Playlist: The GLONO History of Rock and Roll

Nerds like to argue about the first rock and roll song. There’s no definitive answer. But it’s older than most people think it is. Way before Elvis Presley stepped into Sun Studio. Maybe before he was even born.

A few weeks ago I was thinking about Sister Rosetta Tharpe and some of the unheralded founders of rock and roll. Or under-heralded anyway. Tharpe had a big hit with Lucky Millinder and his orchestra in 1942 with a song called “Rock Me” but I learned that she had released a version in 1938 with just her and her guitar. 1938! Wow, right? I started wondering how far back we could go and find stuff that could reasonably be considered rock and roll.

Pretty far, it turns out.

Of course, I have long subscribed to the Billy Joel method of genre classification: Hot funk, cool punk, even if it’s old junk, it’s still rock and roll to me.

So I made a playlist. One song per year without repeating artists. My criteria were straightforward: The song had to be good, preferably featuring guitar, ideally with sinful lyrics in some manner or other. Bonus points if they mentioned “rocking” and/or “rolling.”

I sought out stuff that combined elements of country/hillbilly with blues/race music and vice versa: the musical miscegeny achieved by marrying those two deeply American forms together.

These were the guiding principles for the pre-Elvis years anyway. After that, it got wigglier.

But there are so many great songs released every year. How do you pick just one? It’s hard. It’s frustrating. And it’s painful to leave off songs and artists you love and you know are important.

With the fifties and sixties, I mostly opted for the big basic hits. These are great songs, especially if you can manage to listen to them with fresh ears. (If you need a trick to drop the baggage of decades of overexposure, focus all your attention on the drums. It works!)

When you get to the seventies, as rock and roll split into a bunch of directions, you have to make a decision. You can stick with the hits, you can get heavy, you can get funky, you can get weird. And by the eighties, if you want a playlist to have a listenable flow, you’ve got to pick a lane.

In an exercise like this, totally awesome songs, important bands, entire genres are excluded. Like, I can imagine an entirely different set had I picked “Whole Lotta Love” for 1969 and “Paranoid” for 1970. And it would still be great. Of course it would. “Hot for Teacher” would definitely represent 1984 on that one. Or, how about one where “Maggot Brain” is 1971? Think of where that could go! It kills me that there’s no Funkadelic on here.

This playlist tells a story. My story, I guess. But it’s a story about where the music I love came from. Maybe yours too?

PS – There are a couple of differences (1930 and 1933) between the Spotify and Apple Music playlists. That’s because not everything is available on all streaming services. It was by far the most aggravating part about compiling this list.

PS2 – I understand that kicking this off with a white man is a questionable decision, but “Blue Yodel” is basically the blueprint for Elvis Presley 27 years before “That’s All Right” so it seemed like a perfect place to start.

PS 3 – I could’ve gone all the way back to 1922 and covered 100 years: Trixie Smith’s “My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)” (1922); “Guitar Rag” by Sylvester Weaver (1923); Ed. Andrews’ “Barrel House Blues” (1924); Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Booster Blues” (1925); “Down the Country” by Leola B. Wilson with Blind Blake (1926). But I didn’t. Those aren’t all available to stream and I tried to make this as listenable to modern ears as possible. That super early stuff sounds pretty rough…maybe there are clean copies waiting to be properly transferred to digital and restored, but I’m not holding my breath.

Anyway, here it is. 94 songs for 94 years in five hours of music.

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Apple Music: The GLONO History of Rock and Roll

Spotify: The GLONO History of Rock and Roll

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1927: Jimmie Rodgers – Blue Yodel No. 1 (T for Texas) (recorded November 30, 1927)
1928: Mississippi John Hurt – Nobody’s Dirty Business (recorded February 14, 1928)
1929: Bessie Smith – I’m Wild About That Thing (recorded May 8, 1929)
1930: Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe McCoy – Can I Do It for You? (recorded February 21, 1930) – not on Spotify / Alternate: Memphis Minnie – Frankie Jean (recorded July 8, 1930)
1931: Blind Willie McTell – Southern Can Is Mine (recorded October 23, 1931)
1932: Big Bill Broonzy – How You Want It Done? (recorded March 29, 1932)
1933: Josh White – Death’s Coming Back After You (recorded November 24, 1933) – not on Apple Music / Alternate: Walter Roland – T Model Blues (recorded July 17, 1933)
1934: Lucille Bogan – Tired as I Can Be (recorded August 1, 1934)
1935: Carter Family – Can the Circle Be Unbroken (released August 1935)
1936: Robert Johnson – Sweet Home Chicago (recorded November 23, 1936)
1937: Sonny Boy Williamson – Good Morning, School Girl (recorded May 5, 1937)

1938: Sister Rosetta Tharpe – Rock Me (recorded October 31, 1938)
1939: Buddy Jones – Rockin’ Rollin’ Mama (recorded August 30, 1939)
1940: Tampa Red – It Hurts Me Too (recorded May 10, 1940)
1941: Ernest Tubb – Walking The Floor Over You (recorded April 26, 1941)
1942: T-Bone Walker – Mean Old World (recorded July 20, 1942)
1943: Al Dexter – Pistol Packin’ Mama (released March 1943)
1944: King Cole Trio – Straighten Up and Fly Right (charted April 1944)
1945: Arthur Smith – Guitar Boogie (released September 1945)
1946: Louis Jordan – Ain’t That Just Like a Woman (recorded January 23, 1946)
1947: Hank Williams – Move It On Over (recorded April 21, 1947, released June 1947)

