Rock n' roll is best described as a "hybrid of many musical styles: white country and western, black guitar blues and rhythm and blues, and both black and white gospel music." (De Curtis)
Rock ' roll began in the early 1950's as a dancing music strictly for teenagers and became known in the 1960's as simply rock music. This was because rock no longer stressed music to dance to.
Throughout the decades, rock 'n roll has become a way for young people to express their emotions and problems, such as love, school, peer pressure, cars and parents. It has also been used as a significant display of rebellion against general authority and adult values.
Since the 1950's, rock 'n roll and rock music has taken a stand against the American economic and political systems, as well as a general defiance against traditional values. It has also been an outlet for positive expression and a way to promote good energy. (Szatmary)
During the 1950's, rock 'n roll spoke out against many of the institutions that worked to control young people of all different economic and social classes of the Silent Years of the Eisenhower regime that took place from 1952-1960. Elvis Presley and many others of the first famous rock 'n roll musicians were viewed by older generations as villains who sought to destroy the decency and stability of the youth.
According to parents of the 1950's, rock 'n roll started a trend of youth separation from their parents and traditional family values. It also created a distance between teenagers and both the home and church.
Rock 'n Roll and Society
As the rule of society change, so does the music. As American values were shifting through this period, a corresponding shift can be observed in rock 'n' roll, as it moved away from the simpler rhythm and blues of the 1950s to the more literate and politically charged subject matter of the 1960s. (Edsforth)
And as the music reflected these changes it also became symbolic of them, producing a defining musical figure at each major turning point: Bob Dylan at the more cerebral beginnings of the radical sixties, the Beatles during its more idealistic middle period, and the Rolling Stones closer to the end.
Many of the rock 'n roll stars of this decade were from poor and working class families so many of the songs attacked the upper middle-class concepts. Throughout the 1950's, the United States' capitalist economy was largely consumer oriented. The production of heavy industrial goods like the ones needed for the growing defense sector was not affected, but consumer commodities were becoming the mainstay of the American economy. (Curtis)
The mass production of consumer commodities was due to the wealth of a large percentage of the population. The Untied States had predicted the general increase in wealth among consumers because of the new dominance of the world capitalist system after World War II (Chapple). The new Bureaucratic consumer capitalism caused widespread protest by the children of the middle-class and a few of the upper-class children as well.
The protest against American consumer capitalism in the sixties was somewhat reflected in the new progressive rock music being created by mostly middle-class rock groups like the Mothers of Invention, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish, the Fugs, the Doors, and Bob Dylan. The growing student and dropout audience particularly favored these new rock groups. Rock music shared a lot of the antiestablishment attitudes of the nascent youth culture and the older radicals. "Fundamentally, it was against materialist consumerism and puritanical sexual organization."
By the end of the 1950's, rock 'n roll had become the voice of a completely new generation of people - the youth of America.
In 1971, the song "American Pie" entered the lives of millions around the world. (McLean) Today, it is one of the most discussed, dissected and debated songs that popular music has ever produced. The song shows how music represents the values of its time because of its meaning. The song refers to "the ten years we've been on our own," speaking of 1959-1970, the decade in which the American cultural landscape changed radically, passing from the relative optimism and conformity of the 1950s and early 1960s to the rejection of these values by the various political and social movements of the mid and late sixties.
The era of the 1950s was a relatively peaceful period in American life and American Pie spoke of the new situations that Americans were finding themselves in as a quieter, hopeful world disappeared. As 1970 came to a close, the world the flower children had envisioned no longer seemed viable and a sense of disillusion and loss were predominant.
During the 1960's, the kids of the 1950's were in college and looking for new ways to express their feelings about everything that was going on in their lives. They were surrounded by war and the civil rights movement, and looked toward folk music to express their need for peace. During this time, rock 'n roll musicians began to use folk music as a source of influence on rock and roll.
For example, 1960's rock star Bob Dylan wrote the song "Blowin' in the Wind" as a civil rights anthem for the 1960's generation, whose trademark attitudes included involvement, complacency, and indifference. College kids were more involved in community and national projects than at any other time in history. The majority of these projects included racial equality, as the civil rights movement was at its peak during the sixties. (Ward)
College students were using this music to send out important messages about who they were, what their values were and how they wanted to change things. The messages in rock and roll became part of a counterculture, which included drug usage, sexual liberation, and the music revolution. While students organized protests about everything from military drafts to sexuality, rock 'n roll spread these topics to a broader audience, carrying the values of the generation throughout the world.
What They Mean
When talking about the song "Imagine," John Lennon once admitted that the song "is virtually a communist manifesto, even though I am not particularly a communist and I do not belong to any movement. You see, 'Imagine' was exactly the same message, but sugar-coated. Now, 'Imagine' is a big hit almost everywhere -- anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic song, but because it is sugar-coated it is accepted. Now I understand what you have to do. Put your political message across with a little honey." (Edsforth)
Today, young people are more politically apathetic than previous generations but their music says a great deal about their ideals and values. A lot of the music has political undertones regarding themes like anarchy, modern warfare, and political nihilism. The popular band, U2, have built their reputation around political songs dealing with issues ranging from environmentalism to the conflict in Ireland. (Ziznar)
Generations Express Themselves
Politics are integral to any discussion of popular culture. Because rock-n-roll artists are connected to many people with shared experiences, they are able to use certain images and expressions to show the audience their views on life and attempt to influence the audience with these views. Therefore politics can be integrated into rock-n-roll because it influences popular culture. Those influences have been part of a broad movement for political and cultural changes in time.
The war against racism was the first major revolution that was significantly influenced by rock 'n roll. During the 1950's and 1960's, black artists were considered R&B artists while white artists were known as pop artists. Charts, radio stations, and retail outlets segregated blacks and whites in the music industry. However, rock 'n roll helped draw attention to the black revolt and bring equality to music. (Curtis)
In addition, the war against sexism was given a huge boost by rock 'n roll. Women of the 1950's were seen as followers, housewives and mothers. As women took a greater role in rock music in the 1960's, seen as vocalists, instrumentalists, and songwriters.
The musical lyrics of rock music have a tremendous effect on the ideals, values and attitudes of each generation. The lyrics seen throughout each decade expresses the situation of the world and the thoughts, feeling and values of its youth.
Country rock was one of the most popular fads of the seventies, as was reggae, funk and heavy metal. The mid-Seventies were largely a decade of consolidation, rather than innovation, but two phenomena erupted that would have a strong impact: disco-music and punk-rock.
Disco used electronic instruments for commercial, mass-scale music. The beat of dance music would never be the same again. The youth of this time were into fun and dancing, but with a style that was unprecedented.
Punk-rock had an even greater impact, because it came with the emancipation of the record industry from the big labels. Many independent record labels promoted underground artists and…