegas period, all are interesting and deserve praise. Others have written about him better than we could though, so let's put Elvis: 30 #1 Hits fourth on our list end enjoy his pipes.

3. Jerry Lee Lewis - Great Balls of Fire The Very Best of Jerry Lee Lewis

While most are Elvis fans, RtBE always went for Jerry Lee Lewis. Of course you can appreciate both, but Jerry Lee just symbolizes the good/bad within rock and roll like few others. He was a force on piano, performing, and in life and man...he hated that Elvis cat. That pull between the pulpit and the barroom microphone is strong, the book Hellfire is an amazing journey, everyone should read up on "The Killer".  While he has a turbulent and questionable life which needs to be mentioned, his music is outstanding.

The guitar may have gone on to define rock and roll, but Jerry Lee owned the rock and roll piano (even more so than someone higher on our list). He is a southern bipolar bastard who feels the fires of hell and the soaring angels of heaven in all of his songs, enchanting like few others with his wild style.

This collection has it all, the original recordings of his mega hits which made him a star like "Great Balls of Fire", "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee", "Whole Lot A Shakin' Goin' On" "High School Confidential", "Lewis Boogie" and "Breathless" but also a ton more.  Blues tracks like his take on "Big Legged Woman", unhinged shakes like "Wild One", slow country waltzes like "I'll Make It All Up to You" the tense rock of "Lovin' Up a Storm" and the Louisiana spice of his take on Hank Williams "Jambalaya" and many many more.

There are so many other collections out there you may personally like yours more which is fine, 'The Killer' is unlike anyone else...and the world was lucky to have just one. We will be talking more about him in upcoming weeks.   

2. Little Richard - The Very Best of 

"The King and Queen of Rock and Roll", Little Richard was a blazing comet of amazement. Can you even imagine that the bisexual, black, son of a Preacher who bootlegged liquor in Macon, GA would go on to become the biggest star in the world in the late 1950's??!?  After styling himself after Roy Brown and Billy Wright to look outrageous and getting advice from Lloyd Price (an RtBE Personal Favorite who just missed this list as well) to send his demos to Specialty Records, Richards headed to New Orleans, LA where things stalled...until he takes the stage at the Dew Drop Inn and performs a salacious sex romp which stuns Bumps Blackwell.  A few twists to the words and "Tutti Frutti" explodes into the world...

This combo would go on to churn out such a killer string of cuts between September, 1955 and January, 1957 (along with top notch backing musicians like horn players Clifford "Gene" Burks and leader Grady Gaines, bassist Olsie "Baysee" Robinson and guitarist Nathaniel "Buster" Douglas) as tracks like "Long Tall Sally", "Lucille", "She's Got It", "Jenny Jenny", "Slippin' n Slidin'", "Rip It Up", "Heeby-Jeebies"...the up beat careering off the tracks rock and roll is invigorating, intoxicating and so alive...even over 60 years later. Seriously slap on "Keep A'Knockin'" and listen to the powerful drums from Charles Connor and the blaring fucking horns of Wilbert Smith, Gaines, Clifford Burks and Samuel Parker...dyn-o-mite!

We haven't even mentioned his banging "Good Golly Miss Molly" which just may be the best of the bunch. The 28 tracks collected here are all you really need and not one will disappoint. When discussing the all-time greats Little Richard does not get the respect he deserves, maybe because he basically stopped after this explosive period, but this collection proves his sound was vital and only one artist tops him on our list...

1. Chuck Berry - The Great 28

"If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry'."
-- John Lennon

What else needs to be said? 

Like others mentioned here, his life was a mess, and by all accounts he wasn't a nice person, but when it comes to his music, no one went on to influence Rock and Roll more than Chuck. The Great 28 is must have for any fan of the genre. Beatles, Stones, basically every guitar player who has played since, after Chuck plugged in he has influenced them all and along with that boogie piano of Johnnie Clyde Johnson crafted the most indelible tunes from this era. Jim Dickinson mentioned all music coming out of the South in the late 50's could be classified as 'Chuckabilly'.  

He is one of the few people RtBE wished Happy Birthday to as well as a fond farewell, and like everyone else on this list their music will never die. Also very much like Little Richard his damage was done in, mostly, a condensed time period and he never evolved, but that doesn't change his songs atom bomb like impact.  

Just some of The Great 28, "Maybellene", "Johnny B. Goode" there need to even go on?  If we must, "Roll Over Beethoven", "School Days", Rock and Roll Music", "Brown Eyed Handsome Man", "Around and Around", "Sweet Little Sixteen", "Little Queenie"...and on and on. Piece of trivia the only song (maybe thankfully) not included on this collection that probably should be is Chuck's only Number One Billboard Single? Know it?  "My-Ding-a-Ling" (Thanks for that trivia Mark). Chuck is beast, let's give him a listen to wrap up this list....
Agree? Disagree?  Feel free to comment below. 

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