In 1954, Elvis Presley was the sexiest thing anyone had ever seen or heard. Sure, rock’n’roll first hit the charts with chubster Bill Haley’s weedy, watered down approximations of R&B but Elvis, a decade younger at just nineteen years old, was edgy, raw and cut like a scythe. In November 1955 he signed to RCA Victor, went supernova barely two months later, and raised the most prolonged teen hysteria ever. It really was as fast and complete as that.


In essence rock’n’roll was about as basic as it could get. All that mattered was the noise it made; its drive, its aggression, its newness. Only boredom was taboo. The lyrics were mostly non-existent simple slogans, one step from gibberish. But it was never stupid, more a secret teen code adults couldn’t understand. As ever, the first couple of years were the best. For thirty years you’d only been able to make it if you were white, sleek, polite and phony. From 1955 on, it didn’t matter if you were white, black, purple, delinquent or diseased just as long as you had excitement.


Most of the best rock’n’rollers came out of the south where the living had always been meanest. If Little Richard embodied the style of rock’n’roll with his baggy suits and backcombed hair, Chuck Berry embodied the sound, charting its hang ups and triumphs while mourning its limitations. By and large most white rockers were less impressive, although there were still some honourable exceptions like Gene Vincent, Johnny Burnette, Jerry Lee and Buddy Holly.


Where southern rock’n’roll was all noise, violence and anarchy, northern rock’n’roll was highschool and an attitude that said ’We go to highschool, we dig rock’n’roll, we wear sneakers, short shorts and sweaters. Our parents can be draggy but gee whizz, they were young once and they’re only trying to do their best for us’. Highschool singers were the manufactured, puppets of middle aged businessmen transforming rock’n’roll into an exact reflection of what they thought white, middle class, American teenagers really dreamed of.


Inevitably, highschool marked the beginning of the end, but there was one absolute rocker still to emerge. Eddie Cochran was a bit quiet, a bit inarticulate, a bit aggressive, yet his records were perfect reflections of everything rock’n’roll ever was. Compressing the atmosphere of a whole period into every one of his songs, he crystallised the way the fifties generation worked. What’s more he did it instinctively, without even knowing it.


And that’s just about where it ends. Sadly, just like Eddie, most of the great rockers ended up either dead, drunk or broke. Rock’n’roll was such committed music, with such a specific attitude tied so absolutely to its time and place, that it was impossible for them to do anything else. Of course, it wasn’t anything like as complex or as creative as what came next, but on its own terms and in its own way, rock’n’roll really was perfection.


01 BILL HALEY & HIS SADDLEMEN ‘Crazy Man Crazy’ (A Side February 1953)

02 JOE TURNER & HIS BLUES KINGS ‘Shake, Rattle And Roll’ (A Side April 1954)

03 RAY CHARLES ‘I Got A Woman’ (A Side December 1954)

04 BO DIDDLEY ‘Bo Diddley’ (A Side March 1955)

05 ELVIS PRESLEY ‘Baby Let’s Play House’ (B Side April 1955)

06 FATS DOMINO ‘All By Myself’ (A Side September 1955)

07 CHUCK BERRY ‘Thirty Days’ (A Side October 1955)

08 THE CADILLACS ‘Speedo’ (A Side December 1955)

09 THE CLEFTONES ‘Little Girl Of Mine’ (A Side March 1956)

10 LITTLE RICHARD ‘Rip It Up’ (A Side July 1956)

11 GENE VINCENT & HIS BLUE CAPS ‘Who Slapped John?’ (B Side September 1956)

12 BRENDA LEE ‘Bigelow 6-200’ (A Side September 1956)

13 YOUNG JESSIE ‘Hit, Git And Split’ (A Side September 1956)

14 JOHNNY BURNETTE & THE ROCK’N’ROLL TRIO ‘Train Kept A’ Rollin’ (A Side October 1956)

15 LAVERN BAKER & THE GLIDERS ‘Jim Dandy’ (A Side October 1956)

16 RICHARD BERRY & THE PHARAOHS ‘Louie Louie’ (B Side April 1957)

17 THE COASTERS ‘Young Blood’ (A Side May 1957)

18 JERRY LEE LEWIS ‘Whole Lot Of Shakin’ Going On’ (A Side June 1957)

19 HUEY ‘PIANO’ SMITH & THE CLOWNS ‘Rockin Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Blues’ (A Side July 1957)

20 THE CRICKETS ‘Not Fade Away’ (B Side October 1957)

21 EDDIE COCHRAN ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ (A Side November 1957)

22 THE ROYAL TEENS ‘Short Shorts’ (A Side January 1958)

23 THE EVERLY BROTHERS ‘Should We Tell Him’ (B Side February 1958)

24 THE CHAMPS ‘Tequila’ (A Side February 1958)

25 LINK WRAY & HIS RAY MEN ‘Rumble’ (A Side April 1958)

26 JOHNNY OTIS ‘Willie And The Hand Jive’ (A Side April 1958)

27 DUANE EDDY & THE REBELS ‘Rebel Rouser’ (a Side June 1958)

28 DION & THE BELMONTS ‘I Can’t Go On (Rosalie)’ (B Side August 1958)

29 RICKY NELSON ‘Lonesome Town’ (A Side September 1958)

30 RITCHIE VALENS ‘Come On Let’s Go’ (A Side September 1958)

31 CLIFF RICHARD & THE DRIFTERS ‘Move It’ (A Side September 1958)

32 VINCE TAYLOR & THE PLAYBOYS ‘Brand New Cadillac’ (A Side May 1959)