The Hit Parade Era
In the mid-twentieth century, a popular form of radio show emerged, the “hit parade” or “countdown.” These shows were novel in that they played the most popular songs and didn't stick to any genre. In addition to pop singers of the day, you might hear a swing band, a country-western singer, or any number of other styles of music. This musical cross-pollination was a preview of things to come.
Swing and Big Band
Swing music, also called “big band,” was a union of jazz and blues traditions with compositional elements, ensemble size, and instrumentation more akin to symphonic music than to the small ensembles and loose arrangements of the former genres. In the swing orchestra, bandleaders worked out elaborate structures and precise arrangements for melody-driven tunes.
Country music has roots in the songs of Appalachia, which were based on the folk traditions of Scotland, Ireland, and England. Cowboy songs (a form of work song), post-Reformation hymns, and the blues were also seminal influences in the development of country music. Originally called “old time music” or “hillbilly music,” country evolved rapidly when WSM-AM 650 began broadcasting the Grand Ole Opry in 1925. Today, Nashville, Tennessee, the hub city of country music, is home to the largest songwriting community on earth.
Doo-Wop and R&B
In the late 1930s, vocal groups began exploring an a cappella–based style of music that became known as “doo-wop.” Originally an urban form of street music, doo-wop used voices to fill roles usually reserved for instruments. After years as a marginal genre, doo-wop exploded in 1953, then merged with rock and roll. Doo-wop contributed greatly to the development of rock-n-roll and R&B and even influenced country music via vocal groups like the Jordanaires.
What is R&B?
R&B is short for rhythm and blues and this music style is just what it sounds like, a combination of blues with rhythms from other styles of music.
Jump (a form of blues), boogie-woogie, jazz, swing, and gospel were the initial influences leading up to the birth of R&B in the late 1940s. R&B gave rise to soul music and was a big influence on rock-n-roll and other styles.
Rock and Roll
Rock and roll music, also called rock-n-roll or simply rock, was possibly the most important musical influence, both artistically and commercially, of the late-twentieth century. Rock's roots in blues, doo-wop, country, R&B, jazz, pop, and folk gave it a broad appeal, and the ability of rock-n-roll songwriters to draw influence from nearly all other styles made Rock adaptable to virtually any musical taste.
Rock not only influenced other art forms, but also language, fashion, and politics. Rock and roll firmly established the young working class as the major music market. A number of different technological and social factors combined to make this possible:
Commercial advertising revenues made radio a profitable industry, causing thousands of radio stations to spring up all over the world.
The growing reach and affordability of radio made it possible for almost anyone to have access to musical broadcasts on a regular basis.
Inexpensive record players allowed working class people to have recorded copies of their favorite songs and performing artists right in the home.
Electric instruments and public address systems let rock musicians perform live concerts for huge audiences.
The small size and relative portability of a rock band made it much more potentially profitable than a symphony or swing band.
Rock's demographic, the post-WWII “baby boom” generation, was the largest potential market in history.
Rock broke down racial barriers — the racial diversity of rock's performers and its roots in country and blues made it accessible, yet new and exciting, to teens of different backgrounds. This brought together different markets and gave rock-n-roll an even bigger slice of the demographic pie.
Rock-n-Roll Family Tree
Rock-n-roll may be the most diverse musical genre the world has ever known. A partial list of some of the better-known rock-n-roll sub-genres would include the following:
- Surf music
- Folk rock
- Blues rock
- Psychedelic rock
- Pop rock
- Acid rock
- Country rock
- Hard rock
- Southern rock
- Soft rock
- Swamp rock
- Jazz rock
- Symphonic rock
- Heavy metal
- New wave
- Speed metal
- Death metal
- Goth rock
- Rap metal
- Indie rock
- College rock
- Arena rock
- Roots rock
Just as composers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries often wrote both classical and Romantic music, late-twentieth-century songwriters often wrote more than one style. A professional songwriter of the rock-n-roll age could have hits in the rock, soul, and country genres, sometimes with the same song.
And this is just to name a few! Rock-n-roll has also influenced nearly every other form of music. As radio markets became less segregated, record labels began using professional songwriters to write radio-friendly hits for R&B acts. These songwriters infused R&B with rock-n-roll's teen appeal and pop's approach to songcraft. The result was called soul.
Many regions had their own brands of soul. One in particular, Detroit's “Motown” style, became so popular that it is considered by many to be a separate genre. Soul music was instrumental in the rise of funk, disco, hip-hop, rap, modern R&B, and nu-soul, and influenced rock, pop, and country.