The ten best roots tracks
Friday 01 October 2004
1 I'M WILD ABOUT MOONSHINE Southern Gospel Choir (Columbia, 1919)
This record is from an important style of music that is often overlooked - barbershop, a development of the "gay Nineties". You can hear toasting - they now call that rap. It's a total original, and the starting point for everything that follows in American music.
2 SHAKE THAT THING Papa Charlie Jackson (Paramount, 1925)
The template for all those Little Richard and Chuck Berry songs, and a great example of the call-and-response form of rock'n'roll. Rhythmically, it's 2/4, not 4/4, but still the prototype.
3 GUITAR RAG Sylvester Weaver (OK Records, 1923)
This song was by a black guy from Alabama, and was turned into a country classic when Bob Wills re-recorded it as "Steel Guitar Rag". Country music is a black invention.
4 ST LOUIS BLUES Louis Armstrong (OK, 1927)
This fused three jazz traditions but, most importantly, it's one of the first times you hear the Chicago backbeat. When Armstrong watched the pianist Jimmy Blythe, he saw the drummer hitting a backbeat, and it appeared on his next three records.
5 THE MILK COW BLUES Kokomo Arnold (Decca, 1934)
This song was a massive hit. Presley recorded it and every rockabilly and jazz musician recorded it. Kokomo arranged it, but the song's as old as the hills. A true icon of American blues.
6 RIDE RED RIDE Mills Blue Rhythm Band (Columbia, 1934)
Fletcher Henderson used the Mills band to teach most of the great Harlem Renaissance players. This song is the highest state of the art of American music. Everything went downhill from here. The clarinet solo is total virtuosity.
7 ROLL 'EM PETE Big Joe Turner with Pete Johnson's Band (Vocalion, 1938)
This song is rock'n'roll. It is just a piano and a singer. Joe Turner was making hits until he died, and this was massive. The foundations of rock'n'roll may have been much earlier, but this song is the essence of the form.
8 T-BONE SHUFFLE T-Bone Walker (Atlantic, 1942)
T-Bone was the first real electric guitarist, and "T-Bone Shuffle" had the most advanced blending of the electric guitar with a band, in a straightforward jump blues, rock'n'roll, format. A great song, with great lyrics and saxophone.
9 ANKH Sun Ra and his Arkestra (Sun Ra, 1957)
Sun Ra was one of the last students of Fletcher Henderson. He, more than Miles Davis and, even, John Coltrane, was a pioneer. Coltrane listened to him endlessly. Sun Ra always put a costume on to go on stage. He knew that rock'n'roll was about entertainment, not trying to force your problems with your girlfriend down someone's throat.
10 GOTTA BOOGIE John Lee Hooker (MIL, 1948)
As much distortion and abandon as any rock'n'roll song has ever had. You don't get more youthful abandon on a guitar. If you had grown up with "Gotta Boogie", you wouldn't have been surprised by anything that happened with Jimi Hendrix. But if you'd never heard an electric guitar before, you'd have thought the jaws of hell had opened.
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