History of Rock n Roll
The history of rock n roll is closely tied with the evolution of
music radio during the 1940s and 50s, and even before that, with the
invention and development of the machines and instruments that could
play music for entertainment before the dawn of the 20th century.
enough, the origins of the phrase "rock and roll" were nautical (the
movements of a ship on the ocean), long before they became musical. But
gospel spirituals in the 1800s used this very phrase to describe the
loving embrace of the Christian God. And over the decades following, the
phrase found its way into other forms of music, particularly rhythm
& blues, swing, and jazz, and later of course, the dance form so
familiar to us boomers.
History of Rock N Roll - pre-20s:
- In 1877, Thomas Edison invented a coin-operated phonograph that
would play music from a wax cylinder (about the size of an empty toilet
- In 1887, Emile Berliner invented a
flat recording disc (about the thickness of a china plate) that played
music between 75 and 80 revolutions per minute (RPMs); by 1910, the
disc size used most often was 10".
History of Rock N Roll - the 20s
- In 1920, the first radio station to hold a commercial license began
AM broadcasting from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, with the call letters KDKA
(owned by Westinghouse).
- In 1925, the standard
for record RPMs was set at 78 so that different phonograph machines
could play recorded music; hence early records were known as "78s".
Since the 10" record only had room for about three minutes of sound on
each side, popular songs were recorded to fit the 3-minute time
- Several records in the earliest history of rock n roll - well prior to the fifties - used the words "rock" and "roll" in their titles:
- "My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)", by Trixie Smith (1922)
- "Detroit Rocks", by Montana Taylor (1929)
- "Rocking and Rolling", by Robinson's Knights of Rest (1930)
- "Rockin' In Rhythm", by Duke Ellington (1931)
- "Rock It For Me", by Chick Webb with Ella Fitzgerald (1938)
- "Rock Me in the Groove", by Sweet Georgia Brown (1941)
- "I Want to Rock", by Cab Calloway (1942)
- "The Boogie Rocks", by Albert Ammons (1944)
- In 1927, Automated Musical Instruments developed an electric amplifier
for the phonograph, enabling a larger group of people in the same place
to hear music played. Doing so made these music machines immediately
popular in the speakeasies of the Prohibition era (underground bars and
saloons that would serve liquor despite the prohibitions of federal law
at the time).
History of Rock N Roll - the 30s
- The term album
originated from the 1930s when recording companies, wanting to
distribute several songs from the same artist together at one time, used
three or four 78s, recorded one song on each side for a total of six to
eight songs, and inserted each record into a paper sleeve for bundling between two covers.
- During the 1930s, coin-operated phonographs became popular in
virtually all restaurants and bars as a cheap form of entertainment
during the Depression years (Prohibition ended in 1933 when Congress
passed the 21st Amendment). By 1940, these music machines became known
as "juke boxes" often found in "juke joints" (the word "juke" or "joog"
was a term taken from the African language Gullah which meant disorderly, rowdy or wicked).
1932, George Beauchamp and Adolph Rickenbacker developed and marketed
the first electric guitar in the history of rock n roll.
- On January 4, 1936, Billboard Magazine began its practice of charting the most popular songs each week based upon record sales across the country.
History of Rock N Roll - the 40s
from the 40s, rhythm and blues (R&B) was a popular style of African
American music described as "urbane, rocking, jazz-based music with a
heavy, insistent beat", that contributed significantly to the history of
rock n roll in the 50s.
- "Doo-wop" was another
style of African American music coming out of the 40s that gained
mainstream popularity in the 50s, also affecting the subsequent history
of rock n roll.
- In 1941, Les Paul - dissatisfied with earlier models - designed and
produced his own electric guitar (years later, his solid body electric
guitars were used by history of rock n roll legends Paul McCartney, Eric
Clapton, Duane Allman, Mike Bloomfield and others).
- In 1948, Columbia Records
introduced a 12" long play (LP) vinyl record that played up to 25
minutes per side at 33 1/3 RPMs; in 1949, RCA Victor introduced a 7"
vinyl record that played up to eight minutes per side at 45 RPMs.
- In 1949, Billboard magazine started to chart rhythm and blues (R&B) records.
History of Rock N Roll - the 50s
The term "rock 'n' roll" was effectively popularized in 1951 by an up
and coming disc jockey in Cleveland. Giving himself the nickname
"Moondog", Alan Freed labeled his radio program on WJW as "Moondog Rock
'n' Roll Party". It's not clear whether any one particular song, or some
combination of songs and/or events, prompted Freed to coin the phrase
"rock 'n' roll" in the early fifties. But few would ever argue that
"rock 'n' roll is here to stay" after Freed introduced "Rock Around the
Clock" by Bill Haley and the Comets on radio station WINS (New York) in
1954, and the song became a national hit a year later when it was
featured in the movie "The Blackboard Jungle" (1955).
