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Hit Pop Songs Of The US: 1950-1959

1950s Music - From Pat Boone To The Birth Of Rock And Roll

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One may ask why I chose to go back as far as 1950s in this chronicle of U.S. pop music history. Well, without it there isn't a foundation for what changes would come flooding through in the next four decades.

Pat Boone and Perry Como started the decade as the mainstream form of music. Big bands were still tolerated, but not as much in vogue as it was just five years earlier. Proper families would only listen to classical music played by numerous orchestras. And as it has been for quite some time, country and western hits was America's safety net from the "scary" and sometimes labelled "immoral" music of the African Americans.

Times were changing. The younger generation was starting to explore music the parents were sure to immediately disapprove. The same way their parents played music which offended their grandparents. So is the story of the evolution of music. Unless something changes, it gets old and stagnant and boring.

The light, inoffensive tunes of the early 50s had its place in time. Not that there was anything wrong with the talent of that era, it just didn't appeal to a generation of baby boomers who were ready to have their ears thrilled. Songs about love were at the top of the pop charts, but it has been cliched then and continues to be cliched. You would still have to be dense to deny the talent it took to sing these sweet, syrupy songs of innocence. The singers back then could carry a note.

Alan Freed, a disc jockey from Cleveland, played black R&B tunes in 1954 and called this "Rock and Roll" for an audience who mostly has never been exposed to such music. This didn't go very well at first, but ironically white singers who "cleaned up" these songs (and in my opinion ruined it) made the concept of this new music easier to accept by the older crowd. The teenagers of the time still had a hard time swallowing Pat Boone singing "Tootie Frutti."

Sam Phillips opened a recording studio in Memphis. Phil and Leonard Chess started a recording studio in Chicago. These were the first studios to bring the means of mass production to the music lovers who were hungry for the so-called "negro music." Phillips found Elvis and The Chess Brothers found Chuck Berry.

At the same time, Bill Haley and the Comets were entertaining people with their blend of country and some R&B music. They recording a song for the movie "The Blackboard Jungle" which only gave them a moderate success until the movie came out. It became known as the first official number one song in the history of Rock and Roll in 1955, "Rock Around The Clock."

Music history was about to compete with some major events of the time such as the death of beloved actor James Dean, the opening of Disneyland, and television was becoming more mainstream. The signals were ready that something big was going to happen and many were ready for the change to come. However many were staunchly adamant that things stayed the same. The status quo was safe.

Religous groups and the stern voices of an older generation that barely tolerated swing music spoke strongly against this "music of the devil" with the wild music that makes people dance in a sexually suggestive way. The lyrics, very tame by today's standards, were considered offensive. The pressure was put on many radio stations who dared entertained the idea of playing rock and roll music. People have been fired, sponsors were threatened, reputations were spoiled, and violence has even erupted at the thought that rock and roll was invading pop culture and getting into the soul of America. There were many people against this that had to be won over. Most would be swayed into listening and enjoying it, while others would only tolerate it. Generations later, there are still people who believe this is the devil's music.

As the talent of the early days of Rock and Roll was starting to grab hold of the American conscious, music became the voice for a generation of young people who felt the freedom of youth. This new sound reflected what they thought and felt. More and more, the singers of this time were teenagers, just like themselves. A teenager talking about his love or broken heart was a little easier for another teen to relate to than someone near their parent's age telling them a story of a sappy love song that seems too perfect to be real.

The unfortunate side of a youth line up of musicians is their inability to defend themselves against the studios and legal teams. They were wooed into the limelight, given everything a kid could want, promised lots of fame and money, if only they would sign on the line. They had no idea they were selling their souls. It wasn't just the teenagers exploited, but African Americans, young adults, or anyone with their heads in the clouds about the glories of showbiz were easy targets for some of the studios (as it still is today.)

The studios seemed to be making all the money and with the exception of giving the stars a bone while they are on the top of the charts, the singers were virtually penniless after all their hard work. They had nothing to show for their fame. Frankie Lymon was one of the many tragic stories of what can happen when you fill a kid's head with ideas of wealth and fame with no intention of following through. Sex and drugs seemed to follow in the shallow lives of the rock and roll singers as a way to cope. Ever since, sex and drugs and rock and roll have been linked to each other, further proof to the prudes that rock and roll was evil.

All seemed to be going fine until near the end of the decade which some deem as the day the music died. Actually, there were a series of events which climaxed at the death of Richie (Valenzuela) Valens, Jiles P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, and Charles Hardin "Buddy" Holley who were flying to make a show, but crashed in a field.

Jerry Lee Lewis was on the outs for the public knowledge of his marriage to a 13 year old cousin (far removed, but still a minor.) Chuck Berry also ended his hot streak by having relations with a minor. Elvis joined the army.

Now that the pioneers of rock and roll were subdued came time for things to mellow out a bit. Enter into the limelight, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Darin, the Everly Brothers and the plethora of beach movies with no plot, fluff lines, barely dressed young actors and music to continue into the 60s. 1959 marked the begining of the so-called death of music.

Paul Anka, Connie Stevens, Edd Byrnes, Annette Funicello seemed to reflect the calm before the storm of what would come in the music of the 1960s. For awhile, it seemed like tastes were reverting back to what they were in 1950, but that was far from the case.

While things seemed quite, Berry Gordy, Jr. started Motown Records which would create a flood of talent for the next four decades. Beatniks, poetics and progressives at heart were pounding out the beginnings of folk music and "hippie" music. In England, bands were forming that would soon shake up the American rock and roll scene.

As time goes by, one will realize the that rock and roll music of the beginning did not remain the same. It split up into new entities as pop culture dictated the sound of what was hot. Thus, for simplicity's sake, I refer to all music here as pop music. There are times in the Rock Era that country, blues, jazz, soft rock, hard rock, acid rock, instrumentals, new age, rap and every variety on music under the sun has hit the spotlight of the charts. Some artists truly have talents while others were assembled by studios. Some music has meaning while others are cliche. It is the ear of the listener who dictates if a song is worth the memory or not.