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The History of Rock and Roll

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Rock and roll has developed a long way throughout the years from a dance craze in the 1950's to a political and cultural landscape that is recognized worldwide. Rock and roll has come to define the roots of teenage rebellion, people who don't follow the norms, and have disrespect for authority. The style of rock and roll itself is a melting pot of music, a combination of sounds that include jazz, country, blues, ragtime, gospel, swing, classical, and ethnic music. It can be a simple variation of three chords to a complex chromatic scale combination. It can convey emotions such as love, hate, fear, lust, sadness, joy, disillusion, or a strong sense of reality. Many things can be said about rock but the fact is that it is the most widely diverse of all music genres.

The earliest roots of rock and roll can be seen in jazz and blues music. Jazz was most often played with big bands but smaller combinations of bands started to evolve late in the music era that included guitar, stand-up bass, piano, drums, and a horn section. These bands soon created a jazz and blues hybrid sound. One of the first musicians to combine jazz and blues was Louis Jordan who originated the "jump blues", an up-tempo, hard driving, blues-based dance music (Kallen 14). Jordan's jump blues inspired many musicians including Wynonie Harris, an R&B singer that is credited with pioneering rock in roll in 1947.

Shortly after jump blues bands started playing their music it evolved into something closer to rock. Bill Haley officially made the new genre "rock" music when his song "(Were Gonna) Rock Around the Clock" appeared in the movie Blackboard Jungle in 1955, breaking rock into the mainstream (Kallen 14). Although Haley is credited for bringing rock to mainstream, other black artists such as B.B. King, Little Milton, Howling Wolf, and Ike Turner were the true pioneers of the rock music style but were not as popular because of their race. After the success of Haley, a Memphis studio owner, Sam Phillips was desperately looking for a rock artist that could become mainstream, Sam had previously recorded for other talented black artists but their music wasn't getting as much attention because of racial prejudice. Phillips' dream of promoting a rock musician became true when a young man named Elvis Presley recorded a demo in his studio in 1954 (Kallen 18). Shortly after recording, Presley recruited a band and created a new fresh sound no one had heard so far. Elvis broke into the mainstream with his hit "Heartbreak Hotel," changing the course of music forever. Other artists such as Jerry Lee Lewis capitalized on the sound of Elvis but did not achieve the designated place in history.

From the sounds of Elvis many other important bands of the sixties were inspired, even people a thousand miles away from America. One of these important bands was the Beatles. The Beatles took the rock sound and added more lyrical and musical complexity to the sound. The Beatles were the starters of the "British Invasion" in 1963 when they released "I want to Hold Your Hand" (Kallen 31). After their first single they had immense success with other hits such as "She Loves You" and "Woooo!" The Beatles continued to reinvent their music on the various other albums throughout the sixties delving into complex, heavy existential concepts and psychedelic elements, becoming the most relevant influence for modern rock.

The Rolling Stones were the second most successful band of the British invasion and dived into the mainstream with their hit "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." The Rolling Stones had a more aggressive style with loud guitar tones and driving rhythms. And while The Beatles touched on more clean-cut topics, the Stones shocked people with songs about casual drug use and careless sex. Other influential bands of the British Invasion include The Who, Cream, and The Kinks who are now some of rocks greatest legends.

At the end of the early sixties rock led into a new direction heavily influences by drug use called the "psychedelic era" of Rock. The leader of this stage in rock was the Grateful Dead. The Grateful Dead fused country, blues, jazz, and bluegrass on electric instruments and held "acid tests" where LSD was given to thousands of people and a concert was held all day. Janis Joplin was also a major part of the psychedelic era. Blues also heavily influenced Janis, who greatly admired the female blues singer Odetta (Kallen 65). Janis is most remembered for her heavily emotional voice in songs such as "Piece of My Heart" and "Ball and Chain" where she sang with her face contorted, sometimes stamping her feet, clutching the microphone with one hand, and a whiskey bottle with the other.

Of all the artists of the psychedelic era, Jimi Hendrix was the most influential. Jimi took inspiration from the soulful guitar of blues players and developed his own style from it. Jimi was left-handed and played his Stratocaster guitar upside down while creating unearthly sounds that humbled other guitarists of the time. Hendrix was unknown until playing at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 where he played an amazing array of songs and then lit his guitar on fire at the end of the show (DeCurtis 133). Although Jimi seemed like a very wild and unpredictable person on stage he was actually a focused musician, that part of Jimi's personality is explained in this quote by Ernie Isley: "The best musicians are very observant. They hold their arms wide, willing to embrace suggestions; they study their craft, and Jimi certainly did all that." (Lanham 102) But as several of the psychedelic artists did, Hendrix died accidentally while he was drunk and overdosed on sleeping pills. Although Hendrix only released four albums in the four years of his career he is considered the greatest guitarist of the twentieth century.

The artists that progressed after the psychedelic era were known as the "Monsters of Rock." One of these Artists was Led Zeppelin. Zeppelin was famous for its offstage excesses in drugs and groupies but they also had one of the most amazing live performances ever. The combination of Robert Plant's screeching vocals, Jimmy Page's searing guitar, John Paul Jones's solid bass, and John Bonham's arena-shattering drums could not be denied. The group fused blues into a harder driving music that relied on distorted guitar tones but also had clear acoustic and classical elements. Led Zeppelin has created some of the most memorable rock songs dealing with mythology, the occult, and fantasy related genres. The group also laid a foundation for hard rock, thrash, and heavy metal styles.

Another "Monster of Rock" was the more extravagant Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd started

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