Presleys in the Press

50th Anniversary of the Birth of Rock and Roll 2004

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50 years of rock and roll

  • Fifty years of pop
    By Sean O'Hagan
    (The Observer, May 2, 2004)
    This year, pop - or, more accurately, rock'n'roll, a term which suddenly seems almost quaint - is 50 years old. Its date of birth, like its trajectory, is difficult to define. What is indisputable is that Elvis Presley, a Southern white boy inhabiting a black form, was the first, and perhaps the most dynamic, expression of a music that was raw and primal, charged with a sexual tension that was best measured by the shrill din of the adult voices attempting to shout it down. At that moment the notion of youth, both as a culture and a demographic, was born; it defines our culture now to a degree that we no longer question. In the transition, rock'n'roll has lost much of its power to shock and to galvanise, has become both fragmented and ubiquitous. Yet it endures. The following is a collection of moments from the last 50 years of pop, some of them obvious, some of them, I hope, not so, all of them possessing some deeper cultural relevance. ...

  • Will the creator of modern music please stand up?
    By Alexis Petridis
    (Guardian Unlimited, April 16, 2004)
    It wasn't Bill Haley. It wasn't Elvis. And it didn't happen in 1954. Who did make the first ever rock'n'roll record? In the Newcastle offices of Britain's longest-running rock'n'roll magazine, Now Dig This!, editor Tony Cajiao lets out a hollow chuckle. "It's like who shot JFK," he says. "It's one of those debates that's going to go on forever. It's one of those questions that there's no answer for. It would be nice for me to tell you that the first rock'n' roll record ever made was by Fred Bloggs, but it's an impossible thing to do. You're never going to get a definitive answer."

    So it would appear. I have spent the past few weeks in search of the first rock'n'roll record and I am more confused than ever. I have spoken to expert journalists, septuagenarian former record company bosses and, in one notable case, a British rock'n' roll DJ so old he can clearly remember when teddy boys were forced to beat up other teddy boys because no one had invented mods yet. Along the way, I have been ignored by Ike Turner, heard a variety of genuinely tragic tales about forgotten musical pioneers and discovered a bizarre link between the lost world of late-1940s rhythm and blues and Stanley Kubrick's film The Shining. Nevertheless, I am ready to admit defeat. ...

  • Memphis Hosts Global Moment in Time: Part of the 50th Anniversary of Rock 'n' Roll Celebration
    SOURCE Goodman Media International, Inc
    (PRNewswire, April 13, 2004)
    As part of the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Rock 'n' Roll, Memphis, the birthplace of rock 'n' roll, will host the "Global Moment in Time" on July 5, 2004. The "Global Moment in Time" officially marks the day when Elvis Presley recorded his first single "That's All Right" at Sun Studio in Memphis in 1954. It became a pivotal moment in rock history, considered "the big bang" in the dawn of the rock 'n' roll era. At 12 noon ET, radio stations around the world are encouraged to simultaneously play "That's All Right" in honor of the 50th Anniversary of Rock 'n' Roll. The original recording will be available live via satellite from Sun Studio with Scotty Moore, Elvis Presley's guitarist, launching the celebration. Memphis will serve as the hub of the July 5th celebration, hosting star-studded concerts and festivities throughout the day.

  • Happy 50th birthday Rock'n'roll
    (New Zealand Herald, April 11, 2004)
    On April 12, 1954, that's 50 years ago on Monday, rock'n'roll history was made. That was the day Bill Haley and the Comets recorded Rock Around the Clock at a studio in New York. Haley was an unlikely rock'n'roll star. He was a paunchy, former country'n'western/hillbilly singer whose band was originally called the Saddlemen. When he signed to Decca in '54, however, he changed the band name and his style and recorded Rock Around the Clock, which was released as the B-side to a song called Thirteen Women. It didn't sell. But the movie Blackboard Jungle featured Rock Around the Clock during the opening credits. The amalgam of rock'n'roll with teen rebellion was made and the song took off.

    Haley was a hero, but only briefly. Within a few years others took over. And the rest? Well, it kinda looks like this.

