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rock music

rock music, type of music originating in the United States in the mid-1950s and increasingly popular throughout much of the world.

Origins of Rock

Essentially hybrid in origin, rock music includes elements of several black and white American music styles: black guitar-accompanied blues; black rhythm and blues, noted for saxophone solos; black and white gospel music; white country and western music; and the songs of white popular crooners and harmony groups. Emerging in 1954–55, rock music was initially referred to as "rock 'n' roll." After 1964 it was simply called "rock music." The change in terminology indicates both a continuity with and a break from the earlier period; rock music was no longer just for dancing. After 1964 the music was influenced by British groups such as the Beatles.

The 1950s—Bill Haley and Rock 'n' Roll

The first rock 'n' roll record to achieve national popularity was "Rock Around the Clock" made by Bill Haley and the Comets in 1955. Haley succeeded in creating a music that appealed to youth because of its exciting back beat, its urgent call to dance, and the action of its lyrics. The melody was clearly laid down by electric guitar; the lyrics were earthy and simple. Haley abruptly ended the ascendancy of the bland and sentimental ballads popular in the 1940s and early 50s. He also succeeded in translating black rhythm and blues into a form that adolescent white audiences could understand.

Blues, and rhythm and blues, were too adult, sexual, angry, and solely identified with black culture to be acceptable either emotionally or commercially without adaptation. Major record companies had for years been producing records for black audiences called "race records." The emergence of rock 'n' roll signified a slight weakening in resistance to black culture. The unadulterated black rock 'n' roll that Haley transformed can be heard in the sexually adult work of such artists as Hank Ballard and the Midnighters ( "Work with Me, Annie" ) or "Big" Joe Turner ( "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" ), the latter song adapted by Haley for white audiences and the former transformed into "Dance with Me, Henry."

Rock 'n' roll was for and about adolescents. Its lyrics articulated teenage problems: school, cars, summer vacation, parents, and, most important, young love. The primary instruments of early rock 'n' roll were guitar, bass, piano, drums, and saxophone. All aspects of the music—its heavy beat, loudness, self-absorbed lyrics, and raving delivery—indicated a teenage defiance of adult values and authority. Influential performers of the 1950s include Chuck Berry ( "Johnny B. Goode" ), Little Richard ( "Good Golly Miss Molly" ), Sam Cooke ( "You Send Me" ), Buddy Holly ( "Peggy Sue" ), Jerry Lee Lewis ( "Great Balls of Fire" ), and Carl Perkins ( "Blue Suede Shoes" ).

The Late 1950s and Early 60s—Elvis, Motown, and the British Invasion

The greatest exponent of rock 'n' roll from 1956 to 1963 was Elvis Presley, a truck driver and aspiring singer from Tupelo, Miss., whose plaintive, wailing, dynamic delivery and uninhibited sexuality appealed directly to young audiences while horrifying older people. As rock 'n' roll became a financial success, record companies that had considered it a fad began to search for new singers; they generally succeeded in commercializing the music, robbing it of much of its gutsy, rebellious quality. In the late 1950s, for example, there was a fad for sentimentally morbid songs such as "Laura" and "Teen Angel."

At the turn of the decade Detroit became an important center for black singers, and a certain type of sound known as "Motown" [motor town], named for Motown Records, developed. The style is characterized by a lead singer singing an almost impressionistic melody story line to the accompaniment of elegant, tight, articulate harmonies of a backup group. Popular exponents of this style are the Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, 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 lads from Liverpool, England. They were initially acclaimed for their energy and appealing individual personalities rather than for any innovations in their music, which was derived from Berry and Presley. Their popularity inevitably produced other groups with unusual names. One of the most important of these was the Rolling Stones, whose music derived from the black blues tradition. These British bands instigated a return to the blues orientation of rock 'n' roll, albeit in ever louder and more electric reincarnations.

