• Stepping Stones Kottla

Leaving Elvis in a Jukebox for Michael in a Walkman

By Stella Rosenberg.



The diner is filled with people. The girls are swinging around in their tea length swing dresses with petticoats. “Sing Sing Sing” is streaming from the jukebox. The people are having fun and enjoying the music. The smell of hamburgers and milkshakes spreads through the air. Outside of the diner, the cars are driving away to the drive-in movie. This is a classical scenario of the 1950s, but it’s not how it looked for all people. Not the whole truth of the decade.

Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and Chuck Berry are some names that we all have heard of. These are three of the most famous artists from the 1950s. For me, the 1950s doesn’t have a big part in my life. The period was a long time ago and I wasn’t alive during it. I don’t know much about the period but I still recognize these three names, and probably even more names. Even though I don’t listen to music from the 1950s it still seems like it has affected me and the way I live today.

The music of the 1950s was influenced by the changes that happened during the time. Major social changes happened in the world and especially in the USA. The Civil Rights Movement was one of these. America had been segregated for a long time and the Afro-Americans finally started standing up for their rights. They were discriminated against in the society and could for example get arrested by not giving up their seat to a white person on the bus. This was the reality for some people during this decade. There are many songs of the Civil Rights Movement, like “We Shall Overcome.” However, not everything in society was changing in the right way. Conformity was common, there were not many who dared to break the norms. After World War II, traditional roles were reaffirmed. Women were expected to be housewives and men were expected to be the breadwinners. Also, homosexuality during the time was seen as a disease and wasn’t legal. These social problems were probably reflected in the music, but the segregated America was the most common since they dared to stand up for their opinions and rights, and could do it through music.

The decade was ruled by the birth of Rock 'n' Roll. The music style was the result of the convergence of R&B (Rhythm and Blues) and Country. R&B music was also a pretty new music style, it came into prominence in the late 1940s. R&B developed from the music style Blues. Many of the white teens were tired of listening to the same music as their parents and started looking for something new. They started to listen to the “black” radio stations and discovered R&B. The white audience was much larger than the Afro-American so the radio station had to broadcast and promote R&B, or something similar to R&B. The white record companies believed that the white teens wouldn't buy records that Afro-Americans had made, which I think is crazy, so they started looking for white artists that played something resembling R&B. They found artists, such as Elvis Presley, that brought a strong country background to the music. Not only was Rock 'n' Roll a result of this but it also developed a new youth culture. For the first time teenagers had their own music.

I think this youth culture was very important. Teenagers could feel a part of something that their parents weren’t. They had something of their own. For me, this is very important. Even though I love my family, I don’t want to share everything with them. I need to have some things that are only mine.

As said, Rock 'n' Roll and R&B popularized Afro-American music and many of them rose to prominence and relished success. While for others, their works got stolen and taken cred by someone else. This lead to them being forgotten or denied to perform. Even big artists, such as Elvis Presley, stole others' music. Elvis' famous song “Hound dog” was not actually his, he stole it from Big Mama Thornton. The difference between Afro-Americans and white in society affected this. It was mostly white people who stole music from Afro-Americans.

Another popular style during the 1950s was Jazz. Jazz is, according to Merriam Webster, characterized by propulsive syncopated rhythms, polyphonic ensemble playing, varying degrees of improvisation, and often deliberate distortions of pitch and timbre. The most common instruments for Jazz is piano and saxophone. During the 50s, Horace Silver introduced bluesy, boisterous boogie-woogie piano figures into his bebop playing which resulted in the Jazz style “Hard Bebop”. In comparison to Rock 'n' Roll, that was mostly listened to by the teenagers, Jazz was listened to by pretty much all audiences.

The people listened to music on the radio, on the television or on a record player. The music was recorded on big vinyl records that were used in the record player. At public places, like diners, there could be jukeboxes. Even though jukeboxes came out in the end of the 19th century, they were most popular during the 50s. Instead of recording the music directly to disc, it was recorded through tape machines.

When I think of an artist from the 50s, the first one that comes to my mind is Elvis Presley. For me, Elvis Presley is the most important artist from the decade. My parents used to sing “Love Me Tender” as a lullaby when I was little. Elvis is usually referred to as “The King of Rock 'n' Roll”, but it has come to my knowledge that Elvis stole others' works and hasn’t written a single song. So I don’t think that he is worthy of that title. Instead I would say that the real king of the 50s is Chuck Berry. Chuck was original, all he sang was of his own material.

