From its origins in up tempo blues and jazz in the late 1940s, to taking the centre stage of youth culture during the ‘Swinging Sixties’, rock and roll came to ingrain itself on western society during its golden era.
Using a musical structure that was often much simpler than its predecessors, and commonly amplified instruments including the electric guitar, rock and roll became the voice of many young people; a representation of rebellion for some, and a way of life for others.
Guitarist Chuck Berry was credited by many for forming the foundation of the sound using the electric guitar as his ‘weapon of choice’ during the 1950s. Country music also had much to answer for in the unstoppable rise of the genre, with Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley leading the way for the so-called ‘rockabilly’ style of rock and roll.
The actual term ‘rock and roll’ was, apparently, coined by Alan Freed, a Cleveland based disk jockey. He came up with the phrase while playing his own special brand of up tempo tracks on his radio show in 1951.
Although predominantly based in the United States, rock and roll was by no means exclusive to the country, and a thriving scene was to be found in the UK, with acts such as The Beatles and Cliff Richard performing well in the record charts, as well as the US acts of the time.
Rock and roll was to be heard on both the airwaves and the TV, with programmes such as Top of the Pops in the UK and American Bandstand in the US. It created a whole host of new dance styles, as the kids copied those that they saw on TV in discos and home basement parties.
The rise of rock and roll in the 1950s mirrored that of Las Vegas, which was constructed on the sand of the Nevada desert. Some of rock and roll’s finest performed in venues around the US’s ‘party city’.
Rock and roll was noted for doing much to speed up the process of desegregation in the US between black and white people, with a largely white audience dancing the night away to songs that were often penned and performed by black pop stars. This development was to be repeated further down the line in the history of popular music, with genres such as disco, rare groove, hip-hop, house and rave music also crossing racial boundaries and bringing people together for the greater social good.
Eventually the music critics trimmed the name ‘rock and roll’ down to simply ‘rock’, and the genre gave way to bands such as The Who, The Kinks and the Rolling Stones, who would lead their young followers into a psychedelic era where peace and love were the bywords.