Elder Charles Beck & Other Artists, Elder Charles Beck (1946-1947)

Mike McGonigal

By Mike McGonigal

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

It's 1956. Dwight Eisenhower is president, the Cold War is raging and Elvis Presley has revolutionized popular culture with "Blue Suede Shoes." After three notes on a big old church organ, we hear a preacher's voice, followed instantly by shouts from his congregation. "Subject: rock & roll! Can I get an Amen?!" he shout-sings (and yes, he receives enthusiastic "Amen"s). This guy's already revved up about a hot topic on pulpits all over the United States. "Rock & roll has just about brought about the disintegration of our civilization," the preacher declares, and as soon as he says "rock & roll" for the second time, a sinewy electric guitar appears.

The right church is more raucous than even the heaviest of rockers.

"Rock & Roll Sermon, Pts. 1 & 2" by Elder Charles Beck has to be the raddest piece of anti-rock propaganda ever produced. "Some of the records are so suggestive 'til even the disc jockeys won't even play them!" Beck intones, a little bit louder now. "After a while, God's gonna set this world on fire!" he shouts, and now the unknown backing group is starting to let it be known that they can handle "blue" notes as well as any rock band. "After a while, this old world is gonna" — and here he pauses for effect — "rock & roll!" The musicians are still winding up, and you have to draw a breath in anticipation of the explosion you know is sure to come.

As the song moves onto its part two flip-side it's clear that not only has the backing group been restraining themselves, but that they can also match the greatest rock & rollers of their day. "Rock & roll is filling up the dope dens!" Elder Beck shouts, and from there he gets real gone, hammering home the fate of those who would succumb to the dreaded evil music with impassioned, beyond-hepcat fervor. "Rock & roll… Rock & roll all night long… Rock… One o'clock rock… Two o'clock rock… Three o'clock rock… Four o'clock rock… Five o'clock roll… Roll into the patrol wagon… Roll in before the judge… Rollin 'out of the courthouse… Rollin 'into the penitentiary… Rollin 'into the electric chair… Rollin 'out to the undertakers… AAAAAWAGGGH! WHOOO! ROCK AND ROLL! YEEEEAAAHHHHH! You better get readyyyy!"

And then, just as the band terraplanes into raw, revved-up rock, the guitarist peeling off bluesy licks that would make Keith Richards explode with jealousy, the song fades out. You only get a taste, and you want to hear at least an hour's worth. It's the perfect, teasing end to a fiery sermon that ostensibly denounces rock & roll and yet shows that the right church is more raucous than even the heaviest rockers.