Jesus Rocked The Jukebox: small group black gospel 1951-1965 (Craft)
Don’t let the “rocked” in this compilation’s title fool you. There is precious little rock to be found here. Gospel? Certainly, in abundance. Rhythm and blues? Yes, definitely. Blues? Yeah, you could argue that. Rock? Hmm, no.
And did these songs really appear on jukeboxes? In godless bars, downmarket diners and after school joints with frisky teens? Possibly not. But hey, none of this is meant as a complaint. Across two discs, 40 songs and almost as much praising of God as you’d find in a Grammys telecast, this is a seriously enjoyable burst of the real holy rollers.
The rocking here is in showing just how the roots of rock’n’roll, soul and their various hybrids are as strong in the chapel as in the sock hop. Not just in the harmonising and soaring choruses, but in the shape of the sounds and the fervent energy.
Check out the guitar kicking off Swingin’ On The Golden Gate by The Happyland Singers (which in 1956 was also looking back to Louis Jordan’s jive), and you can hear Scotty Moore et al. Meanwhile, half the British blues bands of the 1960s and many of the surf-based Americans mimicked the tone and tried for the ease of Pop Staples in The Staple Singers’ Uncloudy Day.
There would be little but a slight change in the object - rather than the subject of adoration - in taking something like God Has Not Promised from The Highway QC’s (not, unfortunately, a side project of the Sydney bar) and making something for Dion and the Belmont. Or in remaking Heavenly Father, by The Patterson Singers, for one of Phil Spector’s studio ensembles.
Lest we forget, those sounds, right down to church organ, also would reappear in the ‘50s revival in the early 1970s - as noted by Robert Marovich in the box set’s accompanying essay - for artists whose first loves often had been close harmony groups and gospel, such as Paul Simon.
And I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine that if Janis Joplin had made it deep into the ‘70s she might have picked up Help Me Jesus for one track on a gospel blues collection.
While there are some groups here which may be known only to the gospel cognoscenti, rare gems discovery is not the point. Jesus Rocked The Jukebox draws heavily from the biggest names, and those which have carried across secular music’s dominance for the 60 years since these songs first shook a church roof.
So along with multiple cuts from The Staple Singers (take in Sit Down Servant for some intense vocalising and lessons in controlled power) and The Happyland Singers, there are repeat appearances from one of the many incarnations of The Soul Stirrers (from which sprang Sam Cooke), The Blind Boys Of Alabama, The Swan Silverstones and The Detroiters.
It may be true, as The Original Blind Boys sing in the opening track, that “people don’t sing like they used to sing”. But even 50 or so years since that 1965 release – which was feeling nostalgic when mainstream rock’n’roll had only just notched up a decade of existence - it’s also true that people still can be moved by singing like they used to sing.
And praise be for that.