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AMERICAN POPULAR MUSIC AMERICAN MEDIA SMST215 Roots of Rock’n’Roll American rock music (1950's +) is a hybrid form descended from earlier American musical traditions: BLUES – music from Afro-American communities, usually of rural south.

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american popular music



roots of rock n roll
Roots of Rock’n’Roll
  • American rock music (1950's +) is a hybrid form descended from earlier American musical traditions:
  • BLUES – music from Afro-American communities, usually of rural south.
  • Music – guitar and vocals, narrative, rhythmic, repetitive structures.
  • Key Sites – Memphis: Chicago
  • JAZZ – fusion of various musical traditions within black urban communities – increasing crossover with white audiences. Popular appeal, but also avant-garde/high culture interest.
  • Music – rhythm, improvisation, virtuosity.
  • Key Sites – New Orleans: New York
roots of rock n roll3
Roots of Rock’n’Roll
  • GOSPEL – black religious music of Southern US.
  • Music – dynamic rhythmic structures, vocal harmonies.
  • COUNTRY/BLUEGRASS – music style of rural white audiences, predominantly south and southwest.
  • Music – guitar and vocals, narrative.
  • Key Site: Nashville
  • POP– popular music in urban centres. Identified with composer rather than performer.
  • Associated with other entertainment forms e.g. Broadway shows, movie soundtracks.
  • Music – melodic, rhythmic, arranged.
  • Key site: Tin Pan Alley, NYC
history of us popular music

History of US Popular Music




19 th century
19th century
  • 1877 – Thomas Edison invents phonograph. Fragile wax/foil cylinders.
  • 1882 – Emile Berliner develops gramophone that plays 78 rpm 'discs'.
  • Became home entertainment phenomenon e.g. 'Victrola'.
  • Rise of recording industry. - First labels e.g. RCA.
  • 1894 – Billboard magazine founded.
early 20 th century
Early 20th century
  • Music industry based upon sheet music sales, predominantly of Tin Pan Alley tunes.
  • Leading composers – George Gershwin, Irving Berlin.
  • Other popular genres – Ragtime (Scott Joplin), marches (John Phillip Sousa).
  • Tin Pan Alley companies formed first musical licensing company – ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers). Determined sales of sheet music, recording fees, performance and broadcasting etc.
1920 s 1930 s
  • 1920's – 'the jazz age' – cultural trends defined in terms of 'new music'.
  • Recording industry – records enabled diffusion of different musical genres to diverse audiences across America, inspiring cross-musical styles.
  • Introduction of electric guitar amongst southern blues musicians.
  • Popularity of music/radio during the Great Depression.
1920 s 1930 s8
  • Music and radio. National and regional radio stations at peak of popularity (NBC, CBS). Music formed large amount of content – live broadcasts to avoid paying copyrights for record play.
  • Mid 1920's - On air music led to decline in record sales. Record companies began to sell records by emphasising performers rather than composers.
1940 s
  • WWII – 'big band sound' – white orchestras popularising jazz-influenced dance music.
  • Rise of singers who pre-empted 'star' status of rock'n'roll stars e.g Frank Sinatra
  • Radio broadcasters formed BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) company to challenge ASCAP autonomy over airwaves. BMI got licensing rights to labels releasing black/hillbilly music as ASCAP not interested.
  • Small independent radio stations catering to regional audiences and more specialized tastes.
1940 s10
  • 1947 – introduction of magnetic tape for cheaper music recording/reproduction.
  • 1948 – RCA & CBS develop new vinyl formats – 12” 33rpm & 7” 45rpm.
  • 45 singles designed for radio play. 33 albums for classical/show music.
1950 s
  • Start of decade – charts segregated along racial/cultural lines.
  • - Pop charts – white, urban audiences
  • - Country & Western – white rural and provincial audiences
  • - Rhythm & Blues – black urban and rural audiences.
  • Early 1950's – electric guitar popularised as staple musical instrument e.g. Les Paul
  • Also: electric amplification, recording studios as instruments, sound effects e.g. reverb
  • 1952 – RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) established
major social developments that led to rise of rock n roll
Major social developments that led to rise of rock’n’roll :
  • post-war consumer society
  • teenagers identified as distinct social group and consumer demographic
  • changing social values – white teenagers reacting against social conservatism attracted to black sounds. Early counterculture movements e.g. The Beats.
1954 1956 rock n roll arrives
1954 – 1956 Rock’n’roll arrives
  • 1954 – R&B charts filled with early rock'n'roll hits – e.g. 'Rock Around the Clock'
  • 1954 – producer Sam Phillips at Sun Studios, Memphis, discovers and markets Elvis Presley as 'white boy with the black sound” - crossover appeal to white audiences.
  • 1956 – R&R crossover onto pop charts
  • Key early 1950's R&R artists – Elvis, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley
1950 s14
  • Importance of regional independent radio stations in promoting R&R.
  • e.g. DJ Alan Freed in Cleveland.
  • Development of top 40 music radio – high rotation, importance of DJ's and station program managers to create hits, 45 singles over sheet music
  • ASCAP and major labels had rejected R&R as inferior music – indie labels specialising in R&R successful (e.g. Sun)
  • Music establishment reactions to 'threat' of R&R:
  • teen idols – bland white performers doing R&B material
  • e.g. Pat Boone
  • payola scandals in radio industry – money for hits
  • mainstream labels bought into R&R and commodified it for mass audiences e.g Elvis signs with RCA
1960 s
  • Early 1960's – rise of producer as star e.g. Phil Spector, Brian Wilson
  • 1964 – 'British invasion' – English R&R bands revitalised jaded US music scene e.g. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who
  • Introduction of eight-track cartridge player machines – early portable media. Superseded by smaller/more convenient cassette tapes in 1970’s.
  • Late 1960’s – rise of FM or ‘progressive’ radio stations, often all-music stations, specialising in playing whole albums rather than singles.
1960 s counterculture
1960’s counterculture
  • Mid-late 60's – rise of the 'counterculture' – drugs, free love, protest movements.
  • Developments in R&R forms mirrored cultural experimentation
  • e.g. new genres – psychedelia, funk, prog rock
  • R&R as art - emphasis on 33 albums as artistic statements over 'pop' singles.
1960 s counterculture17
1960’s counterculture
  • 1967 – Rolling Stone magazine founded.
  • 1968 – Woodstock festival – height of hippy/rock cultures
  • 1969 – murder in crowd during Rolling Stones concert in Altamont, California – ‘end of the sixties’
  • Key 1960's US artists – Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, The Doors, The Beach Boys, The Velvet Underground, James Brown
1970 s
  • Breakdown of 60’s counterculture. Beginning of process by which rock began to fragment into different genres appealing to different niche audiences.
  • Corporate takeovers of 60’s indie labels – major labels with smaller labels targeting specific market groups e.g. Warner Bros & Elektra records (folk label).
  • Corporate marketing/promotional techniques became commonplace for record releases e.g. Festivals metamorphose into ‘stadium rock’ events.
1970 s rock and pop
1970’s – ‘rock’ and ‘pop’
  • Legacy of 1960’s – distinction between ‘rock’ and ‘pop’
  • Rock – authentic, original, emphasis on musical prowess and lyrical content, for adult audiences.
  • Pop – manufactured, ephemeral, trend-driven, emphasis on performers not music, for juvenile audiences.


