the history of rock & roll in a nutshell (300 words or less)

Estimated reading time is 5 minutes.

THE NUTSHELL VERSION of rock & roll’s history: there were two golden eras when the artists took control of the music and its direction and led the way. But that’s not the norm for popular music: the norm is for businessmen in the form of owners, managers, producers, lawyers, and accountants to say what’s so.

In the beginning, a bunch of old white men in the A&R departments of the major record companies dictated what was recorded and what was played on the radio based on their idea of what middle-aged white women wanted to hear.

The major companies (Columbia and RCA Victor were the Big Boys on the block) effectively dictated direction to the rest of the industry.

The music that we call rhythm & blues and early rock & roll was confined to a variety of usually tiny independent companies who had little clout with the radio stations.

Consequently, millions of white teenagers didn’t hear anything resembling “real” rock & roll music until 1956!

As head of A&R at Columbia, Mitch Miller produced a string of high quality if perfectly homogenized, fiber-free pop hits for artists such as Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Vic Damone, Doris Day, the Four Lads, Frankie Laine, Johnny Mathis, Johnnie Ray, and Jo Stafford. He made Columbia the leading American record company.

Miller was one of the most powerful men in the record industry and fought a long battle against signing rock & roll artists to America’s biggest company. Consequently, Columbia went through the ’50s without a significant contribution to the new music form.

Not counting the introduction and the captions under the photos, my Nutshell History of Rock & Roll is 299 words in length. This is a little more than two tweets, and the perfect length for the Ritalin Generation.

 

Nutshell: a photo of Chuck Berry in the '50s.
Chuck Berry was one of the most important and influential rock & roll artists. Aside from his records of the ’50s, his style of singing, guitar-playing, and songwriting is part of the fundamentals of rock & roll that every wannabe rocker should commit to his internal hard drive.

1955-1958

The First Rock & Roll Revolution

A bunch of young black rhythm & blues artists and white rock & roll artists wrested control from the old guys, effectively enacting the First Rock & Roll Revolution. These were arguably the most exciting years in pop music since the heyday of the Swing Era!

 

Nutshell: a photo of Fabian in 1959.
In the years between the First (above) and Second (below) Rock & Roll Revolutions, middle-aged white men gave us ersatz rock & roll in the form of what is now referred to as Teen Idols. One such idol was Fabian, who scored three Top 10 hits in 1959: Turn Me Loose, Tiger, and Hound Dog Man, which sound like the kind of rock & roll that turned up on exploitation movies of the time.

1959-1963

The First Fallow Period

A bunch of old white men in the A&R departments of the major record companies regained control and dictated what was recorded and what was played on the radio based on their idea of what pre-adolescent white girls wanted to hear. Lots of good music was made but it was often crowded off the charts by silly, soulless music.

 

Nutshell: a photo of British rock group The Dave Clark 5 in 1964.
The Dave Clark 5 were a major presence on the US charts during the British Invasion of 1964-1965. Unlike most of the other bands, they scored more Top 10 hits in the US than in the UK (seven to four). After that, they only placed one side in the American Top 10 compared to four in the British Top 10.

1964-1969

The Second Rock & Roll Revolution

A bunch of young English artists wrested control from the A&R guys, effectively enacting the Second Rock & Roll Revolution—although everyone called it the British Invasion. They were joined by a bunch of young black and white American artists, and they all brought intellectualism and eclecticism to the revolution. These were arguably the most exciting years in pop music history!

 

Nutshell: a photo of British rocker Peter Frampton in 1976.
One of the unlikeliest superstars of the ‘superstar’-riddled Seventies was journeyman Peter Frampton. He had cut his teeth with the Herd (1966-1968) and Humble Pie (1968-1971) before launching a solo career that attracted little attention or record sales. Then in 1976, he released a rather nondescript live two-record album, FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE!, that exploded in popularity, topping the US charts and selling 4,000,000 copies!

1970-2000

The Second Fallow Period

A bunch of old white men in the A&R departments of the major record companies regained control and dictated what was recorded and what was played on the radio based on demographics, which replaced pre-adolescent white girls with perennially adolescent white boys. Lots of good music was made but it was often crowded off the charts by silly, soulless music.

 

Nutshell: a photo of American rapper Grandmaster Flash.
The first time I recall hearing anything about “rap music” was a reference to Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five in the early ’80s. I paid attention; I listened; I did not know I was listening to the future. Joseph Saddler aka Grandmaster Flash is one of the pioneers of hip-hop DJ-ing. In 2007, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five were the first rap/hip hop act inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

2000-2017

The Hip-Hop Era

Somewhere in the ’90s, hip-hop surpassed rock & roll as the dominant music. Ironically, the industry is still in the hands of A&R men—white and black, young and old. Lots of good music is being made but it’s crowded off the charts by silly, soulless music.

And the beat goes on (la-de-da-de-de)!

Here is a Nutshell History of Rock & Roll in 299 words (or a little more than two tweets). Share on X

RR Nutshell Miller MitchMiller BurlIves 1000

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page features Mitch Miller and Burl Ives in front with Commander Edward Whitehead, Rex Stout, and Skitch Henderson. These were a few of the men behind the scenes, the Wizards of Oz who pulled a lot of strings in the recording industry in the ’50s.

 


 

1 thought on “the history of rock & roll in a nutshell (300 words or less)”

  1. columbia records had as many or more rockers in the 50s and early 60s as sun records. ronny self, carl perkins, the collins kids, sid king, johnny horton, marty robbins, jimmy murphy, maddox bros all had several or more each. there were many who did one or 2 rockers for columbia. notice i didn’t mention johnny cash, he never made a rock and roll record.

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