Last year I published a version of this blog article under the name ‘When I’m 64’. Well, today I turned 65 and seeing that our group and page have grown so much since last September, I have decided to bring 1955 back to life with this reworked and edited version. Consider it my birthday present to you!
Today I turned 65-years-old. Not an exceptionally special birthday like 16 or 18 or 21 or the rest of the decade markers, but still, an age that I never thought I’d reach when I was still in my teens. A constant that has played a huge part in my life is music, and I am glad that I am of that age where I saw the first Beatles TV appearance, remember the first Rolling Stones hit and rode the excitement of the music of the Swinging Sixties. I feel privileged to have lived through this exciting and culturally important time in the history of music.
But my interest in music hasn’t remained in one particular era. I often read posts of how “The music of my youth was far better than today’s music”, or “they don’t make them like that anymore”. My answer is that they are not listening to the right ‘new’ music. Commercial pop music will always have that ‘hit-parade’ feel. It was true in the ’60s and it’s true now. But look deeper into any genre of today’s music and you’ll find some gems.
Personally I can’t think of anything more limiting than not being open to new genres, sounds and developments in music, while still, of course, appreciating and honouring the history that it emerged from. It is one of the reasons that I started the Loving the Music page, so I could share this passion I have not only for the songs but also for the stories behind them.
With this in mind, I decided to research the world of music in 1955 so as to get an idea of what was happening in the year I was born. Not surprisingly, most of the action was taking place in America, when in 1955 five titles were released that are considered by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to be among the 500 most influential in the history of Rock and Roll. Those tracks being:
Ain’t That a Shame (Fats Domino)
Earth Angel (The Penguins)
Mannish Boy (Muddy Waters)
Maybellene (Chuck Berry)
Rock Around the Clock (Bill Haley & the Comets).
Rock Around the Clock is particularly interesting as it had been released the year before to very little response. It only took off when used in the movie ‘Blackboard Jungle’ and has the honour of being the first Rock and Roll song used in a movie, and subsequently the first Rock and Roll song to top the charts.
I pieced together a timeline of the big musical news of 1955 for both the USA and UK and the differences are staggering. Remember that this was before the great British Invasion of music that blossomed in the ’60s, so the modern music scene was virtually non-existent in the UK. The USA is where all the action was happening
January 1955: Prior to 1955, the average cost of an LP was $5.95, which put them out of price range for many young music lovers of the day. RCA Victor launched ‘Operation TNT’ in January 1955 which drove the cost of recordings down to $3.98 for LP’s, $1.49 for an EP and 89c for a 45 RPM. Other recording houses followed suit resulting in a huge boost in record sales.
Later the same month Alan Freed produced the first organized Rock and Roll concert. This little concert is the root of every stadium show you have seen and Alan Freed deserves his place in Rock and Roll History.
It was also the month that saw Rock Around the Clock enter the British charts.
Feb 1955: Dot Records introduced their new singer, Pat Boone who would go on to be the more respectable alternative to Elvis.
As a result of the price drop of records the sale of 45 RPM single outsold the standard 78 RPM pressings of the day.
March 1955: Colonel Tom Parker became a de-facto manager to Elvis Presley.
Blackboard Jungle is released with Bill Haley and the Comets ‘Rock Around the Clock’ used as background to the opening credits. This is the first use of a Rock and Roll song in a major film and the commercial impact saw it becoming a trend amongst the edgier movies of the day.
Decca Records signed Alan Freed as one of the first A&R man, a relatively new concept at the time.
April 1955: Imperial Records release Fats Domino’s ‘Ain’t That a Shame’ which reached #1 in the R&B charts becoming a million-seller over time. This brought prominence to Fats Domino whose works were soon covered by white artists, which seldom happened during that period. Pat Boone also recorded a version that was voted Billboard number-one single of the year for jukebox plays.
May 1955: The first music riot was recorded at an Elvis Presley concert in Jacksonville, Florida, which resulted in second rock concert being cancelled in Connecticut where Fats Domino was scheduled as the headline act.
