In 1955, Bill Haley and the Comets made a No. 1 hit with "Rock Around the Clock." By this time there was no doubt in the music business that this new sound, which catered to teenagers, was the new Popular Music. The rock & roll era had officially begun.
Almost all Musicologists will say that rock & roll is distinctively American and its roots are firmly planted in the South. Rhythmic singing, hard bottom beat, and the blues-based melody of Southern black gospels created the Southern "rocking and reeling." As guitars, horns and drums were included in the church spirituals, musicians began to combine these elements in the first recordings featuring the guitar riffs and rhythm of what would become rock & roll.
As music evolved from the rural gospels to the urban blues, rhythms changed and became faster. New harmonies and dual voicing replaced the single melodic line, and bass notes and chords were embellished, adding a heavier sound and beat. The electric guitar introduced musicians to a completely different sound, which could be amplified and sustained (as opposed to the thin, one-note melody of the acoustic guitar). The instrument was further expanded as chord progressions and riffs were added to a quickening tempo.
Early songwriters and artists had remained loyal to their regional sounds and segregation. However, in 1953, Chuck Berry released his first single written in a fusion of blues and country & western. Concurrently, Leiber and Stoller released "Hound Dog," recorded by Big Mama Thornton, in a rhythm & blues style with added string accompaniment. These original rock & rollers, who did not discriminate when it came to sound, blurred the color line in American music. By the late 1950s, Elvis set the standard for both rockabilly music and teen idols and forever changed the importance of an artist's performance.
In the 1960s, teenagers dictated record sales and the music business responded by promoting music through teen idols. The demand for songs was high, and the songwriting teams located in The Brill Building at 1619 Broadway in New York City began the most prolific collaborations of the rock & roll era. The Brill Building writers set a new standard by creating songs focused on a typical teenage life, but with the musical sophistication and professionalism of Tin Pan Alley.
As the teen market faded in 1965, Brill Building songwriters such as Carole King became disenchanted with "assembly line songwriting" and began writing introspective music. The music produced was more personal and expressive and the Brill Building writers began to recognize that by singing and producing their own works would give them more artistic freedom and control. Historically, there was a very deep divide between the songwriter and the recording artist, and it was the writers from the Brill Building who first bridged that divide, becoming the first singer-songwriters.
The mid 1960s also marked the arrival of the West Coast "surf sound" with the Beach Boys. In 1964, the Beatles arrived and changed the sound of popular music, while Bob Dylan taught musicians the power of expressive lyrics and the cultural impact of subtle protest songs. By the late 1960s, American blues was inspiring British musicians, and in the wake of the Beatles, these British blues bands came to America in what is collectively referred to as the "British Invasion".
After the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., James Brown was fueled by a need to reassert and redefine the Black identity. He wrote "Say It Loud: I'm Black and I'm Proud," a new sound with funk rhythms and smooth melodic lines: soul music.
The 1970s began with the introduction of the Eastern instruments and rhythm, most notably the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club," while the British "guitar gods" culminated with the innovative guitar riffs and instrumentation of Pink Floyd.
In the era of excess of the 1980s, sing-along melodies and the "pop" song structure (Verse/Chorus/2nd Verse/Chorus/Final Chorus) emerged in contemporary American popular music and created a lighter, sweeter music without the complex subject matter and emotive energy of the 60s and 70s. New genres were introduced to America, including rap music, Latin music, punk and reggae.
In 1967, jazz critic and music publisher Nat Shapiro introduced Galt Mac Dermot to Gerome Ragni and Jim Rado, actors who had just written a provocative play entitled Hair. The three hit it off, and Mac Dermot scored the music to Ragni and Rado’s words in three weeks. It was…
LET THE SUNSHINE IN