An Examination of the Development of Rock and Roll Music in America

This paper examines the forgotten black roots of rock music in America, its influence on rebelling youth, and the evolution of new popular musical genres.

Rock and Roll music was both influenced by and influenced the youth movement of the 1960s. The beginnings of Rock music during the 1950s were actually quite rebellious and controversial. This paper puts the development of rock music into a cultural and historical context, drawing on examples such as Wynonnie Harris, Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Bob Dylan. The paper also mentions beatniks and the psychadelic counterculture.
“Rock and Roll music broke into the forefront of American culture as the baby boomer generation came of age. During the 1950s, the new musical style helped young people begin to rebel against their parents’ generation in a stylistic, subtle, and symbolic way, generating more differences and encouraging a widening of the generation gap. Popular culture tends to disregard the 1950s as a sterile and orderly decade, however, the youth of the 1950s were beginning to rebel much more drastically and blatantly than we are led to believe, and more so than what remains as the lasting image in the historical memory of Americans who were alive at that time. While this music that we now call oldies seems so boring and unhip by today’s standards, the earliest Rock and Roll music contained sexual implications and a gift of immediate gratification that spoke to the so-called juvenile delinquents of the time. By the early Sixties and the beginnings of the “movement,” Rock and Roll music had already established itself as a successful form of cultural radicalism, that is, an individuality of spirit and expressive form of defiance against the norm. (The “movement” collectively refers a shift to the “New Left” which supported the Civil Rights Movement, was against the Vietnam War, and opposed the Old Left Liberal methods of working within the system to end poverty and racism by means of a technocracy.) The more the youth rebelled, the more the music changed to suit this rebellion. The lyrics became more overtly political and explicit, and Rock and Roll music began to “evolve out of artistic necessity,” when new ways to rebel were necessary, in order to keep on rebelling, as it were. Folk musicians began to blend their lyrics and style with Rock music, and wrote songs that were true reflections and reactions to the times and responded to the changing world. By the mid 60s, a youth “counterculture” hit the scene, and Rock and Roll had split into two breeds of music: one which served an industry and popular culture, and another type of music for political activism, which eventually infused itself in the drug-laden hippie subculture.”

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