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Elvis Presley (Born: 8 January 1935  Died: 16 August 1977)

Elvis Aaron Presley was not just a pop music phenomenon, he was and still is a global icon. To his millions of fans the world over he is the embodiment of rock and roll and America personified. He is quite simply The King. In his early career, his legions of teenage fans were as hung up on his rockabilly-style as they were on his sexually provocative movements on stage, earning him the nickname Elvis the Pelvis. His smouldering persona and gyrating hips became the target of conservatives who cited Presley as a cause for the rise of youth delinquency in the 1950s, sparking moral panic. Though originally signed to Sun Records in 1954, his first success came when he subsequently signed to RCA and released Heartbreak Hotel in 1956. His first film role the same year (Love Me Tender) saw him launch a parallel film career that would deliver hit after hit thanks to the simultaneous release of the songs performed in those movies. In this selection you’ll find The King’s greatest rock and roll offerings, including Jailhouse Rock, All Shook Up, Blue Suede Shoes, Dont Be Cruel, Heartbreak Hotel and Hound Dog. The latter three of these being the only Elvis songs included in the Recording Industry of America’s Songs of the Century. Presley’s influence and impact on popular music in the 20th century is undisputed. Bob Dylan said: “Hearing Elvis was like bustin’ out of jail”. But perhaps John Lennon put it best: “Before Elvis, there was nothing”.

Little Richard (Born: 5 December 1932)

Little Richard was born Richard Wayne Penniman in Georgia, obtaining the nickname Lil Richard from his family on account of his small, skinny build. The name stuck. His energetic, flamboyant theatricality was ground-breaking as was the mixed racial appeal of his numerous genre defining hits including Lucille, Good Golly Miss Molly, The Girl Cant Help It, Long Tall Sally, Tutti Fruiti and Keep A KnockinHis influence on popular music has been immense. He played an important part in The Beatles success, agreeing to Brian Epstein’s request to allow the young band to open for him on a few of his European tour dates. Little Richard not only agreed, he also taught them how to perform his songs and helped Paul McCartney to develop his vocal style. Otis Reading and Sam Cooke credit Little Richard with laying the foundations for soul music, while James Brown saw him as developing the sound of funk. The list of musicians who have idolized Little Richard is impressive and includes Elton John, Cliff Richard, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, AC/DC’s Bon Scott and Angus Young, and Bruno Mars. David Bowie stated that upon hearing Tutti Frutti for the first time he felt he had “heard God”. Speaking of his place in the rock and roll pantheon, he once said: “If Elvis is the King of rock and roll, then I’m the Queen.”

Chuck Berry (Born: 18 October 1926)

John Lennon famously said that “if you tried to give rock and roll another name, it would be Chuck Berry.” Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born in Missouri. He is one of the early pioneers of rock and roll, heavily influenced by T Bone Walker and Jimmy Rodgers. He was given his first break by Muddy Waters who put Berry in touch with Leonard Chess of Chess Records, who signed him in 1955. Berry’s music is unique, mixing country and rhythm and blues with a smooth, rounded rich vocal. This mix widened Berry’s appeal, and consequently he was adored by a racially mixed audience across the globe. A convicted felon, factory worker, and trained beautician, Berry turned to gigging in order to support his young family and never looked back. He contributed rock and roll hits like Maybellene, Roll Over Beethoven, and Johnny B. Goode. He will also be the only rock and roller to be heard by extraterrestrials should they intercept the Voyager spacecraft. Berry’s Johnny B. Goode is on Voyager’s Golden Record, a kind of cultural ‘message in a bottle’ launched in 1977. Berry’s music and performance style influenced a raft of artists, including The Beatles, Brian Wilson and Joe Cocker.

Gene Vincent (Born: 11 February 1935  Died: 12 October 1971)

Gene Vincent, born Vincent Eugene Craddock in Virginia, was a rock and roll and rockabilly pioneer. He formed his band, Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps in the mid fifties and together they wrote and recorded notable hits including Be-Bop-A-Lula, Race With The Devil, and Blue Jean Bop. Every bit the rebel rocker, Vincent’s stage persona was daring for the time, appearing on stage as he did in black leather suits, much to the delight of his armies of female fans around the world. After sustaining a serious leg injury some years earlier he wore a caliper beneath his trousers. If the screaming teens noticed at all, they didn’t seem to mind. He was reputed to be difficult to work with, unpredictable, often paranoid and a little too enamoured with liquor and his flick knife. He survived the taxi crash that killed fellow rocker, Eddie Cochran in England on 16 April 1960, and went on to inspire a wide range of artists, including The Beatles, The Who’s Roger Daltrey, and The Doors frontman, Jim Morrison. Ian Dury and the Blockheads went on to immortalise him in song in the 1977 hit, Sweet Gene Vincent.

Jerry Lee Lewis (Born: 29 September 1935)

Born in Louisiana, known as The Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis is one of the founding fathers of rock and roll. His parents mortgaged their house to buy the young Lewis his first piano but it would prove to be money well spent. No-one could match Lewis’ dynamic and ferocious stage performances, and his off-stage antics drew almost as much attention – from marrying his 13 year old first cousin, to calling Elvis out at Graceland to settle once and for all who was the real King of rock and roll. Influenced by Hank Williams and Jimmy Rodgers, Lewis’ boogie woogie style of piano playing was electrifying and daring, using hands, feet, even elbows to smash out hit after hit, including Great Balls of Fire, Whole Lotta ShakinGoinOn and Breathless – all featured in this collection. Great Balls of Fire is included in the Recording Industry of America’s Songs of the Century list. Lewis crossed over into country music in the late 1960s and became one of the most acclaimed singers in the genre. As a self-proclaimed ‘stylist of songs’, his influence has been immense. He is idolised by Elton John and John Lennon was so in awe of him that he bent down and kissed his feet when they met.

Bill Haley and His Comets

Starting out as Bill Haley and the Saddlemen, the group became Bill Haley and His Comets in 1952. The original line up included Bill Haley (vocals), Johnny Grande (piano and accordion), Billy Williamson (steel guitar), and Al Thompson (double bass). The group kept gigging up until Bill Haley’s death in 1981, by that time over 100 musicians had been members of the Comets. They are credited with being the first rock and roll group, and performed what is regarded as the first nationally televised performance of a rock and roll song. Instantly recognisable in their plaid dinner jackets, their energetic rockabilly sound, punctuated by the slap-back bass of Al Thompson (and later Al Rex and Marshall Lytle) thrilled their teenage fans around the world. Key hits that helped shape rock and roll include the iconic Rock Around The Clock, See You Later Alligator, Razzle Dazzle, and Shake, Rattle and Roll – all included in this selection. Rock Around The Clock became a hit after featuring in the 1955 film, Blackboard Jungle. A year later, a hastily put together film of the same name and starring Bill Haley and His Comets was released to capitalize on the success of the single. It was the first rock and roll film, and the song is included in the Recording Industry of America’s Songs of the Century. Given his important role in the rock and roll revolution, perhaps it is easy to understand why in later years, Bill Haley felt embittered about the lack of acknowledgement and respect he received from his peers in his lifetime.

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