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One down.

Three million, two hundred sixty eight thousand, one hundred and twenty seven more songs (approximately) in rock’s history to go.

Moving right along then.

When She Starts To Lovin’
Aberration or archetype? A reasonable question when studying the validity of any claim as being the official, bold-print, hand out the awards and mark the sacred grounds as a national landmark, first rock record™.

Certainly there were other records which predated DeLuxe 1093 in September, 1947 which at least had some musical similarities to rock ‘n’ roll. Nothing is created in a vacuum after all, and so, depending on how one defines “birth” you could reasonably try and make the case that something else by someone other than Roy Brown started all of this.

Fair enough. But we began by asking somewhat rhetorically “Aberration or archetype” and in all of the prior steps towards rock, whatever records you may come up with, they all seemed to be more aberrations. Tentative, uncertain, reaching for something stylistically that they weren’t quite sure of perhaps. If they succeeded, sure, then they’d take those efforts and expand on them in the future. But if not, well, they weren’t committed to it.

Roy Brown by contrast had no such problem. He was already fully convinced that this was IT.

All of Brown’s success to date, from the tumultuous response he got from the crowd the moment he first sang Good Rocking Tonight on the bandstand back in early ’46, to the enthusiastic reply over the telephone from DeLuxe Record owner Jules Braun when he’d sang it to him in mid-1947 which led to him being immediately signed to a recording contract and brought into the studio to get that very song on wax, was due to rock itself. Such was the promise of the song that it led in turn to each step higher on the ladder before he even released it.

This wasn’t somebody simply trying his hand at something to see if it might work and connect with the public and get them another gig or two down the road. This was what HAD gotten him all those things already. For Roy Brown it had been rock that had gotten him noticed in the first place and built him into a growing club attraction, it had been rock that had gotten him signed to a record label and it had been rock that he was told to lay down in the studio at his first session. Rock ‘n’ roll, officially named yet or not, was the REASON he was being given the opportunity he’d long dreamed of and that was the difference. He may have still harbored an interest in exploring other musical avenues but his future clearly lay in just how far he could take THIS music.

Which is why it’s so reassuring to encounter Lolly Pop Mama (which is how it was originally spelled on the label, though most refer to it as Lollipop Mama on CD reissues ever since) on the flip side of that first release.


Rock In The Morning, Rock ‘Til Late At Night
The A-side – Good Rocking Tonight – was of course the ground zero moment in rock ‘n’ roll’s evolution. Without it we’re not talking about THIS side, or Roy Brown, or most likely rock ‘n’ roll itself for that matter. But it is this side that seals the deal for Roy… for rock… for the whole big shebang theory.

You see the reason is Roy backed up a rock song with… another rock song!

It’s hard to say something is an aberration when you commit to it wholeheartedly from the very start with two enduring compositions in the same vein.

Yet Lolly Pop Mama itself is a bit underwhelming, rock or not. It’s a good idea done in by a lack of focus. That might’ve been circumstantial, for who knows how much time was spent on this in comparison to the top side once they were recording. It certainly couldn’t have been much even in the best case scenario, when artists were hustled in and out of the studio like they were in the witness protection program and a second take was considered an extravagant luxury unless during the first pass at a song the microphone shorted out, the drum kit was knocked over or the baritone saxophonist dropped dead from an pulmonary embolism during a solo.

In Brown’s case they were probably focused on just one thing, the song that had spearheaded him being signed in the first place and so its entirely possible that to the record label the flip side was little more than an afterthought, just a necessary evil so they could get the record pressed and in the shops, and I think it shows.

My Lollipop Will Melt Away
The band had been the weakest aspect of the acclaimed A-side, their slightly outdated ideas holding back the full power of the song, but on Good Rocking Tonight there was an urgency that was too strong to be denied and with Brown pushing them as hard as he dared for a rookie entering a studio for the first time he manages to mostly overcome their somewhat staid approach and transcend the supporting musicians he was saddled with.

Not so here.  On the surface Bob Ogden’s band almost seems to be blatantly showing their disdain for the type of music this newcomer was foisting on them by their simplistic accompaniment.   In fact, they’re so far out of step with Brown for most of the song that it almost sounds like intentional sabotage at times, certainly not the arrangement the vocalist would sketch out to highlight his own composition and to compliment his voice to the best effect.

