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Having reached the end of rock ‘n’ roll’s first decade, at least on the calendar, it’s time to look back at the results of our attempts to put it all into proper perspective.

One hundred and thirty-four artists combined to cut six hundred and seventy-five songs which qualified as rock since the first sighting of the genre back in September 1947, with a few more records sure to exist that either flew under our radar or that we were simply unable to get our hands on. These songs were released on more than fifty record labels large and small and resulted in plenty of national and regional hits.

While chart numbers are insightful to see how this music was received, they don’t tell you everything and so the primary goal of this site was to delve into the stories of the records themselves as well as the singers, musicians, songwriters, producers and record companies responsible for them and in the process to try and give an admittedly subjective assessment of the inherent qualities of those records when attempting to figure out what worked and why, not to mention what excelled artistically and advanced rock’s cause going forward. The scores handed out here were not meant to be taken as the be-all and end-all of the discussion, merely a starting point for further analysis and exploration.

But since they DO form a cornerstone of Spontaneous Lunacy and since we’ve reached the end of the 1940’s we’ll break down the results of those scores in this post to give people an overview of who excelled during this momentous time during which rock quickly grew from an experimental fringe movement and in short order became the most popular form of black music in America as the decade drew to a close just twenty-eight months later.
 

 
 

When Did Rock ‘n’ Roll Begin? Right Here!
Without further delay let’s just get right to it… here are the results of nearly three years worth of reviews covering virtually every rock song commercially released on record between its birth in September 1947 and December 1949.

675 Reviews
Avg. Score: 5.11

As the creator of the Scoring System, and sole judge of the records in the reviews, this is something I was worried might be out of whack when all was said and done, but I’m thrilled (and somewhat surprised to be honest), that it wound up reflecting the very thing I laid out in the definitions for the scores. In that you’ll remember I said the most important score and the one most apt to be misunderstood was (5), designating what was “an average record” for both its era and its style. My argument was that if the average score was too high (or too low) then the number would lose its meaning. Average is NOT an insult, it should simply reflect what kind of record you were most likely to hear in rock at any given time.

But merely stating this is what SHOULD be doesn’t necessarily mean it will wind up that way when all the reviews are filed away and tabulated. If someone reviewing the records is too generous, wanting to promote an artist or style or era they personally like and want to see praised more in general, then the “average” score would wind up being far too high. The same would be true if we eliminated too many irrelevant B-sides and insignificant efforts by otherwise inconsequential minor artists who’d be more prone to adding lower scores to balance out the better work of the stars who’d naturally get covered in more depth.

Conversely because of my own inclination to be a very tough grader there was a chance that I’d shortchange enough records that may have been given an extra point or two by the majority of fans and that would end up dragging down the average score, thereby giving the impression that this particular era of rock, which has been historically neglected as it is, was in fact of a lesser quality than later years.

Thankfully neither wound up being the case as the average rock release of the 1940’s turned out to be just that… “average”, as the 5.11 score shows.

In case you were wondering the sound you just heard is the sigh of relief expressed here once the final tally was made.
 


 
 

1940’S ROCK RECORD LABELS RANKINGS
This section is pretty self-explanatory – which record labels had the best overall output?

To make it as fair as possible we’ve required the labels to have had an appropriate number of releases (a minimum of 7) and artists (at least 2) to qualify, as anything less would make it hard to accurately reflect the company’s overall commitment and aptitude in tackling rock ‘n’ roll.

In some cases we’ve combined two “labels” that were in essence the same company, such as Savoy which had one release on their Regent subsidiary, or Down Beat which was forced to change their name to Swing Beat due to a conflict with Downbeat magazine, but otherwise was the same company with the same artists. On the flip side of that, we did NOT include records that got re-released on a company’s label that originally came out on a different label, so King Records for instance has none of Todd Rhodes’s records tallied under their total even though it was their distribution and promotion which played the major factor in turning them into hits after they’d originally come out on Sensation (which is where they’re figured here).

Savoy, fittingly since they were the original independent label of the 1940’s indie record boom, had the most rock songs reviewed on these pages with 65. King, even without the Rhodes’ output, was the runner-up with 54 reviews, one ahead of DeLuxe, the label which released the first rock record, who had 53. Their releases after the label was acquired by (or hijacked) by King in early 1949 count only for DeLuxe, since it continued to operate during this time as a standalone label.

