September 25 – Lifehouse Sprang To Life

Your childhood church probably didn’t sound like this! Out of the California pews and onto worldwide radio, Lifehouse put out their first – and biggest – single on this day in 2000, “Hanging By A Moment”.

Lifehouse were put together in 1995 under the name Blyss by guitarist/vocalist Jason Wade who was just 15 at the time. He and two friends, drummer Jon Palmer and bassist Sergio Andrade formed the band which was largely spiritual in nature and played churches as well as some colleges. They put out an EP under the name Blyss in 1999, which got them noticed by DreamWorks who signed them. After a name change, Lifehouse went to work on their first album No Name Face with up-and-coming producer Ron Aniello. He seemed to be the perfect man for the job (and would later go on to produce records for the likes of Barenaked Ladies, Jars of Clay and one Bruce Springsteen) seeing as how he seemed to have a Christian background similar to the band’s, and he was multi-talented, filling in their sound with additional guitars, keyboards and percussion! Plus he knew Brendan O’Brien, famous for producing Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam, who he got to do the final mix of the record.

The first song on the CD was the first one they put out as a single, rather wisely. “It was the most up-tempo, radio-friendly song,” Wade explains.

Radio-friendly it was, and probably in Wade’s mind, a true gift from God. And who’s to say he’s wrong? He says it was the easiest song he ever wrote. “I heard the melody in my head before it was written,” he recalls but he noted “I couldn’t tell if it was a song on the radio.” When convinced it wasn’t “I picked up a guitar and it was kind of creepy because the song was almost written by itself. Within five minutes the lyrics and everything were finished.”

That was a very productive five minutes! Although being an unknown band it didn’t instantly jump up charts, it didn’t take long to find a receptive home on several types of radio formats with its catchy rock melody, grungey singing and vague message of love. Before long it would end up going to #2 on Billboard and spend three weeks at #1 on the Alternative Rock chart. It hit #1 in Australia and even got noticed in the UK, where it reached #25. In Canada it didn’t chart due to not being put out as a physical single, but it was the most-played song on radio for 2001; at home in the U.S. it was the #1 song of ’01. Curiously it was only the third song to be the biggest of a year without topping a weekly chart, “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham in 1965 and Faith Hill’s “Breathe” in 2000 being the others. “Hanging By A Moment” accomplished that by staying on the charts for 54 weeks and being dominant on alternative rock, mainstream rock, pop and other types of radio. Wikipedia point out that it was “one of the biggest rock hits ever by a contemporary Christian band crossing over to the mainstream.” And it helped the album, No Name Face, rise into the top 10 at home, in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Denmark, selling better than four million copies.

Lifehouse have put out six albums since, scoring another top 10 hit in 2005 with “You and Me” but it’s hard to tell if Lifehouse is still “live.” They haven’t put out a new album since 2015 and recently were scrapped from a Goo Goo Dolls tour for unknown reasons and Wade has been busy with a spin-off band, Ozwald.

September 24 – Did Renee Turn Around When She Heard Song?

Most lovelorn teenagers listen to sad pop music. Michael Brown decided to make sad pop music instead! His New York band The Left Banke hit the American top 40 this day in 1966 with their biggie, “Walk Away Renee.” The song would make it up to #5, and #3 in Canada…not bad for a debut by essentially a high school band.

The Left Banke had formed the year before, with Brown on keyboards and their main writer, and four others including singer Steve Martin – no, not the “wild and crazy guy” – who later added his real last name, Caro to avoid confusion. Bassist Tom Finn had a girlfriend, Renee, whom 16 year-old Brown had the fortune or misfortune of being infatuated with. He wrote the song for her, as well as their two latter, less successful hits, “Pretty Ballerina” and “She May Call You Tonight.” Brown said besides the lovely but unavailable Renee, he was also inspired by the Mamas and the Papas sound-wise on the song.

