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One of the ways we’re taught things as little children is through simplification and latching on to something obvious.

For instance for those of you who haven’t yet mastered the alphabet you’ll quickly learn that it becomes easier when you have an easy melody to associate with it. Once you come to know those letters you’ll need to be able to put them together to spell words and along the way will be constantly reminded of such things as “I before E except after C” to make sure you don’t screw things up too badly.

Unfortunately when it comes to rock history there’s been decades of neglect and mountains of misinformation to wade through to even get to that point and the majority of those who’ve thought they learned the facts are distressed to find they’ve actually been woefully misled over time.

To counter this in recent years there have been some in their efforts to enlighten the masses who’ve tried the same simplification methods in hopes of having certain broad truths sink in better. One of the more common attempts at having people accept songs from the first six to eight years of rock ‘n’ roll that had long been ignored outright by far too many mainstream sources is to make a big deal of those which use the actual term itself in their lyrics.

This is just such a song.


The Whole Town’s Rockin’
Truth be told, while this record is indeed a rock song through and through – and a very good one at that – it hardly qualifies as “early”, not when 1,300 other rock songs pre-date it, nor is it the song which made Tommy Brown a star or the one he should be remembered for more than seven decades down the road.

That’s not to say that Atlanta Boogie is irrelevant by any means, but rather to show that when you do focus simply on finding the easiest songs to defend to those prone to dispute such facts as rock beginning well before white America knew their ass from their elbow musically, you wind up leaving a lot out of the equation and losing plenty of more indispensable information in the bargain.

So for those who came here by taking the inevitable shortcut but who aren’t (yet) offended for being called out on it and are therefore willing to stick around, you might be asking just who Tommy Brown was and how is this song is merely the start of a much deeper story of his career rather than the main event.

Well, like a lot of kids who’d come of age just as rock was taking off in the years 1947-1949, Brown couldn’t help but be impacted by the sounds coming out at the time and upon dropping out of a college his freshman year he embarked on a singing career around Georgia.

The self-penned song therefore was a rather obvious way to kick off his recording career, especially since it was also recorded IN Atlanta, as Savoy Records had been doing with another local act, Billy Wright, who had quickly became one of the biggest rock stars in the country starting in 1949.

The hope of course with Brown was that lightning might strike twice.


Where The Cats Really Come On Strong
The widespread belief is that The Griffin Brothers, already one of the best self-contained rock bands in the land after less than a year on the scene, were backing Brown on this… despite the fact they were based in Virginia and recorded for rival Dot Records who were located in Tennessee.

It might be “officially” unverified but not hard to believe as the instrumentation lines up and of course Brown would soon join the Griffins on Dot Records where he’d become an all-too-brief star over the next year.

Whoever it is with him clearly knows the ropes in rock ‘n’ roll as the pounding piano (which would be be Buddy Griffin) sets a storming pace before Brown’s full-throated screaming of the title Atlanta Boogie ushers in the song proper as the horns start riffing behind him.

Brown’s got a raw untutored voice, shouting the lyrics with a delivery that’s rhythmic enough to make up for any lack of technical ability, his exuberance bordering on aggressive mania. Maybe it’s his inexperience at play but as hard-charging as he’s coming on you can sort of see that he’s acting the part, selling the enthusiasm for slightly more than it’s worth… not that many will complain when the results are this unhinged.

Everything about the performances makes the record seem ready to fly off the turntable, as the sax solo gives this the necessary rough texture for the image it’s busy creating, that of a roadhouse at 2AM before the law gets sicced on them and breaks up their party.

The sax soon gives way to Jimmy Griffin’s trombone which sounds more like a trumpet at times as he plays with a flatulent tone, not a series of low honks as usually was the case, but a higher pitched squalls that is backed by everything but the kitchen sink, all adding to the cacophony as the drummer keeps the relentless beat intact.

If you think they can’t keep this up… well, you’re right, as when they exit the solo Brown eases back on the intensity just enough to make sure it retains some semblance of a proper song rather than merely a musical orgy.

Let’s Rock ‘n’ Roll ‘Til The Break of Day
The story Brown affixes to this ode to the nocturnal hedonistic rituals that form the cornerstone of much of rock ‘n’ roll is less straightforward narrative about characters and activities and more just a series of sensationalistic ads set to music.

In a lot of ways that works well, as Atlanta Boogie makes a strong case for the basic premise of ALL rock parties of the early fifties which is to lose your mind among a group of like-minded souls. But it’s his use of the specific term “rock ‘n’ roll” which has caused this record to get referred to more than equally emblematic songs of this era when it comes to chronicling rock’s place in the world as 1951 dawned.

That’s fortunate for Brown’s enduring reputation of course, but maybe a little unfair to all those who blazed the trail before him with more focused and successful efforts than this. But as stated many times around here, it’s far easier to focus on easy to grasp headlines than dig further for the more accurate linage.

But none of that is Brown’s fault and he sells this for all he’s worth, channeling Wynonie Harris with his “hoy hoy” cries down the stretch as the piano and horns go to work battering your eardrums, the speakers and any lingering holdouts in the audience in the bargain.

It’s both crude and surprisingly well organized in its assault on the senses, hardly groundbreaking from what rock has already delivered time and time again over its first three plus years on the scene, but if it’s effective in bringing people back this far in time to get a taste of rock ‘n’ roll before it was co-opted by the mainstream then the attention it’s garnered in recent years will hardly have been in vain.


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