History of Rock and Roll
Rock and Roll (also known as Rock 'n' Roll), is a genre of music that evolved in the United States in the late 1940s and became popular in the early 1950s, and quickly spread to the rest of the world. It later spawned the various sub-genres of what is now called simply 'rock', usually accompanied by lyrics. The beat is essentially a boogie woogie blues rhythm with an accentuated backbeat, the latter almost always provided by a snare drum. Classic rock and roll is played with one electric guitar or two electric guitars (one lead, one rhythm), an electric bass guitar, and a drum kit. Keyboards are a common addition to the mix. In the rock and roll style of the early 1950s, the saxophone was often the lead instrument, replaced by guitar in the mid 1950s. In the earliest form of rock and roll, during the late 1940s, the piano was the lead instrument, and indeed, among the roots of rock and roll is the boogie woogie piano of the big-band era that dominated American music in the 1940s.
The massive popularity and eventual worldwide scope of rock and roll gave it an unprecedented social impact. Far beyond simply a musical style, rock and roll influenced lifestyles, fashion, attitudes, and language. Many of its early stars, notably Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Bill Haley of the group Bill Haley & His Comets , built movie and/or television careers around their music.
The term "rock and roll", which was black slang for dancing or sex, appeared on record for the first time in 1922 on Trixie Smith's "My Man Rocks Me With One Steady Roll". Even earlier, in 1916, the term "rocking and rolling" was used with a religious connotation, in the phonograph record "The Camp Meeting Jubilee" by "Male Quartette." The word "rock" had a long history in the English language as a metaphor for "to shake up, to disturb or to incite". The verb "Roll" was a medieval metaphor which meant "having sex". Writers for hundreds of years have used the phrases "They had a roll in the hay" or "I rolled her in the clover". In 1934 the Boswell Sisters were referring to the rock and roll of waves in their song "Rock and Roll" Country singer Tommy Scott was referring to the motion of a railroad train in the 1951 "Rockin and Rollin'".
Rock and roll began to emerge as a musical style in United States of America during the late 1940s as a combination of the rhythms of the blues, R&B, African American culture, and from America's country and western music, as well as gospel. Though elements of rock and roll can be heard in country records of the 1930s, and in blues records from the 1920s, rock and roll did not acquire its name until the 1950s. An early form of rock and roll was rockabilly, which combined the above elements with jazz, influences from traditional Appalachian folk music, and Gospel. Going back even further, rock and roll can trace one lineage to the old Five Points district of mid-19th century New York City, the scene of the first fusion of heavily rhythmic African shuffles and sand dances with melody-driven European genres, particularly the Irish jig.
Rocking was a term first used by black gospel singers in the American South to mean something akin to spiritual rapture. By the 1940s, however, the term was used as a double entendre, ostensibly referring to dancing, but with the subtextual meaning of sex, as in Roy Brown's "Good Rocking Tonight." This type of song was usually relegated to "race music" outlets (music industry code for rhythm and blues stations) and was rarely heard by mainstream white audiences.
During the 1920s and 1930s, many white Americans enjoyed African-American jazz and blues performed by white musicians. They often objected to the music as performed by the original black artists, but found it acceptable when performed by whites. A few black rhythm and blues musicians, notably Louis Jordan, the Mills Brothers, and The Ink Spots, achieved crossover success. While rock and roll musicians increasingly wrote their own material, many of the earliest white rock and roll hits were covers of earlier rhythm and blues or blues songs. Blues would continue to inspire rock performers for decades. Delta blues artists such as Robert Johnson and Skip James also proved to be important inspirations for British blues-rockers such as The Yardbirds, Cream, and Led Zeppelin.
In 1951, Cleveland, Ohio disc jockey Alan Freed began playing this type of music for a multi-racial audience. Freed is credited with coining the phrase "rock and roll" to describe the rollicking R&B music. While working as a disc jockey at radio station WJW in Cleveland, he also organized the first rock and roll concert, called "The Moondog Coronation Ball" on March 21, 1952. The event, attended mainly by African Americans, proved a huge drawing card — the first event had to be ended early due to overcrowding. Thereafter, Freed organized many rock and roll shows attended by both whites and blacks, further helping to introduce African-American musical styles to a wider audience.
There is much debate as to what should be considered the first rock & roll record. Sister Rosetta Tharpe was recording shouting, stomping music in the 1930s and 1940s that in some ways contained major elements of mid-1950s rock and roll. She scored hits on the pop charts as far back as 1938 with her gospel songs, such as "This Train" and "Rock Me", and in the 1940s with "Strange Things Happenin Every Day", "Up Above My Head", and "Down By The Riverside." Another artist who was singing hard-rocking blues/gospel to a boogie piano was Big Joe Turner, whose 1939 recording, "Roll 'em Pete," is almost indistinguishable from '50s rock and roll. Other significant records of the 1940s and early 1950s included Roy Brown ("Good Rocking Tonight", 1947), more Big Joe Turner ("Honey, Hush", 1953, and "Shake, Rattle and Roll", 1954), Paul Bascomb ("Rock and Roll", 1947), Fats Domino ("The Fat Man," 1949) and Les Paul and Mary Ford ("How High the Moon", 1951).