1970 s20
  • Digital recording and digital instruments developed.
  • New genres:

- Disco – urban music, associated with gay/black audiences

- Punk – reaction against corporate rock and social conservatism – attempt to update traditional R&R spirit to 1970’s. (American or English?)

- 1979 – first rap records and label (Sugarhill records) released.

  • Major 1970’s US artists include: Bruce Springsteen, The Ramones, Kiss, The Bee Gees
1980 s
  • Early 1980’s – popularity of new listening media e.g. Sony Walkmans, ghetto blasters
  • Synthesis between new digital music technologies and urban subcultures led to establishment of major new genres – e.g.rap & hip-hop, house, electronica.
  • Industry issues raised over sampling/home taping.
  • Early 1980’s – revival of indie labels as a legacy of punk/post-punk ethos. Increasing cross-over between indies and majors.
1980 s22
  • 1981 – MTV started – rise of music video as crucial part of modern rock industry
  • 1982 – introduction of CD formats into American market.
  • 1985 – PMRC (Parents Music Resource Centre) formed to regulate music for offensive content – RIAA form industry regulations regarding musical content.
  • 1985 – Live Aid concerts – rock as global entertainment/charity event.
  • Major 80’s US artists include: Michael Jackson, Madonna, REM , Guns’n’Roses, Prince, Public Enemy
1990 s
  • Early1990’s – CDs established as dominant consumer format.
  • New genres – e.g. grunge, riot grrl, nu metal
  • Labels/record companies merged or subsumed into larger media corporations – increasing homogenization of sounds and ‘blockbuster’ mentality applied to record releases
  • Major 90’s US artists include: Nirvana, Alanis Morrisette, Green Day, Tupac Shakur
2000 s
  • 2000 – Napster internet download/file-sharing service launched – threat to existing musical formats and record company profits from internet.
  • Digital listening media becoming more popular e.g. Ipods.
  • 2003 – October – All artists in official American Billboard top 10 are black, performing in contemporary rap/R&B genres.
american music industry 2006
American Music Industry 2006
  • The American (and global) music industry in 2006 is characterised by:
  • cross-subsidisation of losses by a few highly popular artists (over-production)
  • marketing as largest slice of production budgets
  • ancillary or secondary markets increasingly important (e.g. movie soundtracks)
  • Oligopoly of four major global companies, owning both ‘major’ and ‘independent’ labels
  • Continuing domination from Anglo-American source (with competition from Asia and Europe)
  • New forms of production and distribution (e.g. downloading, bootlegging)
key elements of us music industry
Key Elements of US music industry
  • Talent
  • Groups and performers. Regional/city based scenes form talent pool for indie/major labels.
  • Recording studios
  • Access to cheap/good quality analogue or digital recording equipment.
  • Record companies & labels
  • Major gatekeepers of popular music – choose who to sign/promote.
  • Different labels often sub-companies of major media conglomerates
  • e.g. Warners, Elektra, Sire, Atlantic – all owned by Time-Warner
  • Promotion via radio & music videos.
  • Indie labels as response to above.
  • Distribution
  • Specialised music stores or 'big box' stores amongst other products.
  • Internet downloading/file-sharing increasingly popular.
  • Promotion/Publicity
  • touring/festivals
  • music videos
  • TV appearances e.g. late-nite talk shows
  • magazines/newspaper articles