- During the 50s', record producer and former talent scout/DJ Sam
Phillips contributed significantly to the history of rock n roll,
discovering young talents such as Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.
Phillips owned his own label, Sun Records, and once said, "The blues, it
got people - black and white - to think about life, how difficult, yet
also how good it can be. They would sing about it; they would pray about
it; they would preach about it. This is how they relieved the
burden of what existed day-in and day-out." (quoted from Eric P. Olsen,
"Founding Father: Sam Philips and the Birth of Rock and Roll." The
World and I. Washington, May 2001. P. 76)
the 1950s, 45 RPM records helped the surge of juke boxes coming into
use, since the vinyl 45s were stronger and smaller discs than the older
78s; juke boxes could then hold up to 200 songs, as opposed to a
maximum 40 songs on 78s.
- In 1951, "Rocket 88" was recorded and released, first by Ike Turner
in Memphis and three months later by Bill Haley and the Saddlemen -
later known as the Comets. While disagreeing over which version had the
greater impact, music historians concur that "Rocket 88" was the first
"prototype" rock song ever produced in the history of rock n roll.
- In 1952, the Moondog Coronation Ball
was the first ever major concert in the history of rock n roll.
Organized by Alan Freed among others and held in the Cleveland Arena, it
was shut down after the first act due to overcrowding concerns (the
20,000 people attending was double the arena capacity).
1953, "Crazy Man, Crazy" by Bill Haley and the Comets was the first
song in the history of rock n roll to make the Billboard charts, peaking
at #12 for the week ending June 20th.
- By 1954, radio titans Todd Storz (KOWH in Omaha, WTIX in New
Orleans, and WHB in Kansas City) and Gordon Mclendon (KLIF, the Mighty
1190 in Dallas) brought the Top 40 radio format, i.e., the forty most
popular songs based upon record sales each week, to the radio stations
each of them owned. In following years, Storz - known as the father of
the Top 40 format - bought radio stations WAZY-A/F in Lafayette,
Indiana, KXOK in St. Louis, WDGY in Minneapolis, WQAM in Miami and KOMA
in Oklahoma City, to all carry that format.
- In 1954, TTK Corporation in Japan began mass distribution of the transistor radio, known as Sony, (from the Latin word "sonus" which means "sound"), and became so popular that TTK renamed itself Sony four years later.
- In 1956, RCA Records released "Heartbreak Hotel" by Elvis Presley, which became his first #1 pop hit and kicked off his career.
- In 1957, American Bandstand made its debut on national television
with 27-year old Dick Clark as emcee (Bandstand had been televised
locally in Philadelphia since 1952).
- In 1958,
Billboard begins its Hot 100 record singles popularity chart - based
upon radio airplay and record sales - on August 4th ; the first #1
ranked song on this chart was "Poor Little Fool" by Ricky Nelson.
1959, February 3rd became a day infamous in the history of rock n roll,
i.e., "the day the music died" when Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P.
"The Big Bopper" Richardson died in a small plane crash near Clear
Lake, Iowa (this date was later popularized by Don Mclean in his song
"American Pie" - a #1 hit in 1972).
History of Rock N Roll - the 60s
In some respects, early sixties music was a carryover for the history of
rock n roll, together with rhythm and blues, and doo wop songs of the
fifties. Fifties recording artists such as Elvis Presley (just back in
1960 from serving two years in the army), Bobby Darin, Ray Charles,
Bobby Rydell, Brenda Lee, the Everly Brothers, and others still had
success in sixties music. In 1960, Chubby Checker popularized "The
Twist" dance craze, and Ray Charles recorded his first album that
included two of his greatest hits from the late fifties - "Hit the Road
Jack" and "Georgia On My Mind". But as we boomers became teenagers in
the sixties, we remember the British invasion in 1964, the onset of the
war in Viet Nam, and the drug culture prompting the works of such groups
as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin,
Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Sly and the Family Stone, and so many
others. Sixties music mirrored our lives.
- The Federal
Communications Commission approved FM stereo broadcasting, giving
sixties music that platform for the first time
- Soul became a key component of sixties music, emerging from a mix of gospel and rock, and prompting Berry Gordy to open
a recording studio in Detroit initially known as Tamla Records (1959)
and a year later renamed Motown. Over the next years, Motown Records
would chart 110 Billboard top-ten hits, having signed such artists as
Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, The Shirelles, The Miracles, Marvin Gaye,
The Four Tops, The Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and the
Jackson Five, among others.
