It’s Rocktober and that’s why we’re going to take a look at the magical world of one the best-known musical styles in pop music: rock ’n’ roll. The genre has a typical after beat that is the strong backbone of the other instruments – vocals, electric guitar, saxophone, drums. 

Close your eyes and step into your imaginary time machine. Turn the period dial and set it on March 3, 1951. As for the place, just google a location that used to have a record store. Press the most-important looking button, close the doors, and turn the rusty switch, the one with all the lights surrounding it. BAM!

Rocket 88

You can get out of the time machine now. Don’t pay too much attention to the people, walk into the first record store you see and ask for the album Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats. Pay if you can, and if you can’t just take a good look at the cover of the record. This is the first real rock ’n’ roll record. 

Rocket 88 is a breakthrough for the new genre, but the major labels aren’t convinced and they show little interest. On the other hand, the smaller, local labels are enthusiastic about the up-and-coming style that’s overflowing with erotic euphemisms. 

Rock ’n’ roll 

But where does this name come from? It sounds like it has been part of the universe from the start. We have DJ Alan Freed to thank for that. This radio DJ comes up with the term “rock ’n’ roll” when he’s asked to do a segment on “black music.”

His program is called “The Moondog House,” and later he hosted a show called “Alan Freed’s Rock ’n’ Roll Dance Party.” These are tremendously popular with the younger generation, that use it to get to know new exuberant dance music. This was well before YouTube and Spotify, and mom and dad decided what you can listen to and what not. 

Elvis Presley

Rock ’n’ Roll reaches a bigger audience when a young god from Memphis called Elvis Presley lifts the genre to another level – that’s to say, he makes it more accessible to a white audience. His erratic hand waving and provocative hip movements are cause for concern with the older, more prudish generation. 

They think the act is awful which leads some states to ban his performances all together. But for the younger generation the music from the King of Rock ’n’ Roll is like an elixir from the gods. His shows draw massive crowds, and these people make sure that the genre grows in popularity and that it remains in the limelight.

Taming rock ’n’ roll

The craze surrounding the genre dims down in 1959, when Buddy Holly dies in a plane crash and Elvis joins the army. Parents around the world breathe a sigh of relief. It’s time that this hip-shaking sex-inducing music is brought to a stop.  

Rock ’n’ roll returns when Elvis gets back from military service, but under pressure of big commercial parties the style becomes more well-behaved. The genre is tamed, so it can also be accessible to grown ups. Did it last? What do you think?

Play rock ’n’ roll

Rock ’n’ roll is based on a blues chord progression. We have listed five classics for you to play along with. Play along with Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” to see what we’re talking about. The song is in the key of Eb – tune your guitar down a semitone or use the transpose feature to listen to the chords a semitone higher. 

The track by the King of Rock ’n’ Roll has a simple alternation of chords, that sounds a bit like a blues. In the verse you play Eb and Ebm and in the chorus it turns into and Ab7 and an Bb7. Don’t be scared by these chords, just try out the trick we mentioned before and shout: “everybooody let’s rock!” 

Jerry Lee Lewis – Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On 

If you’re looking for a challenge on the piano instead of guitar, this is a song for you. Rock ’n’ roll uses a lot of keys, as you can also hear in the music by Little Richard and Elton John. But this is one of the classics. 

Play along with “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” by Jerry Lee Lewis. You can see in the blink of the eye that these are the pure basics. Everything is about the C chord, F chord, and G chord. Sometimes Lewis takes a detour to a seventh chord, as a variation on the previously mentioned triads. All in all, it’s a great song for your setlist. 

Buddy Holly – That’ll Be The Day

Rock ’n’ roll is characterized by simple chord progressions. Check out the chord progression of Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day”.It’s no exception. This song is perfect for beginners that want to practice basic chord changes. 

Buddy Holly’s track alternates the D chord and the A chord in a slow tempo, and in the chorus there are an E chord and a B chord thrown in the mix. All easy peasy right? Except for the B chord, but you can look at that as a good way to start learning barre chords.

Chubby Checker – Let’s Twist Again

“Come on everybody clap your hands… oooh you’re looking good!” Yes, time to shake your hips. According to the uptempo track by Chubby Checker you just have to twist from left to right, and then everything will be fine. Is it true? Let’s take a look at the chords for Chubby Checker’s “Let’s Twist Again”.

Remember the trick we recommended with “Jailhouse Rock”? Yes, tuning down your guitar and using the transpose feature for the chord progression, yes that one. Try it out in this song; instead of the Eb chord, Ab chord, Bb chord you can turn it into E chord, A chord, B chord. The only challenge left is the C# minor, but that’s easier than it sounds. 

Bill Haley & His Comets – Rock Around The Clock 

What do you do when you lose the audience’s attention? Then you break out a nice uptempo song. “Rock Around The Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets is one of those tracks. After all, people should accept that the party will not stop.

You don’t have to be scared about the chord progression of the song. It’s all about the A chord, E chord, and D chord. Hit ‘em hard, think about the after beat, and you’ll have those feet off the floor in no time. Happy jamming!

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