Music has undergone many changes throughout and history and prehistory. These changes were always somehow connected to sociological movements at the time. Rock music evolved mostly out of a need by young people of the fifties to break away from so-cietal norms. America had just come out of the Korean War, and men looked to settle down into a peaceful life. Also just prior this time period, Senator Joseph McCarthy ac-tively encouraged citizens to conform with his infamously false accusations of Commu-nism. McCarthy spectacularly charged that there were scores of known Communists in the Department of State (Bailey 887).
This made people fearful that they would be tried as Communists and led most to conform to a common societal standard. When the nation emerged from this era, teenagers sought to rebel against their parental authorities. They created everything from new styles of clothing to new styles of music to promote their newfound individuality. The new style of music evolving at the time was called Rock and Roll. Rock has been influenced by country music, by the blues, by classical music, by calypso, by traditional folk styles, and by a variety of other music conventions (Belz vii).
This variety reflects the varied backgrounds of young people at the time. Early successes in this new music genre included Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, and Chuck Berry. This music only succeeded because the conditions in society and the opinions of the youth in that time period allowed it to succeed. This music revolution is not unique. Similar revolutions will occur if and when the circumstances permit. Modern music is going this direction, but has not reached the point of a new genre as of yet because conditions in so-ciety have not allowed a radical change.
One of the most obvious elements which separates rock music from previous forms of musical expression is a dominant rhythm accenting a strong beat. Rhythm is de-fined as a basic element of music concerned with the duration of tones and the stresses or accents placed upon them (Columbia Encyclopedia). Rhythm, developed in the 12th century, was not a new phenomenon; however, previously, the only musical genre to place so much emphasis on rhythm was Rhythm and Blues, from which rock derived much of its sound patterns.
These had their roots in slavery, borrowed their rhythms from church, and took their vitality from the intensity with which people who endured hard lives en-joyed good times (Fabulous Decade 104). Although this emphasis on a driving beat originally sprung from R&B, it quickly mutated into its own unique form. This presuma-bly was to facilitate dancing to the beat, and this became the reason many parents and other adults protested this type of music. Many performers onstage dancing styles were considered lewd and inappropriate for their children.
This became another reason for the musics popularity because they were given a chance to rebel against their parents. There is nothing prohibiting a situation like this from happening again. Today, teenagers in general strive to become different from their parents. This causes new styles to emerge in music. The most common deviation form the main rock theme is vulgarity in lyrics. Sublime, a popular alternative rock band, has quickly found success with the teenage audience. The two most played songs on their first album, 40 oz. To Freedom, being Date Rape and Smoke Two Joints.
The lyrics reflect the tendency of youth to rebel against laws and authority. I smoke two joints in time of peace, and two in time of war/ I smoke two joints before I smoke two joints/and then I smoke two more. This is an ob-vious attempt to aggravate the attitudes of parents, and although added vulgarities and drug references do not constitute a new form of music, under extreme circumstances, the conventions could deviate enough to allow something new to emerge. Smaller revolutions have occurred. The genre underwent a major transformation on the day the music died.
Don McLeans American Pie outlines what happened after the historic deaths of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens in a plane crash on February 3, 1959. The entire song is a tribute to Buddy Holly and a commentary on how rock and roll changed in the years since his death. McLean seems to be lamenting the death of danceable music in rock and roll and (in part) attributing that lack to the ab-sence of Buddy Holly et. al (Kulawiec 1995). Rock music did continue to evolve after that point, and the song American Pie itself gives evidence of this.
American Pie em-phasizes the lyrics as the most important part of the song rather than the beat. Although it is possible to dance to this song, the original intent was probably more like folk music (an integral part of rock today) than a dance tune. Another revolution occurred with the ad-vent of disco, which brought dance music back to the spotlight. Rap and Hip-hop are not really related to rock and roll as closely as other offshoots, but they are obviously influ-enced somewhat by the vitality that a rock or folk lyric exudes.
To get enough protest from teens to start a music revolution, another major war must be fought. Conscription must be reinstituted in the United States. Deaths of friends and family is usually enough to anger the population. Another factor that must be present is an overwhelming feeling of conformity. The early 50s were a time when teens and adults all dressed in the same way, acted in the same way, and listened to the same music. These conditions must be present for another musical revolution to occur.
A major difference in rock music to the prior music of the time was the instru-mentation. Rock and roll placed a heavy emphasis on the guitar as musical expression. Jazz musicians used the electric guitar frequently, but it became very widespread with rock music. The formula for a rock band became an guitar, an electric bass guitar, and a drum set. The common instrumentation led to a common sound between different bands. While most rock songs sounded different from each other, the instrumentation led to a familiar feeling in the genre.
In the 70s, artists manipulated their sound more frequently in the recording studio to create distinct sounds. Pink Floyds Darkside of the Moon album had a different sound than the generic rock formula. The trend toward electronica in the 90s features bands such as The Prodigy and Orbital using sounds manipulated in recording studios by computers. The electric guitar itself has also evolved considerably. It is very common now to use multiple guitar effects in one song. The sound is distorted for a dif-ferent feel in the music.
Different guitar styles have also evolved. Reggae and ska are off-shoots of rock music which came from the need for a different sound. These styles accent the offbeats in the rhythm rather than the standard accentuation of the beat. The strings on the guitar are picked up rather than down, allowing the higher pitched strings to be played first. Most of these changes occurred because artists and listeners were tired of conforming with society, they were hungry for a change so they took the initiative and af-fected the music themselves.
All of this evolution in instrumentation amounts to the fact that the elements for another music revolution do exist, but there must be a catalyst for change to bring them into effect. Many of the elements for a new musical revolution are present in society and the music industry. Different types of instrumentation and playing styles are becoming more popular with artists and listeners alike. This will eventually allow for a complete change in the sound of music heard by the public. The lyrics of modern songs indicate unruliness and anger among musicians.
This indicates that the attitudes exist and it is possible that out of this overwhelming desire to resist authority, new songs will be written in new styles that may eventually lead to a new genre. The feeling that does not exist is the feeling that all citizens are the same and that they are conforming to societal standards. With increas-ing censorship of the Internet and privacy being infringed upon with new anti-terrorist laws, this feeling may begin to take hold of the nation. It is not within the foreseeable, however, because these issues do not affect most of the population.
Music is a medium of expression for all people, so the peoples music must speak to the people. Smaller changes have been made to rock music in the last forty-five years. If this genre is so malleable, then change must come frequently. Once the elements are in place, music will undergo a change. Rock music evolved out of conditions in society. If these conditions exist again, another music revolution will occur. Many of the elements are already in place, it is only a matter of time before the change.