Luckily for the Left Banke, Michael’s dad, Harry Lookofsky (don’t ask me…Lookofsky’s son Brown?) was a talented violinist and he took control of the band, managing them and producing their record. He played the violin on the string-heavy selection and got his classical music friends to add other strings and flutes, creating one of the better examples of classical-tinged pop or “baroque rock.” Surprisingly, some of their other racks came closer to the Byrds or Buffalo Springfield in sound, but “Walk Away Renee” was the one people fixed on.

Not surprisingly, given the kids’ age and their small record label, it wasn’t an instant runaway hit. In fact by the time it hit the charts, Brown had replaced the others (his thing for Renee may have hastened the bassist’s departure one might think) with new musicians including Michael McKean, who years later we’d come to know as an actor. When the song started zooming up Billboard though, he got the original quintet back together to tour a little and put out one more album, which didn’t generate much interest or follow-up hit singles. They packed it in briefly, but reconvened, put out one more album in the ’80s and have worked together more years than not since. Steve Martin Caro passed away recently at age 71. Renee, meanwhile is apparently Renee Fladen-Kamm, who went to the West Coast to teach singing and arts. Perhaps one of the song’s she teaches her students is the one Rolling Stone list among their 300 greatest songs of all-time, the one written about her.

August 29 – The Day Britain Learned To Rock

It was a pivotal day in British rock history in 1958. In Liverpool, a 15 year-old George Harrison joined a group called the Quarrymen… a group that already featured John Lennon and Paul McCartney. As we know, before long they’d change their name and change the face of popular music for the rest of the century. Meanwhile, closer to London, Columbia Records would put out what Lennon called “the first British rock’n’roll record” . That was “Move It” by Cliff Richard and the Drifters.

Richard wasn’t an old-timer himself then; in fact he was only 18 and had just ditched his real name (Harry Webb) in favor of the new one the record company suggested. “Cliff” was to them representative of “rock”, for the type of music, and “Richard” was a tip of the cap to his personal idol, Little Richard.

Cliff had started the band the Drifters (which, it should be noted are not the same as the American group of the same name) and aimed to create a British version of the rock music that was starting to sweep America. He loved the energy of Little Richard but, as the video shows, fashioned himself a little as a “rebel rocker” in the image of Elvis.

Move It” was written by Ian Samwell of the Drifters, apparently while on a bus one day going to visit Richard. Although Columbia liked the song well enough, they weren’t fully confident in the Drifters, so while a couple of them did play on it, they brought in a couple of session musicians including guitarist Ernie Shears to fill in the sound. And they had it picked as the B-side to Richard’s debut single, with a cover of Bobby Helms song “Schoolboy Crush” as the A-side that was going to be noticed. That changed quickly though when BBC teen-oriented show Oh Boy offered to have him on…but only if he played “Move It.” Columbia quickly flipped the labeling and “Move It” was on its way. Although appearing confident and almost arrogant on stage, the young Cliff recalled feeling “it’s wonderful to be on TV for the first time, but I feel so nervous I don’t know what to do…I shaved off my sideburns last night, Jack Good said it would make me look more original.”

The song took off, as apparently many people felt the same as Lennon at the time. He said “before Cliff…there had been nothing worth listening to in British music.” The song got to #2 there, and also was a hit in Norway though it seemed to be ignored elsewhere. However, the next year he’d have a bit of a breakthrough with a #1 hit at home, “Living Doll” that even made North American charts.

Richard of course went on to be massively popular for decades in Britain, although primarily only remembered for a trio of soft rock songs from the ’70s and early-’80s over here – “Devil Woman”, “Dreaming” and “We Don’t Talk Anymore.” He calls “Move It” “my one outstanding rock classic” and to whit, has recorded it several times on live records and once in 2006 with Queen’s Brian May on an album of duets. And he might be right calling it a rock classic. Not only did Lennon applaud it, but so did Led Zeppelin who included it on a compilation album they released called The Music That Rocked Us. m

August 22 – Times Weren’t So Sour For Portishead

Just when some people were starting to grow tired of grunge, a British trio hit the limelight with something of an antithesis for it. Mixing electronica, jazz, lounge music, hip-hop and any number of other inspirations, Portishead put out their debut, Dummy, this day in 1994.

