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"Rocket 88" (originally written as Rocket "88") is a rhythm and blues song that was first recorded at Sam Phillips' recording studio in Memphis, Tennessee, on 3 March or 5 March 1951 (accounts differ). The recording was credited to Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, who were actually Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm. Many experts have claimed it was the first rock and roll record.


Original version[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The original version of the twelve-bar blues song was credited to Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, who took the song to number one on the R&B charts.[2] The band did not actually exist and the song was put together by the then 19 year-old Ike Turner and his band in rehearsals at the Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and recorded by Turner's Kings of Rhythm. Brenston, who was a saxophonist with Turner, also sang the vocal on "Rocket 88", a hymn of praise to the joys of the Oldsmobile "Rocket 88" automobile, which had recently been introduced.[3] The song was based on the 1947 song "Cadillac Boogie" by Jimmy Liggins.[4] It was also preceded and influenced by Pete Johnson's "Rocket 88 Boogie" Parts 1 and 2, an instrumental, originally recorded for the Los Angeles-based Swing Time Records label in 1949.[citation needed]

Drawing on the template of jump blues and swing combo music, Turner made the style even rawer, superimposing Brenston's enthusiastic vocals, his own piano, and tenor saxophone solos by 17-year-old Raymond Hill (later to be the father of Tina Turner's first child, before she married Ike).[5] Willie Sims played drums for the recording.[6] The song also features one of the first examples of distortion, or fuzz guitar, as well as feedback ever recorded, played by the band's guitarist Willie Kizart.[7] The legend of how the sound came about says that Kizart's amplifierwas damaged on Highway 61 when the band was driving from Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee. An attempt was made to hold the cone in place by stuffing the amplifier with wadded newspapers, which unintentionally created a distorted sound; Phillips liked the sound and used it. Robert Palmer has written that the amplifier "had fallen from the top of the car", and attributes this information to Sam Phillips.[8][9] However, in a recorded interview at the Experience Music Project in Seattle, Washington, Ike Turner stated that the amplifier was in the trunk of the car and that rain may have caused the damage; he is certain that it did not fall from the roof of the car. Link Wray explains the development of his fuzz tone with a similar story.

It was the second-biggest rhythm and blues single of 1951, reaching first place on 9 June 1951 and staying there for five weeks, and much more influential than some other "first" claimants. Ike Turner's piano intro to the song was later used nearly note-for-note by Little Richard in "Good Golly Miss Molly".[10] Rock art historian Paul Grushkin writes:[11]

Working from the raw material of post-big band jump blues, Turner had cooked up a mellow, cruising boogie with a steady-as-she-goes back beat now married to Brenston's enthusiastic, sexually suggestive vocals that spoke of opportunity, discovery and conquest. This all combined to create (as one reviewer later put it) "THE mother of all R&B songs for an evolutionary white audience".

According to Bill Dahl at Allmusic:[12]

Determining the first actual rock & roll record is a truly impossible task. But you can't go too far wrong citing Jackie Brenston's 1951 Chess waxing of "Rocket 88," a seminal piece of rock's fascinating history with all the prerequisite elements firmly in place: practically indecipherable lyrics about cars, booze, and women; Raymond Hill's booting tenor sax, and a churning, beat-heavy rhythmic bottom.==Cover version by Bill Haley[edit source | editbeta]==

A second version of "Rocket 88" was recorded by the country music group Bill Haley and the Saddlemen at a recording session on June 14, 1951, a few months after Turner recorded his version.[13][14] Haley's recording was a regional hit in the northeast United States and started Haley along the musical road which led to his own impact on popular music with "Rock Around the Clock" in 1955.

Upright bass player Marshall Lytle commented on his playing on this recording. "Before we had drums, I was practically the whole rhythm section. Since we didn't have any amplification, I slapped it so hard the neck had big grooves in it. Bill liked it loud, so he'd scream, 'Play loud!'"[15]

Those who subscribe to the definition of rock and roll as the melding of country music with rhythm and blues believe that Haley's version of the song, not the Turner/Brenston original, is the first rock and roll record.[citation needed] No matter which version deserves the accolade, "Rocket 88" is seen as a prototype rock and roll song in musical style and lineup, not to mention its lyrical theme, in which an automobile serves as a metaphor for romantic prowess.[16]

Later versions[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The song was also featured in the 1984 film The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th DimensionBuckaroo Banzai and his band, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, perform the song at a bar early in the movie, but the song itself (which was a 3/4 time sped-up instrumental version) was actually recorded by Billy Vera and the Beaters. Rokit 88 is on the license plate on the rocket truck that Buckaroo uses during the movie. The band The Atomic Planets recorded a ska song entitled "Rocket '08" for their debut album.

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