History 17B Lecture 18 War of the Generations Page 1



(Note:  Red links in lecture will download mp3 songs.)

I.  Introduction

elvis2.jpg (41620 bytes) What did adults think of rock and roll in the 1950s?  Psychologists called it a communicable disease, the Alabama White Citizen's Council felt it was an NAACP conspiracy to degrade the white race, and many parents feared their children were being turned into juvenile delinquents.  

In 1958, crooner Frank Sinatra publicly stated that "Rock 'n' roll smells phony and false.  It is sung, played and written for the most part by cretinous goons and by means of its almost imbecile reiteration, and sly, lewd, in plain fact, dirty lyrics...it manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth."  The response overwhelmingly from many adults was that rock 'n' roll had to go.  But the reasons why it had to go were as diverse as was rock music itself.  While in the end adults - despite all their efforts - were unable to abolish rock music, they were able to tame it.

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The Chairman of the Board

II.  Why Parents Hated Rock 'N' Roll

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Patti Page
Perhaps the most obvious reason for the anti-rock sentiment was that it was so different from the popular music of the forties and early fifties such as Patti Page's HOW MUCH IS THAT DOGGIE IN THE WINDOW.  Musicians such as Perry Como and Frank Sinatra dominated popular music and their melodic yet almost lifeless songs were accepted by all EXCEPT the '50s youth.  America's kids were bored with their parent's music and looked for something more exciting; something that made them feel alive.  They found it in rock 'n' roll.  (SHAKE, RATTLE, AND ROLL)

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Perry Como

A.  Origins of Rock Music

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Alan Freed

Rock 'n' roll had many origins.  Jazz and big band music gave it its beat, and gospel and blues furnished the distinct black rhythm.  Alan Freed, a Cleveland disc jockey who often took credit for the name "rock 'n' roll," introduced the rhythm and blues sound to a wide radio audience in June of 1951 with his "Moondog's Rock 'N' Roll Party" show.  Following up with popular concerts, the new sound became a hit among both white and black youth.

In addition to the distinct black rhythm, rock had a country sound brought in by performers such as Bill Halley and Elvis Presley.  (WAKE UP LITTLE SUSIE) The Everly Brothers brought a rockabilly style in their melodic tunes while many other groups simply sang ballads.  What held all of these styles as rock 'n' roll together was the beat that was inherent in each.  Some of them were wild, some of them were soft, but they all had the beat.

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Everly Brothers

But it was this beat that so many adults found annoying.  Critics such as Life magazine described rock music as a "a singer's highly personal way of shouting or moaning lyrics."  Parents were unimpressed by the twanging guitar sound, the screaming singing voice, and the meaningless lyrics.  Though many musicians came out against rock music, there were some, such as Richard Rodgers (of Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical fame) who saw nothing wrong with the music or its beat.  He even felt it good for his business.  Once the kids have had enough of the "beat, beat, beat all the time," he said, "people turn back to Romberg, Kern, and Richard Rodgers for relief."