Portishead were formed a couple of years earlier in Bristol when singer/songwriter Beth Gibbons met multi-instrumentalist Geoff Barrow at a course designed to get unemployed people back to work or into starting their own business. Seems they decided to form a band as a business! They wrote a few songs and went to a studio, but it was “like a light bulb coming on” when they met the third member, Adrian Utley, a record producer, according to Barrow. They brought in a session drummer, jazzman Clive Deamer, and went to work mixing up the sounds with Beth’s “angelic” (in the words of allmusic) vocals. Adrian could play bass, guitar, and organ, while Barrow played keyboards and was good at sampling and programming. Surprisingly for such a modern outfit, they recorded it analog and sampled actual vinyl records played through a broken speaker. Utley perfected the use of tape loops to add to the mysterious nature.

The album epitomized what was known as the Bristol sound, but was quite different than most of what was on radio on either side of the Atlantic at the time. But, by and large the 11 song effort worked. Among the reviews, the L.A. Times gave it 3.5 out of 4, Rolling Stone rated it 4-stars, Entertainment Weekly gave it an A-, while in the UK, the NME gave it 9 out of 10. Allmusic later gave it a perfect 5-stars. EW suggested it “mixes cocktail keyboards, spaghetti Western guitars, eerie tape loops and dub-wise rhythms into what could be called ‘acid cabaret.’” sound confusing? Perhaps one just needed to listen to it to get an idea, something Melody Maker encouraged readers to. They described it as “undeniably the classiest, coolest thing to have appeared in the country for years…perfectly under-stated blues, funk and rap/hip-hop bracketed to urban angst then chill(ed) to the bone.” Brit DJ Max Reinhardt considered it “darkly alluring, atmospheric sounds” built around Gibbons “spine-tingling…torch song” sensibilities. He picked the hit singles as well as “Biscuit” and their initial effort, “It Could Be Sweet” as the highlights.

As different as Dummy was, it found a home in many homes. It did especially well at home, where it got to #2 (curiously both their subsequent albums also hit #2 in the UK) and going triple-platinum. But even in North America it did fine, reaching #16 in Canada and while it peaked at just #79 in the U.S., it did sell well enough to earn them a gold record there. Both singles, “Sour Times” and “Glory Box” got to #13 in the UK; the former made the Canadian top 30 and top 5 on the American Alternative Rock chart.

In later years, Mojo would list it as the 35th best “modern classic” while the Wire would retroactively call it the Record of the Year for 1994. Portishead is still ongoing, and appeared for the first time in six years at a concert earlier this year, however, they’ve not recorded anything new in over a decade.

August 19 – Kenny Had Those Hit-making Friends

Kenny Loggins scored his first “solo” top 40 hit this day in 1978. Although it wasn’t all that solo. “Whenever I Call You Friend”, his duet with Stevie Nicks hit the charts and eventually would make it into the top 5 in the U.S. and Canada.

 Loggins had previously been known for his work with Jim Messina. That project started out with just Loggins and Messina working as producer, but by the time the first record was made, Messina had done so much of the writing, guitar work and studio wizardry (plus he was already known from his time in Buffalo Springfield) his name was added into the ergo-group name. That pair lasted for 4 years, at the time being the most successful pair of male singers between Simon and Garfunkel and hall and Oates.

In ’78 Loggins started out on his own with the Night Watch album. the album had the song “What A Fool Believes” on it, co-written by Michael McDonald and made into a hit with the Doobie Brothers later. This hit was co-written by Melissa Manchester who also recorded her own version saying “I don’t feel I have a satisfactory version.” The public disagreed obviously. Happily for Loggins, just as fate helped him with Jim Messina coming into play on his early records, he’d had the chance to tour opening for Fleetwood Mac in ’77-78, making a huge audience for him and introducing him to Stevie. Although it was the first hit she’d had outside of the confines of Fleetwood Mac, it apparently wasn’t a major milestone for her – she fails to even mention the song in the biography Gold Dust Woman. Nicks of course would also go on to have help John Stewart with his debut hit, “Gold”. Later she had hits with Tom Petty and Don Henley and be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice (once with Fleetwood Mac and once for her own work),  Loggins would have four more top 10 hits in the States – all from movies… “I’m Alright”, “Footloose”, “Danger Zone” and “Nobody’s Fool”.

