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Rocket 88

by

Ike Turner



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

In 1991, after a great deal of debate, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recognized this as the first Rock and Roll song ever recorded. Turner was in jail at the time for cocaine possession, so his daughter accepted the award.
The song is about a car. The Oldsmobile "Rocket 88" came out in 1949 and was the fastest car on the road at the time. A small car with a big, overhead valve V8 engine, it was one of the first muscle cars and dominated NASCAR races in the '50s. The car was advertised as having a V-8 "Rocket" engine, with the slogan, "Make a Date with a Rocket 88."
This song was produced by Sam Phillips, who formed Sun Records in 1952. Phillips later became famous for recording Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Jackie Brenston, who was a member of Ike Turner's Rhythm Kings, sang lead. The single was credited to "Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats" because Phillips wanted to release a different record credited to Turner.
This was a #1 R&B hit. There were no Rock charts at the time.
This song came about when Turner and his band were playing black clubs in the American South and B.B. King set up a recording session for them in Memphis with Sam Phillips. They wrote most of "Rocket 88" on the way to the session. On the drive to the session, the band's amplifier fell out of the car and broke the woofer. Turner shoved paper in it at the studio to cover the problem, which ended up providing a more distinct sound. The sounds that came from the damaged amp resulted in this being cited as one of the first songs to feature guitar distortion.
Brenston was credited with writing this song, although he admitted he stole the idea from a 1947 song called "Cadillac Boogie."
General Motors gave Brenston a Rocket 88 to thank him for the publicity this generated for the car.
Ike Turner played piano on this song. It was a huge influence on Little Richard, who used the piano intro on his 1958 hit, "Good Golly Miss Molly."
Brenston did not handle success well. He quickly spent the money he made from this song, became an alcoholic, went broke, and died in 1979.
In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine (issue 93) in 1971, Ike Turner recalled how despite this being a local hit, he made little from it: "Some dude at the record company beat me, and I only got $40 for writing, producing, and recording it. And the lead singer (Jackie Brenston) took the band from me and went on his own."
There were other songs recorded before this that could be considered Rock and Roll, but this was unique in that it appealed to a white audience.
Turner recorded a new version of this in 2000.
Ike Turner
Ike Turner Artistfacts
More Ike Turner songs
More songs with numbers in the title
More songs inspired by cars

Comments (9):

Rocket 88 was a Rhythm and Blues song, there were no Rock and Roll charts at the time. Rock and Roll was created after Elvis got going. "Christmas" )Baby please come home" by Darlene Love was the first rock and roll song in 1963.
- Orby, Ellenton, FL, FL
UK Radiooresenteur Mark Radcliffe wrote in His 'Reelin' in the Years' Book: It's generally accepted that the first rock'n'roll record was 'Rocket 88' recorded in 1951 by Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm. Strictly speaking a rhythm and blues song, it had a new, aggressive, distorted sound allegedly resulting from rainwater getting into Ike's amplifier in the boot of his car. Another version of the tale has the same amp falling from a roof rack and suffering significant damage. Whichever you choose to believe it seems that the birth of rock'n'roll owes something to Ike Turner's very casual attitude to automobile maintenance and/or road safety. A trip down to the Memphis branch of Halfords would surely have resulted in the purchase of some of those little stretchy rope things, which would have secured the precious roof-rack cargo. Let's give Ike the benefit of the doubt, as the long-suffering Tina often did, and say it was half-day closing.
- DeeTheWriter, Saint Petersburg, Russia Federation
Phillips formed Sun Records in Feb 1952, not 1954.

