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KING 4528; APRIL 1952



There are, believe it or not, people who are rather uncomfortable talking about sex and feel it has no place in music.

Let’s get rid of them now, shall we, by letting them know that this is a song about fucking… well actually fellatio and cunnilingus, but also encompasses screwing, boinking, sucking, licking, humping, railing, drilling, banging and whatever other euphamisms strike your fancy.

There, that should clear the room of the undesirable prudes who have no business listening to, reading about, or even thinking about rock ‘n’ roll.

But while the topic of sex has been present in rock from the very first song released and ever since that time the music has constantly tried to push them limits of what’s legally permissible on record, sometimes when your sole purpose is simply to titillate, all you wind up with is a lot of pent up sexual energy unable to actually reach orgasm.


The Moon Is Not Far
Todd Rhodes had been the most unlikely of hitmakers when rock began, as he’d been born in 1900 and was the only viable rock act actively recording in the 1920’s! Yet his vast experience and adaptability to whatever trends in vogue meant he could fit in musically even if culturally he seemed a little long in the tooth once this brand of music really picked up steam.

Five years after he’d made his name in rock’s earliest months the rules have changed yet again and his brand of tight economical instrumentals were a bit passé. King Records had gone through a lot to get him though and as of late he’d been earning his keep acting as a house band behind others, from Wynonie Harris to Dave Bartholomew and truth be told maybe by this stage in his career that was what he was ideally suited for.

Needing a way to rejuvenate Rhodes’ career as a headliner, it was left to producer and songwriter Henry Glover to decide that while hits were sometimes random occurrences and obviously unable to be planned for, the same wasn’t true of songs aiming for notoriety.

You might call Rocket 69 a rather cheap and blatant attempt at maintaining relevance with audiences half his age, but what else were you going to do by now?

Keep in mind you couldn’t have made a better decision to stay in the loop than what Rhodes had already done when he signed Detroit bombshell singer Kitty Stevenson to front his band on vocal cuts, thereby expanding their repertoire greatly while adding a visual element for live gigs and, oh by the way, possibly letting the most talented female vocalist in rock to date have a chance at stardom.

Unfortunately none of her records, including some phenomenal performances, became hits and she was soon diagnosed with cancer and would die at the tragically young age of 28 just two months from now, in June 1952.

Her replacement was Connie Allen, a talented singer in her own right with some good sides in her brief résumé, but there’s a possibility she was serving here as a sacrificial lamb. If the record tanked, if it got blackballed for content, if Rhodes’ core constituency balked at such a racy song, Allen was expendable and the band could always go back to the jazz stuff like Possessed on the flip side.

But if it succeeded, whether on the charts or more likely as an underground hit, then it would be well worth the gamble they were taking in potentially pissing off all the buttoned-down moralists who infested neighborhoods, PTA boards and churches everywhere you looked in the Nineteen-Fifties.


Ride And Glide And Be So Satisfied
Let’s start with Connie Allen, specifically her voice, which has a throaty, almost masculine, tone which certainly has unintended implications for a song about mutual oral sex between the singer and another man.

In 2023 as this is written, same-sex activity in song is fairly common, but it’s still almost entirely lesbian situations, as men have no problem envisioning and dreaming about two women pleasuring each other. When it comes to two men getting it on however, that’s another story altogether. The female audience isn’t necessarily going to be interested and most straight men are so insecure about perceptions of their own sexuality that the thought of listening to a song about guys with other guys would cause them to break out in hives – or more likely commit some violent hate crime in a misguided effort to prove their masculinity.

Back in 1952 things were even more straitlaced than today so you can imagine the horror if people thought Rocket 69 was actually about two men having sex. But listening to Allen’s husky contralto voice singing these suggestive lyrics may cause you to do a double take and wonder just WHO is suggesting what to whom, especially since the all-male band sounds even more enthusiastic singing the title line, though you could certainly claim they were probably thinking they’d be the lucky recipient of her racy suggestions.

That confusion can’t have done the song much good, for even today there’s entire reddit threads debating the gender pairing of a song that’s now seventy-one years old! Imagine if Billy Wright or Little Richard had sung it without any lyric changes, especially with more gusto than Allen shows here – the world might spin off its axis!

While Allen can’t do much about her range, she certainly could’ve done more about her delivery which is far too matter of fact to really sell the subject matter properly. This requires a flirty, smirking performance and Allen puts it across as if she’s taking the lyrics about rocket ships literally – and sounding as if she was a high school student who didn’t study for today’s science test and is worried about flunking. There’s no coy flirtation, no tongue-in-cheek attitude, no attempt to push the limits and see if she can get guys to… ahh… blow their tops just by listening.

She doesn’t sound like she’s having much fun and if you aren’t having fun in sex then you’re doing something wrong. As a result it’s not a great performance – though maybe that was by intent if she didn’t approve of doing the song, which is entirely possible. But since the performance has to accentuate the lewd subject matter rather than throw cold water on it, this is in some trouble no matter how desperate all the horny young boys in the pre-sex ed days are to hear about the topic in ways they can understand.

In that regard Rocket 69, as written, does a little better, even as Glover’s lyrics are more clever than explicit, using the early 50’s fascination with space travel as a way to circumvent the sexual implications of sixty-nining.

Mostly though this comes across as an in-joke, and to be honest I’m not sure how many people then even knew what sixty-nining was… not that they didn’t do it mind you, but it’s hard to picture your great-grandparents casually throwing those terms around like this.

About the only thing that leaves no doubt as to its naughty intent is Rhodes’s band who go a long way in redeeming the record’s scandalous reputation simply by providing a steady beat, churning rhythm and guttural saxophones to get the point across for those who haven’t gotten past second base yet.

Is it worth all the trouble to find out about the subject THIS way? No, probably not, but then again considering current pop sensation Eddie Fisher was claiming “Anytime you feel downhearted, that will prove your love for me is true”, maybe you really DID need Henry Glover, Todd Rhodes and Connie Allen to make you aware of a BETTER way to prove someone’s love is true than that sappy pop music-approved method.


Take A Little Trip
For a guy whose career as a recording artist spanned the beginning of the jazz age to the prime years of the rock ‘n’ roll era while covering multiple genres along the way, it’s ironic and a little sad that Todd Rhodes is remembered at all primarily because of THIS song, one he didn’t even write, featuring a singer with him just a short while and due to lyrics which are suggestive but in no way obscene.

But then again that just goes to show you that when it comes to sex – and often at times when it comes to music for that matter – most people are perpetually 13 years old.

Just as you’ll find fully grown adults with jobs, homes and families act like whiny immature teens when talking music, almost all of which centers around the music they grew up with or discovered at that age, the same is true when it comes to topics like sex.

It fascinates people because it seemed to be such a mystery at that age and even long after they (presumably) started having it themselves, they still tend to treat it as a naughty vice rather than a normal everyday act like eating or sleeping.

That means they sneak glances at hot women walking by while being too scared to make eye contact… they sit in dark rooms browsing porn websites instead cultivating real relationships… and they ignore most of early rock history which includes some of the most influential and incendiary records ever made to focus instead on just a handful of off-color cuts like Rocket 69, thinking that a racy subject unto itself is worth more than a really well crafted song.

Though this is still a decent record, thanks more to the band and the sly intent of Glover than whatever feelings it’s liable to stir in you, it’s unquestionably one of the more overrated early rock songs because its notoriety has long since obscured its flaws.

The real flaw though is found in people so impotent in real life that they still have to turn to records to get their rocks off in the first place.


(Visit the Artist pages of Todd Rhodes as well as Connie Allen for the complete archives of their respective records reviewed to date)