The Late 1960s and Early 70s—Rock's Golden Age

Folk Rock

An important transformation of rock occurred in 1965 at the Newport Folk Festival when Bob Dylan, noted as a composer and writer of poetic folk songs and songs of social protest like "Blowin' in the Wind," appeared, playing electric guitar and backed by an electrified rock band. A synthesis of the folk revival and rock subsequently took place, with folk groups using rock arrangements and rock singers composing poetic lyrics for their songs (e.g., the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood," "Eleanor Rigby" ). The Byrds' arrangement of Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" is a folk-rock classic. Performers like the Mamas and the Papas; Peter, Paul, and Mary; Donovan; and the Lovin Spoonful sang a kind of music designated "folk rock."

Protest Songs and the Drug Culture

In the 1960s music mirrored the tensions of the Vietnam War era and played an important role in American culture. The verbal content of rock songs turned toward rebellion, social protest, sex, and, increasingly, drugs. Many groups, among them Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, tried to approximate in music the aural experience of psychedelic drugs, producing long, repetitive, occasionally exquisite songs with surreal lyrics (known as "acid rock" or "hard rock" ).

In 1967 the Beatles again made history with their album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which, in addition to including drug-oriented songs, presented a body of interrelated pieces that constituted an organic whole. This is considered the first "concept album." Subsequent products of this trend were rock musicals such as Hair (1968) and rock operas like Tommy, composed and sung by the Who.

Rock Comes of Age

By the late 1960s rock was widely regarded as an important musical form. Musicians such as Miles Davis and John McLaughlin and groups like Traffic or Blood, Sweat, and Tears tried to fuse rock and jazz, while such disparate artists as Leonard Bernstein and Frank Zappa attempted to connect rock and classical music. Groups featuring virtuoso guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, and Jimmy Page continued to perform variations on classic blues themes using the traditional instruments of rock 'n' roll.

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 near Bethel, N.Y., in Aug., 1969. Later, however, a similar event, featuring the Rolling Stones, was held at Altamont, Calif., and was marked by several violent incidents caught on film, including a murder. By 1970 several of rock's top performers—Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Jimi Hendrix—were dead from substance abuse. The dangerous, androgynous quality projected by the Rolling Stones was taken to extremes by performers such as Alice Cooper and David Bowie, who were perhaps as famous for their sexual ambiguity and outrageous behavior as for their music.

The Late 1970s to the Present—Punk Rock, the Music Video, and Middle-aged Rockers

A turning point in rock music occurred in the mid-1970s in the form of punk rock, which was a response to the stagnation of the genre and a nihilistic political statement. The music was filled with contempt for previous styles; its fast-tempoed songs, usually propelled by electric guitar, featured irreverant lyrics often obscured by the clangerous music. Evident in Great Britain, performed by such bands as the Sex Pistols and the Clash, punk also quickly became popular in the United States, played by the Ramones and other American groups. By the early 1980s, it had changed rock music considerably as Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys, and other groups adopted political protest themes as the core of their music.

During the 1980s music videos became a popular form of promotion and entertainment. In the late 1980s, however, several bands, including Nirvana and Pearl Jam, continued to follow the path of early punk rock by focusing on political themes and celebrating their own lack of technical virtuosity. Punk persisted into the 1990s with such bands as Green Day and the Offspring. Also in the 90s 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 in the fanfare surrounding the opening (1995) of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Meanwhile, a young audience made rap music, with its pounding rhythms and strong, sometimes shocking spoken lyrics, a popular phenomenon, and other young rockers, largely club-goers, made the dance-based, electronically sophisticated techno another, though less pervasive, popular form.


See C. Gillett, The Sound of the City (1970); C. Belz, The Story of Rock (2d ed. 1972); M. Jahn, Rock (1973); A. DeCurtis, ed., Rock and Roll and Culture (1992); P. Romanowski et al., ed., The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (rev. ed. 1995); P. Friedlander, Rock and Roll: A Social History (1996); F. Goodman, The Mansion on the Hill (1997); B. Ward, Just My Soul Responding (1998); D. Clarke, ed., The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (rev. ed. 1999); J. Miller, Flowers in the Dustbin: The Rise of Rock and Roll, 1947–1977 (1999); J. Stuessy and S. Lipscomb, Rock and Roll: Its History and Stylistic Development (4th ed. 2003).