The top ten in terms of total rock songs issued was rounded out by Gotham with 36, Aladdin with 33, Freedom 28, Atlantic 27, Modern and National with 26 apiece and Aristocrat who had 25. Exclusive was the only other label with more than twenty entries with 24. Somewhat surprisingly considering the disdain the major labels showed for rock ‘n’ roll, not just during this period but well into the future, Decca (17), Columbia (16), Capitol (10) and MGM (7) had enough rock songs being reviewed to qualify as well, while RCA (6) missed the cut-off by just one.

So here, based on the average score of the records we reviewed, are the Top Rock Labels Of The 1940’s.

ALADDIN
33 Reviews; 6 Artists
Avg. Score: 6.18
It certainly doesn’t hurt when Amos Milburn is your primary artist and Maxwell Davis is your designated producer in the studio.

EXCELSIOR
10 Reviews; 3 Artists
Avg. Score: 6
Rather surprising, especially since they folded soon after this, but they managed to ride Johnny Otis’s best work for all it was worth.

FREEDOM
28 Reviews; 7 Artists
Avg. Score: 5.75
As was the theme of so many of this star-crossed label’s reviews, they deserved a far better fate.

DECCA
17 Reviews; 4 Artists
Avg. Score: 5.65
Shocking! But it shows that if the major labels with their vast resources had actually cared about this music they could’ve probably conquered it as well.

EXCLUSIVE
24 Reviews; 4 Artists
Avg. Score: 5.63
Underrated historically, but they had a good eye for talent.

JUBILEE
17 Reviews; 2 Artists
Avg. Score: 5.59
Mostly The Orioles output here who of course released some duds along the way, but when they were clicking they were unbeatable.

MANOR
7 Reviews; 4 Artists
Avg. Score: 5.57
Hardly had rock music on their radar as a company but they manage to slip in with the minimum number of entries required which certainly helps keep their average higher.

GOTHAM
36 Reviews; 8 Artists
Avg. Score: 5.53
They accomplished a lot with a little over the years and if they had more money to keep their best talent longer it’s a good bet they’d have become as acclaimed as their more storied contemporaries.

NATIONAL
26 Reviews; 4 Artists
Avg. Score: 5.35
This shows that what gets covered AS rock is often the biggest factor here, for if we’d excluded some of The Ravens’ more poppish releases it might’ve made the company seem much more formidable.

DELUXE
53 Reviews; 10 Artists
Avg. Score: 5.32
The first rock label is also the only one to run the table with at least one record that earned every score from 1-10.

COLUMBIA
16 Reviews; 4 Artists
Avg. Score: 5.31
Another major label which gave only cursory attention to this music but lucked into two winners in 1949 with The Five Scamps and Chris Powell who didn’t consent to the label’s watered-down idea of rock.

SAVOY/REGENT
65 Reviews; 14 Artists
Avg. Score: 5.25
Ironically $5.25 is also what Herman Lubinsky paid his artists and producers for those 65 songs… combined!

MODERN
26 Reviews; 12 Artists
Avg. Score: 5.15
If Lubinsky was just cheap, the Bihari Brothers were criminals… yet they had a really good sense of the music scene.

SPECIALTY
18 Reviews; 7 Artists
Avg. Score: 5.11
The calm before the storm for this company which will blossom creatively and commercially in the next decade.

SENSATION
11 Reviews; 3 Artists
Avg. Score: 5.09
Accomplished with minimal national distribution while fighting off the attempted defections of their stars.

REGAL
15 Reviews; 5 Artists
Avg. Score: 5.07
Or as they really should be considered… DeLuxe Part Two, as they had the same owners and many of the same artists.

ATLANTIC
27 Reviews; 8 Artists
Avg. Score: 5.07
The most successful of these labels in the long-term obviously took awhile to get their feet under them.

SELECTIVE
9 Reviews; 5 Artists
Avg. Score: 5.00
The little label that could… at least until the money ran out.