August 14 – Bill’s Career Was Hardly Withering

One of the great songs of the ’70s and great voices of R&B was making itself known for the first time this week back in 1971. Bill Withers‘ first hit single, “Ain’t No Sunshine” hit the Billboard top 40. It would go on to get as high as #3, help his debut album Just As I Am, go gold and set the stage for even greater commercial success the next year with his Still Bill album and his #1 single, “Lean on Me.” It also won him the Grammy Award for Best R&B song, something he’d do twice again – for 1981, with “Just the Two of Us” (a song listed as Grover Washington Jr. but which Withers sang on) and oddly enough, in 1987 for “Lean on Me”, which had been made into a hit once again for Club Nouveau.

The upbeat Withers was far from the run-of-the-mill pop star. Raised in West Virginian coal country, he only began to have an interest in singing during his stint in the Navy and didn’t sign a record deal (to Sussex Records, a label distributed by A&M) until 1970, by which time he was already in his 30s. Even then he kept his day job, making toilets for Douglas Aircraft! “Not a lot of people got me,” he would later say. “Here I was, this Black guy playing acoustic guitar.” Although on this particular record, the guitar is played by one Stephen Stills. Not bad for a first try at making music!

Strangely enough, the great, aching love song was inspired not by a gal who’d gone away, but by a movie about drunks. He got the basic idea for “Ain’t No Sunshine” one day while watching the movie Days of Wine and Roses. “Sometimes you miss things that weren’t particularly good for you,” he mused.

It’s a good thing he watched that movie, and that some radio DJs back then were curious. When first released, “Ain’t No Sunshine” was the B-side to the rather forgettable “Harlem” but enough DJs flipped it over for this to become the hit, the tune which made Withers a star. “Ain’t No Sunshine” has been used to great effect in movies including Notting Hill (in which Hugh Grant’s character walks around London forlornly missing Julia Roberts’ character who’d gone back to the U.S.) and went gold as a single. According to Casey Kasem, when it did that, Sussex Records gave him not a gold record, but a gold toilet to commemorate it . It was finally time for Bill to quit his job making airplane toilets!

August 6 – Finley Made His Own Style Finely

The ’90s often get looked back upon musically as the Age of Grunge here and The Britpop years in the UK. But that is of course, an over-simplification and forgets a great deal of the interesting music that also held our attention in the decade of Seinfeld and Friends. There were a host of other sounds, like the Lilith Fair rise of solo female artists, peppy, upbeat alternative pop, the rise of so-called “nu metal” and sounds like “trip hop”. A slow, reggae and sometimes rap-influenced dance sound, it caught on in a big way on the dance floors, especially in Britain. And few were more successful with it – albeit briefly – than Finley Quaye. On this day in 1997, he put out his debut album, Maverick A Strike, which ended up going multi-platinum in his British homeland.

Finley was born in Scotland, grew up in a variety of British cities and had African ancestry that he might not have been aware of early on. He was the son of Vaudevillian pianist and all-around entertainer Cab Quaye, and the half-brother of Caleb Quaye, a guitarist who’d been in Bluesology with young Reggie Dwight, and in Reggie’s band for awhile when he became Elton John. However, Finley didn’t know his dad until an adult, being brought up by his mother… who also had some interesting stories to tell. She had a romantic relationship with Dodi Fayed, before he died with Princess Diana in the Paris car accident.

Finley went from job to job as a young man but learned guitar and sang, being fond of jazz and reggae especially. He signed briefly to Polydor in the mid-’90s but that didn’t pan out, so he rebounded and was picked up by Epic Records. They had him record his debut, allowing him to co-produce it with another famous name – Kevin Bacon. Only not that Kevin Bacon, but rather a former member of the Comsat Angels of that name.

