Blue Suede Shoes: Rock’s First Standard

Over the course of rock’s 60 year history many songs have become “standards” but chief among them is a little ditty written by Carl Perkins in 1955 called Blue Suede Shoes. Not only has the song been covered by virtually every important rock band of the 1950’s and 1960’s, at least live and often on record, but the form of the song became  a distinct style in rock music.

The song opens on a single chord that gets hit five times underneath the line “One for the money…” and then goes into a blues shuffle on the IV chord and finishes out the 12 bar blues pattern. This form, which wasn’t totally uncommon in blues music, was enhanced by a walking bass, swinging drums and country guitar fills to become what was eventually called Rockabilly.

There are a million tunes have that used this form including Great Balls of Fire by Jerry Lee Lewis, Ain’t That A Shame by Fats Domino, and Long Tall Sally by Little Richard, to name just a few. The impact of Blue Suede Shoes was felt across several genres and, when it hit number three on the rhythm and blues charts, made Carl Perkins the first country/blues crossover act to achieve such a high chart position. Blue Suede Shoes would eventually chart, and sell very highly, on country, rhythm and blues and the pop charts and earned Carl Perkins a gold record for selling over a million copies.

It is worth noting that the song’s impact was so widely felt through the rock and roll scene that only a  year later Chuck Berry, in his song Roll Over Beethoven, actually referenced the song by name and the image of blue suede shoes has become synonymous with the early era of rock and roll music.

It is hard to believe that a song written and recorded in two days, released two weeks later and lasting just barely over two minutes could define the construction and style of countless tunes but the impact of Blue Suede Shoes can not be over sold. It is a single piece of music that changed the vocabulary of rock, the fashion associated with rock, encouraged young musicians to pick up the guitar and “go cat, go!” The Library of Congress have added it to their National Recording Registry for its significance in American culture and is in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Not too bad for a silly little tune written on the back of a potato sack.