Magazine article The Spectator

Staying Alive

Magazine article The Spectator

Staying Alive

Article excerpt

It will have escaped the attention of few readers of 'Olden but golden' that this month marks the 50th anniversary of the birth of rock and roll. Even the sainted former editor of this magazine, Charles Moore, devoted his Saturday column in the Telegraph to the landmark anniversary.

Much as I revere him, I find it hard to imagine Charles letting rip with an impassioned AWOPBOPALOOBOPALOPBAMBOOM! before tearing the joint apart with his rendition of 'Tutti Frutti' down the local karaoke bar. But he is a man with a knack of taking you by surprise, and perhaps that is exactly what he is planning to celebrate the publication of his long-awaited biography of Margaret Thatcher. Maybe the lady herself will provide backing vocals. She's certainly looking as weird and wild as a vintage rock-and-roller these days.

Needless to say, this column, immune to the tides of fashion, and about as up to the minute as South West Trains, was going to ignore the anniversary altogether. It is in any case a questionable one. Many believe the first bona fide rock'n'roll record was 'Rocket 88', recorded by Ike Turner et al. at Sam Phillips's Memphis studio in March 1951. It was more than three years later, on 5 July 1954, that Elvis Presley arrived at the same location and cut an old blues number by the splendidly monickered Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup called 'That's All Right', and Phillips realised he'd found what he'd long been looking for: a goodlooking white boy who sounded like a black man. The rest, as they say, is history.

Like today's fashionable historians, I was pondering a perverse, counterintuitive piece arguing that disco music was more important than rock'n'roll. Not that I believe it, but it's the kind of stuff you have to churn out these days if you want to be seen as slick, hip and on the money. And despite the famous adage among us old rockers that Disco Sucks, I must admit I have always had an embarrassing soft spot for the stuff, an enthusiasm that was revived the other day by the return to the West End of the stage version of Saturday Night Fever (see review, opposite). The book is lamentable, the acting is pants, but my God those Bee Gees numbers stand the test of time. So do the big hits of Chic, Sister Sledge and Donna Summer, tainted though they are by the humiliating knowledge that, in my disco-going days, girls always preferred dancing round their handbags to dancing with me. …

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