Widely acknowledged as the first rock-’n'-roll song ever, the label for the record “Rocket 88″ credits the number to Jackie Brenston (the vocalist) and his Delta Cats. The band was actually Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm; “Brenston and his Delta Cats” was a figment of the imagination of producer Sam Philips. Turner, who plays the piano on the tune, was so eager to begin work with Philips’ Sun Records that he allowed the producer to use Brenston’s name on the song, which went to #1 on the R and B charts (there were no rock charts in 1951, when the record was released).
The song is about an Oldsmobile that was introduced to the market in 1949, and whose golden age lasted through 1953 (although the automaker continued to produce them until 1999). Until the 88s came out, Oldsmobile had been a staid family carmaker. The 88s, on the other hand, were sexy and dynamic — the kind of wheels that would impress girls, were featured in the NASCAR races of the time and deemed worthy of an Ike Turner song.
A couple of years before his death, at a club in New York, I heard Ike Turner play this song. His piano opening to “Rocket 88″ was “appropriated” in 1958 by Little Richard when he cut “Good Golly Miss Molly.” But in the argument over originality, there are people who will say that “Rocket 88″ was itself “inspired” by Jimmy Liggins’ “Cadillac Boogie” in 1948 and by Pete Johnson’s “Rocket 88 Boogie,” recorded the same year. As King Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
In any case I had never actually seen a classic Rocket 88 until I ran across this somewhat rusting model the other day in Colonia San Miguel de Chapultepec.
Labels: Mexico City