The original term for rock. You know, that really famous genre of music that incorporates electric guitars and percussion? Yeah.
Although recordings in the Rhythm and Blues
, Country & Western
, Dixieland Jazz
, straight Jazz and Big Band
genres had incorporated elements of Rock 'n' Roll as far back as the 1920s, the actual form wasn't codified until the early 1950s when white musicians began performing Rhythm and Blues songs in a Country & Western style. An early predecessor to Rock 'n' Roll is Rockabilly
After this, Rock became a fusion of...well, considering the millions of different subgenres it has
, it's a fusion of whatever you want and whatever else you want. Other genres, such as R&B and certain forms of Jazz have also been retroactively categorized as Rock 'n' Roll.
There's no concrete definition of the genre anymore, aside from the inclusion of electric guitar and percussion (and even that is debatable)
. As noted, one of the more common definitions is the melding of R&B with Country & Western (due to this being the form of Rock 'n' Roll that first crossed racial barriers and became popular); others say Rock 'n' Roll is simply R&B under another name. And of course that really only applies to the earliest forms of Rock 'n' Roll from the 1950s - later Rock can be linked to neither R&B nor C&W. Nor some early Rock 'n' Roll, for that matter.
Bill Haley And His Comets
first introduced Rock 'n' Roll to the mainstream (read: white) audiences, forming a buffer between the Big Band era familiar to most, and the wilder forms of Rock 'n' Roll developed by artists such as Elvis Presley
. Although Haley had had international Rock 'n' Roll hits the year prior, it wasn't until his "Rock Around the Clock" was used as the theme for the film Blackboard Jungle
that Rock 'n' Roll truly took off. In early 1956 (after 18 months of relative obscurity), Elvis arrived and forever linked Rock 'n' Roll with sex. At the same time, musicians such as Chuck Berry
and Little Richard
established themselves as R&B crossover successes, proving that Rock 'n' Roll was a bona fide interracical art form.
By the end of The Fifties
, Rock 'n' Roll all but died
, in part because of a form of Author Existence Failure
due to Elvis being drafted into the army, popular performers like Buddy Holly
and Eddie Cochran
dying in accidents, Little Richard
abandoning the music in favor of religion, Jerry Lee Lewis
being ostracized for marrying a teenage cousin, Bill Haley focusing on middle of the road instrumental and Country music, and Chuck Berry going to jail. As the 1960s began, things weren't much better as Elvis got reduced to starring in a string of less-than-stellar films and the Rock 'n' Roll genre in general being reduced to one novelty tune after another (such as The Twist). It took the Brits, previously alien towards rock, but inspired by Haley, Elvis, Berry and the others to revive it and refine its form
. One of these bands, rather obviously, was The Beatles
The better known artists of the 1950s, alongside with older artists considered major influences and/or pioneers of the genre.
- Albert Ammons
- The Andrews Sisters. They had major hits in the jump blues genre which has been argued to be proto-rock.
- Lil Hardin Armstrong
- Louis Armstrong. A 1930 recording of Armstrong with Jimmie Rodgers is considered an early example and/or key influence to rock.
- Hank Ballard
- Count Basie
- Chuck Berry
- The Big Bopper
- Bill Haley And His Comets: Revisionists continually try to downplay their importance, but they still had the first No. 1 worldwide hit of the rock and roll era with "Rock Around the Clock", six months before Elvis recorded Heartbreak Hotel, and in 1954 scored the first international rock and roll hit with their version of "Shake, Rattle and Roll." The Beatles and Graham Nash have openly credited Haley with inspiring them to get into rock and roll.
- Billy Ward And His Dominoes
- Will Bradley
- Jackie Brenston
- James Brown
- Joe Washington Brown
- Roy Brown
- Teddy Bunn
- Goree Carter.
- Johnny Cash. Yes, you read that right. Even though Cash is considered a Country Legend, he was also a pioneer of Rock and Roll. He earned his place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was only in his later life he settled into country music full-time, but even then some of his last works before his death are rock and roll songs.
- Sidney 'Sid' Catlett
- Ray Charles
- Eddie Cochran
- Nat King Cole
- Austin Coleman
- James Cotton
- The Crows
- Arthur Crudup
- The Delmore Brothers
- Bo Diddley
- Fats Domino
- Thomas A Dorsey
- Eddie Durham
- Ella Fitzgerald
- Benny Goodman
- Blind Roosevelt Graves. A 1929 recording with his brother Uaroy has been considered an early example of rock.
