The Evolution of Rock

From The King of Rock’n’Roll Onward

“Rock and roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can’t help but move to it.” -Elvis Presley

Food For Thought

The Evolution of Rock

Throughout time, music has been used as a way to connect people, express feelings, and tell stories. This week’s newsletters will highlight some of the most well-known and little-known musicians, music facts, and genres. Today’s theme: Rock.

The term rock’n’roll first emerged in 1951 when Alan Freed, a Cleveland radio host, used it to describe the R&B music he played on the station. Taking the music that he found to be growing in popularity, Freed hosted the first-ever rock’n’roll concert, called the Moondog Coronation Ball. Freed’s music taste quickly became well known and he took his radio show to New York where he could be heard in all the major cities across the country. Billboard magazine would later call him “the undisputed king of radio programming.”

At the same time, in a little recording studio in Memphis, Sam Phillips was testing an unconventional business model. Rather than seek out and record artists, he’d let anyone (literally, anyone) walk in and record. Musicians that no one else would record started seeing Phillip’s studio as a last-ditch opportunity.

Phillips loved music; he loved the imperfection of it. He didn’t want flawless pop artists to come through his studio. He wanted to hear deeper, more human, emotional music. He wanted to discover genuinely unique talent.

And it was with this open mindset that Phillips would go on to be the first to record Elvis, B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ike Turner, and Carl Perkins.

In the 1950s, Freed in New York, Phillips in Memphis, and other artists around the country came to the same realization — there was a new underground genre emerging and it drew inspiration from R&B, Blues, and Country.

The stage was set for this new type of sound to take to the airwaves. In the next decade, rock’n’roll became the ‘pop’ music of the time, first gaining traction with the emergence of Elvis Presley, the King of Rock’n’Roll. Other artists also began to grow in popularity, people like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly, and Little Richard.

By the 60s, rock’n’roll had already started to expand into a more general genre that we now identify as ‘rock’.

And cue The British Invasion.

As the American rock scene exploded, the rock movement began to spread worldwide. In particular, musicians in Britain pounced on the new art form. Soon bands like The Beatles, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Freddie and the Dreamers, Animals, Rolling Stones, and the Yardbirds had found their own niches.

As with all great genres, rock began to cultivate several sub-genres. In the late 60s and early 70s, we had psychedelic rock (think Pink Floyd), glam rock (think David Bowie), roots rock (think The Eagles), and heavy metal.

The late 70s to 80s, we see punk rock emerge with bands like the Ramones, Sex Pistol, and the Clash. Alternative and grunge rock groups also appear, such as the Pixies, My Bloody Valentine, and Nirvana.

Today, rock continues to change. Popular today are pop rock and indie rock, but there are up-and-coming bands around the world with their own take on rock music.

Although rock has evolved a lot since the 50s, it has kept a similar format. Usually, it has 4/4 time signature, 3–5 band members, features the electric guitar, drums, bass, and keyboard, and the lyrics typically center on romantic love, social issues, or political themes.

Rock may come in all shapes and forms, but, as Elvis shares in the quote above, you always “can’t help but move to it”. 😎🎶

Deep Dive

Music Has Changed, And So Has How We Listen

Over the decades, music has evolved to fit (and in many cases, mold) the culture of the time. But how does how we listen affect what we listen to? From vinyl, to cassettes, to CDs, to downloading, to streaming… have these transitions changed the music experience?

Read: How Streaming Platforms Are Changing Music Promotion And Discovery

Read: How Spotify is Changing the Way We Consume Music

The Story

Think it, Build it, Ship it.

It was 1997.

Danny rode his skateboard down the middle of the street with his boombox blaring. An old man on the street corner gave him a dirty look. Danny turned the volume up on one of his favorite Rage songs, “Bulls on Parade.”

The lyrics echoed through the streets. He laughed to himself as the old man kept staring. He was too busy skating to notice the car trailing behind him.

Danny reached his house, leapt up and popped the board into his hand in the middle of the street. The car behind him screeched to a halt and the horn sounded. It was the first time he noticed it.

He waved to apologize but the driver waved him over.

“I could’ve killed you!” shouted the driver.

Danny rolled his eyes. He lived in a small town and the driver looked familiar. Here we go… he thought. “Sorry!” He started to walk away.

“No come here!” shouted the driver. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you. I hear you design website home pages. How much would you charge?”

Danny sighed. He didn’t want to do another website. The money was good, but the only reason he’d done the others was to see what it was like to make one.

“I don’t know,” Danny said.

“C’mon. Tell me a price.”

Danny decided to say the wildest number he could to make the man say no. “$5000.”

The man studied him and grinned. “You got gumption, kid. Deal! My restaurant is on the corner of 7th and Elm. Meet me there this Saturday at Noon.” He drove away.

Danny couldn’t believe it, he was in business.

Napoleon Hill famously said, “Your big opportunity may be right where you are now.” Here was the young man’s big opportunity — right in the middle of the street…

Listen to the rest of the story.

Further Reading

The 50s: A Decade of Music That Changed the World

“For some of us, it began late at night: huddled under bedroom covers with our ears glued to a radio pulling in black voices charged with intense emotion and propelled by a wildly kinetic rhythm through the after-midnight static… We found out that they called it rock & roll. It was so much more vital and alive than any music we had ever heard before that it needed a new category: Rock & roll was much more than new music for us. It was an obsession, and a way of life.”

Read more.


Chuck Berry’s Dream Job

Chuck Berry, who had several family members in photography, wanted to become a professional photographer. To afford the equipment, he started performing music… and from there, the rest is history.

Sign Off ✌️

Happy Thursday!

Only one more day until the weekend!🕺💃🕺💃

Catch you tomorrow!

This was originally published on March 21, 2019 as The Mission’s daily newsletter. To subscribe, go here.

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The Evolution of Rock was originally published in The Mission on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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