    Rock Around the Clock recorded by Bill Haley and the Comets. A young Elvis records My Happiness and That's When Your Heartaches Begin at Sun Records in Memphis.

    1955: Rock Around the Clock debuts on the US charts in January. Seven-inch singles outsell 78rpm records. Little Richard's Tutti Frutti. Carl Perkins records his original Blue Suede Shoes.

    1956: Elvis' first RCA single Heartbreak Hotel goes to number one in the US for eight weeks. Buddy Holly's first recording sessions. British band leader Ted Heath predicts rock'n'roll, "mainly performed by coloured artists for coloured people", won't be popular in Britain.

    1957: Buddy Holly's That'll Be the Day, Elvis' Jailhouse Rock. The Everlys' Bye Bye Love and Wake Up Little Susie. Gene Vincent's Be Bop A-Lula, Jerry Lee Lewis' Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On. Paul McCartney meets John Lennon in Liverpool. ... [through the years to 2004, Norah Jones]

  • Rolling back the years
    By Joanna Peart
    (, April 8, 2004)
    April 12 marks the 50th anniversary of the original recording of Rock Around The Clock. It became the song that defined an era of solidarity and rebellion amongst Britain's first predominantly teenage society. Dubbed "rock and roll's national anthem", the simple, two-minute-eight- second-long novelty tune was put to wax in a converted Masonic temple in New York City exactly five decades ago. There had been a few rock and roll recordings made prior to 1954, but it was Rock Around the Clock that opened a Pandora's box of uninhibited music, and firmly established it in the public's psyche.

    Bill Haley and The Comets - then known as an up-and-coming musical group - propelled the song to the number one spot in Britain in 1955, a year after it was first recorded. A frenzy followed and it went on to become the first rock and roll record to sell a million in Britain alone, hence the label given to Haley himself as "the first cuckoo of spring". It was recorded in 35 different languages and by the end of 1955 everyone was still dancing around to it - whether they were blessed with rhythm or not.

    When the song itself was used in the groundbreaking and acclaimed film The Blackboard Jungle in 1955, it began to change the course of British and American music, proving that rock and roll was far from a momentary fad. In 1956 the song-turned-film Rock Around The Clock created pandemonium in British cinemas. The record went on to feature in 12 other movies throughout the 70s and 80s. These included the London Rock and Roll Show in 1972, Let the Good Times Rol' in 1973 and American Graffiti in 1973. The 1970s TV series Happy Days also incorporated the international hit.

    While Haley is credited with establishing rock and roll, a young and charismatic Elvis Presley popularised it even further. Teenage girls went mad for the heartthrob from Mississippi who managed to sell millions of records in the early days of his career. Chuck Berry also defined the music's roots in blues along with some of the finer points of its sexuality and youthful orientation, and Buddy Holly's influence was just as far reaching, but more subtle and distinctly musical in nature.

    But Rock Around The Clock was the first to set the trend, and the people responsible for writing it back in 1953 were Max C. Freedman and "Jimmy DeKnight" - whose real name was James Myers. Myers had been a frequent collaborator and promotional force for Haley since the late 1940s, and he even became Haley's first session drummer in 1950, before the rock and roll frenzy began.

    When it did, it wasn't only music that was affected - fashion also saw massive changes. By the end of 1955, rock and roll had swept the world, and its female followers dressed in full skirts and petticoats. Bras and girdles exaggerated the feminine form, with girdles extended over the waist, almost to the bra line. While for teenage girls, the fifties were all about showing off flesh, their male counterparts followed the fashion by becoming Teddy Boys. The original teen rebels dressed in a blend of romantic Edwardian clothes - which explains the name Teddy - and American rock and roll styles.

    Hair was outlandish, long jackets were juxtaposed with thin, bootlace ties, and stovepipe pants were cut short to show off patterned socks. The look was completed with suede brothel creepers or winkle-pickers. The Teddy Boy craze began in London, and those who sported the look there had a reputation for being as hard as nails, carrying flick knives, cycle chains and razors. In fact, the look was so synonymous with rebellion that it was used as a basis for the costumes of the thugs in the 1971 film of Anthony Burgess' novel A Clockwork Orange.

