The Greatest Rock n’ Roll Songs Of The ’40s
Louis Jordan and his Tympani Five performing Caldonia - LOUISJORDANVEVO / Youtube
Rock n’ roll saw its emergence in as early as the 1940’s, just as it was branching out from genres such as jazz, boogie woogie, rhythm n’ blues, and country music. Still at a relative infancy stage, rock n’ roll had already established its characteristics in the 20’s, but wasn’t coined until 1954. Here are some of the pioneering rock n’ roll tracks from the 40’s.
10. “Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop” – Lionel Hampton (1946)
Featuring a driving piano progression, the song showcases Lionel Hampton’s rich, bluesy vocals. But the most notable rock n’ roll characteristic the track has is the lead alto saxophone, which is very similar to lead guitar solo structuring during the following years.
9. “Saturday Night Fish Fry” – Louis Jordan (1949)
The playful arrangement of “Saturday Night Fish Fry” takes from its rhythm n’ blues format, with phrasing and lyricism reminiscent of succeeding rock n’ roll records. Rock pioneer Chuck Berry has said, “To my recollection, Louis Jordan was the first one that I hear play rock and roll.”
8. “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee” – Stick McGhee and His Buddies (1949)
Another track based on the rhythm n’ blues structuring, it featured a main driving progression, and creative vocal parts, which is evident even on the title, with what seems to be scat lyrics that were standardized. The repeating “wine, wine, wine” and guitar solo are progenitors of classic rock n’ roll techniques.
7. “Lovesick Blues” – Hank Williams (1949)
One of the songs that featured a country influence to it, “Lovesick Blues” was a slow rolling track that relied on its laid-back cadence to charm listeners. The distinct yodeling vocal style of Hank Williams seals the deal on this classic hit.
6. “Straighten Up And Fly Right” – King Cole Trio (1943)
Written by Nat King Cole and Irving Mills, “Straighten Up And Fly Right” features a jump blues progression, with subtle piano parts and an easygoing vocal groove that influenced later records as well.
5. “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” – Louis Jordan (1946)
Another form of evolved scat singing to craft non-standard lyrics, the song features an upbeat rhythm with an infectious yet driving bassline. The track also features a rather unique breakdown section, which was carried down to modern rock n’ roll with thunderous drum kits.
4. “The Honeydripper” – Joe Liggins (1945)
The song came from a bizarre inspiration, written by Liggins to fit the traditional dance called the Texas Hop. Mostly comprised of a jumpy rhythm n’ blues progression, the brass parts give fuller detail to the track’s innate playfulness.
3. “Caldonia” – Louis Jordan (1945)
The distinct bassline features a rockabilly-styled progression, while maintaining its blues form indefinitely throughout the tracks run time. Jordan’s semi-scream vocalizations and the sax riffs are progenitors to blues rock riffs of the later years.
2. “It’s Too Soon To Know” – The Orioles (1948)
The rather heavy and slow melodic progression of “It’s Too Soon To Know” is alleviated by the clear vocal parts, and augmented by a backing vibrato that adds to its solemn atmosphere. The track is a progenitor to emotional and dragging rock ballads that would see their rise almost two decades later.
1. “Good Rockin’ Tonight” – Wynonie Harris (1947)
Originally intended for Harris to record the song, it didn’t happen till the song’s writer Roy Brown recorded his own version and saw positive feedback from listeners. Wynonie Harris’ version features a more lively progression, with the signature gospel hand-clapping. “Good Rockin’ Tonight” showcases the early grit and arrangement of a true rock n’ roll record, and has been instrumental in influencing budding musicians of the era.