RAINBOW 11111; AUGUST 1950



Though the mainstream of American culture was largely unaware of rock ‘n’ roll’s existence in mid-1950, and even the powers-that-be in music industry itself were still somewhat dismissive of it, that didn’t mean rock music wasn’t a looming threat to the status quo already.

These kinds of battles within music… generally the old guard stubbornly resisting an onrushing tide of new ideas… are all too common. Jazz recently had its foundation shaken to its core when the established big band sounds had been unable to withstand an incursion of headstrong nonconformist be-boppers which left the entire genre reeling commercially following the split allegiances that sprang up in its wake.

Pop music of course still didn’t envision rock ‘n’ roll to be worth worrying much about, surely thinking it was little more than a small niche market whose fans weren’t on their radar to begin with, so they didn’t have their defenses at the ready.

But if they hadn’t been so arrogant about their own position of power in the land they might’ve seen that rock music was heavily arming themselves, building up their weaponry and starting to take aim at the exposed underbelly of mainstream music’s defenses.

This title however should’ve tipped them off that eventually war was inevitable.


The Sights And Sounds Of Imminent Destruction
Surely many of you coming to a website touting itself as covering the entire history of rock ‘n’ roll were also hoping that as a side project we’d delve into the history of modern warfare.

Well you’re in luck, for the advent of new and exciting means of mass destruction such as the atom bomb in the mid-1940’s and its successor, the hydrogen bomb in the early 1950’s, introduced fresh terminology that could be used to label an artist’s musical intent.

Charlie Singleton was not a physicist, he was far too young to have played with The Manhattan Project (it actually IS surprising that no band was crude enough to call themselves this at the time) and as far as we know he harbored no grudges against man or nature that could only be resolved through wanton destruction on a seismic scale.

He was a sax player who simply needed a song title to grab your attention to a tune without lyrics. The music was pretty noisy and since he hoped it would also make quite an impact it was only natural that he look for something to allude to both of those qualities, preferably by using a word that hadn’t yet reached the saturation point where it’d be seen as a cliche at best.

The hydrogen bomb had yet to be officially tested – that glorious day wouldn’t come until 1952 – but it was already far past the planning stages as apparently the atom bomb wasn’t effective enough in wiping out huge swaths of humanity and so, clever creatures that we are, the race was on for something even more ominous.

The end result of this perverse desire to give barely sentient crooked politicians the ability to end your life with the simple push of a button was the H-Bomb, ten times more powerful than the blasts that ended World War Two, a horrific device capable of obliterating mankind in the blink of an eye and whose frightful power was being promoted as a monumental achievement designed to ensure peace at all costs.

So you gotta hand it to Charlie Singleton for dropping in to join in on the fun with H-Bomb Boogie before the fun was dropped on him and rendered he and his band, the instruments they played and the very ground upon which they stood to be uninhabitable for centuries!

I suppose that’s only fitting since in a few years time the music industry at large would feel the same way upon seeing the annihilation rock ‘n’ roll was poised to deliver on the sweet sounds and pleasant melodies they held so dear.

A Big Bang
This doesn’t waste any time in launching, if we want to keep the analogy going, as this hurtles through the airwaves at top speed from the get-go. Horns swirling, piano boogieing and drums thumping, each one carving out their own space with a fair amount of breathing room around them at first before the sounds start mixing together as the pace gets a little more frantic and the energy of the playing becomes a lot more intense.

I could make a fairly obvious reference to the method for igniting a hydrogen bomb here, how nuclear fission ignites the bomb and how fusion follows which releases the energy, but too much science and not enough music might change the constituency here. That’s not to say they wouldn’t be welcome but I’m sure those newcomers will be let down when we return to discussions about such mundane topics as chord changes and vocal arrangements down the road, so let’s just say that H-Bomb Boogie was exceptionally well-chosen as a title and leave it at that.

The horns that are driving this record may indeed be led by Charlie Singleton, who is still playing alto, but he’s being aided and abetted by others, Lou Donaldson who is manning the baritone, Moe Jarman on tenor and Earl Alexander playing trombone, all of whom are churning furiously.

There’s no hook here, no sensible melody, not even a typical solo, though Singleton is making the most noise in the middle section, instead this is just a well-organized free-for-all of sorts. They’re under control for the most part, at least they’re all moving in the same direction and not stepping over each other, but it’s certainly not designed to be neat and orderly. This is the aural form of the chain reaction effect the title’s homage refers to and it’s nearly as explosive.

Whether such a record is ideal for such normal pursuits as dancing or scene setting at a typical party however is up for debate. Truthfully this sounds more appropriate for a drag race between rocket ships or something.

In other words, this is a great example of the mayhem rock could cause while perhaps being slightly less effective as a record to be played at any event less tranquil than a pier six brawl.


Things That Go “Boom”!
These kinds of benchmarks however are historically vital for showing just how out of control this music could be and still maintain widespread appeal. The fact that there’s no video evidence of the effect such music could have in a live setting where the audience were losing their minds along with the musicians responsible for making such a racket – and even the relative lack of live cuts that survive from this style of music during this era – means that whenever someone like Charlie Singleton cut loose in a studio like this, it has to be appreciated by those of us in the future.

Admittedly it may lose something without the accompanying threat of violence, the nausea brought about by whatever intoxicating substances being consumed and the sight of a few couples fornicating up against the wall in front of the entire crowd because they simply got carried away by the sounds they were hearing, but in a pinch a record that simulates that kind of experience will have to suffice.

Besides, if nothing else you can probably envision those things for yourself while you listen to H-Bomb Boogie and while there may be very few people remaining who lived through the advent of the atomic age where any moment might be your last if some trigger happy nut-job had a twitchy finger, the wild, howling, frantic nature of this probably replicates that feeling of mass panic fairly well.

The important difference being that after this record fades the world hasn’t ended.


(Visit the Artist page of Charlie Singleton for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)