Rock and roll

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For other uses of "Rock and roll", see Rock and roll (disambiguation).
Stylistic origins: Rock and roll, ultimately jump blues, country music and R&B
Cultural origins: Late 1940s United States
Typical instruments: Guitar - Bass - Drums
Mainstream popularity: Much, constant and worldwide since the 1950s
Derivative forms: Alternative rock - Heavy metal - Punk rock - Progressive rock
Art rock - Cello rock - Christian rock - Country rock - Desert rock - Detroit rock - Dialect rock - Garage rock - Girl group - Glam rock - Glitter rock - Group Sounds - Hard rock - Heartland rock - Instrumental rock - Jam band - Jangle pop - Math rock - Post-rock - Power pop - Psychedelia - Pub rock (Aussie) - Pub rock (UK) - Rock en espanol - Soft rock - Southern rock - Surf - Symphonic rock
Fusion genres
Aboriginal rock - Afro-rock - Anatolian rock - Blues-rock - Boogaloo - Country rock - Cumbia rock - Flamenco-rock - Folk-rock - Indo-rock - Jazz rock - Madchester - Merseybeat - Progressive rock - Punta rock - Raga rock - Raï rock - Rockabilly - Rockoson - Samba-rock - Tango-rockéro
Regional scenes
Argentina - Armenia - Australia - Austria - Belarus - Belgium - Bosnia and Herzegovina - Brazil - Cambodia - Canada - Chile - China - Colombia - Czech Republic - Croatia - Denmark - Estonia - Finland - France - Greece - Germany - Hungary - Iceland - Indonesia - Ireland - Israel - Italy - Japan - Latvia - Lithuania - Malaysia - Mexico - Nepal - Netherlands - New Zealand - Norway - Peru - Philippines - Portugal - Russia - Serbia and Montenegro - Slovenia - South Africa - Spain - Sweden - Switzerland - Tatar - Thailand - Turkey - Ukraine - United Kingdom - United States - Uruguay - Vietnam - Zambia
Other topics
Backbeat - Rock opera - Rock band - Performers - Rock anthem - Hall of Fame - Samples - Social impact

Rock and roll (also spelled rock 'n' roll, especially in its first decade), is a genre of music that emerged as a defined musical style in America in the 1950s. It later evolved into the various different sub-genres of what is now called simply 'rock'.


Precursors and origins

Main article: Origins of rock and roll

Rock and roll emerged as a defined musical style in America in the 1950s, though elements of rock and roll can be heard in rhythm and blues records as far back as the 1920s. Early rock and roll combined elements of blues, boogie woogie, jazz and rhythm and blues, and is also influenced by traditional Appalachian folk music, gospel and country and western. Going back even further, rock and roll can trace a foundational 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 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 hidden subtextual meaning of sex; an example of this is Roy Brown's "Good Rocking Tonight". This type of song was usually relegated to "race music" (the music industry code name for rhythm and blues) outlets and was rarely heard by mainstream white audiences. In 1951, Cleveland, Ohio disc jockey Alan Freed would begin playing this type of music for his white audience, and it is Freed who is credited with coining the phrase "rock and roll" to describe the rollicking R&B music that he brought to the airwaves.

There is much debate as to what should be considered the first rock and roll record. Candidates include the 1951 "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats, or later and more widely-known hits like Chuck Berry's "Maybellene" "Johnny B. Goode" or Bo Diddley's "Bo Diddley" or Bill Haley & His Comets' "Rock Around the Clock" or, as RollingStone magazine pointed out, to some controversy, in 2005, "That`s all right", Elvis Presley`s first single for SUN records, in Memphis. Some historians go further back, pointing to musicians like Fats Domino, who were recording in the 40s in styles largely indistinguishable from rock and roll; these include Louis Jordan's "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby?", Jack Guthrie's "The Oakie Bookie" (1947) and Benny Carter and Paul Vandervoort II's "Rock Me to Sleep" (1950).

Main artists starting to score in the main hit charts from 1955 onward included the influencial and pioneering: Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis.

Early North American rock and roll (1953-1963)

Whatever the beginning, it is clear that rock 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. 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.

The rock 'n' roll music of the 1950s would change popular music forever.
The rock 'n' roll music of the 1950s would change popular music forever.

The phrase may possibly first be heard on Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five's version of Tamburitza Boogie recorded on August 18, 1950, in New York City. However, in 1922, Trixie Smith had a song titled "My Baby Rocks with One Steady Roll".

On March 21, 1952 in Cleveland, Alan Freed (also known as Moondog) organized the first rock and roll concert, titled "The Moondog Coronation Ball". The audience and the performers were mixed in race and the evening ended after one song in a near-riot as thousands of fans tried to get into the sold-out venue.

The culture industry soon understood that there was a white market for black music that was beyond the stylistic boundaries of rhythm and blues and so social prejudice and racial barriers, could do nothing against the forces of capitalism. Rock and roll was an overnight success in the U.S. making ripples across the atlantic, culminating in 1964 with the British Invasion. By the end of the decade, rock had spread throughout the world. In Australia, for example, Johnny O'Keefe became perhaps the first modern rock star of that country, and beginning a long history of Australian rock.


Main article: Rockabilly

In 1954, Elvis Presley recorded at Sam Phillips' Sun studios in Memphis, Tenn., the regional hit "That's All Right, Mama." 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.

It was the following year's "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley & His Comets that really set the rock boom in motion, though. The song was one of the biggest hits in history, and frenzied teens flocked to see Haley and the Comets perform it, even causing riots in some places; "Rock Around the Clock" was a breakthrough for both the group and for all of rock and roll music. 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 in places like 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, Bill Haley & His Comets toured Europe bringing rock 'n' roll to that continent for the first time.


Main article: Cover version

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. Despite the efforts of Freed and others, black music was still 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.

Covering was customary in the music industry at the time. 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.

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. 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").

British Rock and Roll

Main article: British rock

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 whose "The Quarry Men" formed in March 1957 would gradually change and develop into The Beatles. This 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 color 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 centre of rock and roll.

In 1958 three British teenagers formed a rock and roll group, 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 and Adam Faith 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.

At the start of the '60s instrumental dance music was very popular, with hits including Apache by the The Shadows and Telstar by The Tornados from a British branch of Surf instrumental music.

Decline and rebirth

Main article: Rock (music).

At the end of the 1950s the original Rock 'n' Roll rush faded, as stars like Elvis Presley diverted into the more commercial sound of ballads, and the music went out of fashion. It had influenced other genres which were going strong, and in the United Kingdom it formed a major part of the mix that brought the surge of British rock that reinvigorated Rock music worldwide.


See also

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