Early Rock and Roll
, likewise calledrock 'n' roll
orrock & & roll, style of popular music that originated in the United States in the mid-1950s and that evolved by the mid-1960s into the more encompassing global design known as rock music, though the latter also continued to be called rock and roll.
Rock-and-roll has actually been referred to as a merger of country and western music and rhythm and blues, but, if it were that basic, it would have existed long before it burst into the national awareness. The seeds of the music had actually been in place for decades, however they flowered in the mid-1950s when nurtured by a volatile mix of Black culture and white money power. Black singing groups such as the Dominoes and the Spaniels began integrating gospel-style consistencies and call-and-response singing with earthy topic and more aggressive rhythm-and-blues rhythms. Declaring this new noise were video jockey such as Alan Freed of Cleveland, Ohio, Dewey Phillips of Memphis, Tennessee, and William ("Hoss") Allen of WLAC in Nashville, Tennessee-- who created rock-and-roll radio by playing hard-driving rhythm-and-blues and risque blues records that presented white suburban teens to a culture that sounded more unique, thrilling, and illicit than anything they had ever understood.
In 1954 that sound around an image: that of a good-looking white singer, Elvis Presley, who sounded like an afro-american Black guy.
Presley's nondenominational taste in music included whatever from hillbilly rave-ups and blues wails to pop-crooner ballads. Yet his early recordings with manufacturer Sam Phillips, guitarist Scotty Moore, and bassist Bill Black for in Memphis were less about any one design than about a sensation. For years African Americans had utilized the term rock and roll as a euphemism for sex, and Presley's music exuded sexuality. Presley was hardly the only artist who embodied this mindset, however he was plainly a catalyst in the merger of Black and white culture into something far bigger and more complicated than both.
In Presley's wake, the music of Black singers such as Fats Domino, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley, who might have been thought about rhythm-and-blues artists only years prior to, fit alongside the rockabilly-flavoured tunes of white performers such as Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, and Jerry Lee Lewis, in part since they were all now dealing with the same audience: teenagers.
For young white America, this new music was a soundtrack for rebellion, however moderate. When Bill Haley and His Comets began the 1955 motion picture Blackboard Jungle with "Rock Around the Clock," teens in cinema throughout the United States stomped on their seats. Movie stars such as Marlon Brando in The Wild One ( 1953) and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause ( 1955) oozed sullen, vibrant defiance that was echoed by the music. This emerging rock-and-roll culture brought a wave of condemnations from spiritual leaders, federal government officials, and moms and dads' groups, who branded it the "devil's music."
The music industry's action was to sanitize the product: it had clean-cut, nonthreatening artists such as Pat Boone record tame versions of Little Richard tunes, and it produced a legion of pretty-boy crooners such as Frankie Avalon and Fabian who flourished on and who would essentially work as the Perry Comos and Bing Crosbys for a new generation of listeners. By the end of the 1950s, Presley had been inducted into the army, Holly had actually died in a plane crash, and Little Richard had converted to gospel.
Rock-and-roll's golden age had ended, and the music went into a transitional phase identified by a more sophisticated method: the orchestrated wall of sound erected by Phil Spector, the "hit factory" songs churned out by Motown records, and the harmony-rich surf fantasies of the Beach Boys. By the mid-1960s this elegance allowed the music higher flexibility than ever in the past, and it fragmented into numerous styles that ended up being known simply as rock.