Jackie Brenston, Rocket 88, the Demise of Oldsmobile

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Make a Date with the “88” (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Jackie Brenston was a sax player and singer, working with his band The Delta Cats. In 1951 he recorded, for Sam Phillips Sun Records in Memphis, the song “Rocket 88” which is widely credited as the first rock and roll classic. It was hard-driving R&B, and it’s lyrics and music reflected not only a super cool and powerful automobile, the space age, but also the independent youth spirit of postwar youth in the early 1950s. Ike Turner was the producer.


So how did the car that inspired such a great song become an oldster’s car, a vehicle to be driven slowly by fossilized drivers? Even lowrider connoisseurs love the classic Rocket 88 fiesta hubcats, the two-tone paint. But the brand became tamer and more conservative as it aged, and it finally aged itself right out of the U.S. auto market. Just look at the picture of the later model. It was as plain and insipid as can be. Sad ending.


“Rocket 88” Lyrics

You women have heard of jalopies,
You heard the noise they make,
Let me introduce you to my
Rocket ’88.

Yes it’s great, just won’t wait,
Everybody likes my Rocket ’88.
Baby we’ll will ride in style,
Movin’ all along.

V-8 motor and this modern design,
Black convertible top and the gals don’t mind
Sportin’ with me, ridin’ all around town for joy.
Blow your horn, Rocket, blow your horn.

Step in my Rocket and-don’t be late,
We’re pullin’ out about a half-past-eight.
Goin’ on the corner and havin’ some fun,
Takin’ my Rocket on a long, hot run.
Ooh, goin’ out,
Oozin’ and cruisin’ and havin’ fun.

Now that you’ve ridden in my Rocket ’88,
I’ll be around every night about eight.
You know it’s great, don’t be late,
Everybody likes my Rocket ’88.
Gals will ride in style,
Movin’ all along.

These are hardly lyrics for octogenarians. This was a car that was all about freedom and liberation, postwar style. But who knows, perhaps these later aging drivers had a Olds Rocket 88 as their very first car, shared their very first kiss in a drive-in theatre in it, went for burgers in the drive-in malt shoppe.

Listen to the song in this video.