- Uaroy Graves. A 1929 recording with his brother Roosevelt. has been considered as an early example of rock.
- Freddie Green
- Guitar Slim
- Lionel Hampton
- The Harlem Hamfats. 1930s band with songs displaying early examples of Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll.
- Pat Hare
- Erline Harris
- Wynonie Harris
- JC Higginbotham
- Buddy Holly
- Howlin' Wolf
- The Isley Brothers
- Jim Jackson
- Blind Lemon Jefferson
- Pete Johnson
- Robert Johnson. At least four of his known songs are considered to contain all major elements of 1950s rock. Despite the fact of his death in 1938.
- Willie Johnson
- Albennie Jones
- Jo Jones
- Tom Jones
- Louis Jordan
- Gene Krupa
- Jerry Lee Lewis
- Joe Liggins
- Joe Hill Louis.
- Uncle Dave Macon
- Little Richard
- Ray Mc Kinley
- Jack Mc Vea
- Johnny Mercer
- Scotty Moore
- Wild Bill Moore
- Ella Mae Morse
- William Frank 'Frankie' Newtona
- Anita O'Day
- Roy Orbison
- Walter Page
- Junior Parker
- Elvis Presley
- Jimmy Preston
- Johnnie Ray
- Don Raye
- Jimmie Rodgers
- Eldon Shamblin. One of the first significant players of electric guitar in the 1930s.
- Arkie Shibley
- Freddie Slack
- Arthur Smith. Nicknamed "Guitar Boogie", the name of his greatest hit, the melody of which forms the baseline for many rock and roll classics.
- Pinetop Smith
- Trixie Smith
- Tampa Red
- Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Called "The godmother of rock 'n' roll" by some and a definite potential candidate for Ur Example and/or Trope Maker.
- Big Mama Thornton
- Big Joe Turner
- Ike Turner
- Ritchie Valens
- Gene Vincent
- T-Bone Walker
- The Washboard Rhythm Kings. A 1930s band, their 1932 "out of control", "wild", and "energetic" performance of an older song is considered an early example of rock.
- Muddy Waters: Blues legend whose electric sound and percussion laid the foundation for much of rock and roll's sound, not to mention the entire blues rock movement.
- Chick Webb
- Hank Williams
- Johnny Williams
- Sonny Boy Williamson (I)
- Bob Wills
The following songs are considered important examples and/or precursors of the genre. In chronological order.
- My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll) (1922) by Trixie Smith. A Blues recording. While the phrases "rock and roll" were commonplace in church songs, this is the earliest recording which uses them in a purely secular context.
- That Black Snake Moan (1926) by Blind Lemon Jefferson. Jefferson was the founder of the Texas Blues sub-genre and is noted for his pioneering use of guitar, instead of the traditional banjo. This particular song introduced the lyrics That's all right mama / That's all right for you / Mama, that's all right / Most any old way you do, which resurfaced in several later songs, most notably Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right" which would be the first rock and roll song recorded by Elvis Presley.
- Sail Away Ladies and Rock About My Saro Jane (both 1927) by Uncle Dave Macon and his Fruit Jar Drinkers. Macon was a Vaudeville performer known primarily for his lively and energetic singing performances. He adopted and fused elements from various 19th-century styles, and is currently regarded as the "Grandfather" of Country Music. Sail Away Ladies is a square dance number, but the refrain of Don't she rock, daddy-o is one of the earliest uses of "rock" in a musical sense. "Rock About" has a theme of playing music aboard a ship, reportedly taught to Macon by "black stevedores". It went on to receive covers in several genres.
- Kansas City Blues (1927) by Jim Jackson, also known as Jim Jackson's Kansas City Blues. An early commercial hit in the Blues genre. Inspired Answer Songs, and variations. Parts of its lyrics (including It takes a rocking chair to rock, a rubber ball to roll...) and melody resurfaced in many later songs. It is considered an influence on Rock Around the Clock, mainly through latter-day variations.
