Rock On

Album: Rock On (1973)
Charted: 3 5

Songfacts®:

  • David Essex wrote this to play at the end of the 1973 movie That'll Be The Day, where he played a working-class, aspiring rocker in pre-Beatles England. Essex spent much of the '60s making unsuccessful recordings, but did far better as an actor, landing the role of Jesus in the London production of Godspell in 1971. This earned him the role of Jim MacLaine in That'll Be The Day, in which he starred along with Ringo Starr and Keith Moon.

    Essex asked the film's producer David Puttnam if he could write the ending song, and Puttnam told him to take a crack at it. During the eight weeks of filming, Essex came up with "Rock On," a song that summons the restless and rebellious nature of his character amid the backdrop of rock and roll. Puttnam thought it was "too weird," so it didn't make the film, but Essex used it to get a record deal with CBS, which released it as his first single on the label. The song was an international hit, and the movie did very well in England; Essex reprised his character in a 1974 sequel called Stardust - this time the song he wrote ("Stardust") was used in the film.
  • This slinky song is a tribute to the early days of rock 'n' roll, with mentions of the 1956 Carl Perkins classic "Blue Suede Shoes" and the 1958 Eddie Cochran hit "Summertime Blues."
  • Essex wrote this song on his bass guitar, which helped give it a menacing tone. He wanted to write something different, and succeeded.
  • The repeated "hey kids, rock and roll, rock on" section is something Essex came up with to sound like a mantra, similar to what's heard in lots of Indian chant music.
  • In America, this was the only big hit for David Essex ("Lamplight" made #71 in 1974), but he fared far better in his native England, with eight more Top 10 hits in the UK, including the chart-toppers "Gonna Make You A Star" and "Hold Me Close." He became a teen idol, not unlike a man he mentions in the song: James Dean. In 1978, he reached out to a more mature audience, starring as Che Guevara in the musical Evita.
  • The famous bass line in this song was played by Herbie Flowers, who played on many recordings for Harry Nilsson and David Bowie.
  • A jingle composer named Jeff Wayne produced this track. Wayne was an unusual choice, but his background in jingles, which have to be very efficient, proved worthy.
  • This was a US #1 hit for Michael Damian in 1989. Like David Essex, Damian was also a musician turned actor turned musician. In 1981, he had a very modest hit (#69 US) with a cover of the Eric Carmen song "She Did It." This earned him an appearance on American Bandstand, which led to a role on the soap opera The Young And The Restless. In 1984, he got a deal with CBS Records, but was only distributed in Europe and Canada. Damian grew up listening to "Rock On" and loved the song, so in 1988 he recorded it with his brothers, Tom and Larry, in his home studio. CBS wasn't interested, but Tom and Larry got a gig working on music for the 1989 Corey Feldman movie Dream A Little Dream. They played their brother's version of "Rock On" for the director, Mark Rocco, who loved it an put it in the film. The song was released as a single on the Cypress label and shot to #1. David Essex gave his approval.
  • The original version is the opening song for the 2000 movie Sunset Strip. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Shari - Port Townsend, WA
  • Def Leppard covered this song for their 2006 CD Yeah!, a tribute to influential '60s and '70s rock bands. The song was often the only cover Def Leppard played at their shows. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Adolfo - Mission, TX
  • In 2017, Rickie Lee Jones and Madeleine Peyroux recorded a new version of this song with a politically charged video in support of women's rights.
  • With a lead in the hot Godspell musical and his face all over the fan magazines, Essex's label felt the more commercial B-side "On And On" had a better chance of getting him into the charts. The singer recalled to Circus:

    "We did a deal with CBS and they actually wanted to push the flipside, which was a more conventional song, but I said 'No, I've had three years of people telling me what I should do.' But when 'Rock On' came out I was actually surprised it did so well. It was very sweet success because it was exactly what I wanted - the song, the production, the attitude - it's one of my favorite records, no matter whether I recorded it."

Comments: 34

  • Seventhmist from 7th HeavenA few years later, Essex played the crazy artilleryman in Jeff Wayne's musical rock version of "War of the Worlds."
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn March 30th 1974, David Essex performed "Rock On" on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'...
    At the time the song was at #16 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; twenty-seven days earlier on March 3rd, 1974 it had peaked at #5 {for 1 week} and spent almost a half-year on the Top 100 {25 weeks}...
    He had one other record make the Top 100 chart, "Lamplight", it reached #71 and stayed on the chart for 5 weeks...
    David Essex, born David Albert Cook, will celebrate his 68th birthday in four months on July 23rd {2015}.
  • Dylan from Boca Raton, FlPaul Marlton, I've been saying the same thing for a long time. It's a nostalgia song, and it's full of those questions. The word Kid or Kids never shows up. Listen to the Def Leppard version and you'll see they tried to split the difference. You are absolutely right. Not a single lyric database that I can find gets it right. This is the only way it makes sense.

    "The posted lyrics to this song say, "Hey kid rack & roll...". I used to think that way also but, in listening to the song recently (repeatedly), I think the lyrics are "Hey did ya rock & roll? Rock on. Hey did ya boogie too, did ya?". I have no proof of this - any comments?
    - Paul, Marlton, NJ"
  • Esskayess from Dallas, TxTo finish my post 2 spots below: I still think the bassy voice that says 'James Dean' was doing it to make sure no one thought Essex was singing about the guy who sold sausage and played a billionaire in 'Diamonds Are Forever.'
  • Adele from Glendale, CaHas anyone else noticed the similarities between this and Betty Davis' "I Will Take That Ride"? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0SGPhX4TQ4 musically her song is much the same, yet slowed down.. I think they both came out in 1974... question is.. who was inspired by who?
  • Esskayess from Dallas, TxWhen I was a kid, I thought the two spots with no sound before "Jimmy Dean" (near the end) were deleted expletives.