Maverick A Strike is a hard album to pin down musically, with allmusic calling it “electronica” and “trip-hop”, and like most other reviews, comparing it a bit to a latter-day Bob Marley. To heighten that effect, the lead single “Sunday Shining” is credited to Marley as a co-writer since it is, as David Crawford of Radio Times points out, “an effervescent reworking of Bob Marley’s ‘Sun Is Shining’.” He considered it “the perfect album for a hazy, lazy, afternoon spent chilling in the park.” Similarly, allmusic, which gave it 3-stars called it an “enjoyable effort”, despite his “lack of emotion.”

Sunday Shining” became the first of three top 30 hits off the album in the UK, and made it to #26 on the Alternative Rock charts in the U.S. “Even After All” made it to #10 in his homeland and followed that with “Your Love Gets Sweeter.” It helped push the album to #3 in Britain and #11 in New Zealand. The next year he won the Brit Award for Best Male Solo Performer.

Quaye recorded two more albums with Epic, but had little of the same success he had enjoyed in ’97. despite having one dance hit with William Orbit, “Dice” in 2000. Things have been a bit rocky for him since, despite him putting out a trio of indie albums in the 2010s. His reputation for being “difficult” and a bigtime partier didn’t help him, and nor did a criminal conviction for assault. In 2012 he declared bankruptcy, with the British Government saying he owed over 300 000 pounds in back taxes. Sounds as if he might need a dose of his own music to chill out a little perhaps.

August 1 – Finns Split, But Still Had A Crowded House

Out of the ashes of the great, quirky Split Enz came “Something So Strong” that it would overshadow that band’s successes. That would be Crowded House, whose eponymously-titled debut came out this day in 1986. At least it did to those of us not living “down under” – it was pre-released a couple of months earlier in Australia , the band’s base, and New Zealand where main man Neil Finn was from.

Neil and his brother Tim had begun to get on each other’s nerves by the mid-’80s and worse, seemingly were pulling Split Enz in different directions. They decided to wrap it up in 1984. However, there was still lots of music to come out, and Neil and the band’s drummer, Paul Hester, decided to form a new band, recruiting bassist Neil Seymour (brother to the front man of Hunters & Collectors, a great band considered “underground” in North America in the ’80s but fairly popular in their homeland). Finn did most of the writing, singing and guitar work, which explains perhaps how he’s had great success at times as a solo artist in Australia.

The band originally took the name The Mullanes. Capitol Records signed them but didn’t like the name; they decided upon Crowded House when the label shipped them to L.A. to record their album and stuck them in a very small, tight apartment during the process. Probably a good thing Capitol didn’t spring for a “big ass hotel”!. Capitol also brought in up-and-coming producer Mitchell Froom to work with them, which proved a great decision in retrospect. Froom played keyboards for them, co-wrote one of the album’s big hits and gave them a “clean production sound” allmusic noted was quite refreshing in the studio-trick heavy age of new wave. Froom stuck with them for their next two albums as well and would later work wonders with artists ranging from Paul McCartney to Los Lobos.

The resultant album was a nice, easy-listening album that fell somewhere between “new wave” and “adult-oriented pop” and, at its best stood head-and-shoulders above most mainstream pop and soft new wave (if there is such a thing) of the day.

Depending on where you lived, you probably heard three of five singles, but “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “Something So Strong” (co-written by Froom) were hits worldwide, the former being a #1 hit in Canada and New Zealand and close – #2 – in the States. Overall, the album topped the Australian charts, going 6X platinum there (their biggest album except for their best of compilation, which at 13X platinum is one of the 20 best-sellers of all-time Down Under) , was a top 10 in Canada and N.Z. and made it to #12 in the U.S., where it got them their only platinum record there.

