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Rock in its Early Days: 1950s Rock 'N' Roll

Updated on July 10, 2011

Rock in the 1950’s was very young and impressionable. Rock ‘n’ roll at the time was a composite of other types of music like rhythm-and-blues and country. It’s interesting because black people influenced both of those genres. It is believed that in the early 1950’s, rhythm-and-blues music that was played by black people on the radio was very pleasing to white people. Alan Freed, a Cleveland disc jockey called it rock ‘n’ roll just so he could get more listeners. So Freed coined the phrase “rock ‘n’ roll” to use as a loophole to get more white people to listen to rhythm and blues. Rhythm-and-blues was considered to be the taproot of rock ‘n’ roll was racially defined. If rock ‘n’ roll stayed the same through the years, then the history of American popular music would have been different. It’s important to realize that rock ‘n’ roll was a white phenomenon that started with white performers who were musically influenced by black people. As for country, rock acquired the use of the electric guitar partly from them. The electric guitar was realized in country music, and the singing guitarist developed into the foundation of the early rock ‘n’ roll”. This made a sound that started to become common grounds for not only of two generations of Americans, but millions throughout the world, forming the most universal and leading forms of American popular culture.

Rock ‘n’ roll of the 1950’s created a revolution for the youth culture. Soon, teenagers started acting and behaving differently. Behaving like criminal outlaws, American teenagers increasingly turned to the black sub-culture as an alternative to homogenized America. Black slang and clothing styles were becoming ordinary among American teenagers after 1950. Rock ‘n’ roll influenced a generation of rebellious teenagers to do whatever is cool. Parents had become surprised by the way their children were behaving. It was such an epidemic. Teenagers had made rock ‘n’ roll a symbol identity and individuality from adults who in general, hated it. Enjoyment of rock ‘n’ roll by teenagers was significantly superior by its damnation brought on by parental adults. Even ministers and Southern churches were against the loud and rough sounds of rock ‘n’ roll. Society was changing; especially in the way people were acting. It was an exciting time for those that weren’t adults.

Buddy Holly and his band, The Crickets
Buddy Holly and his band, The Crickets
Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley

Rock 'n' Roll Greats

Buddy Holly: As one of the founders of rock ‘n’ roll, Buddy Holly popularize rock ‘n’ roll in its earliest days. Despite doubts for the future its existence constantly under attack, he incorperated some country to a sound that was still closely related to pure blues and rhythm and blues. Buddy Holly’s, “That’ll be the Day”, one his first and most popular song features a guitar that is played like something one would hear in country western music. It indicates how strong country music influenced him, as well as early rock ‘n’ roll. The song also features call-and-response, or back up singer(s) that sing a different phrase while the lead vocalist is singing. Buddy Holly had the upbeat and cheery voice of a young teenager in this song, as well as all his other songs. This song is about a couple that is pretty happy with each other and when and if they break up, then that’ll be the day. It’ll be the day of misery and heartbreak, and he’s saying that it will never happen. Next, the song had a boogie-woogie bassline, or a bass line that would play a repeating pattern. This was very common with not only Buddy Holly, but also other rock ‘n’ rollers like Bill Haley and Wynonie Harris. Finally, this song like any other rock ‘n’ roll song has a backbeat with the drums.

Dick Clark called Elvis the King of Rock 'n' Roll, but labelled Buddy Holly as the father of rock music. Buddy Holly’s impact on rock ‘n’ roll was so strong, February 3rd, 1959 was labeled as “The day that music died” as Buddy Holly, J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, and Ritchie Valens all died in a plane crash.

Elvis Presley: As one of Buddy Holly's great influences, Elvis Presley was an artist who would mix country music with blues and pop, which is exactly what rock ‘n’ roll was. It started as rhythm and blues, then when it mixed with country music, rock ‘n’ roll became its own thing. In other words, this man created rock 'n' roll. Unfortunately, I cannot say much about this great man because I did not study this epic man in great detail. One of his best known songs is Jailhouse Rock.

Personal Philosophy

This is as early as it gets when it comes to rock music. This is the foundation that built rock music to what it is today. This just makes me think about what rock music was in the 50's and what it is today. Everything we listen to in terms of rock we owe to 50's rock 'n' roll. There are more artists, but I thought Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley both did great justice to this form of rock. There was no such thing as rock or rock 'n' roll before these people. They really put it on the map.

I'm not going to lie, even though this music had a great impact on rock music for the future generations, it is not my favorite rock. I'm not disrespecting it, I'm just saying that it doesn't do it for me. When I listen to rock music, I need a certain intensity and energy that 50's rock 'n' roll just doesn't deliever to my ears. This music was huge in the 50's. In fact, I believe that rock 'n' roll was more popular to it's 50's audience than rock music to today's audience.

Rock 'n' roll was the dominant music of the 50's, there was nothing else, at least nowhere near as popular as this. Today, however, everybody listens to everything, rock, hip-hop, techno, country, jazz, the list goes on. People today require more to be satisfied musically. In the 50's bands like The Crickets were innovative and exciting to people. Rock was truly more appreciated in the early days.


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    • ocoonocoon profile image


      9 years ago

      Chuck Berry is still playing as far as I know! Amazing!

    • Billrrrr profile image

      Bill Russo 

      9 years ago from Cape Cod

      Elvis was very successful commercialy...however his influence was largely limited to making young girls swoon. Musically, those in the know, followed other luminaries.

      Stay away from the largely insipid work of Presley and study instead people like, Hank Williams Senior, The Killer-Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Roy Orbison, Bill Haley, and Charlie Rich. Also research people like Little Richard, as Peter L. mentioned.

      Look not to Memphis, but to New Orleans and to Nashville where gospel, jazz, folk, and C & W were all melded into that vibrant thing called Rock.

      Presley only sold records.

      Hank, Chuck, Roy, Bill & such, made music, nurtured the next generation, and influenced everything that came after.

      Ask McCartney & Ringo, Ask Eric Burdon, or Mick Jagger: who influenced them. I suspect you will hear the names of Hank and Chuck a lot more than Elvis.

      As to Buddy, he was an innovator and was hugely influential. He had a very short career as I am sure you know. He was just beginning to expand his work and style when "the music died".

    • PETER LUMETTA profile image


      9 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

      Rock'n'Roll in the 50's was a revolution! Jerry Lee Lewis was a close second to Elvis and the first black rockers came on the scene with the likes of Little Richard. It was new and exiting not homogenized for the masses like today. There were no music videos, it was just the music, and it stood on its own. Today it seems so tame and bland but then it was "the Devil". I loved it and still do, thankd for the reminder, Peter


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