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Music 3 Essay, Research Paper

Rock music emerged during the mid-1950s to become the major popular musical form of young audiences in the United States and Western Europe. Its stylistic scope is too broad to be encompassed by any single definition; the only feature common to all rock music is a heavy emphasis on the beat.

Rock ‘n’ Roll, 1950-62

The primary source of rock ‘n’ roll was rhythm and blues, an idiom popular among black audiences that combined elements of urban blues (in the structure, vocal style, and use of amplified guitar), gospel music (in the piano accompaniments and vocal harmonizing), and jazz (in the saxophone solos). Rhythm and blues began to gain a wider audience during the late 1940s, and in 1951 the disc jockey Alan Freed, who played an important role in attracting white teenagers to the music, substituted the term rock ‘n’ roll previously used as a sexual reference in lyrics. Major record producers, observing the success of rhythm and blues and rock ‘n’ roll songs distributed on “race records” (i.e., record labels marketed to black audiences), issued “covers”+competing, “sanitized” versions of the same songs but recorded by white artists. Covers+whatever their artistic quality+brought new stylistic influences to rock ‘n’ roll (white country and western music and popular music) and eased the transition for white audiences. This audience, still hesitant at accepting black music, made Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” (1955) the first important breakthrough for white rock ‘n’ roll. What appealed to this new audience, accustomed to the relatively bland Tin Pan Alley brand of popular music, was rock ‘n’ roll’s driving dance rhythms, its direct, adolescent-level message, and its suggestion of youthful rebellion.

Rock ‘n’ roll’s first superstar was Elvis Presley. With his country-and-western background, Presley led the way for other “rockabilly” (rock plus hillbilly) artists; with his spasmodic hip gyrations, he introduced a sexual suggestiveness that outraged conservative adults; with his legions of teenage fans, he brought to rock ‘n’ roll the cult of personality and became the archetype of the rock star as cultural hero.

Other popular figures, while commanding a smaller audience, also made significant contributions to the style; among them, Chuck Berry nourished the music’s basic roots, Jerry Lee Lewis expanded its country branch, and Little Richard provided frantic showmanship. Despite the dynamism of such figures, by the late 1950s a malaise had set in; the music had become formula ridden, sentimental, and often+as in love-death ballads like “Teen Angel”+distinctly maudlin. Seeking a more honest expression, a significant segment of the adolescent and young adult audiences transferred their allegiance to folk music, as sung by such groups as Peter, Paul, and Mary, a folk trio; to traditional balladeers like the Kingston Trio; and to the prophets of modern folk/social commentary, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan.

Rock, 1963-69

The renewal of rock ‘n’ roll came from the unlikely locale of Liverpool, England. Here, The Beatles made their start in 1960, at first imitating American styles and then weaving from the various strands of American rock ‘n’ roll an individual style marked+in both music and lyrics+by wit and a sense of fun. Their successes came quickly during 1963-64, and their domination of the record market was complete. Rather than repeat the formulas of their initial triumphs, they chose the route of experimentation and growth. From 1965 to 1969 they introduced new sonorities, textures, forms, rhythms, melodic designs, and lyric conceptions and were at the forefront of a revolutionary epoch in popular music. Rock ‘n’ roll had evolved into an expression of greater sophistication, complexity, and breadth. It had become rock.

Other English groups also came into prominence around 1964. The Rolling Stones, the most prominent and durable of these groups, presented another image of rock+one of anger, alienation, and sensuality.

Other trends of the 1960s included the girl groups, prominent in the early part of the decade; the merging of rhythm and blues with black gospel styles to create the Motown sound of groups like the Supremes and the Temptations, and later the harder sound of soul music; the beginnings of jazz-rock, as originally synthesized by the band Blood, Sweat, and Tears; folk-rock, a blending of folk with rock; and the emergence of the “California sound.” The folk-rock style, first suggested by Bob Dylan at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, brought to folk music a hard beat and amplification, and to rock a new poetic sensibility and social consciousness. A deeper significance of the blending was its demonstration of rock’s tendency to absorb all challenging idioms.

The California sound, despite its name, was not a uniform style, but a term that reflected the rise of California as a major center of rock activity and experimentation. In the early 1960s, California was the scene of “surfing music” (popularized by the Beach Boys), but over the course of the decade the music changed to parallel the trends of hippies (the Mamas and the Papas), student protest (Country Joe and the Fish), and a countercultural affair with drugs.

Widespread popularity of hallucinogenic drugs (particularly LSD, or “acid”) produced psychedelic Acid Rock, whose apostles included Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead.

Rock’s first major effort in musical theater was the hippie revue Hair (1967), a spectacularly successful pageant celebrating youth, love, and drugs. Closely following were such rock-opera successes as Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar.

By the end of the 1960s the distinctions between rock ‘n’ roll and rock were evident. The earlier instrumentation of saxophone, piano, amplified guitar, and drums had been replaced by several amplified guitars, drums, and an ever-increasing reliance on electronic technology. To the standard patterns of 12-bar blues and 32-bar song form were added extended, unique forms, sometimes encompassing the entire side of a record album; to the lyrics of teenage love and adolescent concerns were added social commentary, glorification of drugs, and free-association poetry. Descriptive group names (Crew Cuts, Everly Brothers, Beach Boys) were replaced by nondescriptive, enigmatic names (The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company). Finally, the separation between performer and composer seemed to vanish as the two merged in a single performer-composer. As demonstrated by the Woodstock Festival in August 1969, rock music was by this time an intrinsic element in the life of American youth and a powerful articulation of their moods, hopes, and fears.

Rock, 1970-79

This decade saw the fragmentation of rock into subdivisions beyond the general categories of hard rock (extremely loud and electronically amplified) and mellow rock (softer, sometimes with acoustic instruments). The terms identifying these subdivisions were not firm definitions but merely guides to styles that were tenuous, fluid, and often overlapping.

Some styles were blendings of rock with other established idioms, the rock contribution invariably being a heavy beat and electronic technology. Thus, folk-rock and country-rock each retained the character of folk and country music. Reggae, which emerged from Jamaica around 1972, is still a vital style. It is an integration of rock, soul, calypso, and other Latin rhythms. Jazz-rock fusion, or simply fusion, was a meeting between rock instrumentalists, attracted to the broad creative opportunities and musicianship of jazz, and jazz musicians, attracted to rock’s electronics and commercial potential.

Other styles, more clearly based on rock principles and precedents, ranged from the benign bubble-gum rock of the Osmond Brothers, directed toward the youngest popular music fans, to the intentionally vile punk rock, which punctuated its strident denunciations with vulgarity. Heavy metal rock continued the hallucinogenic approach of acid rock, but within a narrower musical dimension, relying upon the hypnotic power of repetitiveness, loud volume, and electronic distortion. Glitter rock was more a theatrical approach than a musical style; it offered glittering costumes and bizarre, sometimes androgynous, exhibitions (Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Kiss). New wave rock, which made its debut as the 1970s drew to a close, appeared to be something of an old wave, with its return to a more basic, unadorned metric emphasis and a greater lyricism.

Most rock music of the period was intended almost solely for listening, not for dancing. The inevitable reaction was disco music, a music first and foremost for dancing. With its thumping regularity of accented beats divided into minibeats, disco was decried by hard-line rock fans as mechanical, commercial, and unlyrical. Nevertheless, its following increased and, after the Bee Gees composed and recorded their disco-beat soundtrack for the film Saturday Night Fever (1977), disco became for a while a major sector of rock music.

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