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Music Through the Decades - Part Two

Updated on August 12, 2015

Alan Freed

Alan Freed at the mike
Alan Freed at the mike

The 1950s brought a true revolution in music. Music seems to be generational with each generation following their own music throughout their lifetime and each generation thinking their music is better than the generation before. The 1950s really was different, it brought about changes the music industry had never seen before. Old staples remained and ‘grown ups’ still listened to the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra and Julius LaRosa. Favorite female singers were Dinah Shore, Rosemary Clooney, Judy Garland, and Doris Day. The Andrews Sisters gave way to the McGuire Sisters, and the early 50s would continue easy listening but things were about to change drastically. The youth of the country were beginning to listen to a new music, Rock and Roll. Some people consider Doo Wop a totally different genre of music but in the 50s it was a part of Rock and Roll. A new, loud, teen oriented music. Alan Freed played black rock and blues. Alan Freed was credited with coining the phrase Rock & Roll. He was also the first DJ to play Rock & Roll on the radio. When he moved his radio show to WINS radio in New York it quickly became the number one show. The Memphis Recording Service was the first place a black singer could go to record his music. It also attracted a young Elvis Presley who liked this kind of music and headed to Memphis Recording to make a recording for his mother’s birthday. Unless you’ve had your head in the sand for the last 50 years or so, you know about Elvis Presley and where that first song led. From that humble beginning he became "The King of Rock'n Roll."

Connie Francis
Connie Francis

Just to let you know, at this time Eddie Fischer was considered the ‘King of Pop’ but music was leaving Pop for Rock and Roll. Another new record label, 'Motown' helped African American artists and became synonymous with a special sound. For example, The Miracles, founded by Smokey Robinson emerged during the fifties. The Marvelettes were also formed in the 50s but their fame came in the 60s.

Connie Francis was a big female singer in the fifties but her break came in 1959 when she sang “Mama” on the Perry Como show in English and Italian. Note that she was only 16 when she made her first recording, “Who’s Sorry Now.” There were many teenage wonders in the 1950s, in researching this article I found that the word “teenager” was also coined in the fifties. In 1958 Alan Freed renamed the Imperials, Little Anthony and the Imperials, when they first sang “Tears on My Pillow.” Little Anthony was a teen when he began his career but was all of 18 when he recorded “Tears.” Other famous teens included; Fabian at 15, Frankie Avalon – 19, Brenda Lee – 13, Ricky Nelson - 17, the Chantels – 14 to 17, I think you get the picture.

“In 1952 a band out of Chester, Pennsylvania began to enjoy some modest success with a sound that was part Country and part R&B. They recorded one song in 1954 that brought only modest success. Then the song was used as the theme for a movie, The Blackboard Jungle, and that got them a whole lotta attention. The song was Rock Around the Clock and the band was Bill Haley and His Comets.” Most people believe this was the true beginning of Rock & Roll.

American Bandstand with Dick Clark
American Bandstand with Dick Clark

Between 1955 and 1959, Chuck Berry from St. Louis produced such top 10 hits as "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Rock And Roll Music," and "Johnny B. Goode."

The 50s also brought us Buddy Holly, Little Richard and the Big Bopper who were tragically killed in an airplane crash in 1959. Vinyl records went from 78 rpms to 33s and 45s. The main music buyers were in their teens or early twenties oh, and don’t forget American Bandstand which ran from 1952 to 1989!

It seems songs were in abundance during the fifties with hits like; Jailhouse Rock, Tutti-Frutti, Hound Dog, That’ll Be the Day, Bye-Bye Love, Great Balls of Fire, Earth Angel, Why Do Fools Fall in Love, Good Golly Miss Molly, For Your Precious Love, Blueberry Hill, Sh-Boom, Yakety Yak, La Bomba, Shout, the list goes on and not enough time or space to continue it here.

The 1960s brought more change. Rockabilly stars like Elvis, the Everley Brothers and Roy Orbison were still crossing Rock & Roll lines. California came to Rock & Roll in the beginning with instrumental music like “Wipeout” and “Pipeline”, but came Beach Boys and with them came hit after hit and really rode the wave! Songs like; Surfin, Surfin Girl, Surfin Safari, 409, Little Deuce Coupe, Good Vibrations, 36 out of 40 hits.