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Rock and Roll

Rock and Roll

Beginning around 1955, rock and roll, a music of outlandish performers, amplified guitars, and aggressive lyrics, replaced jazz and pop standards in commercial prominence. It is often discussed as the charged collision of two racially separate genres: African-American rhythm and blues (R&B) and white country music. Yet it is more accurately viewed as a different hybrid. These outsider musical styles, and the often working-class, Southern, and/or black performers who championed them, were embraced by teenagers who were often middle class, Northern, and white and who had emerged in the affluence of that decade as an economic force to be reckoned with. As controversy raged about Elvis Presley's gyrating hips and the "leerics" of hit songs, a music industry veteran argued that the music had only become controversial because "the [white] pop kids started buying the R&B disks and playing them at home" (Martin and Segrave, p. 17).

Youth Culture

The union of youth culture and popular music has periodically sent shockwaves through American society ever since: variants include hippies, teenyboppers, punks, metal-heads, rappers, and ravers. As the U.S. model of consumerism has spread worldwide, phenomena akin to rock and roll have cropped up time and againfrom subcultures like the English mods and skinheads and the French yeh yehs to the emergent sounds of Jamaican reggae, South African mbaqanga, Balkan turbofolk, and Algerian rai. Music, and the styles of clothing, language, and behavior so closely linked to it, has provided adolescents with the essential basis for a common sense of identity.

Yet rock and roll has evolved with every decade, and so have the youth phenomena associated with it. The teenagers of the 1950s were categorized as juvenile delinquents (the boys) or insipid sock hoppers screaming for manufactured idols on the television show American Bandstand (the girls); either way, a decadent, selfish breed compared to the generation that had withstood the Depression and fought World War II. Sociologists, and the media that followed their lead, looked at rock and rollers as deviants or as innocents manipulated by mass culture. In retrospect, however, rock had a radicalizing effect on these children, listening to brand-new transistor radios in their bedrooms and learning to identify with musicians from society's most marginal groupsthe heavily pompadoured Little Richard, for instance, who sang in a falsetto taken from the Southern drag-queen club circuit.

By the 1960s, the subterranean energies that had fueled rock and roll's rise were bubbling over. The children of the baby boom, that demographic bulge lasting from 1946 to 1964, were hitting their teenage years. Rock and roll, formerly a genre devoted to fun and loudness, had now become rock, a more serious Anglo-American art form with cultivated links to politicized folk music and the hippie generation's notion of youth as a self-consciously oppositional counter-culture. New heroes like Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, essentially akin to the boomers in background, inspired them to pick up electric guitars, grow their hair long, and experiment with sex and drugs. Woodstock, a three-day antiwar festival that drew hundreds of thousands to upstate New York in 1969, epitomized how sixties rock offered a mass cultural vision of authenticity and community.

Yet soon after, as the Stones played a different festival in Altamont, California, a young black attendee was murdered by Hell's Angels bikers who had foolishly been hired to protect the stage. Rock had lost its innocence, and as the music's popularity grew in the 1970s and 1980s it became a far more standardized industry. Young female teenyboppers were encouraged by teen magazines and AM radio to consume airbrushed pinups like Donny Osmond and the Bay City Rollers. Boys read Rolling Stone, listened to FM radio, and learned about arena rock, the cartoonishly heavy metal sounds of bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. The music's cross-racial alliances faded as black and Latin disco and funk separated from white singer-songwriter earnestness. MTV, a cable network relying on music videos for its programming, appeared in 1981, linking rock to television around the clock. The youth market was bigger than ever. Stars like Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, and Bruce Springsteen enjoyed global popularity. It was now possible to find kids in virtually every location on earth obsessed with the same musical icons.


