I don’t know why this fragment just came to the surface, but here it is.  An older man, writing his memoirs (very possibly Leonard Garment, who began as a hopeful jazz tenor saxophonist and ended up as Richard Nixon’s legal counsel) recalled the friendly mentoring he received from Ellington tenor saxophonist Al Sears in the early Fifties.


Our man (let us call him Leonard until corrected) asked Sears about the latter’s big hit — a funky blues called CASTLE ROCK.

“Mr. Sears, what does the title of that song mean?”

“Well, a rock is an orgasm.  And a Castle Rock is a huge orgasm.”

Long pause for imagined responses from our young questioner.  Certainly that was a definitive answer.

Years after reading this story, I now wonder if the slang Sears explained had had a long life as an in-group utterance for a hip community.

How far back did that meaning of rock go?

I know that many song titles in the Thirties had subtly naughty connotations.  JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE did not entirely refer to aerobic exercise.  SWINGIN’ AT THE DAISY CHAIN referred to erotic activities undertaken at a famous New York house of such pleasures.  Fats Waller’s VALENTINE STOMP was dedicated to Hazel Valentine, a woman who ran such an establishment.  I know that ANYBODY HERE WANT TO TRY MY CABBAGE is not exactly about a tasty bowl of cole slaw.

With this knowledge, I wonder.  And I return to rock.

Should I now hear Mildred Bailey’s record of ROCK IT FOR ME with fresh ears?  (I am leaving ROCKIN’ CHAIR aside as sacrosanct.)  Ellington’s ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM?

I invite informed polite commentary from any swing linguists in my readership.

May your happiness increase.

16 responses to “ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK? (For Adults Only)

  1. Wynonie Harris’s “Good Rockin'” tonight ain’t about geology!

  2. Bill Gallagher

    Or as Jay McShann used to sing, “Rock me until my eyes turn cherry red.”

  3. Yes. Of course. And Big Joe Turner in parallel. But as an English professor, I must call for a minor possibly pedantic clarification. I was not surprised that “rock” should in some way refer to the generally oceanic motions associated with erotic activities. I was surprised that it should be a direct slang term equated with the ideal results of such aerobics. See what I mean?

  4. Igneous Shale

    Egad, what are we now to think of “Rock My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham”? The mind reels.

  5. Bill Gallagher

    How come my English professors never had anything to say on this subject? Sheltered to a fault.

  6. If you’d been in Professor Steinman’s class, you would have been surprised and delighted at the depths he plumbed. Or so I hear. Rock on, Bill! (Does this mean that the common phrase of enthusiastic endorsement, YOU ROCK! has also to be taken differently?)

  7. I imagine it would take a cunning linguist to shed light on this subject.

  8. Joe Adinolfi

    On the Paul Whiteman recording of Muddy Water–Crosby’s first solo, Bing sings “muddy water in my shoes rockin’ to those low-down blues.”

  9. Peter lundberg

    “My daddy rocks me/with that steady roll/there’s no slippin’/when he gets hold/&c

  10. Stompy Jones

    Mrs. Jones and I thank you for this valuable new information. We never knew a game of rock-paper-scissors could be so entertaining. Perhaps we’ll demonstrate on YouTube.

  11. Norman Vickers

    Hey Michael—same as the word jazz. (for intercourse) initially it was modified to be spelled jass.

    I think I heard Eubie Blake say on a TV interview “ I never called it jazz—I called it ragtime.”

    Some years ago I read Leonard Garment’s book about his life. That portion wasn’t included, though it was mostly about his political career and Richard Nixon. He said that if he hadn’t been involved with Nixon, then he wouldn’t have written the book.


    Norman Vickers

    Jazz Society of Pensacola

  12. Ruth Brown has the best one of all:
    “If I can’t sell it, I’m gonna sit on it”

  13. Of course, the real question posed here is where is the castle and what is it? I’ll bet a penny to a pound ( you no doubt would say a cent to a dollar)
    its Bodiam Castle, about 6 miles inland from Hastings, Sussex. UK
    How am I so knowledgeable about this? I live about half an hour away!
    Good news is that they sometimes hold open air jazz concerts in the summer. The bad news is that Terry Lightfoot (well know UK clarinettist and bandleader played there a few years ago, as did Kenny Ball (very very known UK trumpet player and band leader) Unfortunately they have both just died with a month of each other. Is there something about the place?
    Now I’ve just had this enquiry for a gig there with my Nighthawks……………..
    Cheers from the UK
    Carl Spencer
    Spencer’s Nighthawks

  14. jOhn P. Cooper

    ROCK OF AGES must be one great rock!

  15. And “Rock Around the Clock” takes on a new meaning….
    I see many of you are cunning linguists. Hehehe.

  16. It’s from a profile of Rob Reiner somewhere. They asked him why his production company was called “Castle Rock.” Reiner replied that Al Sears told him that the name of the RECORD was slang for an enormous erection- a “rock” being a standard sized erection, I guess. I wish I could remember where the profile appeared. Reiner also discussed the meaning of the phrase “Coney Island Whitefish” which was the name of his softball team.

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