There were others like Jan and Dean with Surf City and Honolulu Lulu, Ronny & the Daytonas with “Little GTO”, and the Ripchords with “Hey Little Cobra”,

But, history affects music and the death of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King and the war in Viet Nam brought about changes in the country and the youth of the country. The Sixties was a time of rebellion. Songs reflected these changes. Woodstock happened. Free love and hippies were everywhere. Singers like Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who, and as always more. Musicians were taking a stand and weren’t afraid to do it.

The Beatles
The Beatles

While the free spirit was overly abundant it wasn’t the only music around. The Twist, Build Me Up Buttercup, The Locomotion, Louie, Louie, Wipe Out, Hot Rod Lincoln, Sweet Caroline, and others showed “conventional’ Rock & Roll was still alive, but one of the biggest and most profound changes took place in the mid-sixties with the British Invasion. I don’t think I need to even mention The Beatles. Following the Beatles was the Dave Clark Five and other British singers/groups like Freddie and the Dreamers, the Bee Gees, Moody Blues, Manfred Man, the Yardbirds, Petula Clark and Dusty Springfield. No one, before or since has had the appeal and success of the Beatles.

Billy Joel
Billy Joel

The 1970s, like the 1960s continued to see a mix in music but the predominant music of the seventies was hard rock and heavy metal. Billy Joel was singing “Captain Jack” and “Piano Man” and Elton John was singing “Crocodile Rock” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”. The Jackson Five was in its groove with “ABC” being one of its most well known songs. But the focus was on the new stuff, AC/DC, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Queen and more. Everyone knew Freddie Mercury and Queen. Newer bands like Judas Priest, Queen and Blue Oyster Cult took up the mantle of these older bands and added their voice to an ever growing revolution in rock music. Queen was the most experimental of the groups combining interesting and beautiful melodies with classically inspired harmonies which bordered on progressive and experimental rock. Kiss took the genre to a fevered pitch using classic elements of theatre such as fire and fake blood to keep audiences interested. In the late 70's heavy metal went through a decline and the giants of the early 70's started to loose influence due to deaths and personnel changes. AC/DC, Judas Priest, Queen, and Rush kept the genre alive but only just.

In the late 70s Judas Priest, Quiet Riot, Motley Crue, and Iron Maiden came on the scene – sometimes called “the hair bands.” Early metal bands, in emulation of popular music as a whole, hoped to discover what was real by finding out first what was not. This attitude, over the course of four generations of music, took metal beyond the grounds of "good" versus "evil" into nihilism, where nothing had inherent value or classification, but could be described in terms of experience.( )

Heavy metal’s constant is it is loud and often emotional as lead singers throw their heads around or ‘battle’ with other members of the band. Lyrics are often dark and when seen on stage there’s a lot of action. Watching these bands one might think’ the more outrageous the better is their motto.

The 1980s saw Ronald Regan elected president, Mt. St. Helens erupted in Washington, and John Lennon assassinated in Central Park. says the80s was marked with big hair, off the shoulder sweatshirts, head bands, bad perms, shiny material for clothing, big bold colors, spandex pants and tube tops. Hard rock, heavy metal, and ‘glam music’ were a sign of the eighties. The 80s generation remembers all of this fondly as past generations remember their decades. The two most popular singers of the 1980s were Michael Jackson and Madonna. Not to worry, heavy metal made the transition into the 80s AND MTV made its debut. Even I remember watching Michael Jackson’s Thriller - a 14 minute video - on MTV. I also went with my kids to their high school to watch the debut at an annual spring festival. MTV started in 1981 and actually had music VIDEOS. Many popular artists were made popular by MTV like Duran Duran and The Police. Duran Duran had a big hit from the Bond movie “A View to a Kill” with the song with the same name. Bit of trivia - Duran Duran was named for a character in Jane Fonda's film Barbarella – not a well-known or popular movie. One of my favorites was Cyndi Lauper. It only seems logical that TV and music had finally joined together in MTV. Teenagers loved watching their favorite singers perform and MTV was the place to go…no concert tickets and you could watch any time you wanted to. Of course the music industry loved MTV because it sold records. Parents were shocked when they saw Madonna performing “Like a Virgin” on MTV but kids loved it.

