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

THE NUTSHELL IS THIS: rock & roll has had two golden eras, both times 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, Artists & Reper­toire (A&R) men, and other “bean-counters” 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.

The nutshell history of rock & roll

Rock & roll was bub­bling under the sur­face of the record in­dustry in the early 1950s.

 

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 are part of the fun­da­men­tals of rock & roll that every wannabe rocker should commit to his in­ternal hard-drive.

1956-1958

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, the middle-aged white men gave us er­satz rock & roll in the form of what are now re­ferred to as Teen Idols. One such idol was Fabian, who scored three Top 10 hits in 1959: Turn Me Loose, Tiger, an Hound Dog Man, which sound like the kind of rock & roll that turned up on ex­ploita­tion movies of the time.

1959-1963

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 Animals in 1964.

In 1964-1965, the An­i­mals were one of the biggest groups of the British In­va­sion, scoring six Top 40 hits in the States. House Of The Rising Sun topped the UK and US charts, selling more than 5,000,000 copies world­wide. The An­i­mals were much more suc­cessful on the UK sur­veys than they were on the US charts. 


Nutshell: a photo of British rock group The Kinks in 1964.

The Kinks were an­other group that scored sev­eral Top 40 hits in the US but were con­sid­er­ably bigger on the UK sur­veys, where they had two #1 hits in ’64. They con­tinued having Top 10 hits in Eng­land into 1967, long after their records stopped being played in America. 


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 American rock group Chicago in 1970.

For many fans and most critics, Chicago (orig­i­nally the Chicago Transit Au­thority) was a face­less band with a soft-rock, pseudo-jazz sound that left them cold. Yet every one of their first thir­teen al­bums (1969-1979) was cer­ti­fied by the RIAA for a Gold Record! Total sales of all their records may ex­ceed 100,000,000 worldwide—which may be more than the com­bined sales of the An­i­mals, Kinks, and DC5!


Nutshell: a photo of American rock group The Eagles in the '70s..

An­other group that di­vided fans and critics yet sold great gobs of vinyl were the Ea­gles! In fact, they may be the most re­viled group in all of rock’s history—and yet re­main face­less to most people. Total sales of all their records may ex­ceed 150,000,000 worldwide—which may be more than the com­bined sales of the An­i­mals, Kinks, DC5, and Chicago!


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

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

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)!

This Nut­shell His­tory of Rock & Roll is 299 words, or a little more than two tweets! Click To Tweet

Nutshell: a photo of Mitch Miller and associates.

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.

 

 

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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.