This song has a different sound to it. David wrote this song for the movie he and Ringo Starr was appearing in called That’ll Be The Day. Essex made unsuccessful recordings in the sixties until found success as an actor. That’ll Be The Day is a really good movie and so is the followup… Stardust.
The song peaked at #5 in the Billboard 100 and #3 in the UK in 1973. Essex never charted another hit in America, although the Grammy nomination he got for “Rock On” was enough to give him a cult following.
This slinky song is a tribute to the early days of rock ‘n’ roll, with mentions of the 1956 Carl Perkins classic “Blue Suede Shoes” and the 1958 Eddie Cochran hit “Summertime Blues.”
Essex wrote this song on his bass guitar, which helped give it a menacing tone. He wanted to write something different and succeeded.
The repeated “hey kids, rock and roll, rock on” section is something Essex came up with to sound like a mantra, similar to what’s heard in lots of Indian chant music.
In America, this was the only big hit for David Essex (“Lamplight” made #71 in 1974), but he fared far better in his native England, with eight more Top 10 hits in the UK, including the chart-toppers “Gonna Make You A Star” and “Hold Me Close.” He became a teen idol, not unlike a man he mentions in the song: James Dean. In 1978, he reached out to a more mature audience, starring as Che Guevara in the musical Evita.
The famous bass line in this song was played by Herbie Flowers, who played on many recordings for Harry Nilsson and David Bowie.
A jingle composer named Jeff Wayne produced this track. Wayne was an unusual choice, but his background in jingles, which have to be very efficient, proved worthy.
Hey kids rock and roll,
Rock on, oh my soul
Hey kids boogey too, did ya
Hey shout, summertime blues,
Jump up and down in my blue suede shoes
Hey kids rock and roll, rock on
And where do we go from here?
Which is the way that’s clear
Still looking for that blue jean, baby queen
Prettiest girl I’ve ever seen
See her shake on the movie screen, Jimmy Dean
James Dean, rock on