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Rock and roll dominated popular music in the mid 1950s and late 1950s, and quickly spread to much of the rest of the world. Its immediate origins lay in a mixing together of various black musical genres of the time, including rhythm and blues and gospel music; with country and western and Pop. In 1951, Cleveland, Ohio disc jockey Alan Freed began playing rhythm and blues music for a multi-racial audience, and is credited with first using the phrase “rock and roll” to describe the music.
The 1950s saw the growth in popularity of the electric guitar (developed and popularized by Les Paul). Paul’s hit records like “How High the Moon”, and “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise”, helped lead to the development of a specifically rock and roll style of playing of such exponents as Chuck Berry, Link Wray, and Scotty Moore. Chuck Berry, who is considered to be one of the pioneers of Rock and roll music, refined and developed the major elements that made rock and roll distinctive, focusing on teen life and introducing guitar solos and showmanshipthat would be a major influence on subsequent rock music.
Artists such as Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Big Joe Turner, and Gene Vincent released the initial rhythm and blues-influenced early rock and roll hits. Rock and roll forerunners in the popular music field included Johnnie Ray, The Crew-Cuts, The Fontane Sisters, and Les Paul and Mary Ford. The Rock and Roll Era is generally dated from 25 March 1955 premiere of the motion picture, “The Blackboard Jungle”. This film’s use of Bill Haley and His Comets’ “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” over its opening credits, caused a national sensation when teenagers started dancing in the aisles.
Pat Boone became one of the most successful artists of the 50s with his heavily Pop-influenced “covers” of R&B hits like “Two Hearts, Two Kisses (Make One Love)”, “Ain’t That a Shame”, and “At My Front Door (Crazy Little Mama)”. Boone got his fame by covering black R&B hits, his cover versions of the original artists outsold the originals. Boone removed the raw feel of the original versions and replaced it with his own voice making it safer and appropriate for mainstream pop radio stations at the time. Boone will later find success by ballads and less by R&B covers because R&B covers were declining due to the fact that most people at the time were preferring the originals. Boone’s traditional pop approach to rock and roll, coupled with his All-American, clean-cut image helped bring the new sound to a much wider audience.
Elvis Presley, who began his career in the mid-1950s, was the most successful artist of the popular sound of rock and roll with a series of network television appearances, motion pictures, and chart-topping records. Elvis also brought rock and roll widely into the mainstream of popular culture. Elvis popularized the four-man group and also brought the guitar to become the lead instrument in rock music. Presley popularized rockabilly, a genre that combined country with rhythm and blues which some claimed it was a new sound. Some claimed that Presley invented the genre by combining country with rhythm and blues. Elvis became the biggest pop craze since Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra. His energized interpretations of songs, many from African American sources, and his uninhibited performance style made him enormously popular—and controversial during that period. Presley’s massive success brought rock and roll widely into the mainstream and made it easier for African-American musicians to achieve mainstream success on the pop charts. Boone and Presley’s styles/images represented opposite ends of the burgeoning musical form, Boone was known as being safe while Presley was known as being dangerous, which competed with one another throughout the remainder of the decade.
In 1957, a popular television show featuring rock and roll performers, American Bandstand, went national. Hosted by Dick Clark, the program helped to popularize the more clean-cut, All-American brand of rock and roll. By the end of the decade, teen idols like Bobby Darin, Ricky Nelson, Frankie Avalon, Paul Anka, Neil Sedaka, Bobby Rydell, Connie Francis, and Fabian Forte were topping the charts. Some commentators have perceived this as the decline of rock and roll; citing the deaths of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens in a tragic plane crash in 1959 and the departure of Elvis for the army as causes.
On the other side of the spectrum, R&B-influenced acts like The Crows, The Penguins, The El Dorados and The Turbans all scored major hits, and groups like The Platters, with songs including “The Great Pretender” (1955), and The Coasters with humorous songs like “Yakety Yak” (1958), ranked among the most successful rock and roll acts of the period.
Rock and roll has also been seen as leading to a number of distinct subgenres, including rockabilly (see below) in the 1950s, combining rock and roll with “hillbilly” country music, which was usually played and recorded in the mid-1950s by white singers such as Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and with the greatest commercial success, Elvis Presley. Another subgenre, Doo Wop, entered the pop charts in the 1950s . Its popularity soon spawns the parody “Who Put the Bomp”.
Novelty songs, long a music industry staple, continued their popularity in the Rock and Roll medium with hits such as “Beep Beep”.
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Patricia Bueno Queiróz, I graduated in production engineering, web-partner @Radioabilly, lover of good music, joined this passion with the universe from the 1940s to the 60s, bridging the gap between musicians, DJs and the world. Besides being a mother and a wife, she likes challenges and turns the impossible into possibilities.