THE POPULAR ARTS IN AMERICA: THE HISTORY OF ROCK AND ROLL – THE 1950s
A minimum 700 word Paper on “Thinking About Change in Popular Music”
NOTE: This assignment is to be a minimum of 700 words in length and due no later than 11:30 PM EDT on Wednesday October 23, 2013.
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THINKING ABOUT CHANGE IN POPULAR MUSIC
“Change is what rock and roll is all about.”
The emergence of rock and roll in the 1950s brought about dramatic changes in the music industries and in mainstream culture. In 1954, the year before “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock” hit Number One, record sales stood at $213 million and most records were purchased by adults. By the end of 1959, record sales had nearly tripled to $613 million and 80 percent of those sales were to teenagers who bought rock and roll records. Black artists who had never been able to mount a sustained presence in the popular mainstream became established stars in the pop Top Ten and competed on equal footing with white artists, despite early efforts by the major labels to promote cover versions by white artists over the African American originals. Although controversy would continue to surround rock and roll music, the marketplace overwhelmed every attempt to restrict or retard its growth and rock and roll won out over the objections of parents, critics, and moral authorities that saw rock and roll “as a plague on the Nation’s youth.”
The recording industries were dramatically reshaped by rock and roll. Prior to rock and roll, the major labels (RCA, Columbia, Decca, and Capitol) controlled the popular mainstream. Of the 162 million selling records sold between 1946 and 1952, the major labels produced all but five. When rock and roll first emerged, it was virtually ignored by the major labels, who saw it as a “passing fad” that would have little impact on the popular mainstream. However, by 1957 two thirds of the records on the pop charts were rock and roll records and almost all were produced, not by the major labels, but by independents.
Although 1950s rock and roll – and its wide-ranging cultural effects – undoubtedly produced the most dynamic and dramatic changes that ever occurred in the history of popular music, more changes would come and many would produce significant shifts in music and in our culture. The British Invasion of the 1960s – led by The Beatles and followed by The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, The Who, The Dave Clark Five, The Hollies, The Animals, The Spencer Davis Group, and, ultimately, Led Zeppelin – ended the U.S. domination of the popular mainstream. The emergence of psychedelic rock in the 1960s carried with it the counterculture revolution of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. In the 1970s, heavy metal, punk, and new wave would redefine the social and musical movements of the 1960s and, in turn, would spawn alternative and heartland rock and roll in the 1980s. That decade would herald further dramatic upheaval as hip-hop crossed over from inner cities into the popular mainstream and MTV redefined how music was presented and delivered. The changes would keep coming in the 1990s with grunge, indie rock, and Britpop…and, of course, change continues to come as we enter the second decade of the 21st century.
Identify, explore, and critique any genre or subgenre of popular music that brought about change and you feel is significant and worthy of examination. It could be a change from the distant past or from the near past and, as a consequence, part of your own personal experience. It could also be a change that is taking place right now and is currently reshaping what we understand popular music to be. Also, your selection does not have to be limited just to “rock and roll”; you can explore any kind of popular music. What is important is to clearly identify how that music changed (or is changing) things and discuss the social and cultural effects that came about (or potentially may come about) because of that change. In the paper, you should use examples to support your conclusions.
It is, of course, advisable to cite outside sources for support and frame your argument in the form of a formal essay (Look over “Presenting Arguments,” “Tips On Writing Papers,” and “Critical Thinking” in the Syllabus).
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