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Any Major Music Firsts

February 25th, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

 

 

This collection presents a number of firsts in recorded music. These are mostly confirmed firsts; obviously there are many other firsts that are disputed or plain unknown. So while we know what the first jazz, blues country or hip hop records were, it is impossible to determine the first rock & roll record, since the genre evolved from various other genres and therefore is difficult to define. It’s also a point of debate what constitutes the first-ever heave metal record — if I said Helter Skelter, you’d say Black Sabbath and your mom would suggest Blue Cheer’s cover of Summertime Blues — so no contender features here.

Other firsts are easily determined: first recordings by Elvis or The Beatles or Michael Jackson or Frank Sinatra; first record to feature the word “fuck”, even the first use on record of an electric guitar.

The oldest known recording of the human voice dates back to 1860, with an anonymous person singing the French folk song Claire de la lune on a phonautograph (nobody even knows for sure whether it’s a man or a woman). In 1878, Thomas Edison recorded a man reciting nursery rhymes. The man gets it quite wrong, but he is very audible. I haven’t included either of those, but if you really want to know, they are on YouTube.

 

1. Marv Johnson – Come To Me (1959)
First what? Marv Johnson recorded the first single to be released on Tamla, the label that would become Motown, in May 1959. It was co-written by Johnson with Berry Gordy, and reached #30 on the Billboard charts. Johnson would also have the label’s first Top 10 hit, with You’ve Got What It Takes in the early 1960s (also a #7 in the UK).

2. The Dominoes – Sixty Minute Man (1951)
First what? A few black artists had crossed over into the Billboard pop charts, but Billy Ward’s Dominoes were the first R&B act to do so, reaching #17 (having topped the R&B charts). The lyrics were risqué for their time: in them, the protagonist brags about his sex technique and stamina. There’ll be 15 minutes each of kissing, teasing, squeezing and “of blowing my top”. Moreover, “I rock ‘em, roll ‘em all night long.” The use of those words (more on them later) and the song’s crossover success makes it a contender for the elusive “first rock & roll record”.

 


3. The Jackson 5 – Big Boy (1968)
First what? This was the first recording to feature Michael Jackson. Recorded in Chicago in 1967, when MJ was nine, Big Boy was released on the Steeltown label in the Jacksons’ hometown of Gary, Indiana. It became a minor hit locally but did nothing regionally, never mind nationally. The band released one more single on Steeltown before they signed with Motown later in 1968. It’s fair to say that there they eclipsed their success on Steeltown.

4. The Fatback Band – King Tim III (Personality Jock) (1979)
First what? Released on 25 March 1979, six months before the Sugar Hill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight, this is the first commercially released hip hop record, as the flip side of the disco number You’re My Candy Sweet. While the Sugar Hill Gang was a rap act (albeit one thrown together by producer Sylvia Robinson), the Fatback Band was actually a funk and disco outfit. The eponymous King Tim is Fatback Band lead singer Tim Washington.

5. The Maytals – Do The Reggay (1968)
First what? This is the song that gave the name reggae to the modern Jamaican music that was evolving from ska and rocksteady. As The Maytals’ song title suggests, the term “reggay” was until then used to describe as dance. The song was written by Maytals leader Toots Hibbert.

6. The Beatles – Across The Universe (1970)
First what? In 2008, this Beatles track from 1970s’ Let It Be album was the first song beamed into space, chosen for apparent reasons. Aliens thought: “And that’s The Beatles’ best song?”

7. The Boswell Sisters – Rock And Roll (1934)
First what? A few songs ago we noted how The Dominoes used the terminology of rockin’ and rollin’ in their crossover hit from 1951. The verb “to rock” was used in a song title in 1927 in country singer Uncle Dave Macon’s Rock About My Sara Jane, but the Boswell Sisters in 1934 were the first to use the name of the future pop genre in a title. Unlike The Dominoes’ lyrics, the song, from the film Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round, was not about sex but about “the rolling rocking rhythm of the sea”.

8. Trixie Smith – My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll) (1938)
First what? First recorded in 1922, Trixie Smith’s My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll) marks the first mention of both “rock” and “roll” as sex metaphor in lyrics. I’m using the 1938 version, because Smith’s voice had matured by then, influencing future R&B singers in ways her cartoonish 1920s voice didn’t.

