chapter 4 - Chapter 4 Rock N Roll In the years immediately...

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Chapter 4: Rock ‘N’ Roll In the years immediately following the end of World War II, the combination of a booming American economy and the return of millions of U.S. servicemen and women led to an explosion in the birth rate of Americans. This demographic phenomenon would come to be known as the “baby boom.” Due to the rising prosperity of the average American family, the baby boomers would have more disposable income than any previous generation and hence unprecedented purchasing power. They would also be the first generation to grow up with television, which by the early 1950s had become commonplace in the American household. The uniqueness of this generational group created a sense of self-identification as teenagers, a term that had been around for several decades but now denoted a distinct demographic group with its own taste in fashion, dance, and music. The label applied to this music by the entertainment industry was rock ‘n’ roll. The term was originally used as a euphemism for sexual intercourse; references to “rockin’ and rollin’ ” can be found in rhythm & blues songs and on race records going back to the 1920s. The credit for the first use of rock ‘n’ roll as a commercial and marketing tool is ascribed to Alan Freed (1922-1965), a DJ in Cleveland who used the term to describe the rhythm and blues records played on his Moondog House Rock and Roll Party. Freed was inspired to play this music after he became aware of how white teenagers were enthusiastically buying rhythm and blues records at a local record store. It is important to note that early rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t actually one musical style, but like rhythm and blues and country and western music it was a collection of styles. In the mid-1950s such diverse artists as Pat Boone, Fats Domino, Little Richard, and the Everly Brothers were all classified as rock ‘n’ roll singers. The unifying element was the audience being targeted by record companies, radio stations, and the entertainment industry, namely teenagers. The first rock ‘n’ roll record to become a number one pop hit was “Rock Around the Clock,” a song in twelve-bar blues form recorded by Bill Haley and the Comets in 1954. Born in Pennsylvania, Haley was the leader of several different western swing bands in the early 1950s, including the Saddlemen. After changing the group name to the Comets and shedding his cowboy image, Haley signed with Decca Records, where he began working with producer Milt Gabler. Gabler had produced several hit records for Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five, and his musical influence moved the Comets away from country towards a jump blues sound. The initial release of “Rock Around the Clock” in 1954 was only modestly successful in terms of sales, but the subsequent use of the song in the opening credits of the 1955 movie Blackboard Jungle led to a second release that sold over twenty million records.
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