Rolling Stone magazine argued in 2004 that "That's All Right (Mama)" (1954), Elvis Presley's first single for Sun Records in Memphis, was the first rock and roll record. Bo Diddley's 1955 hit "Bo Diddley" backed with "I'm A Man" introduced a new, pounding beat, and unique guitar playing that inspired many artists.
Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" (1954) became the first rock and roll song to top Billboard magazine's main sales and airplay charts, and the door was opened for this new wave of popular culture. Other artists with early rock 'n' roll hits were Chuck Berry and Little Richard, as well as many vocal doo-wop groups. Within the decade crooners such as Eddie Fisher, Perry Como, and Patti Page, who had dominated the previous decade of popular music, found their access to the pop charts significantly curtailed.
Both rock and roll and boogie woogie have four beats (usually broken down into eight eighth-notes/quavers) to a bar, and are twelve-bar blues. Rock and roll however has a greater emphasis on the backbeat than boogie woogie. Little Richard combined boogie-woogie piano with a heavy backbeat and over-the-top, shouted, gospel-influenced vocals that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame says "blew the lid off the '50s." However, others before Little Richard were combining these elements, including Esquerita, Cecil Gant, Amos Milburn, Piano Red, and Harry Gibson. Little Richard's wild style, with shouts and "wooo wooos," had itself been used by female gospel singers, including the 1940s' Marion Williams. Roy Brown did a Little Richard style "yaaaaaaww" long before Richard in "Ain't No Rockin no More."
Rock and roll appeared at a time when racial tensions in the United States were coming to the surface. African Americans were protesting segregation of schools and public facilities. The "separate but equal" doctrine was nominally overturned by the Supreme Court in 1954, and the difficult task of enforcing this new doctrine lay ahead. This new musical form combining elements of white and black music inevitably provoked strong reactions. From the early 60s, Ike & Tina Turner were big Rock & Roll stars.
On March 21, 1952 in Cleveland, Alan Freed (also known as Moondog) organized an early rock and roll concert, titled "The Moondog Coronation Ball". The audience and the performers were mixed in race. The evening ended after one song in a near-riot as thousands of fans tried to get into the sold-out venue. The record industry soon understood that there was a white market for black music that was beyond the stylistic boundaries of rhythm and blues. Even the considerable prejudice and racial barriers could do nothing against market forces. Rock and roll was an overnight success in the U.S., making ripples across the Atlantic, and perhaps culminating in 1964 with the British Invasion.
From this early-1950s inception through the early 1960s, rock and roll music also spawned a new dance craze. Teenagers found the irregular rhythm of the backbeat especially suited to reviving the jitterbug dancing of the big-band era. "Sock-hops," gym dances, and home basement dance parties became the rage, and American teens watched Dick Clark's American Bandstand to keep up on the latest dance and fashion styles. From the mid-1960s on, as "rock and roll" yielded gradually to "rock," later dance genres followed, starting with the Twist, and leading up to Funk, disco, house and techno.
In 1954, Elvis Presley recorded the regional hit "That's All Right (Mama)" at Sam Phillips' Sun studios in Memphis. Elvis played a rock and country & western fusion called rockabilly, which was characterized by hiccupping vocals, slapping bass and a spastic guitar style. He became the first superstar rock musician. Elvis Presley in 1957's Jailhouse Rock
The following year's "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley & His Comets really set the rock and roll boom in motion. The song was one of the biggest hits in history, and frenzied teens flocked to see Haley and the Comets perform it, causing riots in some cities. "Rock Around the Clock" was a breakthrough for both the group and for all of rock and roll music. The song's inclusion in the film Blackboard Jungle marked the beginning of a mutually beneficial marriage of the genre to film. It had been recorded in 1954 with limited sales, but exploded in 1955 after the release of the movie, which used it in the opening sequence.
If everything that came before laid the groundwork, "Clock" certainly set the mold for everything else that came after. With its combined rockabilly and R & B influences, "Clock" topped the U.S. charts for several weeks, and became wildly popular with teenagers in places like Britain, Australia and Germany. The single, released by independent label Festival Records in Australia, was the biggest-selling recording in the country at the time. In 1957, Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly became the first rock musicians to tour Australia, marking the expansion of the genre into a worldwide phenomenon. That same year, Haley toured Europe, bringing rock 'n' roll to that continent for the first time.
Through the late 1940s and early 1950s, R&B music had been gaining a stronger beat and a wilder style, with artists such as Fats Domino and Johnny Otis speeding up the tempos and increasing the backbeat to great popularity on the juke joint circuit. Before the efforts of Freed and others, black music was taboo on many white-owned radio outlets. However, savvy artists and producers quickly recognized the potential of rock, and raced to cash in with white versions of this black music. White musicians also fell in love with the music and played it everywhere they could. Many of Presley's early hits were covers, like "That's All Right", "Baby, Let's Play House", "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" and "Hound Dog".
