Golden Era of Rock 'n' Roll: 1954-1963

Various Artists

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Golden Era of Rock 'n' Roll: 1954-1963 Review

by Richie Unterberger

You'd need a wall full of early rock & roll records to get a truly definitive summary of the best sounds from the music's first decade. That qualification noted, this is about as good a sampling of the most important early rock & roll hits and performers as could be stuffed into a three-CD, 62-song set, and deserves the highest rating even if it can't tell the whole story. Other than Elvis Presley (perhaps not present due to licensing obstacles), it has definitive hits by all the major early rock & roll performers, including Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, Gene Vincent, Carl Perkins, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, the Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Ricky Nelson, Eddie Cochran, the Coasters, the Drifters, Jackie Wilson, Ray Charles, the Platters, Brenda Lee, and Roy Orbison. There's still room for a wealth of tracks by doo wop groups who had only one or two hits, from the Crows' "Gee" to the Marcels' "Blue Moon"; instrumental rock from Duane Eddy and the Ventures; rockabilly by Dale Hawkins and Johnny Burnette's Rock & Roll Trio (whose "The Train Kept A-Rollin'" is the only song on the whole set that wasn't a big hit); and New Orleans R&B-rock from Shirley & Lee and Frankie Ford. And there are classic hits by other performers who only got one big smash, like Mickey & Sylvia's "Love Is Strange" and Wilbert Harrison's "Kansas City."

If you're inclined to nitpick, there are a few tiny flaws in this anthology's execution. Sam Cooke is represented by his relatively minor early hit "I'll Come Running Back to You," where "You Send Me" would have been the obviously better choice, though it might not have been available for licensing reasons. As on Hip-O's companion set, The Roots of Rock 'n' Roll: 1946-1954, the annotation is on the perfunctory side, failing to supply detailed background information on specific artists and tracks. And the early '60s are covered in far less depth than the mid- to late '50s, missing such vital innovators as the Impressions, James Brown, Phil Spector, and all the early Motown hitmakers, though it does at least sample classics of the girl group style; offer smashes by Dion, Del Shannon, and Gary "U.S." Bonds; and provide a glimpse of future trends with the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys. It's still a superb compilation, however, in which virtually every song is great and important. And you could still play it to someone who knows nothing about rock & roll, and after one listen, he or she would have a pretty good idea of how the music was born and evolved in its pre-Beatles days.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 Bill Haley 02:10 Amazon
2
Gee
The Crows 02:12 Amazon
3 Big Joe Turner 02:59 Amazon
4 The Moonglows 03:10 Amazon
5 Chuck Berry 02:20 Amazon
6 The Penguins 02:57 Amazon
7 Fats Domino 02:25 Amazon
8 The Platters 02:37 Amazon
9 Bo Diddley 02:44 Amazon
10 Little Richard 02:24 Amazon
11 Gene Vincent 02:35 Amazon
12 Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers 02:19 Amazon
13 Shirley & Lee 02:23 Amazon
14 Carl Perkins 02:16 Amazon
15 Johnny Burnette 02:16 Amazon
16 The Cadets 03:05 Amazon
17 LaVern Baker 02:12 Amazon
18 The Five Satins 03:03 Amazon
19 The Diamonds 02:08 Amazon
20 The Everly Brothers 02:22 Amazon
21 Dale Hawkins 02:13 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 Jerry Lee Lewis 02:53 Amazon
2 The Bobbettes 02:13 Amazon
3 The Big Bopper 02:23 Amazon
4 Mickey & Sylvia 02:57 Amazon
5 Sam Cooke 02:13 Amazon
6 Buddy Holly 02:30 Amazon
7 Danny & the Juniors 02:31 Amazon
8 The Del Vikings 02:39 Amazon
9 Huey "Piano" Smith & the Clowns 02:21 Amazon
10 Lee Andrews & the Hearts 02:23 Amazon
11 The Elegants 02:42 Amazon
12 The Monotones 02:20 Amazon
13 The Champs 02:12 Amazon
14 Rick Nelson 02:04 Amazon
15 Eddie Cochran 01:58 Amazon
16 Duane Eddy 02:22 Amazon
17 The Coasters 01:52 Amazon
18 The Drifters 02:12 Amazon
19 Frankie Ford 02:42 Amazon
20 The Flamingos 03:22 Amazon
21 Jackie Wilson 02:43 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 3

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 Ray Charles 06:27 Amazon
2 Wilbert Harrison 02:26 Amazon
3 Santo & Johnny 02:22 Amazon
4 The Skyliners 02:41 Amazon
5 Ritchie Valens 02:06 Amazon
6
The Ventures 02:04 Amazon
7 Roy Orbison 02:25 Amazon
8 Brenda Lee 02:23 Amazon
9 Hank Ballard & the Midnighters 02:35 Amazon
10 The Shirelles 02:42 Amazon
11 Dion 02:42 Amazon
12 Del Shannon 02:21 Amazon
13 Joey Dee & the Starliters 01:59 Amazon
14 The Marcels 02:16 Amazon
15 Gary "U.S." Bonds 02:30 Amazon
16 Gene Chandler 02:26 Amazon
17 The Four Seasons 02:32 Amazon
18 The Angels 02:09 Amazon
19 The Chiffons 02:06 Amazon
20 The Beach Boys 02:28 Amazon
blue highlight denotes track pick