This month it’s time to consider the eternal question for us rock’n’rollers. What is the greatest ever rock’n’roll song ? It’s kind of not only an eternal question, but also one that defies a definitive answer. That’s because of course it depends on who you ask. Nearly all of us have got our views on the best ever song, so the correct answer for you is the one that matches your own opinion.
I asked some of the leading figures in Russian Rock’n’Roll to answer this question and here are the great choices they came up with. More importantly, the reasons for their choices are varied, interesting and often inspiring.
Sergey Kuteynikov, leader and vocalist of the Russian rockabilly group “The Great Pretenders”: My favourite song is “Red Blue Jeans and A Pony Tail” by Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps. It’s because it has the perfect feel to it, the one that could be described as the real feel of 1956 rockabilly / rock’n’roll. It’s got the fabulous style of Cliff Gallup’s guitar and Gene Vincent’s vocal gymnastics put together.
Elena Kotofeevna, Russian rock’n’roller and dancer: Here is my song, the one that drives me crazy. So crazy that I lose the power of speech and can only repeat, “Woo-hoo, hoo- hoo –hoo !” It’s “Woo-Hoo” by the The Rock-a-Teens. The Rock-A-Teens were an American rockabilly group from Richmond, Virginia, active in the late 1950s. I think the song is amazing. The rhythm drives me wild. I want to dance, dance, dance when I hear it ! The lyrics are kind of meaningless, just “Woo-hoo” !
Sergey Rodionov, Bassist with the Russian band “The Beatleggers”: Johnny Burnette and his Rock’n’Roll Trio – “Rockabilly Boogie”. This is my favorite song, because only and exactly this song has all of rockabilly’s rebel spirit. I like almost every song of Johnny Burnette, but this one has some special sound. When I hear it I can always see the pictures of true 50s’ rockabilly with its best cultural and traditional stuff. I visualise stylish and beautiful girls and cool cats united by one music, one faith and one era that will never die.
Oleg Ivanin, lead guitarist of “The Great Pretenders”: I used to say that the best song is ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking”, but I would like to change my mind this time. One rock’n’roll number in my opinion is really special and is standing like a musical Everest, looking condescendingly down from its great height at the mountains and hills of other rock’n’roll songs, most of them barely visible through the clouds. Only a few can match its significance – Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and the Comets. And what makes me think so? I’m sure that this song contains some secret energy. First of all it was recorded by very good musicians. The arrangement is really great, even the bass line played alone makes people move. The guitar solo is a masterpiece (sadly, guitarist Danny Cederone died just ten days after the recording). I still love this song very much, even though I’ve listened to and performed it hundreds of times ! If you play this recording at a party everyone will jump from their seats and begin to dance, even after listening indifferently to the hits of the 1980s, 1990s, etc. The song was released in 1954 – isn’t that Amazing ?! All the above makes me regard this song as the best rock’n’roll number ever recorded and also my favourite one!
Juli Chu, leader and vocalist of the Russian rock’n’roll group “The Marshmallows”: So, my group the Marshmallows has chosen “Mr. Sandman” ! Our number one version is the one by the Сhordettes. This is probably the most recognisable song of the 1950s, all of it is light, tender and warm and it is the song most frequently used in movie soundtracks to portray the spirit of that time. As for us, we chose it because of the lovely female voices and because we are always asked to sing it, which means this song has passed the test of time.
Konstantin Napastnikov, long time veteran rock’n’roller and rockabilly devotee. Konstantin has cheated a bit by choosing a list of songs instead of one, but as he’s written such a good piece I’ve let it pass !
Before writing about my favourite song, I will describe the environment in which I first got acquainted with rock ‘n’ roll. In the Soviet Union where I was born, rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t welcomed by the Censors. Everything related to rock ‘n’ roll took place “underground”. However, this doesn’t mean that rock ‘n’ roll didn’t exist at all. Even in the 50s, rock ‘n’ roll somehow managed to find its way into the Soviet Union (I have no idea how that happened as the borders were closed). In those days, rock ‘n’ roll admirers were called “fashion plates” because of their colourful appearance. This was the soviet permutation of the Teddy Boy clothing style.
Rock ‘n’ roll records were pretty much not available in the Soviet Union. A sole exception to this was a record published in Poland in 1977 and sold in the “Melodia” (“Melody”) stores in Russia. The majority of the recordings were disseminated as homemade copies made on x-ray films. Such recordings were nicknamed “recordings on bones”. After 1991, gaining access to foreign music and culture in general became much easier. I owe my introduction to rock ‘n’ roll to the movie “Cry Baby”. I watched that movie on my video player non-stop every day. One beautiful day, I happened to hear about an event coming up on April 12 dedicated to the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. This day is celebrated in Russia to this day. In the “Svalka” (”Trash”) club where the event took place, I got to know the already existing Rockabilly crowd, through which a huge number of foreign as well as Russian and Ukrainian recordings flowed my way.
My favorite songs and performers kept changing with the passage of time. At one point, it was Johnny Burnette with Sweet Love On My Mind, then Johnny Carroll with Crazy Crazy Lovin’. I recently compiled a new selection which I consider a concentrated expression of my favourite style. Here it is:
Wayne Walker – All I Can Do Is Cry; Andy Starr – Rockin’ Rollin’ Stone;
Jimmy & Johnny – I Can’t Find The Doorknob; Johnny Jano – Havin’ a Whole Lot of Fun; Jimmy Lloyd – 3 songs – Where The Rio De Rosa Flows, I’ve got a Rocket in My Pocket and You’re Gone Baby; Johnny Powers – Long Blonde Hair.
Next month Dear Readers, you will read the second part of this fascinating subject, which will include my own personal choice for the title of best rock’n’roll record of all-time. In the meantime have a real good think and ask yourself – what is YOUR Favourite Song and Why ?