This was originally called "Backwards." Justis changed the title when he heard someone enjoying the tune say that it was "raunchy," which meant "messy" or "dirty" in '50s teenage slang.
Ernie Freeman covered this. It was a reversal of the usual process as Freeman was black and Justis was white. Freeman's version hit #4 while Justis' hit #2. Although both did extensive session work, "Raunchy" remains each act's sole Top 40 hit.
George Harrison played this on his guitar for John Lennon when he was auditioning to be a member of The Quarrymen.
While working for his father's roofing business in his native Memphis, Justis made the rounds in local dance bands as a trumpet player. When the office's closing left him without a job, Justis decided to pursue music full time as an arranger. An article about Buck Ram, a prolific songwriter and producer who was integral in the vocal group scene of the '50s, turned him on to rock 'n roll.
"I read about how much money he had made out of rock 'n roll so I said, 'That's for me!'" he recalled in a 1973 interview. "So, I immediately set out for a record store and bought $80 worth of the all-time rock 'n roll hits. I studied the stuff and found it was so simple, yet basic and savage, that it was difficult to perform."
Justis landed a gig as musical director at Sun Records, run by Sam Phillips. During his tenure, he arranged music for acts like Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Charlie Rich. Meanwhile, he got the idea to record his own rock 'n roll tune and enlisted a mix of jazzmen and rock 'n roll players for the session that produced "Raunchy." When the sax player he hired fell ill, Justis stepped in. Although he'd long ago traded his trumpet for sax, he hadn't played the instrument for a while, which resulted in a distinctive off tone that set the original instrumental apart from its many covers.
The twangy lead guitar riff was played by Sid Manker, a session player at Sun Records, who is also credited as co-writer of the tune.
Justis and Freeman weren't the only performers to have a hit with "Raunchy" in 1957. Billy Vaughn also released a version that went to #10. Several other acts covered the tune, including Santo & Johnny, The Ventures, Duane Eddy, Scotty Moore, Alex Chilton, and Booker T. & The M.G.'s, among others.
Justis recorded this two more times: in 1962 for the album Bill Justis Plays 12 More Big Instrumental Hits and in 1969 for the album Raunchy & Other Great Instrumentals.
This was used in the movies The Loveless (1981), Great Balls Of Fire! (1989), Nowhere Boy (2009), and Camp X-Ray (2014).