- It's Tight Like That (1928) by Tampa Red (singer, guitar) and Thomas A. Dorsey (piano). A hit in the Hokum Blues genre, which emphasized humorous lyrics full of sexual innuendo. Red was among the first notable players of the slide resonator guitar, the loudest string instrument commercially available at the time. His style is considered a precursor to guitar solos in both blues and rock.
- Pine Top's Boogie Woogie (1928) by Pinetop Smith. The first commercial hit in the boogie-woogie genre, containing playful, flirting lyrics. Both the style and the lyrics would prove influential. The song itself had music elements similar to those found in the works of Jimmy Blythe (Jimmy's Blues) and Meade Lux Lewis (Honky Tonk Train Blues), recorded a couple of years earlier. But it seems to have gained greater appeal and popularized the style.
- Crazy About My Baby (1929) by Blind Roosevelt Graves and his brother Uaroy Graves. A Blues recording, but music researchers have noted the presence of the same rhythmic elements as proto-rock. Citing it as an early example or influence. Later works from the Graves brothers point to the evolution of their style to a rock-like direction,
- Blue Yodel No. 9 (1930) by Jimmie Rodgers (singer), Louis Armstrong (trumpet), and Lil Hardin Armstrong (piano). Also known as Standing on the Corner. While considered a major star of Country Music, Rodgers incorporated elements of Jazz and Blues in his work. The collaboration in this work is considered groundbreaking in several ways. One of the earliest known collaborations between "white" and "black" artists, an early fusion of elements, and successful with audiences of varying racial backgrounds. It has been regarded as one of the songs which "shaped rock".
- Tiger Rag (1931/1932) by The Washboard Rhythm Kings. This song was originally a 1917 hit by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. It went on to become part of the repertoire of virtually every Jazz band, with covers adapting it to various sub-genres. The Washboard Rhythm version has been noted for its highly energetic, "out -of-control" delivery, and its prominent use of a guitar. At the time guitars were just starting to become prominent parts of musical ensembles. The performance style and guitar use have been cited as either precursors or early examples of rock.
- Good Lord (1934) by Austin Coleman and Joe Washington Brown, better known as Run Old Jeremiah. One of the earliest recordings of a "ring shout", a traditional African-American church song. This performance included improvised, stream-of-consciousness lyrics, rhythmic singing, use of hand clapping and heel stamping to provide the beat. Along with repeated words, including "rock". Music historians have noted that it anticipated key elements of rock.
- Oh! Red (1936) by The Harlem Hamfats. First hit by the Hamfats, a group successfully combining disparate elements of Blues and Jazz. Their upbeat, dance music with irreverent lyrics is considered a significant influence on the jump blues of the 1940s, with elements surviving in R&B and Rock. Several of their later hits had themes of Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll, such as The Weed Smoker's Dream.
- Dust My Broom (1936), Sweet Home Chicago (1936), Cross Road Blues (1936), Hellhound on My Trail (1937), and Love in Vain (1937) by Robert Johnson. Johnson is mainly regarded as a Delta Blues performer, though his surviving work includes elements from several musical genres. The storytelling elements of his lyrics, and distinctive style of guitar rhythm served as an inspiration to later performers. He is often cited as a major influence on 1960s rock.
- Sing, Sing, Sing (1937) by Benny Goodman and his band, also known as Sing, Sing, Sing With a Swing. Originally a minor hit of 1936 by Louis Prima. The 1937 cover performance by Goodman in Carnegie Hall became a major hit in the Swing genre. The key element of the success was an energetic performance with tom-tom drums by Gene Krupa. The performance included the first recorded extended drum solos and helped popularize the drums as a key part of musical ensembles. Drums featured as a key part of rock bands in the following decades.
- One O'Clock Jump (1937) by Count Basie and his band. Signature instrumental song for Basie and one of the greatest hits in the Swing genre. Dance-oriented music, featuring the distinctive rhythmic style of the band and performances by Basie (piano), Buck Clayton (trumpet), Herschel Evans and Lester Young (saxophone), Freddie Green (rhythmic guitar), Jo Jones (drums), and Walter Page (bass). Set the standard for popular music for a while. Other bands adapted the song, and younger musicians strived to emulate the individual performers.
