Saturday, June 12, 2004

50 years ago: Big Joe Turner “Shake, Rattle and Roll” topped the R&B chart

Shake, Rattle and Roll

Big Joe Turner

Writer(s): Charles Calhoun (words & music) (see lyrics here)

Released: April 1954

First Charted: May 8, 1954

Peak: 22 US, 13 RB, 3 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 6.6 video, 9.52 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Big Joe Turner was 43 years old and had been in the music industry for a decade and a half when he broke through with “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” He was a Kansas City-born blues shouter who worked with boogie-woogie piano man Pete Johnson, jazz pianist Art Tatum, and Count Basie’s Orchestra. Ahmet Ertegun, the founder of Atlantic Records in 1947, saw Turner performing with Basie and signed him. Ertegun formed the business because, as he said, “I wanted to make records like the records I loved, which were real blues records.” TB

Ertegun actually provided backing vocals on Turner’s version of “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” a song written by Atlantic songwriter Jesse Stone under the pseudonym “Charles E. Calhoun.” TB He wore multiple hats for Altantic, but his most important role may be that “he realized that white kids would listen to R&B as long as it had a rhythm they could dance to.” SS Ertegun said Stone “did more to develop the basic rock & roll sound than anyone else.” SS

Indeed “Shake, Rattle and Roll” (a phrase Stone heard at a poker game) SS not only became a #1 R&B hit, but a pivotal song in shaping the early history of rock ‘n’ roll. Author Don Tyler said that song “along with ‘Rock Around the Clock’…launched the rock and roll craze that dominated popular music for the second half of the 20th century.” TY2

Bill Haley was not only the artist who recorded the chart-topping version of “Rock Around the Clock,” but a top-10, million-selling pop version of “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” Having white artists “clean up” the lyrics to R&B songs to make them into white hits became common practice in the early days of rock and roll. Music writer Dave Marsh argues that this is one of the songs that make “the strongest arguments for the idea that prudes really did have something to fear from rock and roll.” DM In “Shake,” we hear Turner “leer and drool with an indelicacy that would be comic if it weren’t so intense.” DM It became one of the most important components in giving early rock and roll its rebellious image.


First posted 3/23/2023.

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