Covering was customary in the music industry at the time; it was made particularly easy by the compulsory license provision of United States copyright law (still in effect ). One of the first successful rock and roll covers was Wynonie Harris's transformation of Roy Brown's "Good Rocking Tonight" from a jump blues to a showy rocker. The most notable trend, however, was white pop covers of black R&B numbers. Exceptions to this rule included Wynonie Harris covering the Louis Prima rocker "Oh Babe" in 1950, and Amos Milburn covering what may have been the first white rock and roll record, Hardrock Gunter's "Birmingham Bounce," in 1949.
Black performers saw their songs recorded by white performers, an important step in the dissemination of the music, but often at the cost of feeling and authenticity (not to mention revenue). Most famously, Pat Boone recorded sanitized versions of Little Richard songs, though Boone found "Long Tall Sally" so intense that he couldn't cover it. Later, as those songs became popular, the original artists' recordings received radio play as well. Little Richard once called Pat Boone from the audience and introduced him as "the man who made me a millionaire."
The cover versions were not necessarily straightforward imitations. For example, Bill Haley's incompletely bowdlerized cover of "Shake, Rattle and Roll" transformed Big Joe Turner's humorous and racy tale of adult love into an energetic teen dance number, while Georgia Gibbs replaced Etta James's tough, sarcastic vocal in "Roll With Me, Henry" (covered as "Dance With Me, Henry") with a perkier vocal more appropriate for an audience unfamiliar with the song to which James's song was an answer, Hank Ballard's "Work With Me, Annie."
In 1959, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) were killed when a plane Buddy Holly had chartered from Mason City, Iowa, to Fargo, North Dakota crashed in a corn field, after a performance at the Winter Dance Party.
Buddy Holly, fed up with the conditions on the buses, decided to charter a small plane for himself and the Crickets to get to the next show on time, get some rest, and get their laundry done. After the February 2, 1959 performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, Holly, Richardson (who pleaded with Waylon Jennings for his seat because he was stricken with flu), and Valens (who had won Tommy Allsup's seat after a coin toss), were taken to Clear Lake airport by the manager of the Surf Ballroom.
The plane, a four-passenger Beechcraft Bonanza, departed into a blinding snowstorm and crashed into farmer Albert Juhl's cornfield shortly after takeoff. The crash ended the lives of all three passengers, as well as the 21 year-old pilot, Roger Peterson. This event inspired singer Don McLean's popular 1971 ballad "American Pie", and immortalized February 3 as "The Day the Music Died". The event also inspired the Tommy Dee song "Three Stars", which specifically mentions Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Valens.
Besides Elvis Presley, Holly, Valens, and Richardson were known as three of the first rock and roll teen idols. They were followed by other artists with massive appeal to a teenaged audience, such as Paul Anka, Ricky Nelson, Frankie Avalon, the Beatles, and later, the Monkees.
Teen idols were not only known for their catchy pop music, but good looks also played a large part in their successes. It was because of this that certain fan magazines, exclusively geared to the fans of teen idols (16 Magazine, Tiger Beat, etc.), were created. These monthly magazines typically featured a popular teen idol on the cover, as well as pin-up photographs, a Q&A, and a list of each idol's "faves" (i.e. favorite color, favorite vegetable, favorite hair color, etc.).
Teen idols also influenced toys, Saturday morning cartoons and other products. At the height of each teen idol's popularity, it was not uncommon to see Beatle wigs, Davy Jones' "love beads", or perhaps even Herman's Hermits lunchboxes for sale.
British Rock and Roll
The trad jazz movement brought blues artists to Britain, and in 1955 Lonnie Donegan's version of "Rock Island Line" began skiffle music which inspired many young people to have a go, including John Lennon and Paul McCartney, whose "The Quarrymen", formed in March 1957, would gradually change and develop into The Beatles. These developments primed the United Kingdom to respond creatively to American rock and roll, which had an impact across the globe. In Britain, skiffle groups, record collecting and trend-watching were in full bloom among the youth culture prior to the rock era, and colour barriers were less of an issue with the idea of separate "race records" seeming almost unimaginable. Countless British youths listened to R&B and rock pioneers and began forming their own bands. Britain quickly became a new center of rock and roll.
In 1958 three British teenagers became Cliff Richard and the Drifters (later renamed Cliff Richard and the Shadows). The group recorded a hit, "Move It", marking not only what is held to be the very first true British rock 'n' roll single, but also the beginning of a different sound — British rock. Richard and his band introduced many important changes, such as using a "lead guitarist" (virtuoso Hank Marvin) and an electric bass.
The British scene developed, with others including Tommy Steele, Adam Faith and Billy Fury vying to emulate the stars from the U.S. Some touring acts attracted particular popularity in Britain, an example being Gene Vincent. This inspired many British teens to begin buying records and follow the music scene, thus laying the groundwork for Beatlemania.