Big Joe Turner – Shake, Rattle and Roll (1954, Atlantic Records)
Why It’s Perfect: This is rock n’ roll, regardless of what Peter Frampton and his pasty ilk might have you believe. It’s kind of mindblowing that adjective-less “rock” has been bleached to the point many discerning music fans avoid it like the plague, because the driving boogie at its heart remains irresistible in the right hands. Big Joe Turner’s take on Shake, Rattle and Roll is a milestone recording, a watershed in both the evolution of the genre and in the development of swagger. I mean, goddamn does this man have his swag on or what? He wakes up in the morning, tells his woman to clean herself up and start cooking, calls her the devil and then shake, rattle and rolls her again. If just one day in my life could unfold like that, I’d be twice the man I am today. Thrice, possibly.
Shake, Rattle and Roll was state of the art rock n’ roll and a breakthrough recording for Big Joe, but he’d been active on various regional circuits since the late ‘20s, and he hadn’t yet met a rhythm he couldn’t comfortably shout over. The musical foundation here is Turner’s familiar jump blues, a springy, horn-based R&B sound that just makes you want to sway along on the balls of your feet with your hips swinging ridiculously* (* may be just a “me” thing), but it all seems to roll in some new, un-blues way, the simple handclap n’ snare percussion landing on a different dance beat. There isn’t much guitar I can detect, but between the percolating piano and heaving brass you don’t really notice, while Sam “The Man” Taylor’s shit-hot sax solo thunders up the middle like a leatherheaded running back.
It’s easy to ridicule the moral crisis early rock n’ roll incited given how tame this all sounds now, but there was an unabashed sexual joie de vivre to this stuff that frightened the buttoned-down white culture of the time. I mean, by the standards of the time Shake, Rattle and Roll is absolutely filthy. “I’m like a one-eyed cat peepin’ in a seafood store” has to be on any list of rock’s greatest double entendres (One-eyed… like you know, his… oh, never mind), and the way Turner just about licks the line “I can look at you till you ain’t no child no more” buries R. Kelly in the smut sweepstakes. Edgier still (and notably absent from later, cracker renditions) is the line “I’ve been holdin’ it in, way down underneath / You make me roll my eyes, even make me grit my teeth”, which Turner particularly slurs so as not to incur the censor’s wrath. But he’s definitely making reference to his staying power. By which I mean, his ability to withhold ejaculation while under the tender duress of a vagina. I love living in 2011.
Shake, Rattle and Roll was written by the only black man on Atlantic Records’ payroll, the rock n’ roll songwriting pioneer Jesse Stone (under a pseudonym), became Turner’s signature hit, and helped shape the music we all listen to today. As if I care; I jam this just about every week because it’s just a damn fine pop song, and I encourage you to do the same.
Defining Moment: Has to be the “one-eyed cat” verse. It’s a perfectly skewed turn of phrase.
Other Great Songs by Big Joe Turner: Big Joe recorded for nigh on sixty years, so his catalogue is formidable, if not all that diverse. To borrow a term from the awesome George Starostin, Big Joe Turner was King of “Creepy Black Guy Music.” If you were to condense his best stuff into one disc, it’d blow away most any other record of its time(s). Between the fierce piano boogie of “Roll ‘Em Pete,” “Cafe Society Rag,” “Around the Clock,” “Corrine, Corrina,” and “(I’m Gonna) Jump for Joy,” you’ve got a great set of jump blues primers.
Here’s a TV appearance of the man performing his song. Great fun! (Does anyone under 60 say ‘great fun’?)