When I hear this song I automatically think of Jack Rabbit Slim’s restaurant in the movie Pulp Fiction. It was played when Mia and Vincent were talking about the five dollar milk shake.
Wray came up with this when he was asked to play a stroll at one of his shows. The song was different from other popular instrumentals, as it helped introduce gritty guitar distortion and power chords to the world of rock.
The song is credited to Link Wray and Milt Grant.
This instrumental was somewhat controversial because it implied gang violence – some radio stations refused to play it. It might be the only instrumental song ever banned on the radio. It was feared that the piece’s harsh sound glorified juvenile delinquency. Did the song cause juvenile delinquency? We can only hope.
The song peaked at #16 in the Billboard 100 in 1958.
Pete Townshend on Link Wray: “He is the King; if it hadn’t been for ‘Rumble,’ I would have never picked up a guitar.”
Wray was with Archie Bleyer’s Cadence label and he wanted to record this as a single. Bleyer was ready to pass on it until his step daughter said she liked it and that it reminded her of the rumble scenes in West Side Story. Bleyer named the song “Rumble” and decided to release it.
Wray was drafted in 1951 and fought in the Korean War where he caught Tuberculosis. As a result, he had a lung removed in 1957 and couldn’t sing. After returning from Korea, he joined his family band the Palomino Ranch Gang, and went on to record as “Lucky” Wray in 1956.
Wray used a 1953 Gibson Les Paul guitar run through a Premier amp to produce this song.
This was used in a 2017 commercial for the Ford Focus where a cat rides in the backseat and closes the window to drown out the sound of a barking dog.
The song was honored at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018 when they announced a category for “singles.” Five other songs were selected along with it:
“The Twist” – Chubby Checker
“Rocket 88” – Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats
“Louie Louie” – The Kingsmen
“A Whiter Shade Of Pale” – Procol Harum
“Born To Be Wild” – Steppenwolf