Reviews weren’t that numerous when it was released (except, one might think in Australia) but later on most critics agreed it was a good release but that they’d go on to better in the following four or five years. Rolling Stone would later rate it as a 4-star release, the 71st best of the decade, and allmusic scored it 3.5 stars, considering it “good, well-constructed pop” while noting that a few tracks stood out like “Something So Strong” (“breezy…effervescent”) and “World Where You Live” (distinctive, affective and personal.”)

Crowded House went on to put out three more albums over the following decade, including the lauded Woodface which saw Tim Finn rejoin them briefly. They split up in 1996 but reunited in 2005, curiously enough after Hester commit suicide, which Neil Finn says “pulled the rug out from underneath (us)… he was the best drummer I ever played with and for many years my closest friend.” Although Neil joined Fleetwood Mac a few years back, temporarily leaving the band’s status unclear, Crowded House came back with a new album last year, Dreamers are Waiting, which was a #2 hit in both Australia and New Zealand but sadly got overlooked entirely in North America. This summer they played Glastonbury and interestingly, the music remains a family business. Neil’s sons Liam and Elroy have both joined the group, both being capable of playing guitar or drumming. So, with luck when it comes to Crowded house, “don’t dream it’s over.

July 27 – After This One, She’d No Longer Just Be A ‘Borderline’ Star

Admit it, you never imagined we’d still be talking about her nearly 40 years later. We met the “Material Girl” on this day in 1983, our introduction to Miss Ciccone. At least, Americans who didn’t already dance to her did – foreigners would wait a little longer! Madonna‘s self-titled debut album came out this day in 1983 (in the States – it wouldn’t be out’ til early 1984 in places like Canada, the UK or Australia since her label didn’t really expect very much response to it.) It built upon her growing success in dance clubs, especially in her hometown of New York City,, and caught the attention of the mainstream listeners in a rather big way.

Madonna at the time was 24 and had been in New York for a couple of years, much of the time with a struggling rock band called Breakfast Club. Not unlike another New York gal who went onto major fame, Debbie Harry, Madonna had an “uncool” fondness for disco and thus wasn’t altogether happy with her band, nor their lack of success. She struck out on her own writing a few dance songs and getting demos of them, one of which – “Everybody” – was picked up by a prominent club DJ in the Big Apple who made it quite popular. That was enough to persuade Sire Records to give her a contract after Island Records (her first choice) turned her down in what would end up being one of those innocent decisions which look stunningly bad in retrospect! The deal paid her $5000 up front and would allow for two 12” singles to be made and put out. Those , “Everybody” again and “Burning Up” both became dance hits across the country and were enough to make Sire warm up to the idea of having her do a whole album.

They at first brought in Reggie Lucas to produce it. Lucas, was a talented guitarist and studio man, having worked in Miles Davis’ band and helped out on records by the likes of Roberta Flack and Billy Paul. However, Madonna wasn’t especially pleased with the results (one could imagine they might have been a little staid or steamily slow compared to what we heard) and got up-and-coming dancemaster “Jellybean” Benitez to produce some tracks and remix the rest. Benitez was at the time just breaking out from his role as a radio and club DJ to become a popular dance music artist and would later go on to be one of the decade’s biggest “remix” talents, putting his spin on singles for artists as diverse as A-ha, Hall & Oates and Fleetwood Mac. The result worked, and created the 8-song debut, although later Madonna would say she wasn’t all that proud of the record. “The songs were pretty weak,” she thinks and “I didn’t realize how critical it was for me to break out of the disco mold.”

The public didn’t necessarily agree. The three singles (following the pre-released “Everybody” and “Burning Up”) were all hits that broke her free from just the nightclubs and got her mainstream radio play and made her famous, if not yet a household word. “Holiday” was a smash in Britain, “Borderline” a top 30 in most countries, remains one of the best in her catalog and “Lucky Star” was the first of no less than 17 top 10 singles she’d score at home in the ’80s alone! All that helped the album crawl up to #8 on Billboard and in time, go 5X platinum in the U.S. For all that, it remains the only regular album of new material she’s put out not to go to either #1 or 2 and with worldwide sales of around 10 million, it was a major hit but would be eclipsed by each of her next three albums, Like a Virgin, True Blue and Like a Prayer.