As rock aged, however, cracks unsurprisingly started to appear in its dominance over youth culture. Punk, a movement from within rock that began in the mid-1970s, gradually became the music's oppositional wing, inspiring an audience that still looked to rock to behave as the antithesis of manufactured pop music. From the Sex Pistols in 1977 to Nirvana in 1991, often called "the year punk broke," a generation of college students used punk much as an early generation had used folk music, positioning themselves outside a corrupted mainstream. Alternative rock, a commercial variant of punk that briefly held sway in the 1990s, was epitomized by the Lollapalooza festivals, a post-baby boomer Woodstock of sorts. Then it splintered, a victim of its own anticorporate mainstream contradictions.

But rock was now simply one established genre among many competing for the younger demographic. Rappers replaced rock stars as icons of youth rebellion: although Eminem was white, most of the other major performers were African American, including Public Enemy, N.W.A, Notorious B.I.G., and Tupac Shakur. Country music, including Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, and the Dixie Chicks, courted suburban youth with a slicked-up twang. A new breed of boy bands like N'Sync and the Backstreet Boys, revived the teenybopper for the MTV era. Dance beats appealed to a subculture of ravers, whose consumption of the party drug Ecstasy terrified parents who had grown up experimenting with marijuana to the sounds of rock. Nerds more inspired by their computers and video games than by the radio down-loaded songs on MP3, much to the chagrin of the music industry, which saw album sales plummet at the turn of the century.

Globally, local music inspired by rock and its affiliated sounds but taking a particularly homegrown slant, has steadily rolled back the dominance of American music. Rappers can be found in Wales, Senegal, and South Korea; an alternative rock scene exists in Singapore; Japanese reggae bands have created a vibrant scene out of the Jamaican sounds of dancehall. The story gets steadily more complicated, but certain basic patterns never change: emotional affiliation across lines of identity; the tension between the pop marketplace and subcultures driven by a notion of personal authenticity; and the endless ability of new cohorts of young people to cobble together new blends of sound and style.

See also: Adolescence and Youth; Media, Childhood and the.


De Curtis, Anthony, and James Henke, with Holly George-Warren, eds. 1992. The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll: The Definitive History of the Most Important Artists and Their Music. New York: Random House.

Frith, Simon. 1982. Sound Effects: Youth, Leisure, and the Politics of Rock'n'Roll. New York: Random House.

Frith, Simon, Will Straw, and John Street, eds. 2001. The Cambridge Companion to Rock and Pop. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Hebdige, Dick. 1979 Subculture: The Meaning of Style. London: Methuen.

Martin, Linda, and Kerry Segrave. 1988. Anti-Rock: The Oppositionto Rock'N'Roll. Hamden, CN: Archon Books.

Mitchell, Tony, ed. 2002. Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the U.S.A. Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

Eric Weisbard

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Rock and Roll


ROCK AND ROLL was originally a youth-based musical form. It is hybrid in origin, drawing from African American musical forms, such as the blues and gospel, as well as from white country and folk music. The path of rock and roll is inextricably linked to one of race in America, and as such, its history is complicated and contested. Although widely debated, Jackie Bernston's "Rocket 88," pressed in 1951, is often cited as the first rock and roll record, and it stands as an apt starting point for understanding the form. Breston was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, center of the delta blues. Sam Phillips, who would introduce Elvis Presley to the world on his Memphis-based Sun Records label, produced "Rocket 88." At the Sun Records' studio, blues singers such as Howlin' Wolf and B. B. King created music that younger white artists like Presley incoporated into their country-based styles. The result was a cultural revolution feared by many white adults because of its black origins and its overt sexuality, while at the same time fervently embraced by American youth. Presley was undoubtedly at the center of this revolt. Covering many black musicians' songs, including Junior Parker's "Mystery Train" and Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog," Presley, a Mississippi native, recorded his first hits in the mid-1950s, and he dominated music charts for decades. His performances departed radically from the staid white ballad singers of the era. Presley swung his hips so wildly that when playing for television's The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, it showed him only from the waist up. Presley's appearance caused a sensation and broke all of television's single-night ratings up to then.

