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Rock and roll

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Rock and Roll, also called Rock, is a form of popular music, usually featuring vocals (often with vocal harmony backing), electric guitars (and saxophone in the early days) and a strong back beat, that emerged in America in the 1950s. It combines elements of boogie woogie, jazz and rhythm and blues, and is also influenced by traditional folk music, gospel music, black and white, and country and blues.

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Early North American rock and roll (1953-1963)

According to some, notably music historian Peter Guralnick, the first rock and roll record was "Rocket 88", by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats (written by 19-year-old Ike Turner also the session leader) and recorded by Sam Phillips for the Sun Records label, in 1951. Many other records recorded in the same period are also contenders for this title. Others have pointed to the later broad commercial success with white audiences of Chuck Berry's "Maybellene" or "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and his Comets as true starting points. Still others point out that performers like Fats Domino were recording blues songs as early as 1949 that are indistinguishable from later rock and roll.

Whatever the starting point, it is clear that 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 overturned in 1954. It can hardly be a coincidence, then, that a musical form combining elements of white and black music should arise, and that this music should provoke strong reactions, of all types, in all Americans. On March 21, 1952 in Cleveland, Ohio Alan Freed produced the first rock and roll concert.

Black performers first saw their songs recorded by white performers, an important step in the dissemination of the music, often at the cost of feeling and authenticity. Pat Boone recorded Little Richard songs. Little Richard retaliated by getting wilder, creating in "Long Tall Sally" a song that Boone couldn't cover. Ricky Nelson recorded Fats Domino. Later, as those songs became popular, the original artists' recordings received radio play as well. Furthermore, the covering artist frequently brought something to the song that wasn't there before, as in Bill Haley's cover of "Shake, Rattle and Roll[?]".

The British Invasion (1963-1967)

In the early 1960s, bands from England gave rock and roll a new focus. First re-recording standard American tunes, these bands then infused rock and roll with an industrial-class sensibility. Among the best known of these bands were The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Yardbirds, The Who and The Kinks.

1960s Garage Rock

The British Invasion spawned a wave of imitators in the U.S.A. and across the globe. Many of these bands were cruder than the bands they tried to emulate. Playing mainly to local audiences and recording cheaply, very few of these bands broke through to a higher level of success. This movement that later became known as Garage Rock[?] gained a new audience when record labels started re-issuing compilations of the original singles, the best known of these is a series called Nuggets[?]. Some of the better known band of this genre include The Sonics[?], Question Mark (?) and the Mysterians, and The Standells[?].

Psychedelia, Progressive Rock and Woodstock (1968-1974)

As part of the societal ferment in North America and Europe generally, rock and roll changed in a number of subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

  • The music took on a greater social awareness; it was not just about dancing and smooching anymore, but took on themes of social justice.
  • The music itself broadened past the guitar-bass-drum format; while some bands had used saxophones and keyboards before, now acts like The Beatles (and others following their lead) experimented with wind sections, string sections, and full orchestration.
  • The Rolling Stones are credited with being the first band to dispense with band uniforms. Band members now simply wore whatever clothes they wished. As trivial as this sounds, it made a big impression on people at the time.
  • Musicians with classical and formal music backgrounds began to play rock and roll, leading to a greater emphasis on musicianship and composition, sometimes dispensing with the raw energy and power that characterized earlier manifestations of rock music. This genre became known as progressive rock. It is possible that Buddy Holly would not have recognized what Robert Fripp did as rock and roll.

Dance Music: Disco and Its Relations

As the idealism of the 1960s waned, some music became danceable again. The "Theme from Shaft" by Isaac Hayes, released in 1971, heralded what became known as disco music. Disco music was producer-driven music that was popular in places such as Studio 54[?] and other discotheques of the period. By 1980, a disco backlash occurred as the fad died down.

Punk Rock: Return to Basics (1975-1980)

Punk music started off as a reaction to the lush, producer-driven sounds of disco, and against the commercialism of most progressive rock. Played by bands for which expert musicianship was not a requirement, punk was stripped-down three chord music that could be played easily. These bands also intended to shock mainstream society, as opposed to the "peace and love" image of the prior musical rebellion of the 1960s which had degenerated, punks thought, into mellow disco culture. Therefore, punks like The Sex Pistols deliberately rejected anything that symbolized "hippies": long hair, soft music, loose clothing, and liberal politics.

Punk rock gained increasing popularity after 1980. Today, many mainstream bands claim punk rock as their stylistic heritage. Punk also bred other genres, including new wave, hardcore, industrial music, and goth.

Heavy Metal: Long Hair Still Rocks (1978-1988)

Current (1988-present)

See also:

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