As British physicist Stephen Hawking warned, there are aliens out in space. But rather than avoid them, as Hawking suggests, we should be putting our best foot forward. As a gesture of friendship, we should put ten definitive rock and roll songs into a time capsule and launch the capsule in a rocket toward them. If they listen and signal they like our selections, then we’ll launch a whole catalog of rock music to them.
What ten songs should we choose as the ones that best represent rock and roll?
First we must define what rock and roll is. To say that it is black blues and rhythm-and-blues music mixed together with gospel music and white country music is far too simplistic. After all, we know that Chuck Berry, the granddaddy of rock, had quite a bit of country in him. “Where lived a country boy named Johnny B. Goode…Oh my but that little country boy could play.” And everything Hank Williams Sr., the father of country music, knew about music he learned from his mentor, Rufus Payne, an African American street musician known as Tee Tot. Furthermore, Jimmie Rodgers, the grandfather of country music, learned his craft from African American rail workers while Rodgers worked on the railroad. So there was a cross-fertilization of the Southern music forms long before rock came along, and a different definition is necessary.
Rock music is beat-oriented music that in its origins embraced the newly-created electric guitar as its primary instrument for melody. The piano could also be employed, as with Fats Domino, Little Richard, Billy Joel, Elton John, etc. Rock music usually has youth-oriented lyrics dealing with romance, the pangs of young love, cars, surfing, school problems, etc.
Now for the ten songs to go into the capsule:
(We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock by Bill Haley and the Comets. This song was the first official rock and roll song to reach number one on the Billboard chart. It ushered in the rock age.
Chuck Berry was a seminal influence on the art form and should have an entry. His music and his guitar style were always the definition of rock, so we need to look at his lyrics to make a choice. A good candidate would be School Day with its lines: “Hail, hail rock and roll; Deliver me from the days of old; Long live rock and roll; The beat of the drums, loud and bold; Rock, rock, rock and roll; The feeling is there, body and soul.” But Rock and Roll Music is a better choice because of the song’s title and lyrics, and it is the one for the time capsule.
Another pioneer, Fats Domino, had the term rock and roll in so many of his lyrics that he should be included in the time capsule. I’m ready with its lyrics “I’m ready, I’m willin’, and I’m able to rock and roll all night” would be a great candidate. However, Blueberry Hill is by far Domino’s greatest contribution to rock music and it is the song that should go into our capsule.
The King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, must have an entry. Jailhouse Rock would certainly do when considering the lyrics, but the song that just says rock and roll in every sense is All Shook Up. Elvis had so many strong entries, but All Shook Up is short and to the point of defining what rock and roll is, and it is the song for our time capsule.
If the electric guitar is the brains of rock music, then the drum is the heart and soul of the music. A great example of the driving rock beat came from Buddy Holly with his classic Peggy Sue. The guitar on the song sounds a lot like music from Bo Diddley, so it can serve as an example of Diddley’s pioneering work as well. Peggy Sue is an excellent representation of rock and roll and will be in the time capsule.
Oh, Pretty Woman by Roy Orbison, is one of the greatest rock songs ever recorded. It has such an overpowering beat, such an overwhelming guitar riff and love-struck lyrics that it is perfect for the time capsule.
Some people wrongfully claim that Motown is not rock and roll music. They could not be more in error. The sound of Motown, especially the early sound from about 1961-1975, is rock and roll in every way. Probably the most outstanding Motown song, with the purest rock sound and rock lyrics, was a number one song from 1965, I Can’t Help Myself by the Four Tops. It is quite representative of Motown, and a Motown song is a great addition to the time capsule.
The first British Invasion from 1964-1967 provided so much great rock and roll music that the British rock bands should be included in the songs that define rock. The Beatles were the greatest of many outstanding British bands. An early Beatles hit, She Loves You, represents perfectly what rock and roll sound and lyrics are all about. It therefore makes the time capsule.
Another British song that meets every criterion and had an unforgettable guitar riff is (I Can’t Get No)Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones. It too makes our time capsule.
Rock and roll quickly embraced studio technology and mind-expanding music. One of the earliest pioneers leading the trend toward psychedelic and progressive rock, and toward the cohesion and unity of ideas on albums, was the Beach Boys with their Pet Sounds. Although not on the Pet Sounds album, Good Vibrations was the best illustration of the Beach Boys sound over this period. It certainly is an excellent choice for the time capsule.
Maybe you, the reader, might have other comments and suggestions as to what definitive rock and roll songs should be placed in the time capsule. But we do want the aliens to know that we come in peace, that we have no ill intentions, and that we just want to rock.