The Evolution of Popular Music (and its offspring)

Guest Editorial By Sharon White

The songs of the early fifties generally had light melodies, sweet lyrics and wholesome singers. Innocent and inoffensive “feel-good” tunes, performed by artists like Pat Boone, Rosemary Clooney and Perry Como dominated the pop charts. Major Record Companies decided to abandon the majority of black race records and their black audience, creating an opportunity for Independents such as Sam Phillips” Sun Label or Chess Records to sign them up.

Artists like Bill Haley and the Comets adapted the work of the Black artists to come up with their own sound. The music’s solid rhythm and heavy back beat inspired new forms of dancing. Soon there were stars – Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Carl Perkins. Due to the prejudices of the times, Disc Jockey Alan Freed coined the name “rock and roll,” ironically using a term that was slang for sex in the Black community at that time. Its initial appeal was to middle class white teenagers who soon came to feel it was their own. In this era, so called “race music” was largely censured by America’s white establishment as being too rebellious, sexual and anti-social to be acceptable.

If Rock and Roll was formed from a fusion between Black music and White entrepreneurship, then the foremost of the fair-skinned founding fathers must be Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Their writing genius, combined with the kinetic energy of Elvis made Rock and Roll history by recording Hound Dog, and Elvis Presley became a household name.

There were also scandals (i.e. The Payola Scandal which would lead to the demise of the career of Alan Freed) in the early days’ which did nothing to foster either parental or governmental confidence in the new music. Near the end of the decade, a plane crash killed Buddy Holly and also took the lives of Richie Valens and The Big Bopper. Since all three were so prominent at the time, February 3, 1959, became known as “The Day The Music Died.”

Female vocal groups began to produce songs that mixed Doo-wop harmonies with Rhythm and Blues music. Most notable were The Shirelles, The Marvelettes, and The Crystals who flourished during the early 1960s.

By 1962 “The Brill Building” in Broadway, New York had housed over 165 music businesses and more significantly hosted Don Kirshner and his star collection of songwriters, (Carole King / Gerry Goffin, Neil Sedaka / Howard Greenfield, and Barry Mann / Cynthia Weil). Record Producer Phil Spector was churning out unique classics by artists like The Ronettes, The Righteous Brothers and finally Ike and Tina Turner with his legendary “Wall of Sound”.

In the 1950s Britain an independent musical culture developed.

Liverpool produced the Merseybeat sound led by The Beatles, taking the British charts by storm in 1963, while in London the Rolling Stones heralded a boom in the British Rhythm and Blues that included the Animals from Newcastle, Spencer Davis from Birmingham and scores more.

Folk inspired artists, like The Byrds, and even America’s most influential contemporary performer Bob Dylan also turned to sound of the Beatles for new direction. The quintessential Californian group, The Beach Boys, helped fly the flag for Surf Music.

Black Soul Music (containing the beat of Rhythm and Blues combined with the exuberance of Gospel), may have been overshadowed in the media but it still made a indelible impression. Between them, they had all the early soul stars of note, including The Drifters, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, The Supremes, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye.

“The Godfather of Soul”, James Brown, through the rest of the ’60s dispensed with melodies in favour of chunky rhythms, horn interplay and scratching guitar giving a whole new sound which would become essential ingredients of what is known as Funk. Weird lyrics and music that seemed to have few rules and less form: names like The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and the The Doors became synonymous with meditation, levitation and drugs.

By then America began to worship the posturing and volume of what became known as Heavy Metal. Pioneered by Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and Jeff Beck and culminated by Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple, the term “Heavy Metal” was characterised by heavy guitar riffs/ostinato, a high register male vocal and more punch particularly in the lower frequencies of the bass drum and bass guitar.

Britain started the 1970s pointing towards a hybrid known as “Glam-rock”, which produced Marc Bolan, David Bowie, and groups such as Slade and The Sweet. Their theatrical style of dress (which consisted of heavy make-up and women’s clothes) further emphasised the sartorial overkill of Psychedelia.

The advance in technology would give birth to a genre of Progressive rock groups such as Genesis and Yes, followed by E.L.O., Supertramp, Queen, and 10cc – The recording process itself had become much more sophisticated and the expansion of multitracking enabled artists to isolate each instrument and use a myriad of multi-layered harmony vocals creating an orchestral sound which would give these bands their trademark.

Bob Marley and the Wailers introduced Reggae and Ska to the international community after being signed to London’s Island Records. (Reggae is a Jamaican form of Rhythm and Blues with accents on the half beats.)

When this music reached their Jamaican counterparts, then residing within New York’s inner-city neighborhoods in the Bronx and Brooklyn, it gave birth to what is now known as Rap, or Hip Hop.

Another scene to emerge from its underground existence in New York was the dance 70s phenomenon known as Disco. Disco began as far back in the sixties with the Motown sound, but it came in a rapid in the early and mid-seventies when extended versions of the popular songs were played in the city’s gay clubs.

Rock music has always been the rallying call of rebellious youth, and in 1977 the Anarchic Punk generation produced disenchanted Britons like The Sex Pistols and The Clash.

In 1981 the music scene underwent a significant change. Technological developments in the form of Music Television, and the compact disc, changed the music world in a way that a different approach was necessary.

The Boom of Synth-Pop and New Romanticism spawned Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Culture Club.

Michael Jackson dominated the music world with his 1982 release ‘Thriller’. During a time when MTV made headway, Jackson adapted to this and accompanied his single-releases with videos of high quality. Another artist to achieve Megastardom in a similar way was Madonna. Her popularity was also achieved by the way she challenged the mainstream on issues as race, gender, sexuality, and power.

Def Jam label artists Run DMC and the Beastie Boys mixed heavy metal guitars rather than the usual funk and disco samples for an aggressive impact that helped the first Rap album to reach a number one chart position.

The dance phenomenon was to emerge from the holiday resort of Ibiza. It would enter the UK as Acid House (The Culture associated with the drug Ecstasy.) and transmogrify into the 90s genres, Trance and Rave. (Music was created by repeating monotonous rhythmic patterns that could go on and on.)

The 90s followed the avaricious 80s with a softer sound – Country Music. At the other end of the musical spectrum, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden took the raw sound of American Grunge music and slapped it screaming onto radios everywhere. By the mid 90s, a new crop of young British bands influenced by the Manchester Indie scene (The Stone Roses, and the Happy Mondays) rediscovered the Beatles, giving birth to Britpop. The biggest-selling British export of the 90s was the Spice Girls, who kick-started a resurgence in Teen Pop music.

This guest article was produced by a member of Sharon White is a 10+ years experienced freelance writer and a manager of Dissertation Writing Services support team. There you can get custom term paper tips and view Essay Papers for free.