Good Rockin' Tonight
At the Rougher Edges of Rhythm and Blues

"Good Rockin' Tonight" (1947), a single recorded by rhythm and blues singer Wynonie Harris (1915-1969), has acquired legendary status as a historic precursor to rock & roll. To understand the enormous influence this song had on rhythm and blues and after, it is of use to investigate the history and techniques at play in the song.

Wynonie Harris performed in a style of rhythm and blues known as "blues shouting". A blues shouter -- such as Big Joe Turner ("Honey Hush", 1953) and Roy Brown ("Rockin' At Midnight", 1949) -- possesses a powerful voice capable of filling a nightclub (e.g. honky-tonk, juke joint, roadhouse) without the use of amplification. This intensity of vocal delivery references the era of popular music that precedes modern amplification. Contemporary microphone technology, emergent in the late 1920's, enabled the "crooning" style of singers like Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, and Frank Sinatra in his World War II-era recordings for Columbia Records.

The blues shouters sang as they did, in part, to contradict and contrast with the recording style popular with African-American audiences of the time (1945-1953). The most popular style of the day was Louis Jordan's jump-blues (fast, heavy blues-based swing music by Black bands) which blues shouting drew from extensively in singles such as "Caldonia" (1945, #1 for 7 weeks), "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens" (1947, #1-17) and "Choo-Choo Choo Boogie" (1946, #1-18).

"Good Rockin' Tonight" Signifies on -- in other words, repeats and revises the tropes and techniques of -- the energetic, yet family-friendly comedy of jump-blues. He connects and communicates with Jordan's music by borrowing his blues-based structure, riffing, and voice-to-band call-and-response. At the same time, though, he distances himself from Louis Jordan and uptown elitism of other blues-bands -- such as Erskine Hawkins ("Don't Cry Baby", 1943); Jimmy Lunceford ("The Honeydripper", 1945); and Lucky Millinder ("Apollo Jump", 1943) -- by immersing the song in exuberant sexual innuendo in the way he sings (hard, dirty, earthy).

The music had a sense of Saturday night camaraderie and mayhem that endeared itself to young Black audiences. It was familiar-sounding and danceable yet distinctive in its directness and attitude toward sexuality; in this youthful preoccupation with erotic goings-on, one might draw parallels between the blues shout and the sexual immersion of hip-hop's Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, and Patra.

Elvis Presley recorded an exemplary reworking of Harris's classic for Sun Records in 1954. Presley and producer Sam Phillips transfer the blues-based swing of Wynonie Harris to the realm of country-blues. The new version became the first recording to exhibit Elvis Presley's characteristic approach to singing: rhythmic, percussive, yet restrained. It is worth noting that he makes a slight alteration to the musical structure by repeating the first line (I heard the news/there's good rockin' tonight). This interpretation of the lyric connects Harris to W.C. Handy's 12-bar blues form.

Good Rockin' Tonight
Wynonie Harris and His Men
King Records single 4210

Wynonie Harris - vocal
Oran "Hot Lips" Page - trumpet
Hal Singer - tenor saxophone
Joe Knight - piano
Carl "Flat Top Wilson - bass

Recorded on December 28, 1947 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Written by Roy Brown.
Produced by Syd Nathan.

Chart Action: Charted on the Billboard R&B on May 1, 1948 for 25 weeks; reached #1 and remained there for one week; sales #1; jukebox #1 for 2 weeks.


I heard the news, there's good rockin' tonight
I'm gonna hold my baby as tight as I can
tonight she'll know I'm a mighty man
I heard the news, there's good rockin' tonight (x2)

Meet me in the alley, behind the barn.
Don't be afraid, I'll do you no harm.
Baby, bring my rockin' shoes,
Cause tonight I'm gonna
Rock away all my blues

(saxophone solo)

I got the news, everybody's gonna rock tonight
I'm gonna hold my baby as tight as I can
tonight she'll know I'm a mighty man
I got the news, everybody's rockin' tonight

Elda Brown, Deacon Jones
They've even left their happy home.
They'll be there, just you wait and see
Jumpin' and stompin' at the jubilee.
Hey man,
There's good rockin' tonight.

Sweet Lorraine, Sioux City Sue,
Sweet Georgia Brown,
Caldonia too:
They'll be there jumpin' like mad.
Hey sister, ain't you glad!

Hoy! Hoy! Hoy! Hoy!
There's good rockin' tonight.
Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!
Everybody's rockin' tonight.