This was also the month that the classic Chuck berry number ‘Mayballene’ was recorded at Chess Studios. It went on to be considered one of the Top 500 songs that influenced Rock & Roll. Not bad for a song about a car – or was it all a euphemism as some suggested at the time?
July 1955: ‘Rock Around the Clock’ became the first Rock and roll single to reach Number One on the American charts.
August 1955: WINS Radio Station in New York adopted a radical policy of not playing white cover versions of black R&B songs on their stations. Meanwhile, in the UK, this new breed of American music wasn’t greeted very well among civilized folk and there is an account of a Londoner being fined for ‘creating an abominable noise’ for playing ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ at top volume!
September 1955: Because of conventions of the time, Little Richard recorded a sanitized version of Tutti-frutti. After all, Tutti-frutti, Good Booty, just wasn’t acceptable on the airwaves of the ’50s!
October 1955: Elvis Presley played a concert in Lubbock, Texas, with his opening act being a local duo, Buddy and Bob, Buddy being the future rock star Buddy Holly. Elvis also opened a concert featuring Pat Boone and Bill Haley & the Comets which became his first filmed performance and was used in the documentary The Pied Piper of Cleveland.
The month also saw a nine-year-old Al Green form a gospel quartet, the Green Brothers He went on to be being voted one of the top 100 musicians of all time. You could consider him the Michael Jackson of his day.
December 1955: Etta James made her debut with “The Wallflower (Roll With Me Henry)” which topped the R&B Charts. As popular as it was, It was considered too risqué for pop radio. The song was subsequently covered by Georgia Gibbs in an acceptable version with the line “Roll with Me Henry” being changed to “Dance with me Henry”
In comparison with all this musical excitement, the British were still showing their collective stiff-upper-lip attitude. The only song that vaguely represented the evolving of Rock and Roll phenomenon was Lonnie Donegan singing ‘Rock Island Line’ in a bad American accent, which curiously became a major hit.
He went on in later years to have intellectual hits such as ‘Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour On Your Bedpost Overnight’ and ‘My Old Man’s A Dustman’. In comparison to the USA, It was a sad time for British youth.
Although things may have been dreary, there was hope on the UK horizon with a new breed of musicians born that year who would make their mark on popular music in time. Moreso, in fact, than those born in the USA that year.
- Terry Chimes, drummer (The Clash)
- Howard Jones, singer-songwriter
- Pete Shelley, guitarist and vocalist (Buzzcocks)
- Topper Headon (The Clash)
- Mick Jones, singer-songwriter and guitarist (The Clash, Big Audio Dynamite, General Public, Carbon/Silicon, and London SS)
- Terry Chambers, drummer (XTC and Dragon)
- Jem Finer, banjo player and songwriter (The Pogues)
- Bruce Foxton, guitarist (The Jam)
- Steve Jones, guitarist (Sex Pistols)
- Philip Oakey, singer-songwriter
- Les McKeown, singer (Bay City Rollers)
- Billy Idol, singer
- Paul Simonon, bassist (The Clash)
Meanwhile, in America this new crop was greeting the world:
- Steve Earle (Musician)
- Eddie van Halen (Musician)
- Ritchie Pickett (Country musician)
- Dale Bozzio (Singer Missing Persons)
- Dee Snider (Twisted Sister)
- Reba McEntire (Country singer)
- Glen Burtnik (Styx)
- Neville Staple (The Specials)
- Louis Johnson (The Brothers Johnson)
- Stan Lynch (Drummer – Tom Petty)
- Mike Porcaro (Toto)
- Michael Steele (The Bangles)
- Bobby Rondinelli (Rainbow / Black Sabbath)
- Pat Mastelotto (King Crimson)
- David Lee Roth (Van Halen)
- Chuck Loeb (Jazz guitarist)
With the events happening in music that year, particularly in the USA, the popular song would never be the same. Sounds and styles had started to evolve toward the taste of the new and very important sector of the spending public, the teenager. And thank goodness for that!
Music will constantly evolve. Some genres will tip a hat to an earlier trend in music, while others may well be unique in every way. Wherever music goes, one thing is constant, it will have its roots in the changing attitudes of 1955.
I chose a pretty cool year to be born!
This article was previously published on The Design Train website for Loving the Music