Celebrate rock and roll

You’ve got to be good — really good — to make the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But how does one define “really good”? Just start a musical revolution.

Rock and roll has at least 10 artists to thank for its birth: Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley. These musicians set the bar on January 23, 1986, as the first Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees — yeah, these guys were really good.

How much better could they get? With the funky boogie-woogie of Fats Domino, the country guitar of the Everly Brothers, and the vocal brilliance of Buddy Holly, you can find so much musical flavor packed into a single group of musicians.

As a whole, the music of these original 10 artists epitomizes rock and roll’s eclectic fabric, showcasing the funk and soul of James Brown, the blues and jazz of Ray Charles, and the energy and voice of Little Richard all within one genre. Their common link is manifested in the Hall of Fame’s stated mission: “The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honors the legendary performers ... who have made rock and roll the force in our culture that it is.”

But these artists have done more than affect culture. These artists have shown that music is a culture in and of itself — an art that picks from multiple genres and blends them into one. Having begun his music career as a church gospel singer, Little Richard’s music is marked by shouting atop rhythm and blues — loud rhythm and blues — and edgy lyrics. Similarly, James Brown allowed for much experiment through his integration of jazz into rhythm and blues, exploration of rapid vocal styles, and his combination of saxophone, trombone, drums, and guitar.

It’s hard not to recognize their hits. Memorable licks and lyrics, deep rhythms and rhymes, lively souls and sounds bolstered the tunes of their unprecedented musical careers. Chuck Berry, among the most influential rock stars of all time, motivated the work of such artists as 1988 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees the Beatles and the Beach Boys with songs like “Back in the USA” and “Sweet Little Sixteen.” In fact, the Beach Boys liked Berry’s “Sweet Sixteen” so much that they turned it into their own hit with new lyrics: “Surfin’ USA.” Music management must have been a little different 40 years ago.

Of course, that’s not to overlook the impact of past musicians on Berry — his blues songs “Merry Christmas Baby” originally by Charles Brown and “Things I Used To Do” originally by Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones convey obvious influences of earlier artists, and Berry’s own combination of blues and country reflects the influence of genres outside of rock.

Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it. The unparalleled success of these artists is reflected in records sold — perhaps over one billion in Elvis’ case — and the number of top-40 hits — over 20 for many of the artists. But what’s the truest measure of the success of such stars as Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Sam Cooke? We’re still singing their songs today. “Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire!”