Originally, this fine blog entry was crafted exclusively for the awesome Popdose Statutory Rock List, but alas, as I am wont to do — such as right here in the far-too-long opener to this week’s Cold Shot, special Statutory Rock Edition — I ran at the keyboard wa-a-a-y too long and we decided to put it in the refrigerator for a few days and save it for this space.
Today, Cold Shot hashes the lyrics of “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” covered by three different acts: Big Joe Turner (1954), Elvis Presley (1955), and Bill Haley & the Comets (1954), which for my money, is one of the dirtiest songs of all time — but since most people equate Bill Haley and early Elvis with quaint old country-billy and the Donna Reed era of pre-acid sock hops and ’57 Chevys, these horndogs get a free pass.
In the 1950s, teen ‘tang wasn’t just the purview of grizzled old rock stars. It was an uplifting cultural phenomenon that helped break down the color barrier. In fact, one might say it “inspired” some crucial, er, “events” that made America the celebrated ethnic melting pot it is today.
Case in point: Generally considered a lyric that discusses the deflowering of a young virgin, Big Joe sings “I’m like a one-eyed cat, peepin’ in a seafood store/I’m gonna look at you,’till you ain’t no child no more.”
Elvis covered it verbatim in the Sun Records rockabilly style. Together, the most influential black and white singers of the mid-1950s brought together audiences from all walks of life. Note: The original Elvis Sun recording of this cut didn’t make it to commercial release until the 1990s, but he did sing it on TV back in the day coupled with the hastily written copycat followup “Flip, Flop and Fly.” There is no doubt The Pelvis was singing this song at live gigs and getting those gals all wound up. For good measure, Sam Cooke later covered it with the skeeve intact (and we’re not even drilling down deeper into the lyrics, such as the see-through dress issues and just exactly what were they doing in bed before Big Joe et al demands some breakfast).
We will, however, bring up this little gem of a lyric from later on in the cut: “I get over the hill and way down underneath/You make me roll my eyes, even make me grit my teeth.”
Haley cleaned up his version by singing “I’m like a one-eyed cat, peepin’ in a seafood store/I can look at you, till you don’t love me no more.” That, and he just skips the whole “hill” stanza. Eradicating the original language, I guess, made it less dirty? Haley’s version seems less “statutory,” for the purposes of our discussion here–and more along the lines of two consenting adults, like Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade” and its “voulez-vous coucher avec moi (ce soir)?” thang.
For my money–although I am known in these parts as an unapologetically purist devotee of black blues, R&B and soul artists on through to Otis and Isaac Hayes and the funk of the 1970s–the Elvis version of “Shake, Rattle & Roll” is by far the smokin’est. That doesn’t change my mind about Elvis being basically the early rock equivalent of a talking-head news anchor, singing everyone else’s songs while Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and Little Richard were penning rock’s greatest early anthems (oops, I tossed out another debate topic there), but there is no question that the Sun Records ensemble he fronted was tight and wonderful, and he could sing circles around most anyone else within earshot there in Miffis, Tinisee.
Thus I give you Big Joe Turner’s version (yeah yeah, I know he didn’t write it, either). This version hails from Atlantic R&B 1947-74, a must-have box for anyone who seeks understanding of rock’s roots and how soul, hip-hop and funk evolved from the likes of Ray Charles and Big Joe Turner.
My question about “Shake” is, where was the FCC during all this? My gosh, you think there’s some predators running wild on the charts right now? Between these guys and Jerry Lee Lewis, I’m surprised they didn’t call in the National Guard in the 1950s. As if the cat-and-fish thing wasn’t menacing enough to society, the phrase “shake, rattle and roll” was slang for (gasp) gambling with dice — which, as we all know, is a gateway act to dressing like hippies and taking magic carpet rides.