I was born in 1974 and the first rock 'n' roll that I fell in love with was the rock 'n' roll of the fifties, due to a good oldies radio station in Buffalo that played tons of it. My family also got one cassette of Time-Life's fifties rock 'n' roll collection. It was just 1958, but, man, was it loaded with great stuff, from Duane Eddy's "Rebel Rouser" to Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues".
Amazingly, that was the first cassette on 50's rock I got myself. I actually got the whole series, but the '58 one still sounds best to me, the song selection and sequencing on it was great.
Growing up, I was always under the impression that the greats of fifties rock 'n' roll were Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. I mean, they were unquestionably the big five. But I'm wondering, now, why that was so and if others had the same impression that I did. I mean, the likes of the Everly Brothers, Fats Domino and Ray Charles were definitely secondary to Jerry Lee Lewis in fifties rock 'n' roll greatness to me, despite the disparity in success.
I think it may be because those five artists fit the most neatly into the narrative of rock 'n' roll "dying" in the early sixties before the British Invasion gave it a jolt. Elvis went into the army, Chuck Berry was arrested, Buddy Holly died, Little Richard got religion, and Jerry Lee Lewis was disgraced. It seems the huge interuptions in their careers, and in Buddy's case the end of his life, elevated them above the likes of Fats Domino and the Everly Brothers, who were as successful or more successful than all of them, with the obvious exception of Elvis. But Eddie Cochran was not similarly elevated, perhaps because he wasn't quite big enough to begin with, and/or because he got a later start.
So I'll put this question out to anyone who cares to answer it. Have you ever been under the impression that Elvis, Chuck, Buddy, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis were the big five of fifties rock 'n' roll? Or did you at least recognize that attitude among the general public? And if so, what are your theories on why that's so?
I think the simple answer is - writers like colorful characters and Lewis was more colorful than Domino. I also think most writers on rock in the years since have viewed it through a prism of the 60's, which is when many of them came of age, and Berry and Holly were two of the most commonly referred to influences of that era.
Up until the mid-80's Bill Haley was given a lot more credit than he is now when his age (30 when he was huge), his looks (balding, moon-faced), his band's outfits (plaid jackets) and ironically considering how much of subsequent rock has been whitewashed, his race, all played into the lessening of his impact.
To me the revelation in 50's rock didn't come with the Cochrans, Vincents, or even Diddleys, but rather the pre-integration stuff. The early Drifters with Clyde McPhatter blew my mind. Even earlier McPhatter sides with Billy Ward's Dominoes were outrageous. The Clovers were shocking to hear with their odes to drinking, sex and other taboo subjects that never got used by late in the decade when the pressure from the establishment cleaned rock up. The "5" Royales were amazing, they invent soul basically, get no credit for it and Lowman Pauling dashes off some of the most extraordianary guitar licks ever heard and is all but forgotten. Discovering someone like Professor Longhair was a revelation - how did this music almost get lost to time? That's the era that gets shafted historically but that's the era when it all started. The fact that so few rock fans know it today is a travesty.