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How Did Rock and Roll Music Change Popular Culture in the Post-War Years?

By devibaby Dec 05, 2009 1604 Words
How did rock and roll music change popular culture in the post-war years?

Since its rise to popularity in the United States in the late 1940s and early 1950s, rock and roll music has played an enormous role in influencing several different genres of music in this modern day and age. The makings of a new, fresh, and exciting kind of music came to be as a result of the strong combination of two very important things: technology and popular culture. With the unorthodox juxtaposition of different influences from blues, country, rhythm ‘n’ blues, folk, and gospel music came the birth of not just a new genre of music, but a whole new way of life for many. What initially started off as simply a musical style wound up influencing lifestyles, fashion, attitudes, and language and syntax – the main reason for this being that it took advantage of the impressionability of that time’s youth.

Most importantly, however, was its impact on the popular culture of the post-World War II world. Rock and roll changed popular culture in the post-war years by causing the birth of a new social class of youth, encouraging and fostering unity among the white and black races of the post-war United States, and lastly, bringing an economic boom to the United States which, indirectly yet more importantly, developed its music industry.

Although some may regard rock and roll as simply a genre of music, its emergence, in fact, caused the birth of an entirely new subculture of American youth, as well as a way of life. What was special about the birth of rock and roll music was that, unlike many other genres of music, it engrossed and caught the attention many teenagers (which were by far the most important and receptive age group at the time).[1] It formed an entirely new social category of youth (anyone between the ages of 12 and 18 years old) and would continue on to make an enormous impact on the rest of the United States of America and even the world. These teenagers all needed their own cultural place in which to start new trends, be creative, and let their imaginations run free – rock and roll, much like many other styles of music, was very well capable of crafting such a place… and proved to be the answer to their needs.[2]

One thing that helped form this cultural place was that parents of teenagers were supportive of their children in their explorations of rock and roll. They permitted their children to buy and share the music in their post-war success, and thus made it possible for the young to purchase the merchandise they needed. It also helped that this merchandise was highly accessible to teenagers.[3]

After seeing that an independent culture of youth was forming, it was evident that rock and roll soon became more than just a genre which people enjoyed listening to. For many, it was becoming a subculture and a way of life.[4] The fact that rock and roll music and culture appeared to reach the same height of popularity in other western countries as in the United States implies that there was more to it than it simply being a genre of music. Although it may be true that it was common for American goods to be highly recognized and popularized in post-war western European nations, what was so wonderfully strange and special about the adoption of rock and roll music and culture was that the youth in these countries were not at all acquainted with the roots (rhythm ‘n’ blues and country) which rock and roll was mainly based on and had originated from.[5]

Because rock and roll was, in essence, the blending of predominantly black-influenced music with predominantly white-influenced music, the audiences and fans of both genres were brought together with the birth of rock and roll. The surfacing of rock and roll can be attributed to mixing and integration of Americans of different ethnic backgrounds from different parts of the country during World War II.[6] White and black musical forms came at a crossroads, and rhythm ‘n’ blues influences were becoming more and more apparent in country music and vice-versa – rock and roll came as a result of this.

It is safe to say, however, that rhythm ‘n’ blues played a fairly larger part in the sound and style of rock and roll than country did. Rock and roll contained fairly many typical black-sounding beats, as well as a distinct feeling of blues and the enthusiasm of black gospel.[7] Arguably the most noteworthy influence of rhythm ‘n’ blues on rock and roll music was its blunt directness about sexuality. For the most part, the lyrics of rock and roll tended to skip the euphemisms of love and attraction and generally went right into (oftentimes a little too much) the core of matter.[8]

Although record companies and producers would initially be tentative and doubtful of producing rock and roll records due to the restraints of racial barriers, these doubts and fears of record producers soon subsided after seeing the exponentially rising popularity of rock and roll among both black and white audiences alike. Once the obstacle of racial discomfort was eliminated, nothing could stop the rising success of rock and roll.[9]

After World War II, the United States experienced an economic boom which benefited not only its economy, but in addiction indirectly helped its music industry develop in many different directions. At the end of the war, the United States had won, peace prevailed, and money was in high supply.[10] It was a good time for Americans, and the new atmosphere and mood helped the music industry greatly. During the mid to late 1940s, the United States witnessed great progress in terms of technology, recording and playing techniques, and style.[11]

In 1945, Les Paul, a pioneer of the electric guitar and the inventor of the now extremely well known Gibson Les Paul electric guitar, invented echo delay and multi-tracking, a studio recording technique that is still used by producers worldwide in the present day.[12] Multi-tracking is the concept of recording separate tracks for each instrument (including vocals) at separate times, to ensure the best possible sound and performance from each band member.

One of the most important musical inventions of the 1940s was created by engineers at Columbia Records: the 12-inch vinyl phonograph record. The first manufactured records were played at 78 rpm (revolutions per minute) and as a result could only hold about a maximum of eight to ten minutes of music. However, later on, larger and slower-playing records were manufactured – thus allowing a little bit more than a half-hour’s music to be played on each side of the disc. Out of these new records spawned the idea of the album as opposed to the single. Musicians were able to record several songs on a 12” vinyl record as supposed to just one or two songs on each side.[13] The idea of the album has remained strong over the last forty years and although compact discs exist and music can be downloaded off of the Internet, vinyl records are still mass-produced and sold even today.

In conclusion, it is evident that rock and roll had a profound impact on post-war popular culture. We may not know it, but even in the world today, we hear and see influences of rock and roll music and culture in the media and on the radio on a daily basis. It changed popular culture in that it caused the birth of a new social class of youth, encouraged and fostered unity among the white and black races of the post-war United States, and lastly, brought an economic boom to the United States which, indirectly yet more importantly, developed its music industry. Rock and roll has changed people’s perspectives on music and pop-culture, and is the basis of many popular fads and trends now – and, even forty years later after its birth and emergence, old and young alike still immensely appreciate the timeless music and culture that is rock and roll.

Works Cited

D'Anjou, Leo. "The riddles of rock and roll." Soundscapes (2003) 8 Oct. 2008


McNamee, Gregory. "1948 and the Birth of Rock and Roll Music." Britannica Blog 22

Jan. 2008 8 Oct. 2008 .

Palmer, Robert. Rock & Roll: An Unruly History. New York: Harmony Books, 1995.

Scaruffi, Piero. "A History of Rock Music." Pierro Scaruffi (2002) 8 Oct. 2008


Wright, Morgan. "The Dawn of Rock 'n Roll." Hoy Hoy (1998-2007) 8 Oct. 2008


[1] “The Riddles of Rock and Roll” by Leo D’Anjou

[2] “The Riddles of Rock and Roll” by Leo D’Anjou

[3] Rock & Roll: An Unruly History by Robert Palmer (pgs. 26-27)

[4] “The History of Rock Music: 1955-1966” by Piero Scaruffi

[5] “The Riddles of Rock and Roll” by Leo D’Anjou

[6] “The Dawn of Rock ‘n Roll” by Morgan Wright

[7] “The Riddles of Rock and Roll” by Leo D’Anjou

[8] “The Riddles of Rock and Roll” by Leo D’Anjou

[9] Rock & Roll: An Unruly History by Robert Palmer (pgs. 62-65)

[10] “The History of Rock Music: 1955-1966” by Piero Scaruffi

[11] “1948 and the Birth of Rock and Roll Music” by Gregory McNamee

[12] “1948 and the Birth of Rock and Roll Music” by Gregory McNamee

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