ARISTOCRAT
25 Reviews; 6 Artists
Avg. Score: 4.92
No long-term game plan and poor organizational skills caused them to squander their prime Chicago location and one great artist in their midst for far too long.

IMPERIAL
16 Reviews; 4 Artists
Avg. Score: 4.88
An afterthought to this point but right around the corner, watch out!

PEACOCK
7 Reviews; 2 Artists
Avg. Score: 4.86
A late entrant with some great promise early on yet in the next decade they would vastly underachieve in rock circles despite plenty of noteworthy talent in their ranks.

APOLLO
8 Reviews; 5 Artists
Avg. Score: 4.75
Another company that stuck around a long time with some winners along the route but failed to live up to expectations all the same.

KING
54 Reviews; 9 Artists
Avg. Score: 4.7
Are you surprised to see them so low? You shouldn’t be, for they had the most involvement in rock which meant far more output as they attempted to try everything that might connect.

SUPREME
13 Reviews; 4 Artists
Avg. Score: 4.69
Never quite committed to rock as they should have.

MIRACLE
15 Reviews; 2 Artists
Avg. Score: 4.27
Apparently they thought they could coast forever on having the record of the year for 1948 without having to sign and develop other artists.

MGM
7 Reviews; 2 Artists
Avg. Score: 4.14
This is what happens when an aspiring major label hires the best rock producer around and signs an iconic rock vocalist but then doesn’t let them pursue rock with the fervor it demands.

COLEMAN
8 Reviews; 2 Artists
Avg. Score: 4.00
Without question the best label specializing in a decidedly mild form of rock that was run by a gospel group… whatever that’s worth.

DOWNBEAT/SWINGBEAT
8 Reviews; 5 Artists
Avg. Score: 4.00
To be fair, they had quality personnel but just not much focus on rock.

CAPITOL
10 Reviews; 2 Artists
Avg. Score: 3.9
The only major label on the fertile West Coast rock scene and they wind up with little more than one drunken reprobate and a few odds and ends.

DERBY
11 Reviews; 3 Artists
Avg. Score: 3.81
When your best is only average and even those aren’t common.
 
 

1940’S ROCK ARTIST RANKINGS
Here’s the final piece of the puzzle, an admittedly subjective rating based on the scores we’ve handed out for all rock artists who had at least five songs we reviewed. The results are going to appear at a glance to be cockeyed because some of the most familiar artists with the highest commercial peaks and biggest impact overall won’t necessarily finish close to the top simply because they had far more output, including more B-sides which got reviewed, and so their lower scores from those non-essential records tend to pull them down considerably, whereas less prolific artists had their best sides form the bulk of their grades which results in higher average scores.

Also it’s important to note that I included only the songs in which the artist in question got the lead label credit, so no Johnny Otis on Joe Swift’s records, even though he was the best thing about them, or no Big Jay McNeely on one of Otis’s best records. Obviously if you start adding those the average scores will sometimes change dramatically and while that’d be an equally valid measurement of their artistic output, it’s just not the one we chose to use here for this list.

This is why, as with anything purporting to be a “ranked list”, you need to fully comprehend the methods used and not view it as definitive in any way beyond those specific methods.

To find out how we arrived at these final scores – you know the drill – click on their names below to be taken to their individual pages where you’ll find the links to each of those full length reviews which will hopefully explain it all in entertaining and informative fashion.