Black artists also recorded rock music that appealed to teens, white and black, throughout the 1950s. Chuck Berry, perhaps the greatest of the rock and roll poets, created enduring standards such as "Johnny B. Goode" (1958), and Little Richard topped charts with hits such as "Good Golly Miss Molly." Richard also stunned audiences with his frantic, explosive performances, earning him wide popularity among youth while drawing the enmity of the white establishment. By the late 1950s, another distinctive sound that would last through the 1960s emerged at Detroit's Motown Records, a black-owned recording studio. The Motown sound was characterized by a lead singer delivering melodic story lines accompanied by the elegant, tight harmonies of a backup group. Popular Motown artists included the Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and Diana Ross and the Supremes. By the end of the 1950s, rock and roll, made by and for youth, had become big business, and the lyrics turned increasingly to safe topics, namely a host of teenage

problems—school, summer vacation, cars, parents, and young love.

Rock and roll seemed to stagnate at the end of the 1950s. Presley had joined the Army, Berry was in prison, and Little Richard was in (temporary) retirement. Some mourned the supposed loss of rock and roll's original rebellious, gutsy quality. By the mid-1960s, however, the popularity of the music soared again with the emergence of a number of British rock groups. Known as the "British Invasion," this era began with the debut of the Beatles, who dominated American popular music charts after their 1964 smash hit, "I Want to Hold Your Hand." Influenced greatly by Sun Records' artists, the Beatles were followed by other British recording groups, including The Who and the Rolling Stones, whose music derived from American blues. These latter British bands initiated a return to rock's blues orientation, albeit in louder and more electric incarnations. Another important transformation in rock and roll occurred in 1965 at the Newport Folk Festival when Bob Dylan, noted folk and protest singer, appeared playing an electric guitar, backed by an electrified band. While many were outraged over his bastardization of acoustic folk, others were enthusiastic. A synthesis of rock and roll and the folk revival followed, becoming known as "folk rock." By the mid-1960s, rock and roll, which was no longer perceived as just for dancing, became known simply as rock.

In the 1960s, rock mirrored the social and political tensions of the Vietnam War era. The spirit-possessed performances of Otis Redding (crossover gospel singer) to the hyperkinetic screams of James Brown ("Say it Loud—I'm Black and I'm Proud," 1968) asserted black pride, gave expression to the Civil Rights Movement, and stunned white audiences. Motown artists also employed the African American tradition of "masking" messages within their songs. Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston's hit, "It Takes Two" (1967), for example, was a love song as well as a masked call for desegregation. The lyrics of other rock songs turned toward rebellion, social protest, sex, and drugs. Groups, such as the Jimi Hendrix Experience, approximated in music the aural experience of psychedelic drugs, creating a genre known as "acid rock," featuring long, repetitive songs with surreal lyrics. During the later 1960s, rock festivals became a fixture of American popular culture and a site of important protest activity. The most famous of these was Woodstock (1969), held in rural New York.

The 1970s and 1980s also witnessed turning points in rock music. The "punk rock" of the mid-1970s was a response to the perceived stagnation of the genre and a nihilistic political statement. Emergent among British bands such as the Sex Pistols and the Clash, punk quickly became popular in the United States and has had a lasting influence on rock music. Funk and disco also emerged in the 1970s. Both were based largely on the polyrhythmic grooves of Brown and his band, the JBs. Disco, which flourished in gay communities, was met with a strong backlash, fed by homophobia as well as by the racism that has always challenged rock and roll. Funk coalesced around artists like Stevie Wonder, the one-time child prodigy of Motown. But George Clinton's Parliament and Funkadelic groups likely left funk's most enduring influence. Not only did Clinton's music create enduring social commentary, his beats became among the most sampled in rap music, a dominant musical form of the 1980s and 1990s. Whether rap is actually rock is debated, but it clearly captures the earlier rebellious and socially conscious energy of Little Richard and Motown. The music video of the 1980s, played on cable network's Music Television (MTV), changed how rock was promoted and consumed. Artists such as Madonna successfully exploited this new medium, combining sexual provocation and steely business acumen to win huge commercial success.