1948: Wynonie Harris – Good Rocking Tonight (released February 1948)
1949: Goree Carter & His Hep Cats – Rock Awhile (recorded April 1949)
1950: Arthur Crudup – My Baby Left Me (recorded November 8, 1950)
1951: Jackie Brenston – Rocket 88 (recorded March 1951, released April 1951)
1952: Lloyd Price – Lawdy Miss Clawdy (recorded March 13, 1952, released April 1952)
1953: Big Mama Thornton – Hound Dog (recorded August 13, 1952, released February 1953)
1954: Big Joe Turner – Shake, Rattle and Roll (recorded February 15, 1954, released April 1954)
1955: Little Richard – Tutti Frutti (recorded September 14, 1955, released October 1955)
1956: Elvis Presley – Heartbreak Hotel (recorded January 10, 1956, released January 1956)
1957: The Crickets – That’ll Be the Day (recorded February 25, 1957, released May 1957)

1958: Chuck Berry – Johnny B. Goode (recorded January 6, 1958, released March 1958)
1959: Ray Charles – What’d I Say (recorded February 18, 1959, released June 1959)
1960: Bo Diddley – Gun Slinger (released November 1960)
1961: Ike & Tina Turner – It’s Gonna Work Out Fine (recorded 1961, released June 1961)
1962: Beach Boys – Surfin’ Safari (recorded April 19, 1962, released June 1962)
1963: Kingsmen – Louie Louie (recorded April 6, 1963, released June 1963)
1964: Kinks – All Day and All of the Night (recorded September 1964, released October 1964)
1965: Bob Dylan – Like a Rolling Stone (recorded June 1965, released July 1965)
1966: The Byrds – Eight Miles High (recorded January 1966, released March 1966)
1967: The Monkees – Pleasant Valley Sunday (recorded June 1967, released July 1967)

1968: The Beatles – Revolution (recorded July 1968, released August 1968)
1969: MC5 – Kick Out the Jams (released February 1969)
1970: CSNY – Ohio (released June 1970)
1971: Rolling Stones – Brown Sugar (released April 1971)
1972: David Bowie – Suffragette City (released April 1972)
1973: Iggy And The Stooges – Search And Destroy (released February 1973)
1974: Big Star – September Gurls (released February 1974)
1975: Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run (released August 1975)
1976: Ramones – Blitzkreig Bop (released February 1976)
1977: Sex Pistols – God Save the Queen (released May 1977)
1978: Cars – Just What I Needed (released May 1978)

1979: The Clash – London Calling (released December 1979)
1980: Blondie – Call Me (released February 1980)
1981: Go-Gos – Our Lips Are Sealed (released June 1981)
1982: Duran Duran – Hungry Like the Wolf (released May 1982)
1983: Pretenders – Middle of the Road (released November 1983)
1984: Prince & The Revolution – Let’s Go Crazy (released June 1984)
1985: The Cure – In Between Days (released July 1985)
1986: The Smiths – Bigmouth Strikes Again (released May 1986)
1987: U2 – Where The Streets Have No Name (released March 1987)
1988: Dinosaur Jr. – Freak Scene (released September 1988)
1989: Pixies – Debaser (released April 1989)
1990: Jane’s Addiction – Stop! (released August 1990)

1991: Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit (released September 1991)
1992: Cracker – Teen Angst (released March 1992)
1993: The Breeders – Cannonball (released August 1993)
1994: Liz Phair – Supernova (released July 1994)
1995: Son Volt – Drown (released September 1995)
1996: Weezer – The Good Life (released September 1996)
1997: Blur – Song 2 (released February 1997)
1998: Neutral Milk Hotel – Holland, 1945 (released February 1998)
1999: Wilco – I’m Always in Love (released March 1999)
2000: Sleater-Kinney – You’re No Rock N Roll Fun (released May 2000)

2001: The Strokes – Last Night (released July 2001)
2002: The White Stripes – Fell in Love with a Girl (single released April 2002)
2003: The Libertines – Time for Heroes (single released January 2003)
2004: Franz Ferdinand – Take Me Out (released January 2004)
2005: Arctic Monkeys – I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor (released October 2005)
2006: The Hold Steady – Stuck Between Stations (released October 2006)
2007: Spoon – The Underdog (released July 2007)
2008: MGMT – Time To Pretend (single released March 2008)
2009: Phoenix – Lisztomania (released May 2009)
2010: The National – Bloodbuzz Ohio (released May 2010)
2011: The Black Lips – New Direction (released June 2011)

2012: Father John Misty – Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings (released April 2012)
2013: Thermals – Born to Kill (released April 2013)
2014: Courtney Barnett – History Eraser (charted May 2014)
2015: FIDLAR – West Coast (released September 2015)
2016: Car Seat Headrest – Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales (released March 2016)
2017: The Regrettes – Seashore (released January 2017)
2018: The Beths – Future Me Hates Me (released August 2018)
2019: Hallelujah The Hills – Folk Music Is Insane (released November 2019)
2020: Phoebe Bridgers – Kyoto (released April 2020)

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