To start with the horn section is virtually playing an entirely different song than what Brown is singing. They not only aren’t in sync for much of the record, they’re clashing outright with him, almost seeming as if they’re trying to push him into hurrying along with it so they can collect their money and hit the bars. Their Dixieland-esque squawking is completely out of place stylistically giving Brown no choice but to accelerate his delivery, racing forward to keep up with them, in the process stripping the words – which indeed have all the requisite components for a rock classic – of their subtly and intent.

But by all accounts Ogden and his crew weren’t laughing at Brown behind his back as they whimsically tossed all sorts of ill-fitting passages in the mix to trip him up, they simply were as perplexed as any other veterans when first confronted with this uncouth music and thus had absolutely no concept of what this kid was trying to do.  On the A-side they at least had a reasonably familiar starting point to work off of because it was more gospel-rooted in its delivery, and while they weren’t exactly well-suited for the holy roller approach it needed they at least understood its basic concept. But for this raunchier tale which relies less on overall spirit and more on being able to effectively convey the suggestiveness of Lolly Pop Mama without overselling it, they seem completely lost and with little time to work it out beforehand they merely came up with the most wild stuff they could think of and threw it all up against the wall and hope it stuck. As a result it just winds up being a mess.

Beneath the clumsy accompaniment however the song itself, as written anyway, shows Brown already fully aware of how to play to the sensibilities of the degenerate riff-raff that early rock ‘n’ roll was intended for. While it may seem to be little more than a roll call of crass euphemisms on paper, Brown possesses an intuitive sense of how to structure it, building up the anticipation for each stanza with carefully selected references. The stop-time bridge is particularly well conceived and you just wish he had a more sympathetic drummer than Ogden to give it the slamming emphasis it needs to connect better with the listeners.

The one moment of inspiration within the band comes with the all-too brief sax solo just past the minute mark, but it’s so abbreviated that you get the sense his fellow musicians clubbed him over the head with their instruments for creating such a racket, dragging him out by his heels so he won’t get the chance to act up again. Throughout all of this Brown does the best he can with such undistinguished support, his voice soaring at times and dropping to an effective hushed moan at others, displaying the kind of unleashed emotional passion that would transform popular music in short order. But that transformation wasn’t going to be quite as smooth as we’d hope for so long as there was a stylistic and generational split in the studio.

In the best of circumstances this would be just a hasty run-through before getting down to tightening it up and refining it with the band, yet that was something he was never afforded the opportunity to do. This became the finished take and therefore it is this that would be what gets judged, then and now, warts and all. We can gripe about it all we want but the record business is a business first and foremost and the main order of business is getting a desired product (in this case the A-side) out on the streets with as little fuss as possible, not about making history, setting precedents and changing the world.


Never Knows When To Stop
Yet despite its relatively lackluster trappings it still shows that Roy Brown was shaping up to be something out of the ordinary. The composition itself was far from being just a toss-off, a soon to be forgotten failed experiment. In relatively short order it’d be covered not once, but twice, and (spoiler alert) each take on it would improve upon this and when the last version connected with audiences and became a genuine hit the following spring it proved, once again, that Roy Brown was deserving of every ounce of credit for developing the basic components of rock ‘n’ roll from the very beginning.

Of course Good Rocking Tonight does that even one better in terms of influence and impact and so it’s no surprise that it gets most of the long-term acclaim, for the song and for Brown himself, but the fact he doubled-up on that style right away and this song – at least as a composition – carved out its own reputation in the budding rock community speaks highly of his instincts if nothing else.

Lolly Pop Mama was rock’s second “standard” after the immortal flip, and while it took a bit of work to make it more presentable for mass consumption (or rather, took less refinement to make it more appealing to the burgeoning rock audience) the fact is, unlike any other artists and records with a claim to the “first” title, Brown never deviated from this course. Both sides were squarely in the rock vernacular. This was where he’d make his stand.

Unlike so many others in rock’s earliest days who were only tentatively testing the waters, making sure they were able to quickly leap back into another style of music if this rowdy noise didn’t take, Roy had no other options. He would sink or swim with rock ‘n’ roll and should it not pan out he had nothing else to fall back on.

There’s something admirable about those who never waver in their commitment to something untested and while events still slightly beyond his control may have undercut his efforts on this, let history show beyond any doubt that Roy Brown was never anything BUT a rocker from the very beginning.


(Visit the Artist page of Roy Brown for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)

Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
Clarence Samuels (December, 1947)

Wynonie Harris (May, 1948)