Initially considered a passing fad and vilified as the devil's music, this now highly varied musical form is well entrenched and widely popular around the world among all ages. In 1995, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum was opened in Cleveland, Ohio, where it receives thousands of visitors each year.


Bangs, Lester. Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung. New York: Knopf, 1987.

Baraka, Amiri. Blues People: Negro Music in White America. New York: Morrow, 1963.

Decurtis, Anthony, et al. The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll. 3d ed. New York: Random House, 1992.

Marcus, Greil. Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music. 4th. ed. New York: Plume, 1997.

Palmer, Robert. Rock & Roll: An Unruly History. New York: Harmony Books, 1995.

Werner, Craig Hansen. A Change is Gonna Come: Music, Race and the Soul of America. New York: Plume, 1999.

Lisa M.Tetrault

See alsoJazz ; Music: African American ; Music: Gospel ; Music: Popular ; Music Industry ; Music Television .

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Rock Music

Rock Music

Soon after rock music began making an impact on youth during the 1950s it was denounced by parents, clergymen, educators, and others in positions of authority. The new music was antitraditional, antiauthoritarian, and disparaging of adult influence over teenagers. Pastors denounced it as evilthe product of Satan.

Rock music of the 1950s, however, did not prepare people for the upheaval of the 1960s and the open defiance against societal mores. In particular, the Rolling Stones' image as a "bad boy" band continued the identification of rock music with antiestablishment values in contrast to the "tamer" persona exemplified by the Beatles. In 1967 the Rolling Stones released Their Satanic Majesties Request. This was a harbinger of future eventstwo years later on December 6, 1969, some 300,000 young people gathered for a free pop music festival at Altamont Raceway, California, featuring the band. The crowd heard Mick Jagger singing "Sympathy for the Devil" while Hell's Angels, who had been engaged as bodyguards, beat up spectators and clubbed and kicked a man to death. After the event, no one was willing to take responsibility for the debacle.

Some rock bands turned up the power on their electric instruments and created the sound known as heavy metal, a name that seems to have been derived from a line in the 1968 Steppenwolf song, "Born to Be Wild." One performer, Alice Cooper, moved into shock entertainment by integrating the occult, sadomasochism, and animal abuse in his act. The shock element developed from an unplanned event in 1969. During a concert in Detroit, Michigan, Cooper released some chickens into the audience at the close of his act. The audience killed them and tore them to pieces, a fact subsequently noted in the press.

A new connection between rock music and the occult was made in the late 1960s by another British band, Led Zeppelin. Formed in 1968, their first album went gold the next year. Guitarist Jimmy Page had a strong interest in magic and the occult and upon attaining fame and fortune purchased the house on Loch Ness once owned by Aleister Crowley. Crowley's advocacy of drugs and sex magic had already earned him a reputation as a supporter of black magic and Satanism (though he was into neither), and that image began to follow Page, Led Zeppelin, and the bands that followed their lead.

In 1970 Black Sabbath followed on the heels of the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. In spite of lack of interest from radio stations and the music press, their first album hit the charts and remained for 13 weeks. Other albums followed that kept the band popular for the next two decades. While its predecessors had some ties to the occult, Black Sabbath actively cultivated an image of evil and darknessits name suggestive of a satanic mass and its use of black in their stage clothing and album covers. Lyrics explored mystical fantasy themes. Among the early members of the band was Ozzy Osbourne who would leave in 1979 and cultivate a more graphic satanic image.

Through the 1970s and 1980s, heavy metal was on the edge of the larger rock community as music expressing teenage rebellion in both England and the United States. As such, it was music enjoyed for a relatively few years before its followers reached adulthood. The music survived because there was always a new crop of teenagers entering the market each year. However, due to the rapidly changing audiences it was difficult for many bands to survive on top for more than five to seven years. In order to capture the attention of an audience with an increasingly short attention span, some bands moved into the most graphic portrayals of sex, sadism, and Satanism, themes that played predominantly to male teenagers.

