Introduction | Pop

Across the centuries and around the globe, many different forms of music have enjoyed mass appeal for a limited period of time. None, however, have been able to match the widespread influence of the popular music that erupted in America during the mid-1950s and, by the second half of the decade, was exerting its grip over much of the world.

Attaching doo-wop songs and soulful ballads to the main catalyst of rock’n’roll, this new youth-oriented pop, with its sometimes earthy lyrics and often grating beat, was the first to meld sexual energy with long-repressed feelings of teen angst and rebelliousness.

No longer prepared to do their parents’ bidding by dressing and behaving like young adults, the post-war generation of kids demanded to be recognized on their own terms, and pop music was the vehicle that enabled them to achieve this. Forget those slick crooners, strict-tempo dances and sterile hits such as ‘How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?’. The new music was all about unleashing inhibitions and having unrestrained fun, not hanging out on street corners to kill time – and it was also about emphasizing the gulf between Mum, Dad and their over-sexed, under-compliant offspring.

Suddenly, teen emotions were being expressed in the words as well as in the rhythms, while the music was all the more accessible for the fact that vocal and instrumental virtuosity were not prerequisites for performing it yourself. Commencing in the mid-1950s, pop was, for the first time, truly music for the teen masses, to be enjoyed and even performed by teens. In the wake of Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, guitar sales went through the roof, and it was not long before tens of thousands of juvenile bands began springing up on both sides of the Atlantic. Indeed, in cash-strapped Britain, which was still suffering from the ravages of the Second World War, R&B-based skiffle music served as a practical solution for kids who often did not have the funds to purchase decent instruments, while also providing them with a grounding in the basic skills that some would employ to great advantage just a few years later.

In the meantime, before pop’s second big explosion could take place, its first phase had to run its course. As the 1950s segued into the 1960s, white adults were still running the show, and a combination of social pressure and self-destructive circumstances helped to spell the end for the black-derived rock’n’roll that some whites referred to as ‘jungle music’. Chuck Berry was jailed for statutory rape, Jerry Lee Lewis was ostracized for marrying his 13-year-old cousin, Little Richard joined the Church, Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran were killed in tragic accidents, and after Elvis emerged without sideburns from a two-year stint in the US Army, he threw himself head-first into a revamped scene that saw the old heavy brigade replaced by clean-cut, parent-approved smoothies: Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Connie Francis, Pat Boone, Bobby Vinton, Ricky Nelson. For now,...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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