When did Rock drop the Roll?
|They Called it Rock|
Since Rock and Roll was such a groundbreaking development in Music, I set myself to reading more about the genre itself, more specifically its definition and the subsequent application of related subgenre. I have been reluctant to give in to the idea that Rock and Roll (the genre that came first), it is now widely considered a subgenre of Rock Music. To me this sounds like a rearranging the order of things. Maybe you’re like me, I thought it was always genre first then your various subgenre and sub subs and so on. This is not a chicken and the egg thing, Rock and Roll came first.
I think it is generally accepted that a genre refers to a particular style and is most often applied to Literature and Music. The word has the same root as genus, which is applied to the natural world to classify plants and animals. Music that is ‘Rock’ related certainly had its DNA come from Rock ‘n’ Roll. However the prevailing consensus, for lack of a better phrase is that Rock and Roll changed not only in form but later in the term itself, into just Rock Music and then later, just Rock. There is certainly no arguing that point. As to how and why it happened, that’s where we have different thoughts and some are well researched and presented by credible authors. From what I have read it seems to have slowly occurred over a period of time between 1965 and 1971.
There is no disputing that the Roll was permanently dropped from the Rock sometime in that time frame. This began with the American Press when ‘they’ were writing about Bob Dylan (to be determined on how long it will remain acceptable to reference the name) and his transition from being a Folk Artist to a ‘Rock’ Artist when he “went electric” in 1965. I’ve covered this off in my posts on Folk Rock if want to check that out. Unlike the Alan Freed attribution of (not inventing but) popularizing the term Rock ‘n’ Roll, I am not sure which author or editor coined the term “Folk Rock”. However, I have seen the the term “Folk Rock” with and without the “Roll” used as early as 1965 used to describe both Dylan and The Byrds music.
If there is one thing the Press like to do it’s shorten things, and just like a song, use wordplay or ‘hooks’ to grab your attention. So it does not take a genius to figure out why “Folk Rock” won out over “Folk Rock and Roll”.
Folk Rock was not necessarily the first subgenre of Rock and Roll but it may have been the catalyst for the complete name separation. If we go back a bit to the mid 1950’s, artists that we associate with Rock ‘n’ Roll were frequently not described as such at the time. For example, although Elvis Presley was later dubbed the King of Rock & Roll, his early music, along with Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash was referred to as Rockabilly. He even called himself a “Hillbilly Cat”. Enter the debate as to whether Rockabilly is a genre or a subgenre.
As I mentioned in my last post, Rock and Roll was just an umbrella under which new artists and emerging sounds were placed. You had Country sounds, R&B sounds, Rockabilly and Doo Wop had been around since the 40’s but it often got lumped in as well. As the various subgenre started to accumulate, this hasteed the need to shorten the term. This genre fracture in part, took the oh so popular music from 1954/55 into rapid decline by 1960. But the spirit of the music and certainly most of the artists did not just disappear on cue by 1961.
If we look at a bit of a timeline, I think we can correlate events, incidents and changes in the lives of the biggest selling stars of Rock and Roll. At 25 million records sold “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets produced the best selling R&R record of all time, not when released in 1954 but after it’s reintroduction in 1955. They had also released “Shake, Rattle and Roll” in 1955 which did not hit #1 but a very respectable #7. Haley had two more top tens and by the way, all of his hits were cover songs. He became a victim of his own success, there were really only two songs anyone wanted to hear from him. He got into a rut, started to drink heavily and was unable to get another hit song or produce anything original. He toured successfully for several years but he really faded out of the recording picture by 1956.
Following this we had Little Richard’s “conversion” to Christianity in 1957. He had already recorded his last hit song “Good Golly Miss Molly” which was then released in January of 1958. Next, we had Elvis joining the Army in March of 1958 and by October he was sent to Germany. In February of 1959 it was the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson). Rock and Roll fans were truly devastated by this incident, despite some posthumous releases, we see a ripple effect almost immediately in the charts and sales. The date of February 3, 1959 as we know, was later dubbed “The day the music died” by Don Mclean in his 1971 song “American Pie“. Nearing to the end of this timeline we have Chuck Berry being arrested in December of 1959, and after retrials and appeals he eventually spent a year and half in prison. The great Fats Domino would see his chart success start to wain in 1960, “Walking to New Orleans” would be his last top ten hit.
