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The 10 greatest "Roots Rock" Songs of all Time

Updated on September 7, 2013
Billrrrr profile image

Bill Russo is featured in the film & TV show, The Bridgewater Triangle & has written several books (both fiction & non) on Amazon Kindle.

the Roots of Rock

Rock and Roll did not start in 1955 with "Rock Around the Clock" playing under the opening credits of Blackboard Jungle.

It just got noticed then.

It had been around for quite some time. Bill Haley's classic is the still the biggest selling Rock record of all time, with over 25 million singles sold, but it definitely was not the first.

Rather than trying to pick one single piece as the seminal record, I have selected a few from the various musical streams that converged into the giant river of Rock.

Number 10. From Country/Gospel The Delmore brothers "Blues Stay Away From Me" (1950).

The tune features a six string guitar, a rare four string guitar{almost like a mandolin) and Wayne Rainey's great work on mouth harp.
The Delmore Brothers, were country music pioneers and stars of the Grand Ole Opry in the 1930s This song was covered by Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps and by The Everly Brothers, among others.

"Blues Stay Away From Me"

The Bird Groups

Number 9: from Gospel: In the 1940s and 50s there was a proliferation of Bird groups - The Robins, The Crows, The Ravens, The Wrens, The Larks and more. 

They all were pale imitations of Sonny Til's Orioles.  The Orioles had a string of hits beginning in the late forties but scored their biggest success in 1953.  "Crying in  the Chapel" was Number one on the R & B charts for five weeks and even got up to #11 on the pop charts.

Sonny Til & the Orioles from 1953

Mr. Personality - Double L

Number 8: Rhythm and Blues from New Orleans -Lawdy Miss Claudy Lloyd Price from 1952. I think if you forced me to pick one song from the early 1950s and call it the first Rock song, I would have to say that this is it.

When Art Rupe of Specialty Records came to new orleans scouting for new talent and heard Lloyd Price do "Lawdy", he instantly wanted to record it. Price did not even have a band, so Rupe hired local stalwart Dave Bartholomew and his band to provide the backing to the  groundbreaking vocal. Bartholomew's piano player was none other than Fats Domino himself. The song became a massive hit and Price over the next decade had several more top hits including "Stagger Lee", "Personality" and others.

 Number 7: from Country & Western   7- Hank Williams Move it on over {1948).

Listen to this one carefully and critically, because many people say that this tune was the basis for, and spawned "Rock Around the Clock".

Hank literally wrote the book on C & W and he did it in a very short period -  only spending 29 years on this planet  Born in September of  1923 he died on the very first day of 1953 on his way from Knoxville to a gig in Ohio.  On that cold New Year's Day Hank died from a combination of hard luck, shots of hard  liquor, and shots of morphene that he injected along with Vitamin B-12.  But don't think that he died in some sort of a Charlie Sheen melt-down.  Hank was a drunk, but he did have medical issues that plagued him his whole short life. Born with Spinal Bifida,   he was kept  out of the service duirng the Second World War. His illness got progressively more painful as he got older.  Hank turned to the pain killers of alcohol and morphene.

  In his brief career, he had 11 number one hits - "Lovesick Blues", "Long Gone Lonesome Blues", "Why Don't You Love Me Like You Used To Do", "Moanin' the Blues", "Cold, Cold Heart", "Hey Good Lookin'", "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)", "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive", "Kaw-Liga", "Your Cheatin' Heart", "Take These Chains from My Heart" — as well as many hits that landed in the top ten.

Hank's First Big Hit - Move It On Over

 Number 6: Rhythm & Blues:  1945 - Mr. Louis Jordan and "Caldonia"

Louis Jordan was an immense talent who in the most segregated of times managed to be popular with both black and white audiences.  He sang, danced, played sax, was an actor, and much more. He made several films with all black casts which contain rare musical treasures.  Some of these are available to watch for free on 'Movieflix'.  He had a series of hits starting in the 1930s and continuing through the 1950s.  His 'Choo Choo ChBoogie' is a must hear.  I chose 'Caldonia' for the hub because the film clip is in much better shape than the Youtube clip of "Choo Choo", but either  song is a great showcase for this man who was ranked by Rolling Stone Magazine in 2004 as #59 on the list of the 100 greatest artists of all time.

Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Big Mama So Beats Elvis

Number 5: From R & B - 1952 "You Ain't Nothin' But a Hound Dog" - Big Mama Thornton

Years before Presley, and supercharged with strut, Big Mama Thornton belted out 'Hound Dog'; with "They Call Me Big Mama" on the flip side. I've heard that this record sold over 2 million copies - and I am pretty sure that's more than Elvis managed to sell. A very young Buddy Guy, who later rose to legendary Blues status, is featured on guitar.

Hound Dog - the Original


Due to the length of this hub, I will post the final four of the TOP TEN in part two.


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    • Billrrrr profile image

      Bill Russo 6 years ago from Cape Cod

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read it. We cannot ignore the roots, for without them there would be no tree and no pretty leaves.

    • Agnes Penn profile image

      Maria del Pilar Perez 6 years ago from Nicholson, Pennsylvania, USA

      Bad day for me to play the blues, but you brought me to a great end. Love 40s and 50s music.

      Knew Elvis' roots were in gospel and blues. Didn't know Big Mama.

      Great hub and wonderful information. Looking 4ward to 2nd part.

    • Billrrrr profile image

      Bill Russo 6 years ago from Cape Cod

      It is the BEST! It's from the 1939 Carnegie Hall Concert. Gene Krupa on the drums was spectacular! I love it. Even my son, a longtime Metallica fan, thinks Sing, Sing, Sing is great.

    • lime light power profile image

      lime light power 6 years ago from NY NY

      Good recommendations. I do actually like reading your hubs, we probably think the same way. One addition to make on my personal list - Benny Goodman, Sing, Sing, Sing from the Carnegie Hall concert - or is that too old???

    • Billrrrr profile image

      Bill Russo 7 years ago from Cape Cod

      Thanks for checking it out. This old music was cutting edge almost 70 years ago and I think it still is.

    • profile image

      Slmcat 7 years ago from NYC

      Great Collection of Songs that I'm not that familiar with. Thanks for the exposure!!!!