When Did Rock And Roll Actually Begin?

Mark Begelman It’s a strange term, Rock and Roll, when you think about it. Anyone who’s danced to this kind of music or seen it performed will certainly testify that a whole lot of rocking goes on. But rolling? You can’t help feeling that the person who gave the genre its name either wasn’t paying attention or had had one too many whiskeys.

Rock and roll has two overlapping meanings: the music of the 1950s and early 1960s, largely based around a guitar, double bass, drum and vocals (the type we’re dealing with here); and the more generic term for all popular music. It’s testament to how game-changing the 1950s sounds was that all pop since has taken its name. Popular music changed forever in terms of electrification (starting with Fender and Gibson guitars), image, marketing and being aimed primarily at youth. It’s probably no coincidence that this all occurred simultaneous with the toning down of post-war austerity and the growth of television.

We all know how rock and roll started. A guy goes back in time from 1985 to 1955 and takes over on lead guitar at a smoochy prom in America. He then proceeds to make the backing music slightly more upbeat and the band follows him in a rendition of Johnny B. Goode. And who should be in the audience? Chuck Berry’s cousin! It’s a lovely theory, only spoiled by the fact that had rock and roll not been invented by our time traveler, he would not have known about it in 1985 and would not have been able to take the sound back to 1955 with him. Sorry.

As with all genres, there was a fair amount of experimentation going on that still managed to keep within the boundaries of rock and roll. Notable pioneers were Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison, both of whom kept certain elements of the genre but experimented with arrangements and instrumentation. Some even go as far as to say that Buddy Holly’s untimely death in a 1959 plane crash was one of the key moments in its decline (along with Elvis joining the army).


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