“It Was Almost As If I’d Been Waiting For It To Happen.”

From Keith Richards’ wonderful Life:

I think the first record I bought was Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally”. Fantastic record, even to this day. Good records just get better with age. But the one that really turned me on, like an explosion one night, listening to Radio Luxembourg on my little radio when I was supposed to be in bed and asleep, was “Heartbreak Hotel”. That was the stunner. I’d never heard it before, or anything like it. I’d never heard of Elvis before. It was almost as if I’d been waiting for it to happen. When I woke up the next day I was a different guy. Suddenly I was getting overwhelmed: Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Little Richard, Fats. Radio Luxembourg was notoriously difficult to keep on station. I had a little aerial and walked round the room, holding the radio up to my ear and twisting the aerial. Trying to keep it down because I’d wake Mum and Dad up. If I could get the signal right, I could take the radio under the blankets on the bed and keep the aerial outside and twist it there. I’m supposed to be asleep; I’m supposed to be going to school in the morning. Loads of ads for James Walker, the jewelers “in every high street,” and the Irish sweepstakes, with which Radio Lux had some deal. The signal was perfect for the ads, “and now we have Fats Domino, ‘Blueberry Hill,’” and shit, then it would fade.

Then, “Since my baby left me” – it was just the sound. It was the last trigger. That was the first rock and roll I heard. It was a totally different way of delivering a song, a totally different sound, stripped down, burnt, no bullshit, no violins and ladies’ choruses and schmaltz, totally different. It was bare, right to the roots that you had a feeling were there but hadn’t yet heard. I’ve got to take my hat off to Elvis for that. The silence is your canvas, that’s your frame, that’s what you work on; don’t try and deafen it out. That’s what “Heartbreak Hotel” did to me. It was the first time I’d heard something so stark. Then I had to go back to what this cat had done before. Luckily I caught his name. The Radio Luxembourg signal came back in. “That was Elvis Presley, with ‘Heartbreak Hotel.’” Shit!

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3 Responses to “It Was Almost As If I’d Been Waiting For It To Happen.”

  1. Kent says:

    Heartbreak Hotel still blows everything else out of the water in the 21st Century. The voice, guitars, piano, bass, the presence, the story in the lyrics. Real outsider maniacal perfection. At 78rpm it becomes sonic 3D. Your ears start living down at the end of Lonely Street.

  2. sheila says:

    “maniacal perfection”

    I absolutely adore that phrase.

    It really is insane and it’s still amazing that they all thought: “Hell, yes, let’s record it just this way.” RADICAL.

  3. Eanna Brophy says:

    Ah, memories … memories that belong, and will only belong, to a certain generation who were lucky enough to be entering their teens just as rock’n'roll was slouching towards the airwaves to be born. Keith Richards’ description mirrors precisely that of thousands of boys (and it was mainly boys) on this side of the Atlantic who listened under blankets late at night to all the music seeping through (as Simon said) from Radio Luxembourg at 208 0n the medium wave (the only commercial broadcaster audible in the UK or Ireland.
    (PS: Keith once threatened to give me “a bust in the snot”: It’s a long story you can read it on eannabrophy.blogspot.com)
    (PPS: The same powerful transmitters were use for Hitler’s propaganda broadcasts during World War II.

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