    But by far the most treasured possession of a Teddy Boy was his precious hairstyle. A well-groomed quiff and Brylcreemed look added the finishing touches to the slick image. David McGeorge, from Coniston, Heworth, Gateshead, was one of the original Teddy Boys in the fifties. "Five or six of my friends were Teddy Boys, and we all used to hang around together," says the 68-year-old. "But we didn't get into any fights like the Teds did in London, and if there was a fight it would just be about someone dancing with someone else's girlfriend. I used to listen to Bill Haley, Elvis Presley and anyone else who played rock and roll. I still have parts of my Teddy Boy outfit, including the shoes, and I wear it for church on a Sunday morning just to be a bit different. I love rock and roll music and get 50s box sets whenever I can, but I have lots of original records from back then, including a Stevie Wonder LP which I got before he was famous and has never been played."

    The rock and roll generation were the first to break the mould of the old-fashioned, class-based society in which they grew up after the war. But the peculiar Teddy Boy phenomenon that caused dread among members of the older generation was nothing compared with some of the teenage fashions to come, such as mods, rockers and later on - skinheads - from the punk generation of the early 70s.

    By the mid 1950s, Elvis Presley - complete with his pelvic thrusts and curled lip - was also confirming the worst fears of parents. He first entered the top ten in May 1956 and within six months he had six smash hits, including Heartbreak Hotel, Blue Suede Shoes, Don't be Cruel and the hip-swiveling Hound Dog.

    Buddy Holly also stormed the charts in the fifties with hits like Peggy Sue, Maybe Baby and True Love Ways. And when Beatlemania started to sweep the nation in the 1960s, rock and roll was still going strong. The fab four from Liverpool made their music by mixing rock with other styles that were becoming popular, such as Delta blues, electric rhythm and blues and soul. Screaming fans clogged the streets around the London Palladium, causing traffic jams at airports when they made their debut, and Beatle boppers bought enough copies of She Loves You to keep it at number one for four weeks. Later on in their careers, the two most famous members of the group, Paul McCartney and John Lennon, even emphasised how influential Bill Haley's Rock Around The Clock had been to them.

    Before the rock and roll era, teenagers more or less did as their parents told them but the music created a mood of euphoria and rebellion. Today, rock is more readily associated with the likes of The Darkness, but nostalgia lovers will always remember the song that started it all. It inspired film and fashion, and had Teddy Boys and girls dancing in the cinema aisles as well as rocking around the clock.

    David McGeorge, 68, of Gateshead, has fond memories of being one of the orginal Teddy Boys

  • A Memphis makeover
    (Chicago Sun-Times, February 15 2004)

    This city [ie, Memphis] is one of the most compelling American destinations of the year. Like a new dancer in an old Beale Street revue, Memphis is applying a big beat under its sultry atmosphere to attract attention. The city is celebrating the 50th anniversary of rock 'n' roll. That is no small task. The big bang comes on July 5, the 50th anniversary of when Elvis Presley cut his first record, "That's All Right," backed by Bill Black and Scotty Moore at Sun Studios, 706 Union Ave. To commemorate this event, radio stations worldwide are encouraged to simultaneously play "That's All Right." City planners hope this will mark the largest playing of a single song at the same moment in history. Bill Haley's "Shake, Rattle and Roll" was a top 12 hit in 1954. I wonder what his native Highland Park, Mich., has planned for this summer?

    Memphis rocks in 2004

    * Sun Studio, 706 Union Ave. (901-521-0664)
    Any visit to Memphis is incomplete without a visit to tiny Sun Studio, the monster incubator of rock 'n' roll. One highlight is straddling the "X" designed from masking tape where Elvis Presley stood to make his first recordings. "The Global Moment in Time" playing of Presley's "That's All Right" will take place July 5 at Sun. Presley's lead guitarist Scotty Moore will play a mint record of "That's All Right." The street in front of Sun will be blocked off and live music will include original Sun cats like Billy Lee Riley and Sonny Burgess as well as Billy "I Can Help" Swan. More acts TBA. Sun Studio is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week. Visit for updates. ...

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