“Rumble” is an instrumental by American group Link Wray & His Ray Men. Released in the United States on March 31, 1958, as a single (with “The Swag” as a B-side), “Rumble” utilized the techniques of distortion and feedback, then largely unexplored in rock and roll. The single is the only instrumental ever banned from radio in the United States. It is also one of the first tunes to use the power chord, the “major modus operandi of the modern rock guitarist”.
In 2018, the song was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in a new category for singles.
At a live gig in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in early 1958, attempting to work up a backing for The Diamonds’ “The Stroll”, Link Wray & His Ray Men came up with the instrumental “Rumble”, which they originally called “Oddball”. It was an instant hit with the live audience, which demanded four repeats that night.
Eventually the instrumental came to the attention of record producer Archie Bleyer of Cadence Records, who hated it, particularly after Wray poked holes in his amplifier’s speakers to make the recording sound more like the live version. But Bleyer’s stepdaughter loved it, so he released it despite his misgivings. Phil Everly heard it and suggested the title “Rumble”, as it had a rough sound and said it sounded like a street fight.
It was banned in several US radio markets because the term “rumble” was a slang term for a gang fight and it was feared that the piece’s harsh sound glorified juvenile delinquency. It became a hit in the United States, where it climbed to number 16 on the charts in the summer of 1958. Bob Dylan once referred to it as “the best instrumental ever”. The Dave Clark Five covered it in 1964 on their first album, A Session with The Dave Clark Five; it also appeared on their second American album, The Dave Clark Five Return!.
An updated version of the instrumental was released by Wray in 1969 as “Rumble ’69” (Mr. G Records, G-820). In 2014 jazz guitarist Bill Frisell released a cover of “Rumble” on his album Guitar in the Space Age!.
The piece is popular in various entertainment media. It has been used in movies, documentaries, television shows, and elsewhere, including Top Gear, The Warriors (in the deleted opening scene), Pulp Fiction, Screaming Yellow Theater with host Svengoolie, Independence Day, SpongeBob SquarePants vs. The Big One, Blow, the pilot episode of the HBO series The Sopranos, Starcraft II, Riding Giants, Roadracers, and Wild Zero.
In an interview with Stephen Colbert on April 29, 2013, Iggy Pop stated that he “left school emotionally” at the moment he first heard “Rumble” at the student union, leading him to pursue music as a career.
The title of the record serves as the title of the 2017 documentary film Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World which features, amongst others, the work of Wray and his impact on rock music as a man of Native American descent.
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