16 Rock and Roll

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16 Rock and Roll

Chapter Overview

Various social and economic conditions fostered a sense of independence and rebellion among the youth of the 1950s. Rock and roll, which developed from a combination of rhythm and blues and country-western styles, appealed to young listeners, both black and white. Urban folk songs protested against discrimination, authoritarianism, and eventually the war in Vietnam. Despite the popularity of Motown music, some black performers rebelled at the success of white musicians’ cover recordings of black hits and sought to redeem the ideals of rhythm and blues.

Listening Examples

57. Chuck Berry, “School Day”

58. “Stop! In the Name of Love” (recorded by The Supremes)

59. James Brown, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”

60. Bob Dylan, “Mr. Tambourine Man” (recorded by The Byrds)

Suggestions for Further Listening

Atlantic Rhythm and Blues, vols. 1-7

Bill Haley: Golden Hits; Greatest Hits

Elvis Presley: Golden, vols. 1-4

Chuck Berry: Greatest Hits

Beach Boys: The Best of the Beach Boys

Bob Dylan: Times They Are a-Changin’

Ray Charles: Rock Begins, vol. 1

“Shake, Rattle, and Roll,” performed by Joe Turner;

performed by Bill Haley and the Comets

“Tutti Frutti,” performed by Little Richard;

performed by Pat Boone

Suggestion for Viewing

Ray (2004 film about Ray Charles)

Suggestion for Reading

David Hajdu: Positively Fourth Street: the Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina, and Richard Farina

Terms to Review

rhythm and blues (R & B)


rock and roll



surfing songs




folk rock

acid rock

heavy metal

Key Figures

Tomas A. Dorsey

Alan Freed

Bill Haley and His Comets

Elvis Presley

Chuck Berry

Brian Wilson

Berry Gordy, Jr.

Aretha Franklin

Ray Charles

James Brown

Janis Joplin

Jimi Hendrix

Alice Cooper


Elvis Presley

Chuck Berry

The Supremes

Aretha Franklin

Sly and the Family Stone

Joan Baez performing at Big Sur

Janis Joplin

Jimi Hendrix

Critical Thinking

What is your view of cover recordings of rhythm-and-blues hits (such as “Tutti Frutti”) by white singers (such as Pat Boone)? Why were the covers successful? How did their success impact black performers? How did the quality, and the style, of the white performance compare with the R&B recording? Do you see moral implications of this practice? Business implications?

How does the popular music market today compare with the youthful market of the 1950s? Do young people have the same impact—or more, or less? How do those who were teenagers in the fifties affect the popular music market today?

Where do you think Bob Dylan has found his most congenial medium, and where do you think his legacy lies: folk music, rock, poetry, other?

In what ways do you think Motown served black musicians? In what ways might Motown have damaged them?

Further Topics for Essay or Discussion

1. Discuss some of the disparities between jazz and rock: improvisation on given tunes vs. creating new compositions, solo performers vs. groups, characteristic timbres, rhythmic variety, performing and recording practices, and so on.

2. Why did the youth of the early 1950s require a popular music radically different from that of earlier generations?

3. For what reasons did rhythm and blues and country-western music form such a compatible relationship?

4. In what ways did the Beatles revive rock and roll? Why might a British band have had such influence on an American audience?

5. Why did Motown appeal more to white than to black listeners? Do you think Motown served or betrayed black music?

Chapter 16 |

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