First Rock and Roll Song Identified

Joseph Burns, a rock historian at Southeastern Louisiana University, thinks that "That's All Right Mama" by Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup is the first rock and roll song:

"An argument can be made for and against every song mentioned," he said before adding "That's All Right Mama" is a better fit than all of the other tunes.

This song came out in September 1946 as a rockabilly piece with a blues melody line over top.

"It's sung with power, may contain the first guitar solo break, and, as a remake, became one of Elvis' first singles," Burns said.

The origin of the term "rock 'n' roll" is straightforward, he believes.

"It started as a nautical phrase meaning the movement of the boat up and down and back and forth," Burns said. "Sometime in the late 1800s to early 1900s, gospel and jubilee music co-opted the term and used it to mean being rocked and rolled in the arms of the Lord. In fact, the first recorded use of the term in a song was 'Camp Meeting Jubilee' in 1916."

You can listen to "That's All Right Mama" here.

Link via The Presurfer | Photo by Flickr user Never Slim used under Creative Commons license

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Sorry to be so critical, but the article by Farrier is misleading and a bit of a white wash.

Crudup's "That's Alright Mama" was an up-tempo Delta Blues song. (Rockabilly had not arrived on the scene in '47).

Elvis' version (1954) was Rock & Roll, but it was predated on the Billboard charts by Bill Haley's "Crazy Man Crazy" (1953 #12).

More likely candidates include "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston & The Delta Cats. (Ike Turner wrote the song and was lead musician with Jackie on sax and vocal. Sam Phillips produced the session.)

Also, there's a strong case to me made for the even earlier (1947) "Good Rockin' Tonight" by Wynonie Harris.

But, in reality, Rock & Roll was an evolutionary process rather than a revolutionary process, so there is always room for debate over the first line crosser.

And finally, Farrier's definition of Rock and Roll left out it's most common useage: Negro slang for having sex.
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I concur, "That's All Right" was a landmark record at Sun Studios, but was first ripped by Carl Perkins there. At least that's what I gleaned from Jarmusch's Mystery Train.
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>may contain the first guitar solo break

Whaaa? 1946? That's just a bizarre thing to say for a song recorded so late in the history of recorded guitar solos. Roy Smeck, Eddie Lang, and other early jazz guys were recording solo breaks way, way, way before that, as were blues guys like Blind Lemon Jefferson.

Since Rock and Roll is one of those loose terms where there will never be final agreement on the definition, it's just semantics what the first Rock and Roll song is.
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I vote for Chuck Berry's Maybelline as the first Rock'n'Roll song.

But ok, that "That's All Right" song is VERY Rock'n'roll.
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