Satanist themes dominated heavy metal lyrics and images, horrifying pastors and parents (even those raised on Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones). These people saw heavy metal music as both a direct attack upon the mind and morals of their children and a new low in cultural degeneracy.

Performers such as Ozzy Osbourne were singled out for particular criticism. After leaving Black Sabbath, Osbourne formed a new band that later released the albums Talk of the Devil (1982), Bark at the Moon (1983) with Osbourne as a werwolf on the cover, and Ultimate Sin (1984). Incidents in which teen delinquency was tied to listening to heavy metal rock received wide publicity and Osbourne was accused of instigating crimes and suicides.

Another band drawn into the Satanism/antiSatanism controversy was Judas Priest. They were accused of releasing albums that contained subliminal messages encoded into the songs via a process known as backward masking. A Reno, Nevada, couple charged that their son attempted suicide after listening to their Stained Glass (1978) album, which they argued contained subliminal messages ordering the suicide. The courts dismissed the case but not before rock music received a significant amount of negative publicity.

More contemporary groups that actively cultivated the satanic image include Slayer, a relatively unknown band on the rock scene whose albums covers include an inverted satanic pentagram as their logo and other satanic symbols (such as an inverted cross) and whose lyrics cultivate satanic and black magic themes. Slayer was considered extreme, but other bands such as the obscure Possessed to the more widely recognized Motley Crüe (Shout at the Devil, 1983) also drew on satanic symbolism.

Contemporary rock has been criticized especially for the values it incorporates. However, to date, no valid evidence has been produced to link even the more objectionable form of heavy metal music as a causal agent to specific patterns of antisocial behavior or to long-term negative effects among devoted fans.


Aranza, Jacob. Backward Masking Unmasked: Backward Satanic Messages of Rock and Roll Exposed. Shreveport, La.: Huntington House, 1983.

Clifford, Mike, ed. The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock. New York: Harmony Book, 1992.

Godwin, Jeff. The Devil's Disciples: The Truth About Rock. Chino, Calif.: Chick Publications, 1985.

Rascke, Carl A. Painted Black. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990.

Scott, Cyril. Music: Its Secret Influence Throughout the Ages. Reprint, London: Rider, 1950.

Stuessy, Joe. Rock and Roll: Its History and Stylistic Development. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1994.

Tane, David. The Secret Power of Music: The Transformation of Self and Society Through Musical Energy. New York: Destiny Books, 1984.

Wedge, Thomas W. The Satan Hunter. Canton, Ohio: Daring Books, 1988.

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Rock ‘N’ Roll

Rock N Roll


Rock n roll, a hybrid popular musical form that emerged in the United States in the early 1950s, became one of the most important cultural forces around the world. Rock n roll began when musicians mixed black rhythm and blues with Southern white country and gospel musics, helping to spark a cultural revolution in the 1950s and 1960s. The first exhilarating blasts of rock n roll defied the Eisenhower eras puritanical emphasis on social and political conformity. This interracial music, edgy and rebellious, broke down social barriers by challenging sexual, racial, and, later, political taboos. The music made a powerful statement that young Americans were less divided by race than their parents.

During the 1950s white musicians such as Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, and Jerry Lee Lewis and black musicians such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Fats Domino created rock n roll; often fast and highly dance-able, it posed a challenge to urban pop music from Tin Pan Alley and rural-oriented country music. Haley took rhythm and blues songs and reconfigured them for a white teen audience. Influenced by the electric blues, Berry created the distinctive rock n roll guitar style. Presley, known as Elvis the Pelvis because of his suggestive, hip-swinging performances, became the first rock superstar, aided by skillful marketing. American rock n rollers also developed a large following in Britain and Europe.

