Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s of Rock’n’Roll – Rock’n’Roll Never Dies

CamThere are thousands of songs with the word “rock” in them, in fact the whole genre may have been coined by a song with the word rock in it. Much like determining where the first hockey or baseball game was played, or what the first rap record was, historians and nerds will argue until the end of time about what might have been the first rock record. Was it the 1951 Chess Recordings recording of “Rocket “88”” from Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats (who were actually Ike Turner’s band Kings Of Rhythm) produced by Sam Phillips? How about the 1947 recording of “Good Rocking Tonight” by Roy Brown a song that would be “rocked up” by Elvis Presley in 1954 (with Sam Phillips also producing). In 1954 Bill Haley and his Comets stayed on the charts for half of the year with “Rock Around The Clock” so perhaps they deserve the crown. It is a debate that will never be definitively answered. Here are “rock” songs that lurk on my iPod.

“Rock Billy Boogie” – Robert Gordon

Robert was on the fringes of the New York punk scene in the late seventies with his band Tuff Darts (who recorded the song “All for the Love of Rock and Roll” on the “Live at CBGB’s” album). Producer Richard Gottehrer loved Robert’s baritone and suggested he hook-up with guitar legend Link Wray (“Rumble”) and record for Private Stock Records. They recorded two great rockabilly records, “Robert Gordon with Link Wray” and “Fresh Fish Special” but it wasn’t until Gordon was signed to Elvis’s label RCA that he had a semblance of a hit with the Dorsey Brothers penned “Rock Billy Boogie”. Now armed with British guitarist Chris Spedding and the far bigger RCA promo budgets, the label pulled out all of the stops to have Robert cross-over and bring rockabilly to the masses. Although he got close it would be The Stray Cats a year later who would find mainstream success.

“Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo” – Rick Derringer

It is very frightening to realize that the album that featured Rick’s biggest solo hit, “All American Boy”, turned 40 years old last October. It seems like only yesterday when I would wait to hear the song blast out of the speakers via 1050 CHUM. It was an album that I played to death. Rick was no stranger to the radio as he had his first hit “Hang on Sloopy” when he was a teenage member of The McCoys.  Derringer went by his birth name Zehringer at the time. Still love it when this track pops up on classic rock radio.

“And the Cradle Will Rock” – Van Halen

This was the only single released from the band’s third studio “Women and Children First”. Still fronted by David Lee Roth he asks the immortal question “Have you seen junior’s grades?” Classic Van Halen and a textbook example of an Eddie Van Halen guitar solo. During the recent reunion shows with Roth, Diamond Dave was often asking audiences if they had seen Wolfie’s grades as a nod to Eddie’s son Wolfgang who has replaced original bassist Michael Anthony.

“Detroit Rock City” – Kiss

Many cities claim to be the home of rock’n’roll;  Memphis, Cleveland, New York and Chicago could all stake a claim but in 1976 Kiss decided the crown should go to Detroit, the city that first embraced the band. The song was written by Paul Stanley and Canadian producer Bob Ezrin and was on the band’s third album “Destroyer”. It was released as a single and made little chart impact outside of the Motor City however, the B-side of the 45, “Beth”, would go on to become a monster hit for the band and would be re-released as the A-side of the single.

“Gretzky Rocks” – The Pursuit of Happiness

TPOH frontman Moe Berg reminded me a couple of weeks ago about the time I introduced him to Wayne Gretzky. The band had just released the single “Gretzky Rocks” on their 1995 album “Where’s The Bone”. At the time I was working for the Hard Rock Cafe and our corporate offices were upstairs at Wayne’s Toronto restaurant (the Canadian Hard Rock owners, the Bitoves, are partners with Wayne at the legendary Toronto sports bar). I knew that Wayne was coming in so I called Moe to tell him to bring a couple of copies of the red vinyl 45 to the bar and I would try to get one into Wayne’s hands. As it worked out Moe got to hand one to Wayne personally. He was concerned as he thought Wayne might not appreciate the line “Everyone hated Peter and Janet for trading the best player on the planet”. Many believe that Janet coerced Oilers owner Peter Pocklington to make a deal with the L.A. Kings so she could continue on her acting career. Rumour has it that Wayne liked the two minute slice of Canadian sports history.

“Rock Box” – Run-D.M.C.

Long before they had a hit with Aerosmith and “Walk This Way” Hollis, Queens, New York, hip-hop band  Run-D.M.C. were merging the sounds of rap and rock. “Rock Box” was the third single from the band’s 1984 debut and features erudite comedian Professor Irwin Corey explaining the history of rap while the band rolls into New York’s great old venue Danceteria for a performance. The guitarist in the video is noted studio guitarist Eddie “The Manic Hispanic” Martinez and playing keyboard is Steve Loeb who owned Greene Street Recordings in New York where the song was recorded. Run-D.M.C. would keep the theme up with their second album “King of Rock”.

“Rock Hard” – Beastie Boys

This is the song that turned me on to the band and I still have the rather rare original 12” Def Jam single. It was their first release on the label and introduced the world to the classic Def Jam turntable logo. It samples AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and, as the band never cleared the sample, the single had to be pulled from the market. When they asked permission from the band to include it on their anthology album the Aussie rockers once again said no.

“Rock the Bells” – L.L. Cool J

Long before he and his Kangol hat were hosting every music show on the CBS network L.L. was a pretty serious rapper and was a Def Jam label mate to the Beastie Boys. His 1985 debut album “Radio” was produced by Rick Rubin and “Rock the Bells” was the third single from that release. Perhaps learning a sampling lesson from the Beastie Boys L.L. sampled this song later in his career on another one of his hits “Mama Said Knock You Out”.

“Rock On” – David Essex

It was 40 years ago next month when “Rock On” topped the Canadian singles charts (the only country to have the song reach number one). It sounded nothing like anything else on the radio and many of us youngsters thought he was singing about the Jimmy Dean who made sausages and not the actor that made rock’n’roll dangerous.  The song was featured in “Stardust”, the follow up to the 1973 movie “That’ll Be the Day” which featured Essex, Ringo Starr and Keith Moon. I watched it again recently and although not a classic, it’s worth a look at for historical reasons. Soap opera star Michael Damian would re-record the song in 1989 and take it to number one on the Billboard charts surpassing the American success of the Essex original. The less said about this version the better.

“Rock You” – Helix

As I have just finished the Sean Kelly book “Metal on Ice – Tales from Canada’s Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Heroes” I would be more than remiss if I did not finish my ode to “rock” songs with Canada’s very own Helix and their best known song “Rock You”. After years toiling on the bar circuit the Kitchener band signed to Capital Records and in 1984 released the album “Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge” which featured “Rock You” and their hit version of A Foot in Coldwater’s “(Make Me) Do Anything You Want”.


Follow Cam on Twitter @CC59

Cam’s column appears every Thursday

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The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll are proud to be presented by The Bovine Tiki Bar and The Bovine. There are heaters on the Bovine patio and great bands downstairs at the legendary rock bar. Fill up next store at The Rock Lobster and then get your rocks off at The Bovine. 

DBAWIS ButtonCameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener, The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, The Daily XY, New Canadian Music, NXNE Magazine and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

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