Cold War Rock Timeline, Part One

1870 to 1945: ‘Just a gleam in the world’s eye,’ or ‘The importance of hairstyles and hindsight’

cold war rock timeline1My grandfather was a history professor, and though I learned more from him about trout fishing and tennis than I learned about history, I did inherit an appreciation of the historical timeline.

Yes, timelines gloss over many subtleties, but they’re also kind of like the haiku/poetry of historical writing: more concise; requiring more from the reader; and often enlightening by the contrast of elements they bring together.

So, with that in mind, I offer a timeline of the Cold War combined with a timeline of rock history.

Though most historians mark the Feb. 1945 Yalta Conference as the beginning of the Cold War and many people point to ‘Rocket 88’ in 1950 as the first ‘rock and roll’ record, let’s start earlier – just because it’s fun.

Listen to a playlist of all songs here.

• Vladimir Lenin is born with a sickle and hammer in hand.

• W.C. Handy, the “father of the blues,” is born, hollering “That’s the weirdest music I’ve ever heard.”

thomas edison phonograph mary had a little lamb• Thomas Edison invents the phonograph and records himself reciting “Mary had a little lamb.”  The long connection between rock and nursery rhymes begins.

einstein crazy hair• Albert Einstein is born, laying the groundwork for crazy hair-styles to become socially acceptable.

• The “record” is born when Emile Berliner gets a patent for the gramophone, which records onto a flat disc instead of Edison’s phonograph cylinder. In addition to taking up less space than cylinders, the technology also makes it practical to make multiple copies of sound recordings.

• The first “coin in the slot” phonograph – “totally lame” precursor to the modern jukebox, capable of playing only one record – is invented.

lenin receding hairline 1895• Lenin’s hairline has already receded dramatically, pushing the young man further into revolutionary zeal, soon leading to exile.

• The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party forms.

• The 78 rpm record – plus or minus a few rotations per minute – becomes standard. With 10” records being the most often produced, the three-minute pop song format is born.

bert williams george walker vaudeville• Bert Williams and George Walker are recorded by the Victor Talking Machine Company, becoming the first African American recording artists.

• The Bolsheviks split from the Russian Social Democratic Party, taking their toys with them (and leaving their shaving razors behind).

robert oppenheimer father of the atomic age• J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “Father of the Atomic Age,” is born in New York. A shaman present at his birth predicts, “This child will do some shit he’s really going to regret.”

• Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, including the equation “e=mc2,” posits in part that large amounts of energy can be released from small amounts of matter. The theory also launches Einstein’s career as a top model for college dorm room posters.

edward teller dr. strangelove hydrogen bomb• Edward Teller, the “real Dr. Strangelove”, inventor of the hydrogen bomb, and a hawkish proponent of the US’s role in the nuclear arms race, is born in Budapest, Hungary. The four-year-old Oppenheimer is not amused.

• Leo Fender is born in a conflagration of automotive paint, magnetic coils and guitar strings.

memphis blues w.c. handy sheet music• W.C. Handy publishes sheet music for his “Memphis Blues,” bringing 12-bar blues to the written page and getting $100 for the rights. Future doo-wop producers vow to never give this much money to a songwriter ever again.

• The First Great Migration of African Americans from southern states to the rest of the U.S. – driven by oppression in the South and economic opportunities in the North – begins the urbanization of America’s black population and the eventual transformation of American culture.

october revolution russia 1917• Populist demonstrations force the fall of the Czarist dictatorship in Russia and Lenin returns from Europe. The loosely provisional government soon falls under the October Revolution. The Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets issues the Decree on Land and the Decree on Peace. Russian civil war ensues. Classic.

• The mechanism for automatically changing records in a jukebox is patented. Records are now poised to replace parlor sing-alongs as the make-out session soundtracks of choice.

• Harry Pace forms Black Swan Phonograph Corporation – the first African American-owned record company – in Harlem.

trixie smith my man rocks me rock and roll“My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)” by Trixie Smith is released by Black Swan. The song is cited as the first recording to use the words “rocking” and “rolling” in secular music. The undeniable proof that women can rock will be ignored for some 50 years.

