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This article is about the song. For the band by this name, see Rocket 88 . For the namesake engine, see Oldsmobile V8 engine.

"Rocket 88" is a rhythm and blues song that was first recorded at Sam Phillips' recording studio in Memphis, Tennesseemarker, on 3 March or 5 March 1951 (accounts differ). It is claimed by some , including Phillips—later to become owner of Sun Records, and pioneer rock and roll record producer—to be the "first rock and roll song".

Original version by Ike Turner

The original version of the 12-bar blues song was credited to Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, who took the song to number one on the R&B charts. The band did not actually exist and the song was put together by Ike Turner and his band in rehearsals at the Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale, Mississippimarker, and recorded by Turner's Kings of Rhythm. Jackie Brenston (1930-1979), 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", which had recently been introduced.

The song was based on the 1947 song "Cadillac Boogie" by Jimmy Liggins. 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.

Working from the raw material of jump blues and swing combo music, Turner made it even rawer, starting with a strongly stated back beat by drummer Willie Sims, and 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). The song also features one of the first examples of distortion, or fuzz guitar, ever recorded, played by the band's guitarist Willie Kizart.

The legend of how the sound came about says that Kizart's amplifier was damaged on Highway 61 when the band was driving from Mississippimarker to Memphis, Tennesseemarker, but 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. 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 had a similar story.

It was the second-biggest rhythm and blues single of 1951, reaching #1 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 note-for-note by Little Richard in "Good Golly Miss Molly".

Cover version by Bill Haley

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. 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.

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. 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.

Later versions

The song was also featured in the 1984 film The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. Buckaroo 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. The name is unrelated to the Haley song, but is named simply as a tribute.


External links

Additional sources

  • Jim Dawson and Steve Propes, What Was the First Rock 'n' Roll Record?, Faber & Faber, 1992, ISBN 0-571-12939-0
  • Nick Tosches, Unsung Heroes of Rock 'n' Roll, Secker & Warburg, 1984, ISBN 0-436-53203-4

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