Twentieth Century Music and It’s Reflection of History
The Great Depression left its imprint on the music more than any other event Of that time. Most of the music of the 1 sass offered relaxation to the battered soul. Popular songs of the time brought the listener into the despair of the times apparent in songs, such as ‘Stardust’, ‘Solitude’, and ‘Blue Lovebirds Die Alone’. World War II brought along a new attitude in it’s music. Songs of the WI era showed split ideas about the war. Some works made the American People aware of the dangers of democracy while most songs emphasized it’s blessings, giving Americans a patriotic, anti-Fascist attitude.
One popular song of the time was Earl Robinsons ‘Ballad for Americans’ which emphasized the strongest support for the war at that time. In the mid-1 9505, a new style of music known as Rock ‘n’ Roll became prominent. This music was a combination of all the popular styles of music that preceded it. Three styles of rock: R&B rock, country rock, and pop rock; were evident at this time. Culturally, white teenagers were the dominant members of society, but the most popular form of rock was R&B rock, which was performed mostly by African-American males.
This caused social robbers because many upper class white American males labeled rock as ‘African’ or ‘race’ music. Some even charged that it was a conspiracy by the NAACP to corrupt white teenagers. To counter the popularity of R&B rock, many record companies found white pop performers to ‘cover’ popular songs recorded by African-American R&B artists. When an African-American performer had a hit song, the record company would have it re-recorded by a white performer. Pat Boone had hits with Fats Domino’s ‘Anti that a Shame’ and with Little Richards “Tutu Fruit.
One record producer, Sam Phillips stated, ‘If I could only find a white man ho had the Negro sound and the Negro feel I could make a million dollars. ‘ By 1 956, a young singer, Elvis Presley, padded Phillips a prophet with his hit song ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. Elvis Presley did more than any other artist to promote the style of Rock ‘n’ Roll with fifty-two top thirty hits in less than ten years, earning himself the title of King of Rock and Roll. By the early sass Rock and Roll was a contributing factor to the Civil Rights movements bringing African-Americans to become equal to whites.
White teenagers purchased records released by African-American performers and African-American teenagers did the opposite. Whites and African-Americans sat beside each other at concerts, enjoying music that may not be performed by people of the same race as they were. However, in a society dominated by white males, many minorities were mocked and treated cruelly. Women were looked down upon as second class citizens in the sass; treated as sex objects in songs such as Buddy Nook’s ‘Party Doll’, Johnny Titillation’s ‘Poetry in Motion’, and Eddie Hedgehog’s ‘(Girls, Girls, Girls) Made to Love)’.
African Americans were also viewed as comic figures in songs such as the Coasters Charlie Brown’, Little Anthony and the Imperials’ ‘Shimmy, Shimmy, OK-OK Bop’, and Mongo Sanitarians ‘Watermelon Man’. Native Americans were also depicted as cartoon characters in Johnny Proton’s ‘Running Bear’ and Larry Verse’s ‘Mr.. Custer’. The accents of Italian and Hispanic emigrants were made fun of in Pat Bone’s ‘Speedy Gonzales’ and Lou Mote’s ‘Opine the Italian Mouse’. To many, the period of 1 964 to 1 974 is the most important period of American music in this century. Rock music reflected attitudes of the youth of that time, the Baby Boomers.
In the early ‘ass the youth looked up to President John F. Kennedy. His assassination on November twenty-second of 1963 sent shock waves throughout the country. The youth were disillusioned at this fact and had nobody to turn to. Quickly after, a new group came into the music scene from Europe. The Beetles offered American youth a new identity at the time when they needed it most. Songs of The Beetles such as ‘ Want to Hold Your Hand’ projected optimism, enthusiasm, and fun. The four members refused to take themselves seriously and offered American youth a new way to see their world.
The Beetles’ new music was anything but new, in fact, it sounded more like the R&B of the fifties. Rock music was the biggest promoter of the civil rights movement in the united States in the sass and sass. Bob Dylan put it best in his 1964 song ‘The Times They are a ‘changing’. Many songs of that time period addressed social and cultural issues of the time in which they were written, in fact, many singer/songwriters Of that time period such as Joan Base and Bob Dylan were active participants and sometimes the main speaker in various political rallies.
