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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Origins of Rock’n’Roll – A Brief History

Essentially hybrid in origin, rock music includes elements of several black and white American music styles: black guitar-accompanied blues; black rhythm and blues, noted for saxophone solos; black and white gospel music; white country and western music; and the songs of white popular crooners and harmony groups. Emerging in 1954–55, rock music was initially referred to as “rock 'n' roll.” After 1964 it was simply called “rock music.” The change in terminology indicates both a continuity with and a break from the earlier period; rock music was no longer just for dancing. After 1964 the music was influenced by British groups such as the Beatles.

The 1950s—Bill Haley and Rock 'n' Roll

The first rock 'n' roll record to achieve national popularity was “Rock Around the Clock” made by Bill Haley and the Comets in 1955. Haley succeeded in creating a music that appealed to youth because of its exciting back beat, its urgent call to dance, and the action of its lyrics. The melody was clearly laid down by electric guitar; the lyrics were earthy and simple. Haley abruptly ended the ascendancy of the bland and sentimental ballads popular in the 1940s and early 50s. He also succeeded in translating black rhythm and blues into a form that adolescent white audiences could understand.

Blues, and rhythm and blues, were too adult, sexual, angry, and solely identified with black culture to be acceptable either emotionally or commercially without adaptation. Major record companies had for years been producing records for black audiences called “race records.” The emergence of rock 'n' roll signified a slight weakening in resistance to black culture. The unadulterated black rock 'n' roll that Haley transformed can be heard in the sexually adult work of such artists as Hank Ballard and the Midnighters (“Work with Me, Annie”) or “Big” Joe Turner (“Shake, Rattle, and Roll”), the latter song adapted by Haley for white audiences and the former transformed into “Dance with Me, Henry.”

Rock 'n' roll was for and about adolescents. Its lyrics articulated teenage problems: school, cars, summer vacation, parents, and, most important, young love. The primary instruments of early rock 'n' roll were guitar, bass, piano, drums, and saxophone. All aspects of the music—its heavy beat, loudness, self-absorbed lyrics, and raving delivery—indicated a teenage defiance of adult values and authority. Influential performers of the 1950s include Chuck Berry (“Johnny B. Goode”), Little Richard (“Good Golly Miss Molly”), Sam Cooke (“You Send Me”), Buddy Holly (“Peggy Sue”), Jerry Lee Lewis (“Great Balls of Fire”), and Carl Perkins (“Blue Suede Shoes”).

The Late 1950s and Early 60s—Elvis, Motown, and the British Invasion

The greatest exponent of rock 'n' roll from 1956 to 1963 was Elvis Presley, a truck driver and aspiring singer from Tupelo, Mississippi, whose plaintive, wailing, dynamic delivery and uninhibited sexuality appealed directly to young audiences while horrifying older people. As rock 'n' roll became a financial success, record companies that had considered it a fad began to search for new singers; they generally succeeded in commercializing the music, robbing it of much of its gutsy, rebellious quality. In the late 1950s, for example, there was a fad for sentimentally morbid songs such as “Laura” and “Teen Angel.” As Elvis decides to serve his country by joining the army in 1959, there would be a gap which was to be filled by “The Motown”

At the turn of the decade Detroit became an important center for black singers, and a certain type of sound known as “Motown” [motor town], named for Motown Records, developed. The style is characterized by a lead singer singing an almost impressionistic melody story line to the accompaniment of elegant, tight, articulate harmonies of a backup group. Popular exponents of this style are the Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and Gladys Knight and the Pips.

Rock music again surged to popularity in 1962 with the emergence of the Beatles, a group of four long-haired lads from Liverpool, England. They were initially acclaimed for their energy and appealing individual personalities rather than for any innovations in their music, which was derived from Berry and Presley. Their popularity inevitably produced other groups with unusual names. One of the most important of these was the Rolling Stones, whose music derived from the black blues tradition. These British bands instigated a return to the blues orientation of rock 'n' roll, albeit in ever louder and more electric reincarnations.

After Elvis’ army period is finished in Germany in 1959, the music scenery had gone through some important changes, such as Motown’s arise (as previously mentioned) just to mention one! The Beatles and “The British Invasion” were soon to join these changes, not to mention the fact that on their first two albums The Beatles cut some of Motown’s names such as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles,The Isley Brothers, The Marvelettes and Barrett Strong. Elvis’ brief hiatus, though brief was enough to keep the “King” away from his throne. He was never to enjoy the same popularity he’d enjoyed at the beginning of his career.

Brief and to the Point:

We understand there is much more to be said about Rock'n'Roll origings, but more material is on the way! Stay tuned!


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