9. Buddy Jones – Rockin’ Rollin’ Mama (1939)
First what? Rockin’ Rollin’ Mama is generally regarded as the first rockabilly song (and, yes, rock and roll is used as sex slang here). Buddy Jones was an early exponent of western swing, the sub-genre in country which drew from black musical forms. Since rockabilly was a huge influence on rock & roll — by the mid-’50s the two were virtually undistinguishable — Buddy Jones can be described as a proto-rock & roller. Alas, he died at 53 in 1956, just as rock & roll was becoming big. But by then he was long retired from the music biz.

 

10. Elvis Presley – My Happiness (1953)
11. Elvis Presley – That’s When The Heartaches Begin (1953)
First what? These are the first two recordings Elvis made when he was an amateur. On 18 July 1953, the 18-year-old truck driver Elvis Presley walked into Memphis’ Sun studios to avail himself of a service whereby members of the public could record a double-sided acetate. As a present for his mother, Elvis recorded these two ballads. Secretary Marion Keisker was so impressed by this boy that she advised the studio owner Sam Phillips to audition him. Which, it turns out, Phillips did.

12. The Quarrymen – In Spite Of All The Danger (1958)
First what? This is the first recording of the three young guys who’d become The Beatles: John Lennon (the leader of the Quarrymen), Paul McCartney and George Harrison. On 12 July 1958 they laid down two tracks for a demo at the Kensington recording studio — well, living room — of Percy F Phillips: a cover of the Buddy Holly song That’ll Be The Day, and the Elvis-inspired In Spite Of All The Danger, a Paul McCartney & George Harrison composition with John on lead vocals. With the Fab Three were John “Duff” Lowe on piano and Colin Hanton on drums. Each member held on to the shellac record for a week, until it was Lowe’s turn… who kept it for 23 years. In 1981 McCartney bought it from his old school friend, “at an inflated price”. In 1995, after having the two sides cleaned up, McCartney had them included on the Anthology set.

13. The Hoboken Four – Shine (1935)
First what? This is the first recording of Frank Sinatra, as a member of The Hoboken Four on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour radio show. The group won and was awarded a six-month contract to perform on the radio and on stage. It was an important event in the career of Sinatra, even if he left the group later that year to job as a singing waiter.

14. Frank Mane Orchestra with Frank Sinatra – Our Love (1939)
First what? This was first song which Frank Sinatra recorded in a studio, for Frank Mane’s Orchestra on 18 March 1939. Our Love was not released, though. It survived as an acetate in Frank Mane’s personal collection, and was finally released after Mane’s widow auctioned it off in 2006 for $14,000.

 

15. Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra – Hittin’ The Bottle (1935)
First what? Hittin’ The Bottle was the first song to feature an “amplified guitar”, what we’d now call an electric guitar. It was played by Eddie Durham, who had experimented with various guitar effects for a few years already.

16. Martha Tilton – Moondreams (1941)
First what? On 6 April 1942, Martha Tilton recorded the first song for Capitol Records, a company just founded by the songwriter Johnny Mercer, who also supervised the recording. Capitol went on to become of the giants of recorded music, with legends such as Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, The Kingston Trio and, in the 1960s, the Beach Boys and The Beatles on their roster.

 

17. Eddy Arnold – Texarkana Baby (1949)
First what? On 31 March 1949 Eddy Arnold became the first act to have a song released on a 45RPM 7” single. Released by RCA, who had tried unsuccessfully to introduce 12” vinyl records in the early 1930s, Texarkana Baby came out on green vinyl. It was not the first 7” single to be pressed; that was a demo titled Whirl Away, which nevertheless featured a sample of the Arnold song.

18. Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra with Frank Sinatra – I’ll Never Smile Again (1940)
First what? This was the first #1 on Billboard’s “National List of Best Selling Retail Records”, on 27 July 1940, which replaced the three separate hit parades that since 1936 had listed separately the top Sheet Music Best Sellers; Records Most Popular on Music Machines and Songs With the Most Radio Plugs. I’ll Never Smile Again, recorded in May 1940 and billed as a foxtrot, topped the charts for 12 weeks.

19. Al Martino – Here In My Heart (1952)
First what? Al Martino scored the very first UK #1, in November 1952 when it was the NME Top 10. He topped the charts for nine weeks before being toppled by Jo Stafford’s You Belong To Me.

20. Eddy Duchin with Patricia Norman – Ol’ Man Moses (1938)
First what? This is probably the first song to use the word “fuck”. The word was not in the lyrics of the original Louis Armstrong song, but singer Patricia Norman pretty clearly doesn’t sing the prescribed line “buck’, buck, bucket”. Instead the song goes “(We found out) He kicked the bucket, (We found out) Where’s the man? Fuck, fuck, fuck it.”

