Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On: the record that shot Jerry Lee Lewis to fame
Jerry Lee Lewis LP cover
Recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis in 1957, Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On instantly became a major hit in America, highlighting his groundbreaking piano style and postulating that rock and roll could be played quite energetically with more than just a guitar riff.
The origins of Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On is still a matter of controversy. The song was allegedly co-written by Dave "Curlee" Williams and James Faye "Roy" Hall, although Jerry Lee Lewis himself credited the track to Big Mama Thornton in an interview.
The song was first recorded in 1955 by the R&B singer Big Maybelle, however her bluesy and unhurried performing manner were far from Lewis' energetic interpretation, in his case defined by the song's extra rhythmic lyrics. Another version was released by James Faye "Roy" Hall in the same year but did not receive any noticeable success.
Curiously, Jerry Lee Lewis realized that he cut a hit immediately after listening to the record despite some skepticism from the producer.
Listen to Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On performed by Jerry Lee Lewis:
Compositionally, Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On has a simple harmony that follows classical tonal theory. In the harmonic analysis of the song's chord chains, the scale degrees (denoted with Roman numerals) show the following progression in the key of C major: C–F–C–G–F–C or I–IV–I–V–IV–I.
This chord progression is quite common in popular music, though its origins lie with the blues genre where most songs use only three primary major chords of the Ionian mode. The exact same chord chain is found in Statesboro Blues by Blind Willie McTell and Terraplane Blues by Robert Johnson.
Discover more songs composed in Ionian major mode and check out their harmonic analysis in the following articles:
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- I Wanna Be Sedated: pure classical harmony cementing the Ramones' hit in punk rock history
- Yakety Yak: teenager's answer to household chores in a hit song