2. Rock in the 1950s
The development of the new vocal pop star
If rock music evolved from 1950s rock and roll, then rock and rollitself--which at the time seemed to spring from nowhere--evolved from developments in American popular music that followed the marketing of the new technologies of records, radio, motion pictures, and the electric microphone. By the 1930s their combined effect was an increasing demand for vocal rather than instrumental records and for singing stars such as Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Increasingly, pop songs were written to display a singer's personality rather than a composer's skill; they had to work emotionally through the singer's expressiveness rather than formally as a result of the score (it was Sinatra's feelings that were heard in the songs he sang rather than their writers'). By the early 1950s it was clear that this new kind of vocal pop star needed simpler, more directly emotional songs than those provided by jazz or theatre-based composers, and the big publishers began to take note of the blues and country numbers issued on small record labels in the American South. While the major record companies tried to meet the needs of Hollywood, the national radio networks, and television, a system of independent record companiesindependent record companies (such as AtlanticAtlantic, SunSun, and ChessChess), local radio stations, and traveling deejayslocal radio stations, and traveling deejays emerged to serve the music markets the majors ignored: African-Americans, Southern whites, and, eventually, youth.
Rural music in urban settings
Selling rural American musics (blues, folk, country, and gospel) had always been the business of small rather than corporate entrepreneurs, but World War II changed the markets for them--partly because of the hundreds of thousands of Southerners who migrated north for work, bringing their music with them, and partly because of the broadening cultural horizons that resulted from military service. Rural music in urban settings became, necessarily, louder and more aggressive (the same thing had happened to jazz in the early 1920s). Instruments, notably the guitar, had to be amplified to cut through the noise, and, as black dance bands got smaller (for straightforward economic reasons), guitar, bass, and miked-up voice replaced brass and wind sections, while keyboards and saxophone became rhythm instruments used to swell the beat punched out by the drums. Country dance bands, emerging from 1940s jazz-influenced western swing, made similar changes, amplifying guitars and bass, giving the piano a rhythmic role, and playing up the personality of the singer.
Such music--rhythm and blues and honky tonk--was developed in live performance by traveling musicians who made their living by attracting dancers to bars, clubs, and halls. By the late 1940s it was being recorded by independent record companies, always on the lookout for cheap repertoire and aware of these musicians' local pulling power. As the records were played on local radio stations, the appeal of this music--its energy, humour, and suggestiveness--reached white suburban teenagers who otherwise knew nothing about it. Rhythm-and-blues record retailers, radio stations, and deejays (most famously Alan Freed) became aware of a new market--partying teenagers--while the relevant recording studios began to be visited by young white musicians who wanted to make such music for themselves. The result was rock and roll, the adoption of these rural-urban, black and white sounds by an emergent teenage culture that came to international attention with the success of the film Blackboard Jungle in 1956.
Marketing rock and roll
Rock and roll's impact in the 1950s reflected the spending power of young people who, as a result of the '50s economic boom (and in contrast to the prewar Great Depression), had unprecedented disposable income. That income was of interest not just to record companies but to an ever-increasing range of advertisers keen to pay for time on teen-oriented, Top 40 radio stations and for the development of teen-aimed television showsteen-aimed television shows such as American BandstandAmerican Bandstand. For the major record companies, Presley's success marked less the appeal of do-it-yourself musical hybrids than the potential of teenage idols: singers with musical material and visual images that could be marketed on radio and television and in motion pictures and magazines. The appeal of live rock and roll (and its predominantly black performers) was subordinated to the manufacture of teenage pop stars (who were almost exclusively white). Creative attention thus swung from the performers to the record makers--that is, to the songwriters (such as those gathered in the Brill BuildingBrill Building in New York City) and producers (such as Phil Spector) who could guarantee the teen appeal of a record and ensure that it would stand out on a car radio.
3. Rock in the 1960s
A black and white hybrid
Whatever the commercial forces at play (and despite the continuing industry belief that this was pop music as transitory novelty), it became clear that the most successful writers and producers of teenage music were themselves young and intrigued by musical hybridity and the technological possibilities of the recording studiotechnological possibilities of the recording studio. In the early 1960s teenage pop ceased to sound like young adult pop. Youthful crooners such as Frankie Avalon and Fabian were replaced in the charts by vocal groups such as the Shirelles. A new rock-and-roll hybrid of black and white music appeared: Spector derived the mini-dramas of girl groups such as the Crystals and the Ronettes from the vocal rhythm-and-blues style of doo-wop, the Beach Boys rearranged Chuck Berry for barbershop-style close harmonies, and in Detroit Berry Gordy's Motown label drew on gospel music (first secularized for the teenage market by Sam Cooke) for the more rhythmically complex but equally commercial sounds of the Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas. For the new generation of record producer, whether Spector, the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, or Motown's Smokey Robinson and the team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, the commercial challenge--to make a record that would be heard through all the other noises in teenage lives--was also an artistic challenge. Even in this most commercial of scenes (thanks in part to its emphasis on fashion), success depended on a creative approach to technological DIY.
The British reaction
Rock historians tend to arrange rock's past into a recurring pattern of emergence, appropriation, and decline. Thus, rock and roll emerged in the mid-1950s only to be appropriated by big business (for example, Presley's move from the Memphis label Sun to the