    I still think the bassy voice saying â
  • Cyberpope from Richmond, CanadaI've always especially loved those opening bass notes
  • Cyberpope from Richmond, CanadaFunny how the Aussie ad for an American company & American song managed to sneak in a plug to an era Aussie band ("Men At Work")
  • Bill from Frankfort, IlI'm not sure where Archie from N.C. got his info. but it's totally incorrect. As someone else stated it was David Essex who wrote "Rock On" and performed the original version. Also, he's not from the Ohio Valley, he was born in England. "Rock On" peaked at #5 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 pop-music chart and was never at #1. It only reached #3 on the UK singles chart. I think Archie was just having a little fun with us.
  • Constance from Dallas, TxAnnaBelle Yes Jimmy Dean and James Dean in the song is the same person. Jimmy Dean was a nickname people called James Dean. There is also a Jimmy Dean sausage. This song however is talking about James Dean nicknamed Jimmy Dean. Cause James Dean was cool and sexy. Like rock and roll.
  • Paul from Marlton, NjThe posted lyrics to this song say, "Hey kid rack & roll...". I used to think that way also but, in listening to the song recently (repeatedly), I think the lyrics are "Hey did ya rock & roll? Rock on. Hey did ya boogie too, did ya?". I have no proof of this - any comments?
  • Joe from Chicago, IlThis song was also covered by Toni Basil on her 1982 album, 'Word Of Mouth'.
  • Don from Indianapolis, InYeah...absolutely a great song. It's yet another gem from my "'74 Senior Year." I've always been intriqued by the James Dean callouts, as he AND the song have a real, sauve coolness about them.
  • Pete from Nowra, Australiare The McDonalds TV commercial featuring this song , here's the link...it is great


    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-VDzQjzDU4
  • Brendan from Easton, CtThe Def Leppard version sounds way different live than the studio version. Both are great, but different. The original is a great song in it's own right.
  • Archie from Asheboro, NcThe song was written in Virginia, and the first gold record was given to a secret writer that signed the song over in a contract at 14 years old. The band that played the song in the original recording was a band from the Ohio Valley, close to where David Essics lived, and still does. He has a son named David Essics Jr. The song was number one 3 weeks in a row, holding Micheal Jacksons song Rockin Robin back from the number one slot.
  • Betsi from Nashville, TnChris-David Essex WAS the original. His version came out in 1974-Michael Damian's came out in 1989. I realize this is written years after the fact, but I had to get it in.
  • Adam from Calgary, CanadaIn the '80s, a group/singer by the name of 'Bambi' did a decent cover of the origional...with a similar, vaguely creepy vibe. The Essex version has that orchestral sound, redolent of some very early rock 'n' roll stuff. This is one of the best songs ever, along with BOC's "Don't Fear the Reaper"...

    ACS
  • Mike from Hueytown , AlAnother classic . One of the best of that era
  • Mary from Phoenix, AzGary...they're not saying Jimmy B. They're saying Jimmy Dean...referring to James Dean.
  • Gary from Milwaukee, WiOne other comment....

    This the kinda song that folks go....

    Where *did* you come up with this......?

    And ya just grin..........

    Kinda like Winwood's Gimme Some Lovin.....
    They've heard it, but it don't get play....
  • Gary from Milwaukee, WiAnybody know who "Jimmy B" is at the end....?
  • Julie from Coventry, EnglandA pop classic,it will be remembered for generations.
    Julie UK
  • Billy from Ny, NyRock On tells about the very early hard rock groupies.....something like the New York Dolls in the early 70's!
  • R from Seattle, WaJames Dean was a young actor (Rebel Without a Cause etc) who died in a car accident in the 1950's.

    Jimmy Dean is a country singer who has a line of sausages named after himself.

    To whom the song refers...? Probably the actor. He was the essence of coolness in the early days of rock 'n roll, even though he was not a musician.
  • Annabelle from Eugene, OrIs James Dean the same guy as Jimmy Dean?
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaThis sounds like a mix of David Bowie and Genesis (Peter Gabriel & Phil Collins). It doesn't seem to be about early days of rock n' roll, it has a very trippy beat.
  • Howard from St. Louis Park, MnThe part I remember the most is where a bass voice sings "James Dean."
  • Ryan from Tucson, AzDef Leppard covered this song on their album "Yeah!" to be released late 2005/early 2006
  • James from Richmond, VaMost recently used in Rob Zombie's new movie "The Devil's Rejects"
  • James from Ragin' Rochester, NyI heard that the sax was played by David Bowie on this song.
    Also read in the liner notes on The Small Faces LP "OGDON'S CELEBRATED NUTGONE FLAKE TOBACCCO" that David Essex loaned talent to that project including the saga of "Happiness Stan" and "ichicoo Park"
  • Brian from Grand Forks, NdDavid Played the lead in Godspell in 1971...
  • Chris from Hull, MaI love this song - BUT there is nothing like the original. Michael Damian, the wuss from a soap opera, butchered the hell out of this song. I saw Michael Damian performing HIS version of the song on TV - all that exaggerated posturing and pouty pinup boy faces he made. *gag* He took a classic and turned it into a joke.
  • Pete from Nowra, Australiathis song was used in a McDonalds TV commercial at least in Australia, it featured a James Dean look alike walking down George St Sydney, the setting was the 50's, I was told the look alike was actually a McDonalds store manager from Canada, it was an excellent commercial
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