• The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is borne from the “Declaration of the Creation of the USSR.” The declaration is cited as one of the first political documents to eventually really freak Americans out.

• The term “race records” appears in the Chicago Defender, a seminal African American newspaper. The term is eventually replaced by “rhythm and blues.”

• Sam Phillips is born in a burst of slap-back echo.

bessie smith down hearted blues 1923• Bessie Smith signs with Columbia Records and the label decides to establish a “race records” series. Her recording, “Down-Hearted Blues,” becomes the first million-selling record by an African American artist. Two years later she records “St. Louis Blues” with Louis Armstrong.

• Lenin dies in a minor puff of revolutionary purity and zeal.

• Paramount purchases Black Swan Records and soon discontinues the historic company. Classic. Indie labels are forever indebted to Black Swan for the “brief burst of world-changing creativity before being swallow by the majors” mystique.

joseph stalin• Stalin’s mustache and eyebrows become increasingly bushy, metaphorically signaling a turn toward Russia’s rapid industrialization, economic collectivization, and brutal labor camps.

• Blind Roosevelt Graves and his brother record “Crazy About My Baby” – at least one blues historian argues the recording “could be considered the first rock ‘n’ roll recording.” Whites still don’t get it.

• Country singer Jimmie Rodgers releases “Standing on the Corner (Blue Yodel No. 9)”  with Louis Armstrong on cornet and Lil Armstrong on piano (both uncredited). Rodger’s was one of the first white musicians to incorporate blues with country, and this record is an early example of black and white musicians recording together.

rickenbacker frying pan first electric guitar• Rickenbacker invents the electric guitar, an odd-looking lap steel known as the ‘frying pan.’ Hawaiian guitarists rejoice.

• Adolf Hitler rises to power in Germany. Albert Einstein, who once considered himself an “absolute pacifist,” begins reconsidering this position. Charlie Chaplin is irritated that “his look” has been “ripped.”

• Alan Lomax records Austin Coleman with Joe Washington Brown singing “Good Lord (Run Old Jeremiah)” – another milestone in rock’s evolution. Rolling Stone and New York Times rock critic Robert Palmer wrote, “the rhythmic singing, the hard-driving beat, the bluesy melody, and the improvised, stream-of-consciousness words… all anticipate key aspects of rock ‘n roll as it would emerge some 20 years later.” White teenagers of the 1930s are not yet convinced.

• Elvis Presley is born with a fish hook in his lip.

robert johnson• Robert Johnson, after selling his soul to cover his bar tab and get a new set of guitar strings, records 16 songs at the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, Texas.

Count Basie’s “One O’Clock Jump” is released, crossing swing and blues into “jump blues,” a form often cited as an inspiration for early rock and roll.

• Robert Johnson – shortly after mortgaging his body and putting (yet another) lien on his soul – records a second time, this time in Dallas, Texas.

from spirituals to swing concert big joe turner boogie woogie• John Hammond’s NYC concert “Spirituals To Swing” helps bring “boogie woogie” to the nation, via Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson. Cool.

• German physicist Otto Hahn learns how to split the uranium atom. Fuck.

“Roll ‘Em Pete” recorded by Pete Johnson and Joe Turner while in NYC for “Spirituals to Swing” – the song is considered another important pre-cursor to rock and roll. Teens are gradually becoming interested.

• Scientists Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, and others convince Albert Einstein to sign a letter to FDR about the possible military implications of atomic chain reactions and – in light of atom splitting by German scientists – the need for US research.

leo mintz record rendezvous• Record Rendezvous, a record store specializing in “race records,” is opened by Leo Mintz in Cleveland, Ohio. Record bins, listening booths, and cooler-than-thou record store employees first enter the American consciousness. The hipster is born.

