SONG: Good Rockin’ Tonight
ARTIST: Roy Brown
Listen to it here:
Depending on who you talk to, this “jump blues,” released in 1947 is one of the first, or maaaaybe the very first rock’n’roll song ever! Roy Brown wrote the song in 1946, and he and his pianist knew right away they had a hit on their hands. Brown and Cecil Gant, his pianist, played through it, and Gant insisted on making a 2:30am phone call to Jules Braun, the president of DeLuxe Records. Brown sang the song over the phone and Braun ordered Gant “Give him fifty dollars and don’t let him out of your sight.”
Five weeks later the song was recorded and was starting to gain traction in New Orleans. At that point, Wynonie Harris decided to cover it – remember, this song was JUST released and there was already a cover! Harris’ version was a high energy recording complete with hand clapping. His version became a #1 R&B hit, while Brown’s original recording reached #13 on the Billboard R&B charts.
The song follows a lot of the traditions of popular black music of the 1940s – it references Sweet Lorraine, Sioux City Sue, Sweet Georgia Brown, and followed a fairly new trajectory of using the word “rock” in a song to describe a musical style instead of being a euphemism for sex.
Although Brown’s version of his own song did not become the biggest hit, its success helped kick off his own career.
Roy James Brown was born in 1920 in Kinder, Louisiana. Like many R&B singers of his era, he started singing gospel music in church. His mother was actually an accomplished singer and church organist. Brown spent a short time in 1940 living in LA and working as a professional welterweight division boxer. In 1945 he won a singing contest at the Million Dollar Theater, and the next year he moved to Texas, where he sang in a band that mostly did Hit Parade songs at a nightclub called Club Granada. Unfortunately, his appeal to large audiences in bigger venues was, according to himself, because of his appeal as “a negro singer who sounds white.”
Roy Brown was a fan of blues singer Wynonie Harris, and when Harris came to town, Brown tried to interest him in listening to his newest song, Good Rockin’ Tonight. Harris declined, only to cover the song a few months later. After recording his first hit song, Brown continued to make his way onto the R&B charts with 14 hits. Brown’s career waned in the 1950s as doo-wop became popular, but continued to write and produce some hits. In the late 1970s, a compilation album of his old recordings brought about a minor revival of interest in Brown’s music. Roy Brown died of a heart attack in 1981.
- Good Rockin’ Tonight has been covered by EVERYONE, including – Wynonie Harris, Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen, Joe Ely, Ricky Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Pat Boone, James Brown, The Doors, and Montrose
- Brown was confronted by the IRS for unpaid taxes he owed. He approached Elvis Presley for help, and Presley wrote him a check. Unfortunately, it was not enough to keep him out of prison for tax evasion.
This one is really cool, I haven’t heard something this rock and roll-y from this early on before! You can definitely hear where the likes of Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis got a lot of their inspiration, but I also hear a lot of Jackie Wilson in his voice too! His voice says gospel/blues but that piano says boogie woogie! Holly, is that some dirty saxophone we’re hearing in the middle there? That’s a grimy sounding sax, definitely more rock and roll sounding. This must have been a breath of fresh air for people around that time looking for something that rocks harder than Frank Sinatra and Pat Boone, but I don’t know if this really reached the broader white community very much. Anyhow, I think it’s a super cool rock and roll relic that should be more famous than it is!
It’s been a while on this list since I’ve listened to a song I didn’t know before. I’d heard the name Roy Brown, but I didn’t really know anything about him either. You can really hear what a huge influence he had on musicians that came after him, including Elvis. From the vocal style, to the high energy, to moving towards more of a 50s rock band instrumentation, I think this song is cool for its historical importance alone. I find Roy Brown’s voice really interesting. It’s clearly good, and his inflections remind me of Elvis, and at the same time, it sounds like he’s exploring something new. He’s singing some swing rhythms, but is also not messing with time in any way, and he enunciates in a way I can only describe as classical. At the same time, the rock tenor sax solo sounds like it’s finding its way in this new style as well. It’s kind of like this song is a prototype, and for that, it’s super cool to listen to. The song itself is just ok, but taken in historical context, it’s much more important.
Average mark out of 10:
*A mark of 8/10 or higher means this is definitely worth buying!
Other notable versions of this song:
The more famous, Wynonie Harris cover, released only a couple months after Brown’s:
This song was Elvis’ second ever recording:
And The Boss himself:
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