So which trends in music and in thought made the rebellious rock ‘n’ roll such a craze in the 1950’s, but not now? Each era has had specific trends, schools of thought and attitudes that have veered them into a specific genre of music. Rockin’ Out Before 1950, the American culture held firm social expectations. Males were expected to enroll into the military or work, and women were expected to stay in the kitchen. America was pulling out of the depression, and wealth and prosperity was not considered a necessity. As the United States prevailed in World War II however, America started to change startlingly.
While many people were focused on conforming with their neighbors, the social structure was revolutionized. Soldiers returned, many experiencing traumatic psychological and physical problems. Women who had integrated themselves into the work force now found themselves replaced by returning soldiers. Most importantly, families started experiencing a great deal of economic independence. This increasing affluence gave teenagers a chance to break away from their parents’ lifestyles. Teens started creating their own clothing trends, dance fads, and hairstyles (Cox).
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As these new fads and styles starting breaking away from social norms, rock ‘n’ roll became the sound of change. Conservative parents viewed rock ‘n’ roll, and the hip gyrations that came with it, as a gift from the devil. Despite their parents protestations however, teenagers idolized musicians like Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis. So what made rock ‘n’ roll the epitome of 1950 culture? Four recording companies-Decca, R. C. A. , Columbia and Capital-had a virtual monopoly over the popular music field in the early 1950’s. This control made rock ‘n’ roll wildly popular, simply because there was no competition (Lewis 47).
As the 1950’s went on, their control weakened, yet rock ‘n’ roll still prevailed as the dominant music genre. A contributing factor to its increasing popularity was the lack of musicians being schooled in theory, technique and composition. Rock ‘n’ roll paved a golden road for a small, charismatic group of people. They provided music rapidly to the American public, without having to compose masterpieces rivaling the music of Bach, Liszt and Debussy. Rock ‘n’ roll also created an easy and fun way to express complex emotions through beating rhythms and twisting ostinato patterns.
Simon Anderson explains, “The amplified bass seems to produce a kind of second-level rumble, a subsidiary moaning and groaning, an incantation of the adolescent subculture, where no one really knows or cares how they feel about life. ” This “incantation of the adolescent subculture” spoke to the class, gender and racial conflicts tearing through America at the time. Rock ‘n’ roll introduced the American white culture to black music. Teenagers soon became addicted to the rhythm and blues and rock ‘n’ roll, all of which was black-inspired. The crossing of racial culture helped the disintegration of the color line.
Appreciation of black music helped increase recognition of blacks in popular culture (Bertrand). Though the rhythms and beat of rock ‘n’ roll spoke to the carefree teenager life, often the lyrics promoted conventional values and strength in relationships. 83. 4% of songs in 1955 were love ballads in the conversational mode (Carey 723). Most songs told of lovers, yearning for each other in some type of sense. This theme reflects the attitudes of teenagers in the 1950’s, as this was the first generation people were allowed to marry for love. Women had more freedom to travel into the workplace and finally be on equal grounds with their husbands.
Husbands did not have to leave their wives for war. Children had more autonomy as parents no longer dictated who and when they were going to love. However, as this freedom was increasingly integrated into American culture over time, the amount of love related songs dramatically dropped. In 1966, only 69. 5% of produced songs were about love and courtship (Carey 723). Rock ‘n’ roll provided the perfect form of expression in the 1950’s. It combined lyrical ties to radical social changes and catchy rhythms unique to its generation. What’s Hip Now? The change tearing through America in the 1950’s persists to this day. 2010 has brought a busier, more materialistic, culture than ever before.
The trends of women working outside of the home and increasing teenage autonomy persists. American teenagers are given more discretionary time than ever before in history. Reed Larson studied this continuing trend and explains, “If we look back over the past 200 years, the most striking historic change in young people’s use of time is that youths spend much less time on labor activities today than they did in America’s agrarian past” (160). Some teenagers use this newfound source of time dedicated to structured voluntary activities such as sports, theatre, work, etc. others dedicate escalating amounts of time to mind-numbing entertainment.
And with hundreds of new forms of mass media, it is hard to not get caught up in the technology tornado sweeping through the nation. The endless barrage of t. v. , facebook, internet sites, music, iPhone’s and iPod’s, video and computer games can easily overwhelm the distracted teenager. Mass media however, is not promoting enlightening or uplifting ideas or values. Instead, popular music now screams lyrics advocating ridiculous displays of wealth, substance abuse and the need for physical love.
Top rated songs like “Billionaire,” “Raise Your Glass,” and “Low” are all examples of this. Misogynistic rap lyrics have become a dominant feature in the work of several artists. Often in hip-hop and pop music, “women serve as mindless props or accessories to be doused with expensive champagne or to shake their half-naked bodies to repetitive beats and sexist lyrics” (Murry 6). In Eminem’s recent hit to “I Love the Way You Lie,” his last verse reads, “I'm tired of the games/ I just want her back/ I know I'm a liar/ If she ever tries to f***ing leave again/ I'mma tie her to the bed/ And set the house on fire.