CHUBBY NEWSOM
6 Reviews
Avg. Score: 6.83

AMOS MILBURN
21 Reviews
Avg. Score: 6.81

GOREE CARTER
9 Reviews
Avg. Score: 6.81

ALBENNIE JONES
8 Reviews
Avg. Score: 6.5

BIG JAY McNEELY
17 Reviews
Avg. Score: 6.24

THE ROBINS
7 Reviews
Avg. Score: 6.14

ANDREW TIBBS
13 Reviews
Avg. Score: 5.92

LITTLE WILLIE LITTLEFIELD
13 Reviews
Avg. Score: 5.77

JIMMY LIGGINS
11 Reviews
Avg. Score: 5.73

SONNY TIL & THE ORIOLES
15 Reviews
Avg. Score: 5.67

JOHNNY OTIS
10 Reviews
Avg. Score: 5.60

JIMMY PRESTON
12 Reviews
Avg. Score: 5.58

THE FIVE SCAMPS
8 Reviews
Avg. Score: 5.50

J.B. SUMMERS
6 Reviews
Avg. Score: 5.50

TINY GRIMES
9 Reviews
Avg. Score: 5.44

ROY BROWN
18 Reviews
Avg. Score: 5.39

THE RAVENS
21 Reviews
Avg. Score: 5.38

COUSIN JOE
6 Reviews
Avg. Score: 5.33

IVORY JOE HUNTER
17 Reviews
Avg. Score: 5.24

TODD RHODES
9 Reviews
Avg. Score: 5.22

PAUL “HUCKLEBUCK” WILLIAMS
18 Reviews
Avg. Score: 5.17

CHRIS POWELL & HIS FIVE BLUE FLAMES
6 Reviews
Avg. Score: 5.17

ANNIE LAURIE
10 Reviews
Avg. Score: 5.10

PAUL GAYTEN
13 Reviews
Avg. Score: 5.08

EARL BOSTIC
14 Reviews
Avg. Score: 5.07

WYNONIE HARRIS
23 Reviews
Avg. Score: 5.04

HAL SINGER
6 Reviews
Avg. Score: 5.00

JOE MORRIS
10 Reviews
Avg. Score: 5.00

JIMMY “BABY FACE” LEWIS
7 Reviews
Avg. Score: 5.00

FRANK “FLOORSHOW” CULLEY
8 Reviews
Avg. Score: 4.88

LONNIE LYONS
7 Reviews
Avg. Score: 4.71

CLARENCE “GATEMOUTH” BROWN
7 Reviews
Avg. Score: 4.71

EDDIE WILLIAMS & HIS BROWN BUDDIES
6 Reviews
Avg. Score: 4.67

JOE SWIFT
8 Reviews
Avg. Score: 4.63

TINA DIXON
5 Reviews
Avg. Score: 4.60

CHARLIE “BOOGIE WOOGIE” DAVIS
10 Reviews
Avg. Score: 4.60

BIG JOE TURNER
14 Reviews
Avg. Score: 4.50

SONNY THOMPSON
11 Reviews
Avg. Score: 4.45

JOE LUTCHER
7 Reviews
Avg. Score: 4.43

DAVE BARTHOLOMEW
5 Reviews
Avg. Score: 4.20

CROWN PRINCE WATERFORD
10 Reviews
Avg. Score: 4.00

FREDDIE MITCHELL
8 Reviews
Avg. Score: 4.00

WILD BILL MOORE
13 Reviews
Avg. Score: 3.92

EDDIE CHAMBLEE
5 Reviews
Avg. Score: 3.8

TOM ARCHIA
5 Reviews
Avg. Score: 3.80

BIG JIM WYNN
6 Reviews
Avg. Score: 3.50

THE RAY-O-VACS
6 Reviews
Avg. Score: 3.50

DOC POMUS
5 Reviews
Avg. Score: 3.40

CLARENCE SAMUELS
7 Reviews
Avg. Score: 3.29

THE TRENIERS
5 Reviews
Avg. Score: 2.80
 

Rock ‘n’ Roll In The 1940’s: A Recap
There’s a lot digest here obviously, but that’s what the reviews are for after all, to give the most thorough overview possible for the birth of rock ‘n’ roll by revisiting each song as it came out, in the process charting rock’s tentative early steps, the subsequent coalescing of the form and rapid popularization of it and the startlingly quick takeover of the black music market during the late 1940’s as a result. These numbers you see above are the sum total of all that work, the statistical distillation of those 675 in-depth reviews for each of those songs, artists and record labels. That’s where you’ll find the answers to the questions these numbers pose.

But since this page is designed as a sort-of final word about the 1940’s rock scene we can take the time to ponder a few of the revelations this work hints at, starting with asking the question: What’s surprising about those figures, aside from finding Chubby Newsom on top of Amos Milburn (mmm, lucky him!)…

Well how about the fact that one of our frequent topics is how underrepresented female artists were in rock and yet the ones who qualify for this list do very well, not just with Newsom unexpectedly holding down the #1 spot (attributable to less output and no duds), but also Albennie Jones coming in fourth (and that’s even with me doing plenty of hand-wringing over possibly downgrading some of her efforts) and Annie Laurie finishing above average in terms of her score as well. In fact, if we’d lowered the bar for total number of songs required to just three rather than 5 the winner would’ve easily been Erline Harris, with a 7.67, the only artist who’d finish in the hallowed green numbers.