- in the history of rock n
- Bob Dylan began playing protest folk
music in Greenwich Village, following his visits to a terminally ill
Woody Guthrie whom he idolized (1961).
known as The Quarrymen (named after John Lennon's Quarry Bank high
school in England) and later as The Silver Beetles, the band whose
members included John, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison formally
changed their name to The Beatles in 1960, prior to a performance in
Hamburg, Germany. The "new" group would affect sixties music and the
history of rock n roll like no other.
- The Temptations and The Beach Boys began their respective recording careers (1961).
- For reasons not stated, the Beatles replaced Pete Best with a new drummer - Ringo Starr (1962).
- Ray Charles produced his Country Western album "Modern
Sounds" (1962), which went to No. 2 album on CW charts and made the top
100 albums of all time.
- Newcomer Bob Dylan (1962) got positive reviews for his first album.
The Beatles released their first album "Please Please Me" in Britain
(1963). Beatlemania begins by the last week of December that year,
changing sixties music forever as "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (side 1)
and "I Saw Her Standing There" (side 2) sell a million copies in the US.
Originally written by Richard Berry (1955) and recorded by The Pharoahs
(1957), "Louie Louie" made it big for the Kingsmen (1963).
- At 13 years old, Little Stevie Wonder recorded his hit "Fingertips" (1963).
- The Beatles kicked off the British invasion (1964) when 73 million people watched them perform on The Ed
Sullivan Show (1964), and thereby changed sixties music forever. The
Dave Clark Five, Herman's Hermits, The Animals, Chad & Jeremy,
Petula Clark, and others followed shortly thereafter.
Davie Jones and the King Bees disbanded shortly after recording "I
Can't Help Thinking About Me" (1964), and Davie Jones changed his name
to David Bowie.
- Heavy Metal became a part of
sixties music when The Kinks release their first album containing their
hit, "You Really Got Me" (1964).
- After forming in
1959 and signing with Berry Gordy's Motown records in 1961, The
Supremes started their string of a dozen No. 1 hits throughout the
sixties with "Where Did Our Love Go" and "Baby Love" (1964).
The Rolling Stones released their first album by the same name (1964),
and went on tour with Bobby Goldsboro and Bobby Vee. Their album was
pure Rhythm & Blues, prompting other sixites music artists to mix
R&B into their rock songs later in the sixties.
- Bob Dylan marked the early stages of sixties music protest with his
song and album titled, "The Times They Are A-Changin' " (1964).
Pete Seeger went ballistic at the Newport Jazz Festival (1965) when he
performed "Maggie's Farm", to the boos of the crowd attending. The
festival did give rise to the electrical guitar becoming part of sixties
music, when played by Mike Broomfield supporting Bob Dylan's
- The Warlocks opened the
Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco (1965), subsequently changing their
name to The Grateful Dead, and giving a start to yet another component
of sixties music: acid rock.
- Sonny & Cher hit
No. 1 with "I Got you Babe" (1965), and stir comparisons (from
borrowing too much?) with Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe".
"Woolly Bully" by Sam the Sham & The Pharoes (1965) likely was the
last "old school" rock 'n' roll hit recorded in sixties music.
Groups like The Mamas and The Papas took vocal harmonies in sixties
music to the next level, simply by adding female voices to the mix
- The Supremes became the first female group in the US to reach Billboard's No. 1 pop album with "A' Go-Go" (1966).
- Herb Alpert made the Guinness Book
of World Records (1966), having a record five albums making Billboard's
pop album chart all at the same time. Alpert and the Tijuana Brass
outsell the Beatles by a 2-1 margin that year.
"Hair" was the first rock musical and started a long run on Broadway
(1968) after debuting off Broadway a year earlier. Spin-off hits
included "Hair", "Good Morning Starshine" and "Aquarius".
Ed Sullivan censored The Rolling Stones performing "Let's Spend the
Night Together" on his show (1967) by changing the lyrics to "let's
spend some time together". Mick Jagger conceded to the change, but
rolled his eyes for the camera each time he sang that phrase. Later that
same year, Jagger and Keith Richards were jailed for a month on drug
- Glenn Campbell hit it big with "Gentle On My Mind" (1967).
The album "Wheels of Fire" by Cream (Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and
Ginger Baker) reached a milestone in sixties music, becoming the first
album ever to go platinum (1968).
- Otis Redding
and four of his band members died in a plane crash in Wisconsin, just
three days after recording "Sitting At the Dock of the Bay" (1968).
- The Woodstock Music and Art Festival anchored the entire decade of sixties music, after being held on a dairy farm in upstate New York (1969).
On the roof of their recording studio, The Beatles held their final
live performance (1969). That same year, John Lennon married Yoko Ono,
Paul McCartney married Linda Eastman, George and Patti Harrison were
fined for marijuana possession, and Paul dispelled rumors that he was
- The Jackson Five made their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (1969).
History of Rock n Roll