Bob Dylan, however, was probably one of the most important political voices in America from 1963 to 1969. Songs Dylan wrote such as ‘Blowing’ in the Wind’, later recorded by Peter, Paul, and Mary; became the unofficial anthem of the Civil Rights movement, while other songs such as ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and ‘All Along the Watchtower’ voiced the dissatisfaction, anger, and concern of the troubled youth at that time period. ‘Come writers and critics and prophesier with your pen. And keep your eyes wide, the chance won’t come again. And don ‘t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin.
And there’s no telling’ now where it’s leading’. For the loser now will be later to win. For the times they are a ‘changing. ‘ Bob Dylan ‘The Times they are a Changing” The mid-sixties also helped promote the civil rights of African-Americans with the introduction of Mouton Records established by Berry Gorky. One song, Retreat Franklins ‘Respect’ expressed the demand for racial equality. While others such as the Impressions’ ‘Keep on Pushing’ reflected the early civil rights movement of African-Americans and ‘Say it Loud-I’m Black and I’m Proud’ by James Brown established African-American pride.
Racial minorities were not the only groups preaching equality in America during the sixties. American women also obtained a better standing as their ole in society advanced beyond second class housewives. Songs like Roy Ribbon’s Pretty Women’, The Rolling Stones ‘Stupid Girl’, and the Occasions ‘Girl Watcher’ presented an image that many women resented. Women fought back against songs such as these with their own songs such as Leslie Gore’s ‘You don’t Own Me’, Nancy Sinatra ‘These Boots are Made for Walking”, and Helen Redeye’s ‘l am Woman’.
Although there were many important events in the decade from 1 965 to 1975, none were more remembered than the Vietnam War. Many music artists, at this time began to write and sing songs about world peace and ending the Vietnam War. Many of these songs were very popular, in fact, the music performed at Woodstock was primarily protest songs such as these. Artists who stood out as the war protest singers were Bob Dylan; Country’ Joe and the Fish; Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; Janis Joplin; Joan Base; and Jim Hendrix.
Artists such as John Lennox of The Beetles wrote and sang songs voicing world peace like ‘Give Peace a Chance’, ‘Imagine’, and ‘Happy Christmas (War is Over)’. ‘Well come on all you big strong men. Uncle Sam needs your help again. Got himself in a terrible jam Away down yonder in Vietnam Put down your books and pick up a gun We’re goanna have a whole lot of fun. And it’s One, Two, Three, What are we fighting for? Don’t ask me don’t give a damn Next stop is Vietnam And it’s five, six seven, open up the Pearly Gates Well there anti no time to wonder why, Whoopee!! We’re all goanna die. ‘Country Joe’ McDonald The Fish Cheer’ During, and the time soon after, the Vietnam War many illegal drugs became very popular in the United States. Substances known as hallucinogens were pushed by a form of music called ‘acid rock’ featuring lyrics about psychedelic hallucinogenic) drugs, mostly LSI (lysergic acid thalidomide). Artists who influenced the use of such substances were The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, and Jim Hendrix. Until recently, with the death of their lead singer, Jerry Garcia, The Grateful Dead was the only acid rock band still performing.
Some music of the past two decades has been a reflection on past events. Frankie Avail released a solo record GREASE in 1 978 which looked back on the past fondly. Other artists have written music which reflects on the past with bittersweet nostalgia such as Bob Eager’s ‘Against the Wind’ and Don Honey’s End of the Innocence’. Billy Joel looked at the Vietnam war in ‘Goodnight Saigon’ and summed up forty years Of pop culture from 1949 to 1 989 in his song ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’. Eighties songs also viewed the social problems in America.
Bob Eager’s ‘Making’ Thunderbird’ and Billy Joule’s ‘Allentown’ drew attention to hard times in American manufacturing. Other artists helped out through benefit concerts such as Live Aid to help assist drought stricken African countries, Farm Aid to help farmers facing bankruptcy. Money from these benefit concert Band Aid was donated to combat hunger in Ethiopia. There are in the eighties and nineties very few songs which links to world events. Michael Jackson, though, through songs such as ‘Heal the World’, has been able to show how there are places in the world where people are going hungry.