Also interesting, but hardly surprising, is Laurie and her musical partner Paul Gayten finishing one spot apart in the rankings. I’d say the high placement of The Robins here also is a little unexpected, though like Newsom is largely due to one great record and no bombs amidst a small output, while I sincerely doubt that anyone, myself included, expected J. B. Summers to rank as high as he did.

It’s also worth reiterating that acts like Big Jay McNeely and Hal Singer achieved their rankings without benefit of getting in-on the high scores on some records they played on as sidemen, which surely also hurt the cause of Eddie Chamblee and Wild Bill Moore, who could’ve certainly used the boost their other sessionwork would’ve gotten them. Those “missing” sides from their catalogs (as it pertains to their scores on this page anyway) also explains why they all played a far bigger role in rock’s evolution than just their own records might indicate.

Noticeably missing are some big name artists who came along just a little too late and thus didn’t quite have enough songs to make the cut, such as Billy Wright, Percy Mayfield and Larry Darnell, all of whom would’ve landed very high with another release to their names. Other future rock stalwarts as Ruth Brown, Charlie Singleton, Joe Houston, LaVern Baker, Little Esther, Ray Charles, Mr. Google Eyes and Stick McGhee failed to get mentioned here for the same reason but all of their stories are obviously far from over on these pages.

I’m pleased to see that consistency proves its worth with the rankings of Jimmy Liggins, Tiny Grimes and Jimmy Preston, all of whom churned out reliably good work, while Joe Morris saw his placement drop noticeably after departing for major label Decca where he released three subpar sides in a row to close out the 1940’s. The reverse of that however is true when it comes to major label signees The Five Scamps and Chris Powell, both of whom saw their rankings rise considerably once they threw a monkey wrench into Columbia’s plans to peddle a lighter form of rock and pursued the real deal with gusto.

As for the names bringing up the rear, well, it may seem somewhat unusual but a lot of them actually DID wind up contributing something of note to rock’s evolution, sometimes it might’ve just been one record, other times as with Big Jim Wynn he helped to establish part of the visual showmanship on stage that others followed, which of course doesn’t factor into these scores (and in his case came about in the pre-rock landscape). Meanwhile someone like Doc Pomus soon hung up the microphone and picked up a pen and went on to be one of rock’s most hallowed songwriters. Even The Treniers would wind up with the last laugh for their dismal showing here as right around the corner they’ll become the first rock act to break through in mainstream adult venues and they’ll do so not by toning down what they’d started off doing here, but by ramping it up instead.

That’s the thing about rock ‘n’ roll, it’s a breeding ground for reinvention.

Overall though it’s probably about what you’d expect, all things considered. Great artists – like Roy Brown, who finished a good, but not eye-popping, 16th – are defined historically by their transcendent work, huge hits, massive influence and their stature within the rock community, as it should be. We tend to forget their missteps along the way because they’re so quickly negated, but not here, where each record is weighed equally and as a result you need to readjust your thinking when seeing those figures next to their names because obviously the scoring system for individual records works differently than if you were to use the same definitions for the totality of their careers.

I’m sure none of these explanations will placate the disgruntled ghost of Wynonie Harris, who must be appalled to see that he finished in the middle of the pack, barely over the midway point. Maybe if he’d have laid off the bottle before hitting the studio a couple of times his score would’ve shot up some… but then again, if he’d done that we wouldn’t have had so many colorful stories to tell, which when you get right down to it, makes for a good part of the enjoyment when it comes to covering rock history in this sort of depth.

All of those stories, just like all of those records, the good, the bad and the ugly, are what combine to establish rock’s mythology and this is only the beginning.

So stayed tuned, kids, the Fifties are next up with the same song-by-song scrutiny we’re notorious for around here and we have to get moving because we still have a mighty long way until we get around to celebrating the music coming out today.