• FDR forms the Briggs Committee to investigate nuclear uranium chain reactions, but little priority is given to atomic bomb development. Briggs is heard to mumble, “Whatever. It’s no printing press.”

jukebox• The term “jukebox” – derived from “juke joint” and “juke” in African American slang, meaning “rowdy, disorderly, wicked” – is introduced. By the mid-1940s some 75% of all American records are found in jukeboxes: the business model for Napster, iTunes, Rhapsody, and Spotify is first tested in the real world.

• Richard Starkey, aka Ringo Starr, aka Barry Wom, is born. He’s just happy to be here.

• John Winston Lennon is born in his own write. Oddly, the baby has blisters on his fingers. Many rock historians now consider this Phase One: In Which Doris Gets Her Oats.

attack on pearl harbor• In light of British scientists’ early results, intelligence reports that Nazis have begun tests, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the continued Nazi campaign in Europe, FDR authorizes intensive research into the atom bomb.

• The Second Great Migration of African Americans – much larger than the first – to the North and West begins, continuing the transformation of the African-American population into an urban population and laying the groundwork for the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s.

the manhatten project unofficial emblem• June – The War Department’s Army Corps of Engineers takes charge of atomic bomb development, giving birth to the code name “The Manhatten Project.” Future code-namers improve on this non sequitur by becoming evermore sensational and literal in their secret code-names.

• Paul McCartney is born. The nurses present in the delivery room all scream hysterically and then faint.

• Billboard begins its Harlem Hit Parade charts.

• Pete Seeger officially joins the Communist Party. (Lenin rolls over, happily, in his grave.) This eventually leads to his band, The Weavers, losing their record contract, their songs being banned from the radio, Seeger being sentenced to a year in prison. Though cleared eventually of criminal charges, Seeger was blacklisted through the 1960s. Stalin approves.

• George Harrison, aka Stig O’Hara (a guitarist of no fixed hairstyle), is born. Known as “the quiet one,” he speaks only once during his childhood and never in public after 1966.

• Einstein writes to physicist Niels Bohr, “When the war is over, then there will be in all countries a pursuit of secret war preparations with technological means which will lead inevitably to preventative wars and to destruction even more terrible than the present destruction of life.”

sister rosetta tharpe strange things happening every day“Strange Things Happening Every Day” – a precursor to early rock and roll – is recorded by Sister Rosetta Tharpe. (Check the song out on Spotify to hear more than a 0:30 sample.)

• Billboard replaces its Harlem Hit Parade charts with “Race Records” charts.

• Feb. – The Yalta Conference, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin discuss the post-war reorganization of Europe – this collection of three superstar world leaders hints at later relations within rock bands, yalta conference churchilll roosevelt stalinparticularly the “Shifting Ringo Principle” within power trios, in which one dude is always “the Ringo” but “the Ringo” is never the same dude from moment to moment. The formation of the Beatles will eventually resolve this theoretical issue by establishing the quartet as a rock mainstay – a key to finding balance in rock bands through the “There’s-Only-One-Ringo Principle.”

• April, FDR dies. Ouch.

• May, World War 2 ends in Europe. That’s better.

trinity test first atomic explosion• July 16 – The Trinity Test – As the Potsdam Conference begins, the first man-made nuclear explosion in New Mexico’s Jornad del Muerto (Journey to Death) Desert. “The Atomic Age” is born. Truman gets a cute little coded note about the event while he’s at the…

nagasaki japan atomic bomb• July 16 – Potsdam Conference – Truman, Stalin and Britain divide Europe.

• Aug. – US drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.

• Nat King Cole becomes the first African American to host a radio variety show.

• “Strange Things Happening Every Day,” the first gospel record to cross over to the “Race Records” charts, reaches #2 on Billboard.

And so, the Cold War begins with a strange dichotomy of horrifying destruction and long-awaited peace – fertile ground for the germination of rock and roll’s early seeds.

Next up… Rocket 88, the H-Bomb, and other freak outs.

About Jedd Kettler

Jedd is a musician, writer, graphic designer and woodworker. He is a member of Vermont band farm and recently released several EPs under the name Dashboard Hibachi.