A rocket in their pocket. The automobile, rock’n roll, and culture.The spirit of mobility, fluidity and virility. From Art Chantry:
The popular notion is that the very first rock’n'roll tune ever recorded was “rock around the clock” by Bill Haley & the Comets, released in 1956. Most people are fed this nonsense by the industry that gave you Pat Boone and the Monkees. the platter that actually launched the rock’n'roll revolution, generally considered by the experts on this stuff to be the very first rock’n'roll song ever written was a delightful little number titled “Rocket 88″, by Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm (yes, THAT ike turner.) it was released in 1951!
And, of course, it’s a song about cars and sex, that hoary old rocking staple of the ages. but, what IS a “Rocket 88″ you might ask (especially you youngsters who still think that the 50′s was just poodle skirts and high school and ’57 chevs and “happy days”)? Well it’s the first muscle car, the first American ‘sports’ car (more like “sportin’” car). it was made by Oldsmobile and was a real beaut – low slung, fast, streamlined with a massive toothy sneer of a grill and (if you had the red convertible), the ultimate sex symbol of the period. When Elvis got his fist paycheck, he didn’t buy a Cadillac, he bought a Rocket 88.
This was before the Corvette or the ’55 Chevy or the wholesale importing of those various european sports cars, the only examples then being those dragged back from europe after the war by retuirning soldiers. Early hot rods were being ‘scratch built’ from random parts (all they had to make cars with after the cessation of production during th war effort). Hotrodding came from boredom and necessity. Retuning vets had nothing to do and NO CARS to do that nothing IN. They had parts and a vast restlessness resulting from their war experiences. A lot had drug dependencies. They were classic “displaced vets”.
The displaced vet syndrome in our popular culture cannot ever be overlooked (though it has been, mostly because it upsets our sentimentalities). Displaced vets create subcultures, and those subcultures create our popular visions, fads and general experiences. ww2 vets began hot rodding because they wanted cars, they took surplus military Harleys and started motorcycle clubs, they started hanging out in the sun and surfing, the hit the road and became beat, they popped bennies and drove truck, they picked up instruments and bopped out to that jazzy beat, they really rocked. They seeded nearly all of the major subcultural iconography of the last half century. I think it’s about time we gave them their due. the fucked up, drug addled, violence prone “displaced vet” is one of those great American resources – a real American treasure.
So, when the returning vet came home, they wanted to go fast. so, they built their own cars from bits and pieces that were still available and then figgered out how to make them go FAST!. Detroit pays attention and builds the first cool FAST commercially available modern car – and dubbed it the “Rocket 88″. so, the idea of the rocket 88 being the subject of the first rock’n'roll song is no stretch at all. in fact, it seems completely natural. those cars were SEXY!
This scan is an actual chrome insignia of the Rocket 88. it was sent to me by my partner in crap, Ferko Goldinger (who knows what i like). I hung it on my wall above my computer (i shoved the studs built onto the back straight into my plasterboard wall.) It’s beautiful.
Car insignia is another one of those really stunning american artforms that is seemingly authorless. These wonderful concoctions of chrome metal and typography were designed (mostly) not by graphic designers, but by industrial designers. This is the true history of American graphic design. It was created and written not by “graphic designers” (or european “fine artists”, like academia would have you believe) but by anonymous salaried industrial design engineers and freelance sign painters. I’m sure Detroit kept track of who did what SOMEWHERE (and I’m sure afficinados out there might even know some of the names). but, mainstream design and art history has unilaterally decided that this stuff grew on a tree and have dubbed it “vernacular”. That is so unfair. this stuff was created by really brilliant visual ‘artists’ and designers who drew from the loooong history an exceptional crafted visual language form. We KNOW who did this stuff, it’s just that academia has decided it’s not worth researching. lazy? or blind? or perhaps just snobs?
Much of the imagery of the early post war auto insignia drew from military insignia. Even the design and
tom artforms drew from the collective war experience (tail fins came from fighter planes, as did flame jobs). This beautiful simple and elegant insignia for the Rocket 88 is no different. However, it does have one little caviat to toss out there – it’s the first auto insignia of the space age. It has a rocket! how Jetson’s is that?
Art Chantry:one last monkees item – their logo. did you know it was designed by the guy who did their lunch box?
when the marketing geniuses who started the band concept got to work, they started with the lunch box ‘product’. they didn’t even have the band selected yet, so they hired a guy to design and illustrate the box and he left ‘holes’ in the design to drop in faces later.
one whole side is a logo he made up just for the lunch box design. it was used as the corporate logo and became one of the most famous logos in rock history.
i have his name somewhere here. if i find it i’ll post it. he was a great designer/illustrator too….
…do a little more research. most of those byrds records were the wrecking crew with their vocals. same for the beachy boys and the raiders. even the sonics, the beatles and the stones were “seeded”. get real. this is business. it ain’t art.
the monkees were eventually the real deal, no matter how “fraud” (as we’re sold) their origins. ever read how the clash was formed? no different. yet, they’re “the only band that matters.” never buy the hype.
in fact, the business heads tried to ruin their reputation when they broke ranks and went off on their own. there was a battle over the name and rights. they record company lost and tried to ruin any sales cred the band had.
i learned about hype in the seattle grunge scene, which i was close enough to the center of to be a small part of. it’s all lies. never buy the business sales pitch….