- Early in the Morning (1937) by Sonny Boy Williamson (I), also known as Bout the Break of Day. A Blues song. A 1940 re-recording of the song (by the same artist) is considered a key example of Chicago Blues. With urban lyrics and prominent use of instrument amplifiers, which would have an influence on both R&B and Rock.
- Rock It For Me (1937/1938) by Ella Fitzgerald, featuring Chick Webb and his orchestra. The lyrics include the term "rock and roll" while comparing musical styles: "Now it's true that once upon a time/The opera was the thing/But today the rage is rhythm and rhyme/So won't you satisfy my soul/With the rock and roll?"
- Ida Red (1938) by Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. The song itself was a traditional folk song. Wills wrote new dance-oriented music to it. The music incorporated the electric guitar sound, played by Eldon Shamblin. It was a major hit in the Western Swing genre, which combines elements of Country Music and Jazz. The song was later adapted to boogie-woogie, and its music inspired Maybellene. Having significant influence in 1950s dance-oriented rock.
- Rock Me (1938) by Sister Rosetta Tharpe. First major hit by Tharpe. Originally a Gospel singer, Tharpe crossed-over to the secular Jazz genre. Singing in Gospel-style but with secular lyrics, ecstatic vocals and electric guitar. She helped introduce elements of Gospel music to secular audiences. Her distinctive performance style was cited as an influence by rock singers such as Little Richard and Elvis Presley.
- Roll 'Em Pete (1938) by Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson. Combination of a Blues-style singer (Turner) with a boogie-woogie pianist (Johnson). The song was performed at Carnegie Hall and became a major hit of its time. It helped popularize the boogie-woogie style, leading to its mainstream popularity and influence in the 1940s. It was also one of the earliest known recordings of backbeat, a key element in later boogie-woogie compositions, jump blues, and rock.
- Rocking The Blues (1939) by The Port of Harlem Jazz Men. The Jazz Men were a short-lived group consisting of otherwise well-known players Albert Ammons (piano), Teddy Bunn (guitar), Sidney "Sid" Catlett, J. C. Higginbotham (trombone), William Frank "Frankie" Newton (trumpet), and Johnny Williams (guitar). This music peace was an instrumental, but has been noted as one of the earliest pieces of music using the term "rocking" in the sense of performing or enjoying music.
- Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar (1940) by Will Bradley and his band. The title and lyrics reference the "eight beats to the bar" characteristic of boogie-woogie, suitable for dancing. A major hit in the genre, covers by the Andrews Sisters were particularly popular. The song had an influence on later dance hits.
- Down the Road a Piece (1940) by Will Bradley and his band. Another major hit in the boogie-woogie genre, received many covers in the 1940s and 1950s. A Chuck Berry cover added it to the classic rock repertoire.
- Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (1941) by The Andrews Sisters. Major hit in the boogie-woogie genre, also considered an early example of jump blues and proto-rock. The original recording was produced by Milt Gabler, who later produced the original "Rock Around the Clock." The Sisters were also considered sex symbols at the time among servicemen, introducing yet another element of rock and roll to the mix.
- Flying Home (1942) by Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra. Re-recording of a 1939 Jazz song. Featured the rhythmic recordings associated with Arthur Hampton, and a solo performance of tenor saxophone by Illinois Jacquet. Popularized the use of tenor saxophones in non-military music. The performance is considered to have had influence across several genres, rock included.
- Mean Old World (1942) by T-Bone Walker. A Blues song, considered the first mature example of Walker's distinctive style. Featuring guitar solos on an electric guitar, and smoky, soulful vocal phrases. Walker is considered a major influence on Chuck Berry and other guitar players.
- The Joint is Really Jumpin' in Carnegie Hall (1943), performed by Judy Garland in the MGM wartime musical Thousands Cheer. A straight up boogie-woogie number that jumps out at the modern listener when Judy suddenly sings a lyric about the audience "starting to rock" - a very early use of the term in a musical sense.
- G.I. Jive (1944) by Johnny Mercer. A hit by a prominent Hollywood singer and lyricist. A cover version by Louis Jordan, recorded the same year, had crossover success by topping both the charts for music marketed to whites and those marketed to blacks. Cited as important in establishing the appeal of this style to audiences of varying racial backgrounds.