Rock n roll evolved into rock in the early 1960s and became the heart of that decades youth movement. American society in the 1960s grew to be deeply divided over the war in Vietnam, protest movements against racism and sexism, and countercultural youth who flouted social norms. In 1963 the Beatles began a British Invasiona wave of U.K. rock groups, such as the Rolling Stones and the Kinksthat electrified American audiences and energized rock. Beatlemania reached around the world, spawning local imitators and spreading new fashions. The Beatles revolutionized recording technology and matured from top-selling pop stars to musical philosophers; many of their later albums, such as Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), are infused with deep meaning. Bob Dylan, once a folk singer, wrote poetic songs exploring the human experience, including politics. The probing music of Dylan, the Beatles, and the musicians they influenced played a major role in protest and social movements. New rock styles also emerged. Hence, the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, and Nash created country rock and folk rock, while the Beach Boys expanded the boundaries of Southern Californiabased surf music. Often inspired by drug experiences, San Francisco musicians like the Jefferson Airplane and the bluesy Janis Joplin created psychedelic rock. The innovative guitarist Jimi Hendrix laid the foundation for heavy metal and hard rock. The merging of rock music, political protest, and the counterculture of disaffected youth led to the Summer of Love in 1967, when thousands congregated in San Francisco, and culminated in the Woodstock Music Festival of 1969, when 300,000 rock fans crowded a New York farm.

By the early 1970s several rock icons (including Hendrix and Joplin) had died, the war in Vietnam had wound down, protest movements had faded, and a more conservative social and political environment had emerged in the United States. New rock-derived styles developed over the next four decades. In the United States and especially Britain, punk musicloud, fast, and anarchicappealed to alienated working-class youth with its frontal assault on prevailing social and political values. Heavy metal, with its deafening guitars, was angry and often obsessed with sex and violence. In contrast, dance musics such as disco, techno, and rave were escapist. But some rock musicians directly addressed social and political issues. The superstar Bruce Springsteen, mixing rock and folk, criticized U.S. foreign policies and the neglect of the working class and poor. In the 1990s punk and heavy metal were combined into a new style, grunge, most prominently represented by the Seattle group Nirvana. By the twenty-first century rock had fragmented into diverse styles with niche audiences.

African Americans created popular musics influenced by rock. The soul music of the 1960s, from artists like James Brown and Aretha Franklin, conveyed a message of black self-respect and unity parallel to the civil rights movements. The slickly produced Motown sound appealed to both blacks and whites. Beginning in the 1980s rap, an eclectic urban mix of African American and Caribbean traditions, became the most cutting-edge, politicized music, sometimes called the CNN of the black ghetto. The boastful, angry lyrics highlighted conflict between black and white, rich and poor, male and female. Like rock, rap was adopted by alienated groups around the world, but in the United States its radical message was watered down by the twenty-first century. Whether rock and its kindred musics were empowering or diversionary, promoting social and political change or helping maintain the status quo, remained subject to debate. Whatever the case may be, these debates reflected the enduring appeal of musics rooted, despite five decades of changes, in the black-white fusion of early rock n roll.

SEE ALSO Blues; Eisenhower, Dwight D.; Jazz; Music; Music, Psychology of; Reggae; World Music; Youth Culture


Garofalo, Reebee. 2005. Rockin Out: Popular Music in the U.S.A. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

Szatmary, David P. 2007. Rockin in Time: A Social History of Rock-and-Roll. 6th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

Wicke, Peter. 1987. Rock Music: Culture, Aesthetics, and Sociology. Trans. Rachel Fogg. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Craig A. Lockard

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rock and roll

rock and roll (also rock 'n' roll) • n. a type of popular dance music originating in the 1950s, characterized by a heavy beat and simple melodies. Rock and roll was an amalgam of black rhythm and blues and white country music, usually based on a twelve-bar structure and an instrumentation of guitar, bass, and drums. DERIVATIVES: rock and roll·er n.

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rock 'n' roll

rock 'n' roll: see rock music.

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