Another significant landmark of this time was the appearance of the jukebox. The word may come from the "jook house", a term used to describe out of the way shebeens used by southern field workers for dancing, drinking and of course “jassing”. The jukebox provided the only outlet for black recording artists; they were excluded from the main radio channels, and were to remain so for another twenty years.
With the ending of prohibition, and the gradual merging of mainstream jazz with the Big Band sound, jazz became more acceptable to the general public. Within a decade, bandleaders such as Duke Ellington and Count Basie were playing to full houses. During this time the older Blues sound had not gone away, and indeed gained a new lease of life thanks to a young man called Robert Dodds. Doomed to die young before the decade was out, he is better known today as Robert Johnson, the doyen of the Delta Blues.
For one young man, born just three years after Robert Johnson, the forties were to make his name. Not the name he was born with; as McKinley Morganfield he might not have had quite the same success. As Muddy Waters, however, he was to be the inspiration for many of the great pioneers of rock'n'roll.
The decade ended with a boogie tune which, had the term been invented, might have been thought of as early rock'n'roll; Antoine “Fats” Domino was a 21 year old from a musical New Orleans family. He drew his musical inspiration from ragtime and blues, and was playing piano at the Hideaway club in the city of his birth when he recorded a song called “The Fat Man”. It sold more than a million copies.
In 1951, in Cleveland, Ohio, disk jockey Alan Freed wanted to avoid the phrase “Rhythm and Blues” for his show; this was what black people called the new music which he loved and played all the time. No racist himself, he feared the term would alienate white listeners. Famously, he coined the phrase “rock'n'roll”. What he didn’t know was that in the black community, the expression had the same sexual connotation as “jass” half a century earlier!
It was not, however, until 1954 that the first pure rock'n'roll record took the world by storm. The writer was Charles Calhoun, aka Jesse Stone, who worked for Atlantic Records. (His mentor was a man rejoicing in the name of Ahmet Ertegün, who is well worth looking up). In the spring of that year, he wrote Shake, Rattle and Roll for Big Joe Turner. Six months later Bill Haley, a country dance band leader who sensed the spirit of the times, took it to the top twenty on both sides of the pond with his band The Comets.
Bill Haley changed many words he considered suggestive. It seems amazing today that “you're a devil in nylon hose” could be deemed offensive, but he was aiming at a white, middle class audience in an era of relative innocence. Haley topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic the following year with Rock around the Clock, from the soundtrack for the notorious 1955 film Blackboard Jungle.
It’s difficult to say exactly how many rock'n'roll records entered the USA charts in the early years, because there were many different ways of working out the Top Twenty; Billboard magazine alone published four different versions. In the UK, where the rise of rock'n'roll exactly matched America, there were just three top twenty rock'n'roll hits in the UK during 1955. Within two years there were more than 70 rock'n'roll records in the British charts, and by 1958 rock'n'roll completely dominated the market. Music would never be the same again.