Shake, Rattle and Roll


"Shake, Rattle and Roll" is a prototypical blues-form rock and roll song written by Jesse Stone (under his working name Charles Calhoun). The song was first recorded in 1954 by Big Joe Turner, a blues shouter whose career began in Kansas City before World War II. Bill Haley and the Comets' cover version, released later in the year, had sanitised lyrics in an attempt to be slightly more palatable to white audiences.

This cleanup of lyrics meant removal of references considered sexual in nature, such as lines about "the devil in nylon hose", "you make me roll my eyes, baby make me grit my teeth", and "you wear those dresses, the sun comes shining through". It is evidence of the innocence of these bowdlerizers that the most provocative line in Turner's version of the song, "I'm like a one-eyed cat, peeping in the sea food store", was left untouched in the Haley version. (In fairness, it may not have been so much a case of innocence that the line was left in, but rather as an in-joke referring to the fact that Haley was blind in one eye.) Elvis Presley's 1956 version, which was not considered a success, combined Haley's arrangement with Turner's lyrics, though Elvis used Haley's lyrics when performing the song on television.

Musical critics are divided as to which is the better recording. Haley's version is livelier, and follows more closely the contested definition of rock and roll being a merging of country music and rhythm and blues. Turner's version is considered raunchier and sexier, and follows the definition held by some that rock and roll is simply another name for rhythm and blues. Both recordings are considered classics.

Although musical revisionists and American media tried to paint Turner as a victim of the music industry due to Haley's covering of the song, in fact Haley's success helped Turner immensely - and Turner was already a well-established performer long before "Shake Rattle and Roll." Turner and Haley became close friends, and performed on tour together in Australia in 1957. In 1966, at a time when Turner's career was at a low ebb, Haley arranged for his Comets to back the elder musician for a series of recordings in Mexico. Sadly, no one thought to have Haley and Turner record a duet version of "Shake Rattle and Roll."

Haley acknowledged Turner's version in later years by incorporating more of the original lyrics into his live performances, including adding the verse "I've been over the hill and I've been way down underneath" which was cut out completely from Haley's original recording.

In 1919, Alfred Bernard recorded a song about gambling with dice with the same title, clearly evoking the action of shooting dice from a cup. The phrase is also heard in "Roll The Bones" by the Excelsior Quartette in 1922. While the phrase was undoubtedly passed along, neither of these songs are direct ancestors of the 1954 hit.

See also: First rock and roll record