- Rock Me Mamma (1944) by Arthur Crudup. A Blues song by a significant singer of the genre. The emotional lyrics performance and rhythmic guitar beat are thought influential to Rockabilly and some examples of early rock. Crudup often originated songs popularized by other artists, and was cited as a major influence on Elvis Presley.
- Strange Things Happening Every Day (1944) by Sister Rosetta Tharpe. A major hit in 1945, reaching a high position in the "race charts" (music primarily marketed to African -Americans). A gospel song, featuring Tharpe singing and playing electic guitar, accompanied by boogie-woogie pianist Sammy Price. The first gospel song in its period to enjoy commercial success. Tharpe continued releasing songs which combining elements from traditional music, urban blues, and swing-style rhythm. Her style is considered influential in shaping Rock And Roll. She was cited as an influence by (among others) Little Richard, Johhny Cash, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis. She gained the nickname of "the Godmother of Rock n' Roll".
- Caldonia (1945) by Louis Jordan. A major hit in the Jump blues genre, featuring humorous lyrics. Like other examples of the genre, its up-tempo music and energetic performance have labeled it as proto-rock. It has been noted that a Billboard reviewer from the 1940s described the song as "right rhythmic rock and roll music".
- The Honeydripper (1945) by Joe Liggins. The first major hit in the R&B genre. Its dance theme, and sexually-suggestive lyrics are thought to have influenced these elements of rock.
- Guitar Boogie (1945) by Arthur Smith. An instrumental song, featuring an electric guitar solo. The original recording was hardly noticed. It was re-released in 1948 and became a major hit. Influenced later rock guitarists and helped popularize the use of electric guitars.
- Choo Choo Ch'Boogie (1946) by Louis Jordan. A Jump Blues hit, covering the dissilusionment of returning veteranans of World War II with the domestic situation of their country. The songwriters had experience in Country and hillbilly music. One of the three, Milt Gabler, would go on to become the record producer behind such songs "Rock Around The Clock. Due to its role in songrwriters and producers crossing genres, the song has been called a harbinger for a musical revolution.
- Ain't That Just Like a Woman (They'll Do It Every Time) (1946) by Louis Jordan. A hit covering the story of women tormenting men from Eve onwards. Better known for an opening guitar riff by Carl Hogan. It had an influence on many rock guitarists, and was recycled note-for-note in the introduction of Johnny B. Goode (1958) by Chuck Berry.
- The House of Blue Lights (1946) by Freddie Slack and Ella Mae Morse. A precursor to rockabilly. The lyrics Included hepcat/hipster terms such as daddy-o, dig, and square. Morse is generally known for blending elements from different genres in her singing and for being among the first "white" singers to record in genres originating in African-American culture. This song is considered to have a greater influence on rock due to to receiving several covers and Shout Outs in the 1950s.
- Route 66 (1946) by Nat King Cole. A major hit of its time, it has since received popular covers in several genres. Became associated with rock and roll following Chuck Berry's own cover of the song.
- Hillbilly Boogie, Freight Train Boogie, and Boogie Woogie Baby (all 1946) by The Delmore Brothers. All three were examples of Country Music incorporating the then-popular boogie-woogie style. However, their incorporation of guitar solos and the use of electric guitars by their back-up players (such as Jethro Burns, Roy Lanham, and Zeke Turner) were new elements which they helped popularize. These elements would turn up in later rock and roll songs.
- Open the Door, Richard (1946) by Jack McVea. A novelty song based on an old Vaudeville act. One or more drunken men return home. But the only key to their current residence belongs to a roommate who stayed home that night. Repeated attempts to alert him and get him to open the door go unanswered. Leaving the man/men wondering what Richard is doing. The song received several popular covers in 1947, coined a catchphrase, and inspired Answer Songs. It went on to have an influence on early rock and become a catchphrase of the Civil Rights Movement, applied to desegregation.
- Let the Good Times Roll (1946) by Louis Jordan. A major hit for the Jump blues genre, with enduring appeal and multiple covers.
- Move It On Over (1947) by Hank Williams. A Country Music hit, and the first major hit for the singer. Considered particularly influential on Bill Haley, and has many similarities to Rock Around the Clock.
