The Origins of Rock ‘n’ Roll

The Origins of Rock ‘n’ Roll

In the early, to mid 19th Century, a musical revolution was beginning in America. On the fringes of society, fuelled by the uneasy coexistence of black and white cultures a new form of music was being born. Cleveland radio disc jockey Alan Freed is said to have coined the, then somewhat vulgar term, ‘Rock and Roll’ in 1951 to describe this sexy hybrid of country, rhythm, and blues, jazz, swing and gospel music, which involved the usage of instruments such as electric guitars, drums and amplified vocals.

In the following years the expression ‘Rock and Roll’ was liberally used when referring to songs such as “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley (1955) and “Heartbreak Hotel” by Elvis Presley (1956). As the popularity of the genre grew, the increased demand from teenaged listeners of all races saw the renaissance of ‘Rock Stars’ such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Chubby Checker, Ray Charles and Buddy Holly. This musical revolution also spread to Britain with artists such as Cliff Richard and later more ‘sophisticated’ musicians such as The Beatles gaining prominence.

The late 1950’s saw the rise of ‘Anti-rock-and-roll’ campaigns stemming from the daring references to sex and rebellion embedded in rock and roll music. This intense moral criticism of rock and roll, as well as the commencement of the Vietnam War,shaped and changed the genre and saw the emergence of more politically active artists such as Bob Dylan (1960’s). The subsequent loss of the Vietnam War (1975) transformed activism to hedonism and gave way to almost a decade of ‘Disco music’ and ‘Glam-Rock’.

It could be said that rock and roll music was revived in 1981 with the debut of MTV which launched with the prolific words ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Rock and Roll!’ This media attention provided a base for the promotion of rock and roll and introduced new artists such as Bruce Springsteen and Bono (U2).

More than twenty years later rock and roll is still an extremely popular and lucrative music genre, however, in the words of Roger Chapman “Rock and Roll is more than a musical movement, it follows generations through life, changing in beat, lyrics, and style to reflect the cultural and social needs of its listeners”. In short, rock and roll is a way of life.