Chuck Berry invented rock and roll in 1955. Berry was a black man playing
black music. But times had changed: white kids were listening to rhythm and
blues throughout the Northeast, and white musicians were playing rhythm and
blues side to side with country music. The music industry soon understood that
there was a white market for black music and social prejudice, racial barriers,
could nothing against the forces of capitalism. Rock and roll was an overnight
success. The music industry promoted white idols such as
but the real heroes were the likes of Chuck Berry, who better symbolize the
synergy between the performer and the audience. The black rockers, and a few
white rockers, epitomized the youth's rebellious mood, their need for a
soundtrack to their dreams of anticonformism.
Their impact was long lasting, but their careers were short lived. For one
reason or another, they all stopped recording after a brief time.
Rock and roll was inherited by white singers, such as Presley, who often
performed songs composed by obscure black musicians. White rockers became
gentler and gentler, thereby drowning rock and roll's very reason to exist.
Buddy Holly was the foremost white rocker of the late Fifties,
while cross-pollination with country music led to the vocal harmonies of the
and to the instrumental rock of
The kids' malaise returned, with a much taller wave, when folksingers started singing about the problems of the system. Kids who had not identified with Woody Guthrie's stories of poor people, identified immediately with folksingers singing about the Vietnam war and civil rights. Bob Dylan was arguably the most influential musician of the era. He led the charge against the Establishment with simple songs and poetic lyrics. A generation believed in him and followed his dreams. Music became the expression of youth's ambitions.
At the same time, the story of commercial rock music took a bizarre turn when it hit the coast of California: the Beach Boys invented surf music. Surf music was just rock and roll music, but with a spin: very sophisticated vocal harmonies. California had its own ideas about what rock and roll should be: a music for having fun at the beaches and at the parties. The Beach Boys' vocal harmonies, a natural bridge between rockers and doo-wop, turned out to be a fantastic delivery vehicle for the melodic aspect of rock and roll, that black musicians usually buried in their emphatic shouting.
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