The Beats of the Fifties

... were multi-ethnic hybrids with a variety of origins.

  • The Bo Diddley beat, inspired by Afro-Caribbean music, caught on well with many performers putting it in their records, from Johnny Otis to Buddy Holly.
  • A bass guitar riff was conveniently used by Elvis and Fats Domino among many others was from Cuban music.
  • Mexican rhythms were popularized by Ritchie Valens.
  • The swinging saxophone heard in the Fifties rock was derived out of the Forties Big-Band swing, along with the stop-time breaks.

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Rock & Roll

Growing up in the 50's was a blessing due to a strange beast called Rock & Roll, the sound of which was a siren call to many, and the negative reaction given by the parents was like a certification of authenticity for the beautiful, edgy tunes.

According to American pianist Fats Domino, Rock & Roll is essentially Rhythm & Blues, as that was the main inspiration of most of the 50's rockers.

Rockers like Chuck Berry and Bill Haley, who idolized the legend Louis Jordan, strangely enough, sounded nothing like him. The new rockers, influenced by the previous generation of music, looked and sounded completely original and breathtaking.

Bill Haley and The Comets were a runaway success in 1955, having an R&B style yet a unique sound of their own.

... were recorded by producer Sam Phillips of Sun Label including Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis among other stalwarts.

The tunes were mostly rebellious, catering to the teen crowd, and the ‘Marginal Americans’, those living in the ghettos or doing lowly jobs. This segment helped rock & roll explode in the mid-Fifties, making it a social and generational disruption of the highest degree.

Many Rock & Roll legends of the Fifties started in the sidelines as small-time artists, playing to a handful of audience, while the major music labels concentrated on high-volume sales using disposable songs.

Elvis Presley

The ‘50s saw the rise of a white rocker, Elvis Presley, to assure the triumph of rock & roll. One look at Elvis Presley and one couldn’t take the eyes off him. His magnetic presence was unheard and unseen, with no match even till now. He became an idol of millions in no time.

The name of this brand of music was coined by an R&B disc jockey, Alan Freed, and it was known to many (but not too many) people that the term ‘Rock & Roll’ was slang for sex.

Rock & Roll was carried to the top by the teens, who had spending money, a rebellious nature, in-group secret codes and ‘slanguage’, which they used to express themselves. They got along with this brand of music like a house on fire.

The 1955-56 era released from the cage the rock & roll heavyweights like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and of course Elvis Presley.

The dark horse, who can be credited with defining rock & roll as a mainstream genre, was drummer Earl Palmer.

The Fifties rock & roll culture succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest imagination, turning out to be an inspiration of every subsequent musical innovation from punk to hard rock.

The few years of high-octane rock & roll were like a fever dream, when it reigned unchecked by any law or political correctness, with limitless possibilities and a free hand to live and create on the edge.

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The Inventor Of Rock & Roll

… was originally, according to Billboard Magazine, Rhythm & Blues music. This was until Producer Sam Phillips (Sun Records), the ‘inventor’ of Rock & Roll, started promoting little known artists in the 1950s, who had an original, imperfect sound. He had an ear for great music, away from the commercial ‘smooth’ sound. He made artists believe in him, by making them believe in themselves. New talent used to walk-in into his office and some of them got lucky.

One of them was Elvis Presley, who walked into Sam Phillips office in 1953, as an eighteen year old wannabe singer.

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IDEAS

1929: "St. Louis Blues"

With the advent of "the talkies" in the late 1920s, musical numbers became part of cinema.

"St. Louis Blues" was one of the first short films made to showcase a preexisting song, starring Bessie Smith. While "Screen Songs" introduced the idea of pairing a song with a visual sequence, "St. Louis Blues" pushed the idea along that a singer's aura can be encased in a short, music-driven film.

Stylistic revolutions
  • In the 1960s, the radical new rocky sound emerged from the Beatles to the Rolling Stones.
  • The minor seventh chords were introduced through funk, soul, and disco in the 1970s.
  • In the 1980s, there was a blip where the introduction of arena rock meant that music lacked diversity.
  • New technology, synthesizers, samplers, and drum machines marked the second major style shift in 1983.
  • In 1991, rap and hip-hop went mainstream. This revolution doesn't use a lot of harmonies. Emphasis is on speech sounds and rhythm.

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