The 1980s is not many years from the 1950s, but a lot changed in between. Things like The Peace Movement, movements for women’s and homosexuals rights during the 1960s and 70s had changed the world a lot. The world had changed for the better. As I mentioned earlier, the 50s is known for conformity. The 80s is known for an ambiguous mixture of individualism and conformity, with some similarities to the 50s. The 80s reflected the beginning of a period of great income disparity, just like the 50s, and a focus on prosperity was reflected in the music.

Compared to the 1950s, the 80s have a big part in my life. Growing up, I listened to the songs that ruled the toplists during the time, but I also listened to a lot of music from the 1980s, and I still do. The 1980s was the time when my parents were young and they are still trying to keep the decade alive. We can see that the 80s still can do comebacks. I have noticed that “Break My Stride” by Matthew Wilder has once again been on the toplists and trending on social media. I have also listened to many remixes of music from the 80s. I think the music is very fun and special, it’s not similar to another decade. I think it’s easy to tell if a song is from the 1980s. There is just something about the 80s aura that gets me hooked.

When I think of the music of the 80s, I think of music with electronic rhythms and synthesizers, especially synthpop. I also think of the fashion and dance related to the music. Big hair, fluro (neon), tight clothes, tracksuits, and disco. Probably one of the major reasons why I think of this is thanks to all the music videos produced for the popular television channel established during the 80s; MTV (music television). During the 50s, the channels for broadcasting music were much more limited than during the 80s, and the MTV was to forever change the music. The focus of music moved from lyrics and sound to fashion, dance, and theatrics. The image was just as important as the music.

The main genre in the 80s to emerge is said to be new wave and the technology based dance music. The earlier funk, soul and disco genres that had been popular during the 70s started to go out of fashion. However, the 80s is also said to be rich in diversity, all genres had equally strong emphasis. Also, the 80s witnessed the inception and eventual growth of Hip Hop.

Rock n Roll might not have been as big as in the 50s, but it was still a popular genre during the 80s. Glam rock, soft rock, heavy metal, hair metal, arena rock, heartland rock, progressive rock, and even more. The list of the different types of rock popular during the 80s is long. Even though the 80s had it’s retro twin, the 1960s, the 50s still had influences on 80s rock. In fact, the 50s is the whole reason why all of these genres exist. If Rock ‘n’ Roll wouldn’t have developed and grown so big during the 1950s, all these genres of rock wouldn't have developed either. Great rock artists of the 80s such as U2, Prince, Metallica, AC/DC, Bon Jovi, Van Halen, Bruce Springsteen, and many more wouldn’t have existed. The Rock genre had expanded enormously and even the music of big pop artists such as Michael Jackson and Madonna, that weren’t considered as rock 'n' rollers, contained elements of Rock.

Since the 80s was so rich in diversity, it was also rich in famous artists. The launching of MTV gave the opportunity for more artists to become “iconic.” Prince, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Boy George, Tina Turner. The list is infinitive. Also, there were many famous bands such as Wham! and a-ha. Just like the 50s had their king, Elvis, 80s had their king. “The King of Pop,” Michael Jackson, was big throughout the whole decade. In contrast to Elvis, Michael wrote most of his own songs. He did not only influence the society with his music and dance, he also influenced people by using his fame for good. He worked a lot with children and donated to different organizations. However, his relation to kids has been strongly questioned during the latest years. For me, it’s impossible to say one important artist from the decade. I like so many different artists and songs of the 80s. Just like Depeche Mode sang, I “Just Can’t Get Enough” of the 80s.

In the 1980s, the most common way to listen to music was on cassette tapes. The cassette could be put into a cassette player which had an amplifier and speakers to it. In the beginning of the 80s, Sony’s Walkman was invented. This meant that, for the first time, you could walk around and listen to the music in headphones. The cassette was not new in the 80s but it grew very popular during the decade, mostly because of Walkman. Another big invention that came around the middle of the decade was the CD, which also became very popular. Because of MTV, there were still many that listened to music on the TV. There were also still many that listened to music on vinyl records, just like in the 50s.

When it comes to recording music in the 80s, it was very important that the backing tracks were recorded in perfect tempo. This became important due to the development of MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), which synced the instruments. Compared to the 50s when the music was recorded through tape machines, the music of the 80s were digitally recorded. These inventions improved the quality of the music recording, however many would argue that music lost some of it’s personality because of this. This might be true, but I’m still in favour of technical development and new possibilities. I guess this might have contributed to making it possible for more artists to record their music.

In conclusion, thanks to the Rock ’n’ Roll from the 50s, the 80s really rock.