Concerts for charity became popular in the 1980s. Concerts like Live Aid, Band Aid, USA for Africa, and the fund raising song “We Are the World.” The hip hop scene began in the late eighties and brought us the Beastie Boys, Run-D.M.C., and Ice Tea, to name a few.

We are the World - a YouTube Video

Red Hot Chili Peppers
Red Hot Chili Peppers

The 1990s brought us grunge and Britpop, and alternative rock became accepted. According to a Wikipedia article, The Red Hot Chili Peppers became an important band in the rise of alternative rock with their album Blood Sugar Sex Magik bringing worldwide attention to alternative rock. Combining funk rock with more conventional rock, the Chili Peppers were able to achieve mainstream success climaxing with the release of Californication. Grunge not only brought us music but a style of clothing as well, torn and faded – to look untidy and not materialistic. I think one of the greatest things about the 90s is that all genres of music survived side-by-side with the new ones, but the nineties was a time of experimentation as well. You can see that from the different types of music that emerged along with the old stalwarts. With technology and computers becoming more mainstream it was time for music technology and electronic music. Techno (sometimes called house or dance) and rave joined other forms of music in popularity. Technotronic was one of the groups that made it to the charts using techno music. MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice were on the hip hop side. Interestingly, like the 50s and 60s, music again started to appeal to teenagers and the teenage spirit with songs like Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” By the mid-1990s even teenagers were looking for something happier with a lighter spirit. Groups like Hootie and the Blowfish paved the way for happy rock. They were followed by the likes of Christina Aguilera, Brittany Spear, the Backstreet Boys and N’Sync.


Billboard Magazine named Mariah Carey as the best Artist of the Decade for the 1990s and Ricky Martin sang “Livin La Viva Loca.” Salsa became popular as a music and dance. Billy Joel continued his success along with artists like Celine Dion, Brian Adams, LL Cool J, Barenaked Ladies, Oasis, Alanis Morissette, Spice Girls, Marc Antony, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, New Kids on the Block – the list is diverse and long! One of Queens greatest hits was made in the 1990s – Bohemian Rhapsody.

In 1997 Princess Diana died in a tragic car accident. Elton John re-wrote his famous song, “Candle in the Wind” in her honor.

No one that lived through the 1990s can forget the “Macarena “!

As always songs made for movies transferred to the mainstream and became popular. Songs like “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from The Lion King (Elton John), “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” from Robin Hood; Prince of Thieves (Brian Adams), “Beauty and the Beast” from the Disney movie of the same name (Celine Dion) and "It Must Have Been Love" from Pretty Woman (Roxette) to name a few.

Obviously I haven’t even scratched the surface of music through the decades. I have presented the smallest microcosm of what happened through the decades. More music, more artists, more songs, more song writers, more groups, more hits have been left out than the number of those I included, but it was not my intention to slight anyone nor was it my intention to write an encyclopedia of music. I hope my attempt has provided a smile or two, jogged a memory or provided some new information for my readers. Remember the first time you hear “Blue Suede Shoes” or Huey Lewis and the News, or rap music? The first time you saw or wore grunge or Goth? Our memories make us what we are and I hope I have stirred up some pleasant memories.

Copyright Tillsontitan


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    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      6 years ago from New York

      I know what you mean drives me crazy when a song pops in my head and decides to take up residence. Thanks for reading.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I am only 18, yet these singers and songs are so well known to me. Ever since I looked this up and saw Connie Francis; I've had "Stupid Cupid" in my head all day. (:

    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      6 years ago from New York

      Thanks Nell, glad you enjoyed. It was fun to write.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 years ago from England

      Just checking out the music hubs and came across this one! I had to smile when I saw Connie Francis, I used to sit in my kitchen singing, When the Boy in your arms' one of her famous ones, at the top of my voice, I might add! lol! I was going through my 50s music stage! really interesting, cheers nell

    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      7 years ago from New York

      Thanks chuckandus6, it was fun reliving the music.

    • chuckandus6 profile image

      Nichol marie 

      7 years ago from The Country-Side

      Love music very interesting hub thanks for sharing voted up

    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      7 years ago from New York

      Thanks sangre.

    • sangre profile image

      Sp Greaney 

      7 years ago from Ireland

      Great Hub. You forget about these muscians until you hear a song on the radio. voted up...


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