The Death of American Rock and Roll

By the late fifties, rock and roll had begun to move away from the raw immediacy of its early stars and become a vehicle for the banal contrivances of camera friendly faces singing songs about teenage romance. It had barely established itself, yet rock and roll was losing its rebellious edge and drifting into the abyss, becoming nothing more then a catchphrase for corporate-sponsored teen music with a beat.

Rock and Roll had lost many of it's first Rock and Rollers. Chuck Berry would go to prison for violating the Mann Act, transporting  a women across state lines for an immoral act. Little Richard gave up rock and roll for the ministry. Jerry Lee Lewis would be caught up in a scandal in which he he married his thirteen year old cousin. Elvis Presley was drafted into the army. Carl Perkins was injured in a car crash and would lose his momentum

Rock and Roll would then lose many of it's second generation too. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson aka the Big Bopper would all die in a plane crash which Don McLean would immortalized in the song "The Day the Music Died." Eddie Cochran would die and Gene Vincent was seriously injured in a car crash while doing a tour of Great Britain. Most important  in it's death was the establishment of American Bandstand. It's promotion  power allowed it to pass by  the early rock and roll with a watered down Philadelphia sound which was more resembled the style of  singers of the early fifties.

Another unfortunate development was the resegregation that began to take place. Previously, rock and roll had made tremendous headway in breaking down the barriers between the races. By the end of the decade, this would be a memory, and the industry would regress to business as usual. Pat Boone, Debby Reynolds, and Tab Hunter all had #1 hits in 1957 with no crossover appeal, while only "safe" black acts like Johnny Mathis and Sam Cooke had #1 hits, with tame, lukewarm performances.

More disturbingly, the influence of R&B had on rock and roll and doo wop all but disappear, with Tin Pan Alley and country music becoming the major sources of new material. All was not lost, however,  to the most die-hard-rock-and-roll fan had it was disheartening to see rock and roll fall prey to the corporate machinations and manipulated anarchy formula.

"The Darkest Hour Is Just Before the Dawn"
From "Dedicated To the One I Love" by The Shirelles

Across the ocean in Britain things were much different. British youth had followed rock and roll from its beginnings and from a distance that allowed them a clearer view of the music. England was not saturated with around the clock radio. There exposure came from the few  singles shipped from America and limited programming on the government controlled BBC. This limited availability contributed to an excitement, much like young white Americans had discovered late at night with their radios listening to R&B stations in rock's earliest days.

While Americas turned to a lighter pop, teen idols and the Twist, the British kept there taste for authentic rock and roll and R&B. A new generation of British bands - the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Dave Clark Five, Animals, Kinks, etc. began reshaping the music in their own image and make England the rock capital of the world.

The British Invasion of 1964 brought America's music - reinvented and revitalized - home, a a new generation of rock fans were born. Rock now entered what is now known as its Classic Era.

home.gif (2894 bytes)