- Good Rocking Tonight (1947) by Roy Brown. A jump blues song parodying church music and lyrics. The "Rocking" was meant as a Double Entendre, meaning both dancing and sex. In 1948, a cover version by Wynonie Harris incorporated elements of gospel music, some improvised lyrics, and an uptempo beat. Popularizing both the song and the term "rocking" in that sense. Which started appearing in an increasing number of late 1940s songs.
- Rock and Roll (1948) by Wild Bill Moore. One of several songs using "rock and roll" as part of its lyrics, the title and the verses "We're going to rock and roll, we're going to roll and rock" and "Look out mamma, going to do the rock and roll" helped name the emerging genre.
- Rock and Roll Blues (1949) by Erline Harris. A Jump Blues hit and the signature song of Harris. The sexually suggestive lyrics "I'll turn out the lights, we'll rock and roll all night" are considered key to the sexual subtext of the genre. Harris recorded a few more songs in similar style, but her early retirement in 1953 limited her influence to 1950s rock.
- Hole In The Wall (1949) by Albennie Jones. A dance hit by a Blues singer. The lyrics "we're going to rock and roll at the Hole in the Wall tonight" make it another early use of the musical phrase. Jones was a popular performer in the 1940s, but this was among her last notable songs. She retired early in the 1950s, after an accident left her with mobility problems.
- Rock Awhile (1949) by Goree Carter. Carter used the electric guitar in a "rougher" style than his predecessors. The overal performance of this song is highly reminiscent of Chuck Berry performances from 1955, and Carter is cited as either a precursor or a major influence on him. However, Carter never enjoyed the commercial success of Berry.
- Rock the Joint (1949) by Jimmy Preston, also known as We're Gonna Rock This Joint Tonight. Marketed as an example of boogie. The later 1952 cover by Bill Haley & His Saddlemen is currently considered the first recognizable Rockabilly hit and its arrangement later inspired "Rock Around the Clock". Rockabilly itself is one of the earliest forms of rock.
- Saturday Night Fish Fry (1949) by Louis Jordan. A song about a wild party which ends in a police raid. A Jump blues hit with a "rawdy" boogie-woogie element. An influential dance hit which is considered proto-rock.
- The Fat Man (1949) by Fats Domino. First major hit for the singer, helped popularize the use of drums for backbeat. Which would become a defining element of Rock And Roll. Previous songs either lacked backbeat or used hand-clapping and/or tambourines for that purpose.
- Boogie in the Park (1950) by Joe Hill Louis. Louis performed as a one-man-band and in this song recorded "one of the loudest, most overdriven, and distorted guitar stomps ever recorded". His use of distorted electric guitar sound has been cited as an ancestor to Heavy Metal.
- Hot Rod Race (1950) by Arkie Shibley and the Mountain Dew Boys. Variously considered an example of Western Swing, Rockabilly or early rock. Its theme concerning fast cars and speed proved popular in youth culture and influenced several later songs.
- Sixty Minute Man (1950) by Billy Ward and His Dominoes. A major hit of 1951, containing explicit sexual references. Gained popularity in both white and black audiences, particularly in the youth culture of the time.
- Rocket 88 (1951) by Jackie Brenston, accompanied by Ike Turner and his band. On the surface a hymn to a fast car, actually contained lyrics with sexual implications. Received a popular cover by Bill Haley. Both versions are considered early examples of 1950s rock and highly influential. Both also claim to be the first rock and roll recording. The Brenston version is also cited as an early use of a distorted electric guitar sound, though an accidental one. The amplifier of guitarist Willie Kizart was damaged in transportation, and a hasty attempt at repair resulted in a distorted sound. Record producer Sam Phillips reportedly liked the unusual sound and decided to keep it in the official recording. Listening to the Brentson and Haley recordings side-by-side provide a vivid demonstration of the audio difference between rhythm and blues and rockabilly.
- How Many More Years (1951) by Howlin' Wolf, featuring the electric guitar of Willie Johnson. A hit in the Electric Blues subgenre, it is cited as the earliest known use of a distorted power chord. The style was pioneered by Electric Blues guitarists, had a few uses in 1950s and 1960s Rock, and was popularized by Heavy Metal bands. How Many More Years has been cited as both Rock and proto-Heavy Metal.
- Cry (1951) by Johnnie Ray, First major R&B chart hit by a "white" artist, A prime example of music crossing racial barriers on both ways, the vocal delivery is thought influential to later rock songs.