The final drop of the 45 rpm record craze was the “pay for play” (Payola) scandal in 1959/1960 that made Pioneer Alan Freed the poster boy (though not entirely innocent) for years of excess in the money making machine known as Rock and Roll.
Reflecting the change in the climate and Rock ‘n’ Roll being lambasted in the press, Record companies were placing their bets on “safer” dare I day more sedate music. Now, the album Elvis is Back was recorded in March of 1960, the very month he returned to the US. Elvis may have been back but the Rock and Roller was gone. The new Pop Elvis emerged with songs like; “Stuck on You”, “It’s Now or Never” and a cover of “Fever”, the first two would hit #1. This was a new sound, Elvis had even gained an octave while serving in Germany by working with Charlie Hodge and studying singers like Roy Hamilton (Unchained Melody) and Tony Martin (There’s No Tomorrow) which inspired his next #1 hit that year “Are You Lonesome Tonight“. So no more Hillbilly, Rockabilly, or hip swinging (not much anyway).
If we look at the Billboard and Cashbox Magazine top songs through the Rock and Roll heydays of the mid to late 1950’s there was always a mix of songs at the top that reflected not only the tastes of your average teenager but their parents as well, so it’s no surprise that in 1960 the top song was the instrumental “Theme from A Summer Place” written by Mack Discant and Max Steiner, performed by Percy Faith & His Orchestra. It was from the movie “A Summer Place“. At the other end of the spectrum, Motown soon started cooking in Detroit with “Shop Around” written by Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy, the official name was ‘The Miracles featuring Bill “Smokey” Robinson’ later of course referred to as ‘Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’. It was released in the Detroit market Sept. 27, 1960, after national release Oct. 15 it began its climb up the charts and would peak on Billboard Hot 100 at #2 and #1 on the R&B Chart in February 1961.
From 1960 to the start of the British Invasion we saw a mixture of tastes but on the charts the mostly adult oriented songs were winning out over teen songs. R&B however, was still doing quite well and we saw crossover hits from the likes of Bobby Lewis, Lloyd Price and Ray Charles. A brief comeback by Chuck Berry in 1964 included the great songs “No Particular Place to Go” and “Nadine” but it would not be enough to save Rock ‘n’ Roll or his recording career, which effectively ended at that time. Not including the unfortunate and only #1 mainstream hit he ever had with a rendition of of “My Ding-a-ling” in 1972.
As much as you and I may have read that The Beatles are the band that ruined Rock and Roll (particularity according to author Elijah Wald) or that others express that the year 1966 was of pivotal change with a gradual move toward more of an album focus. Truth is, the change had already taken place in the USA long before The Beatles arrived. We know they were inspired by Americans such as Blues singer Muddy Waters, Rock ‘n’ Rollers; Elvis, Little Richard, Buddy Holly and Bill Haley, not to mention the legion of R&B singers including Larry Williams and Arthur Alexander.
There is no question the Beatles changed music profoundly and planted the seeds for Folk Rock and several other subgenre including Progressive Rock (Prog Rock) and Jangle Pop. However, they were not responsible for the the development of Motown, Surf Rock, The California Sound, The Brill Building, Funk, Soul, R&B and Gospel fusion or Southern Rock, just to name a few of the emerging styles and subgenre of the early to mid 1960’s.
They have also been credited with creating Pop Rock with “She Loves You” in 1963 but I’d have to say that a lot of the stuff from 1960 to 63 was more Pop than traditional Rock and Roll. Although with a different presentation, Chubby Checker for example had huge hits with “The Twist” and “Let’s Twist Again” creating the dance crazy music scene, but this was certainly more Pop Rock than R&B or Rock and Roll. Speaking of twisting, The Beatles cover followed the Bert Berns arrangement of The Isley Brothers “Twist and Shout” almost to a tee. Without American R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll there never would have been The Beatles. The very fact we still talk so much about them 60 years later also proves a point, Popular Music would not be the same without them.
So, “call me old fashioned, call me what you will” but somewhat reluctantly I may have to secede to the generally accepted theory of: Rock and Roll first, Rock second and then Rock first with Rock and Roll second order of things. You see, written like that you have to admit it really sounds silly!
Currently I am working on the “Greatest Bands of all Time”, and no it’s not going to include The Beatles or The Rolling Stones!
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[…] events in and around the same time that had an impact. For more on that story you can read my post, When did Rock Drop the Roll. I think the biggest loss with Holly was the direction he was moving with his […]