Songs like this expressing control over women physically, sexually and emotionally predominate popular culture. How did songs depicting such unrealistic and immoral ideals become the rage in American teenage culture? Perhaps it is hip-hop’s diligent presence in pop culture. For the last two decades, hip-hop has “prided itself on being misunderstood; it lacks sentimentality and is not easily thwarted by moralizing efforts” (Murray 8). And for the last two decades, American teenagers have prided themselves on being misunderstood, and have not been easily thwarted by moralizing efforts.
A mass culture trend has changed communication from the sincerity of face to face conversation to the simplicity of texting and Facebook. This has lead to a decrease in sentimentality and an increase in misunderstandings between people. Moral beliefs practiced by preceding generations have also disappeared. Ethics such as chastity, honesty and virtue have become unfashionable and undesirable. The change in lyrics from conventional love ballads in the 1950’s to the focus on money and sexual prizes reflects the changes in behavior and schools of thought throughout the generations.
Lyrical Art The lyrics found in any genre of music influences the emotions of the listener (Krumhans 45). Martina McBride’s pop hit “Concrete Angel” is a fantastic example of emotion correlating with song lyrics. The heart-wrenching song tells the story of an little girl who is killed because of physical abuse in her home. The chorus reads, “Through the wind and the rain she stands hard as a stone/ In a world that she can’t rise above/ But her dreams give her wings and she flies to a place/ Where she’s loved/ Concrete Angel. Though the melody, key, tension or dynamics help create an emotional state throughout this song, the lyrics were what made this song so emotionally powerful. “Concrete Angel” acquires its emotional meaning through the association of events that the general audience can relate too. Though the majority of the listeners will not have experienced physical abuse first hand, they can sympathize because they are aware of the emotional, physical and mental damage violence incurs. Musicians know of the power lyrics hold.
Lyrics can tell stories that make hearts melt, enlighten schools of thought never explored before, or create strong physical reactions. But lyrics that the majority of the public can relate to, sell better. This is the reason why the general themes songs have expressed have changed so dramatically over the last sixty years. The teenagers in 1950 were just starting to experience economic prosperity and free love. To listen to music completely revolving around money and sex would be crossing a line they hadn’t invented yet.
And the youth in 2010 will not easily relate to ballads focused around falling in love with that one person because most are not looking for one person to love. Both the love-bound lyrics of the 1950’s and the materialistic lyrics of pop songs today accurately reflect the culture they predominate. Rhythm ‘n’ Blues Several other factors influence what makes cultural music popular. Lyrics must be in a proper combination of rhythm, harmony, key, dissonance, tension and dynamics for a song to reach it’s full potential. Even the untrained ear can distinguish feelings associated with the mode of the piece.
Major, fast paced songs are associated with happy feelings while minor, slow, soft songs are correlated with sad feelings. Dissonant, unstable, tense songs often invoke feelings of fear. These feelings can all be present without powerful lyrics. Much of the world’s music is instrumental, and most of these create powerful emotion in the listener (Krumahns 48). So which musical factors specifically influenced popular music in the 1950’s and today? The drumming beats found in most rock ‘n’ roll pieces created a powerful sound teenagers revolved around.
The harsh rhythms, instability of sound and rockin’ dance moves associated with rock ‘n’ roll all helped increase its popularity. Popular music today features fast paced songs with mechanical sounds in the background. Songs incorporate an inordinate amount of words per second, often leaving the listener wondering what they just heard. In the new hit single “Love Like Woe,” the listener hears, “Cause I got some intuition/ Or maybe I’m superstitious/ But I think you’re a pretty sweet pill that I’m swallowing down/ To counter this addiction/ You’ve got me on a mission/ Tell me darling, can I get a break somehow? Could I say no? ,” all in a mere ten seconds.
The fast pace of songs are easily correlated with the fast pace of teenagers lives today. Teenagers are expected to excel in school, extracurriculars, athletics, music, and family life all at the same time. Pop music is branching away from traditional instruments to a more machine based background. The popular song “Like a g6” even goes as far as making the chorus voices sound computerized. Classical music appreciation has severely declined and sounds symbolizing a mechanical, over the top life, have taken control of the musical industry. The Ensemble
Musical preference is very much behavioral. In the words of Simon V. Anderson, “If music educators did not believe that musical preference is socially conditioned. . . They would not work in the public classrooms at all, but rather, they would spend their time and energy in the science laboratories searching for the virus . . . that impairs musical judgment” (39). Popular music preference has much to do with the language, values and beliefs of the teenagers perspective of popular culture. Trendy music will be the music that teenagers can relate to and create for them the feelings they desire.
Music choice however also reflects how the music makes one feel while listening to it. Popular songs in 1950 and 2010 reflect the culture they predominate through the general theme of lyrics and background noises. In each culture, music has been a favored form of expression and creates emotion based on what the culture wants. As even now, popular culture changes from liking bell bottoms to skinny jeans and back again, pop music changes with it to accurately reflect the culture it has been rooted upon.
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