 

21. Jimmie Rodgers – Blue Yodel No.9 (1930)
First what? Although there were black country musicians even in the early days of the genre, they didn’t record with their white counterparts. In 1930, Jimmie Rodgers became the first white country act to record with a black musician, in the person of Louis Armstrong (albeit initially uncredited). Both men were megastars in their respective genres. Rodgers died in 1933, aged only 35.

22. George W. Johnson – The Laughing Song (1891)
First what? Recorded on wax cylinder, this is the first recording by an African-American singer. Johnson was quite a star in his day, so much so that he was promoted across racial lines. The Laughing Song and the racist The Whistling Coon were the best-selling recordings in the US in the early 1890s, selling somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 (each wax cylinder had to be recorded individually, so Johnson was a busy man). Born in 1846 to a slave, Johnson was brought up as a companion to a Virginia farmer’s son. After the civil war he moved to New York City, where he became a street entertainer before hitting stardom. He also had a turbulent private life: both his common-law wives died in suspicious circumstances; possibly at Johnson’s hands.

23. Dinwiddie Colored Quartet – Down On The Old Campground (1902)
First what? This is the first record by African-Americans to be put on disc, and the first ever gospel record. It is not, however, the first black group to be recorded: in 1893 four songs were recorded on wax cylinder by the barbershop quartet Unique Quartette (the first of these is included as a bonus track). The Dinwiddie Colored Quartet cut six tracks for the Victor Talking Machine Company in October 1902.

24. Original Dixieland ‘Jass’ Band – Dixie Jass Band One-Step (1917)
First what? The first-ever jazz record was released in 1917 by a bunch of white guys (the flip-side was Livery Stable Blues, which therefore is also the first-ever jazz record). And it was so popular that W.C. Handy, the Father of the Blues, would cover it. Jass was the original spelling of the genre’s name, first documented in 1915. The first-ever jazz record was also one of the first to use an unauthorised sample, of Joe Jordan’s 1909 song That Teasin’ Rag. After a court case, subsequent pressings had to carry Jordan’s song-title in brackets: “Introducing ‘That Teasin’ Rag’”.

25. A.C. ‘Eck’ Robertson – Sallie Gooden (1922)
First what? This is the first-ever country record, recorded on 30 June 1922 in New York City by 35-year old Texan fiddler Eck Robertson and released by Victor. At the time the term country music didn’t exist; before that was invented in the 1940s the genre was often called Old-Time Music. But the label bills the type of music on this record as “Country Dance”.

 

26. Fiddlin’ John Carson – Little Old Cabin In The Lane (1923)
First what? Little Old Cabin In The Lane, a minstrel song from the 1870s, was the first country hit record. Recorded in Atlanta, it was released on the Okeh label. Read a Any Major potted history of country music.

27. The Victor Military Band – Memphis Blues (1914)
First what? It might not sound much like it, nor do the performers have a name to suggest it, but this is generally regarded to be the first blues record to be released. Of course, the song definitely is a blues song, written in 1912 by W.C. Handy, the first breakthrough blues artist. The Victor Military Band was a houseband of the Victor label, the giant that would later become RCA.

28. Walter M. Schirra Jr. & Thomas P. Stafford – Jingle Bells (1965)
First what? On 16 December 1965, astronauts Walter Schirra Jr. and Thomas Stafford played an impromptu version of Jingle Bells, relayed from their spacecraft to ground control, making this the first piece of music broadcast from space. The musical performance, performed with a harmonica and a jingle bell, was preceded by the astronauts making a gag about an UFO they had sighted… namely Santa Claus.

Bonus Tracks:
Unique Quartette – Mama’s Black Baby Boy (1893, first recording by black group)
Cal Stewart – Uncle Josh In Society (1909, first time ‘jazz’ is mentioned on a record)
The Quarrymen – That’ll Be The Day (1958, The Beatles first recorded performance)
Buggles – Video Killed the Radio Star (1979, first song played on MTV)

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  1. halfhearteddude
    February 25th, 2020 at 20:09 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. J. Loslo
    February 25th, 2020 at 21:44 | #2

    Thanks! Entertaining and educational…

  3. Aaron
    February 28th, 2020 at 07:40 | #3

    Wow! This is just… wow! All of your mixes are impressive, but this one just takes it to another level. I can’t imagine the work that goes into these. Just want you to know it’s VERY appreciated.

  4. Rhodb
    February 28th, 2020 at 22:37 | #4

    Thanks for the firsts. A great compilation that would have taken a while to produce

    A great effort

    Regards

    Rhodb

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