- Rock and Roll Blues (1952) by Anita O'Day. A veteran Jazz singer attempting to have a dance hit of her own. While not particularly successful in sales terms, the chorus lyrics "We gonna rock, we gonna roll" would be recycled in later songs. O'Day was among the first notable examples of White southerners singing R&B, a trend which would include Elvis Presley.
- Hound Dog (1952) by Big Mama Thornton. The lyrics have a frustrated and agressive woman berating her selfish lover and throwing him out of her life. Thornton was an experienced Blues singer with an agressive demeanor which inspired the songwriters. A R&B hit, received significant covers by both Country Music and Rock artists throughout the 1950s. With the Elvis Presley version considered among his signature songs.
- Love My Baby and Mystery Train (both 1953) by Junior Parker and the Blue Flames. Electric Blues hits which became standard songs for Rockabilly performances. The Train later received a popular cover by Elvis Presley, with Scotty Moore contributing his ifluential electric guitar style to the song.
- Gee (1953) by The Crows. A doo-wop song with a dance beat, originally unsuccessful. Became a major sales hit in 1954 and is considered a prime example of 1950s rock.
- Crazy Man, Crazy (1953) by Bill Haley and His Comets. First recognizable rock song to make it to the national charts and receive television airings. Also the first successful rock and roll song by a white artist to be an original composition, as opposed to being a cover.
- Mess Around (1953) by Ray Charles. A dance hit, gaining mainstream popularity for Charles. Considered to have had influence on both Rock and Soul
- The Things That I Used to Do (1953) by Guitar Slim , a song about intense regret, combining gospel-style themes with Electric Blues guitar work. Major hit of the time and an influence to both Rock and Soul. Slim was among the earliest electric guitar players to experiment with using distorted overtones. He influenced several later players, notably including Jimi Hendrix.
- Work with Me, Annie (1954) by Hank Ballard & the Midnighters. One of the first hits to gain popularity in both black and white audiences. Inspired many Answer Songs and imitations. The sexually explicit lyrics led to attempts to censor it and restrict its distribution. They failed because of high demand by the public and too much publicity to keep it away from the public eye.
- Shake, Rattle and Roll (1954) by Big Joe Turner. Received popular covers by both Bill Haley and Elvis Presley, becoming a major hit of the genre. Though the early version included more sexual references than the covers. Haley's version was the first rock and roll recording to become an international chart hit, actually predating "Rock Around the Clock" by a year in this regard. Ironically, Elvis' cover (which combined Turner and Haley's arrangements) was his first underperforming single (he never had a "flop") of the 1950s.
- Rock Around the Clock (1954) by Bill Haley and His Comets. An early hit of the genre which became identified with 1950s youth culture. Considered among the first rock songs to gain mainstream popularity and was the first to go to No. 1 in the charts in the US and internationally. Referred to in many reference works as effectively the "Big Bang" of the genre, as it opened the floodgates for Elvis and the others.
- Cotton Crop Blues and Hold Me in Your Arms (1954) by James Cotton and the guitar solo I'm Gonna Murder My Baby (1954) by Pat Hare. All three are examples of the Electric Blues subgenre, using the "heavily distorted, power chord-driven electric guitar music" of Pat Hare. Critics cite his "ferocious electric guitar sound" as both early rock and proto-Heavy Metal.
- That's All Right (1954) by Elvis Presley. Cover of an older song by a new artist. Debut hit by Elvis, and one of the first hits of the genre.
- Maybellene (1955) by Chuck Berry. A song concerning fast cars and speed, it became the first hit by Berry and one of the first major hits of the genre, not to mention an early example (along with "Rocket 88") of the marriage between rock and roll and fast cars, as well as an example of the "rhythm and blues/country western" definition of rock and roll from the black musician's perspective. (See also Berry's
"Thirty Days" from around the same time.)
- Bo Diddley (1955) by Bo Diddley. Aside from being a rare example of an eponymous hit, was an early example of "fuzzy" guitar, and popularized the use of the "shave and a haircut, two bits" or "hambone" rhythm in rock and roll which also gave rise to the 1958 Johnny Otis hit, "Willie and the Hand Jive" and was later borrowed by Elvis for his early 1960s classic, "His Latest Flame."