Elvis' first Sun release (209) was in July 1954. So how could Phillips have "discovered" Elvis in 1955? Besides, it was his Secretary Marion that "discovered" the talent and notified her Boss after recording a $4.00 acetate of Elvis' 'My Happiness' in Aug 1953.
- jon, destin, FL
very funky record.....(in a good way)
- steve dotstar, los angeles, CA
rocket 88 is a great song by a fantastic musician (ike turner...rip), although it was NOT the first rock n roll record/song.
Contrary to what music 'historians' or Rolling Stone says, rock n roll can be traced as far back as 1924 with Hersal Thomas and Jimmy Blythe playing what then was called 'boogie woogie' piano.
boogie woogie progressions are exactly the same as rocket 88 or any rock n roll progressions. It is the I-IV-V chord progression that is played at a fast pace. That WAS rock n roll. in 1930 Pinetop Smith was playing boogie woogie with his song 'Pinetop boogie woogie', in the 30's Count Basie with 'One O' Clock Jump'-THAT was a rock n roll song, Benny Goodman with 'Boy Meets Girl', or any bebop musicians in the 40's with 'Billie's Bounce'.
As you can see rock n' roll cannot be traced to a single musician. Even if Hersal Thomas was one of the first KNOWN musicians to play rock n roll/boogie woogie, like Little Richard took the piano roll from Rocket 88, Hersal Thomas may have taken the rock n roll piano roll from even earlier musicians.
However, if you still disagree with me, I have one more piece of evidence. Fats Domino, everyone knows him as one of the men from the 50's who POPULARIZED (not created) rock n roll. His 1949 song (yes 2 years BEFORE rocket 88) called 'The Fat Man' is rock n roll, just like Count Basie, or Benny Goodman.
So there's my rant for the day. Email me at voodoo____child148@hotmail.com if you still think i'm wrong.
- Blah, Edmonton, Canada
The Olds Rocket 88 was a good car. My parents had a 1952. It was fast, I got lots of speeding tickets in it (4 to be exact) and it was comfortable, but its only drawbacks were its propensity for losing its chrome plating and its extremely high fuel consumption (about 10 mpg if I remember correctly.)
- Darrell, Eugene
just a great song way ahead of its time, underated ,,, the omega of music
- frank, fort myers, FL
In the movie "Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension", when Buckaroo and those hard-rockin' scientists, the Hong Kong Cavaliers take the stage, this is the song they open with. They only get about thirty seconds into it, but the sound is unmistakable.
- Jameson, Lexington, KY
"Rocket 88", a rhythm and blues song from 1951 claimed by Sun Records owner and pioneer rock and roll record producer Sam Phillips as "the first rock and roll song".
The record was credited to Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, but the band did not actually exist. The song was written by Ike Turner and recorded by him with his band, the Kings of Rhythm. Brenston (1930-1979) was a saxophonist with Turner and also sang the vocal on "Rocket 88", a hymn of praise to the joys of the Oldsmobile Rocket 88 automobile (see: Oldsmobile 88), which had just been introduced in 1949. Brenston also was given author credit not Turner; it is now agreed that Brenston's contribution was overstated for obscure, non-musical reasons.

Working from the raw material of jump blues and swing combo music, Turner made it even rawer, starting with a strongly stated back beat and superimposing Brenston's enthusiastic vocals and tenor saxophone solos by "Raymond" and Brenston. The song also features one of the first examples of distorted, or fuzz guitar ever recorded. Reportedly, a speaker was damaged on Highway 61 when the band was driving from Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee but Phillips liked the sound and used it.

"Rocket 88" is the prototype for hundreds of other rock and roll records in musical style and lineup, not to mention its lyrics in which an automobile serves as a metaphor for romantic prowess.

The claim that "Rocket 88" was the first rock and roll record is perhaps overstated, but it was the second-biggest rhythm and blues single of 1951 and much more influential than some other "first" claimants. "Rocket 88" was successfully covered by Bill Haley and his Comets early in his career, leading to his own impact on popular music. Turner's piano introduction was copied note for note by Little Richard on his "Lucille" several years after that.

Brenston left Turner's band after the record's success and released several more singles between 1951 and 1953, but they were slavish copies of the original and had little success. Brenston rejoined Turner's band as a saxophonist in 1957 and continued with him until 1965.
- Ted, Loveland, CO
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