Looking back, most critics think it was a solid enough debut. Q gave it 3-stars, Spin 8 out of 10, Entertainment Weekly gave it an “A” and ranked it as the fifth best album between 1983-2008, and allmusic grade it a perfect 5-star. They note it began her career as the “definitive singles artist of the video age” and the album itself had a “huge role in popularizing dance music” after it had fallen out of fashion at the beginning of the decade. They note that she had “chutzpah and sex appeal” but that alone wouldn’t have made her a star “if the music wasn’t so good.”

At the time, not all critics were so enamored though and later on Madonna would say of them “the ones that said I was talentless, that I was chubby, that I couldn’t sing… they pushed me to be better and I am grateful.” I guess we all are too, given her enduring popularity.

July 19 – A Brand New Music Genre? That’s All Right

Yesterday we looked at the final show at Shea Stadium and mentioned the first one there was by the Beatles… that had been what some figured was really the beginning of the “big concert” rock era. Today we look at a record Rolling Stone would suggest ushered in rock & roll in general. It was 68 years ago today Elvis Presley hit the store shelves, and rock music hit the airwaves with the release of his first single, “That’s All Right.” The 1954 vinyl single didn’t exactly set the music world on fire… but it sparked the match that did.

Remarkably, in an example of how different things in music back then, the song had been recorded only two weeks earlier! Elvis, his lead guitarist friend Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black were trying to record a few songs at the Sun Studios in Memphis, with owner Sam Phillips producing. In between “real” songs, Elvis began fooling around and broke into this song, a Blues number from eight years earlier. However, Elvis was playing it on his acoustic guitar and singing almost twice as fast as the original and the others joined in. Phillips liked what he heard, and told them to do it again from the top. This time he had tape rolling. They played it through in 1:57 and Phillips recorded it and after a little fine-tuning, pressed it as a single. Live to the disc, so to speak.

One has to recall, at the time, Elvis was unknown, except for in clubs around Memphis. So this, the first of what ended up being 117 singles he’d put out (according to Wikipedia; getting an exact count is difficult due to re-issues and different ones released in limited markets) didn’t generate a whole lot of buzz. It did become a local hit in the Southwestern Tennessee area, and got some airplay around the land on country radio… once again, remember in the early-’50s, since “rock” wasn’t a thing yet, neither was “rock radio” or even “top 40” stations. It’s estimated to have sold 20 000 singles, but failed to hit the Billboard charts. It did make some country music charts, getting to #28.

Elvis’ profile kept rising, but at first it did so as slowly as the Mississippi off Memphis after a drizzle. He, and Sun Records, would put out three more essentially unsuccessful singles before catching a bit of a break in 1955 with “I Forgot to Remember To Forget,” which went to #1 on country charts around the country, and up to #2 overall in Canada. That of course set the stage for the levee to break so to speak, with him quickly running off four-straight #1 selling singles now considered classics before they rang in 1956 – “Heartbreak Hotel”, “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You”, “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Hound Dog.”

Although Mental Floss agreed with Rolling Stone, saying it “stands as a convincing front runner for rock & roll’s ‘ground zero’”, a few suggest Arthur Crudup’s ’46 original was because it had seemingly the first electric guitar solo ever. Which seems a slim criteria for determining “rock and roll.” What isn’t in debate was that Crudup wrote the song. Or is it in debate?

The Sun single lists Crudup as the writer, but apparently they never paid him any royalties, there was a lawsuit in the ’70s, and he was due about $60 000, but he, or his estate allege they never received it. But that led to another argument. Some suggest that Crudup more or less plagiarized an earlier work, a 1920’s blues number called “Black Snake Moan” and its artist, Blind Lemon should be given co-credit.

No matter who actually came up with the idea, Elvis put it on the map, and soon Memphis would put Elvis on the globe – the map worldwide!

To mark the 50th anniversary of the song, a CD single of it was put out in 2004. Although it didn’t sell huge numbers at home, it did hit #3 in the UK, where it had been ignored 50 years prior.