It is almost impossible to trace the origin of Rock Music
as it includes a variety of black and white American music
styles: black guitar-accompanied blues; black rhythm and
blues; black and white gospel music; white country and
western music; and the songs of white popular crooners and
harmony groups. When it first began, rock music was
referred to as "rock 'n' roll'. After 1964 it was simply
called "rock music" and was no longer just for dancing.
The first rock 'n' roll record to achieve national
popularity was "Rock Around the Clock" made by Bill Haley
and the Comets in 1955. It had an exciting back beat and
the lyrics were earthy and simple. Haley was able to
translate black rhythm and blues into a form that
adolescent white audiences could understand.
Rock 'n' roll was for and about adolescents. Its lyrics
dealt with teenage problems: school, cars, summer
vacation, parents, and, most important young love. The
primary instruments of this music were guitar, bass, piano,
drums, and saxophone. The primary focus is its heavy beat,
loudness, self-absorbed lyrics, and raving delivery.
The greatest proponent of rock 'n' roll from 1956 to 1963
was Elvis Presley, a truck driver and aspiring singer from
Tupelo, Miss. His dynamic delivery and uninhibited
sexuality appealed directly to young audiences while
horrifying older people.
At the turn of the decade Detroit became an important
center for black singers, and a certain type of sound known
as "Motown" named for Motown Record, developed. This music
is characterized by a lead singer singing an almost
impressionistic melody story line to the accompaniment of
harmonies of a backup group. Some singers who made this
style famous are Diana Ross and the Supremes, and Gladys
Knight and the Pips.
Rock music again surged to popularity in 1962 with the
emergence of the Beatles, a group of four long-haired boys
from Liverpool, England. Their popularity produced other
groups with unusual names such as the Rolling Stones.
These groups revived the blues orientation of rock 'n' roll
and their presentations were even louder and more electric.
An important transformation of rock occurred in 1965 at the
Newport Folk Festival when Bob Dylan, noted as a composer
and writer of folk songs and songs of social protest,
appeared playing electric guitar and backed by an
electrified rock band. This brought about a fusion of folk
and rock; folk groups used rock arrangements and rock
singers composed poetic lyrics for their songs.
In the 1960s music reflected the tensions of the Vietnam
War era and played an important role in American culture.
Rock songs turned toward rebellion, protest, sex and drugs.
Some group vocalists tried to reflect in music the
experience of psychedelic drugs, producing long, repetitive
songs with surreal lyrics (known as "acid rock" or "hard
By the late 1960s rock was widely regarded as an important
musical form. Musicians such as Miles Davis and John Mc
Laughlin tried to combine rock and jazz, and artists as
Leonard Bernstein tried combine rock and classical music.
From 1967 onward, the rock festival was regarded as the
ideal context in which to hear rock music, and thousands of
fans attended. The most successful and peaceful rock
festival, Woodstock, was held in 1969. Later, however, a
similar event, featuring the Rolling Stones, was held in
California and was marked by several violent incidents
including a murder. The format projected by the Rolling
Stones was taken to extremes by performers such as Alice
Cooper and David Bowie with the outrageous behavior during
A turning point in rock music occurred in the late 1970s in
the form of punk rock, which used political protest themes
as the base of their music. By the early 1980s, it had
changed rock music considerably; however, in the 1990s the
continuing popularity of older bands, such as the Grateful
Dead and the Rolling Stones, bore witness to the enduring
appeal of this form among both the young and the
increasingly middle-aged. The appeal of older and past
rock bands was also evident at the opening (1995) of the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.