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Rock & Roll Kick Starts The Modern Era.....

It was during the affluent, conformist 1950's that black music made it's second major breakthrough into the mainstream of white American society, as white youth adopted black r&b and blues idioms as a means of breaking free from the strictures of the white music scene. By combining them with elements of country, early white rockers came up with "rockabilly", a crossover sound which developed rapidly from the phenomenal success of Bill Haley's "Rock Around The Clock" into a musical revolution called rock & roll , centred around and personified by it's first and biggest superstar, Elvis Presley.

In rock & roll white youth had found it's own music - the perfect outlet for it's surplus energy and need to rebel. More importantly, it was a music whose overt sexuality, hero worship and accompanying mass hysteria was hated and feared by their parents in equal measure. The urgent efforts of political and religious leaders to stamp out what they saw as an amoral "devil's music" served only to make it more alluring, and the music of black America once again penetrated the inner sanctum of white society. Popular music split on the basis of generation, a split that remains in place today.

For a musical revolution of such far-reaching consequences it is surprising to note that the heyday of true rock & roll was actually very short - from Bill Haley's initial breakthrough in 1955 to the Payola scandal of 1960, which implicated one of it's prime movers, the disc jockey Alan Freed. The intervening five years saw an explosion of musical energy not seen since the 1920's, but which was brought to a premature end by a series of unfortunate events - Elvis's enlistment and scandal surrounding Jerry Lee Lewis in 1958, the untimely death of Buddy Holly in 1959, the trial of Chuck Berry, the death of Eddie Cochrane and finally Payola in 1960.

The demise of true rock & roll was followed by a commercialisation of the sounds of the 1950's for a mass audience, coming in particular from New York's Brill Building and Berry Gordy's Detroit-based motown label, which engineered a girl group craze as part of the marketing of soul to an increasingly affluent black, and, significantly, also white middle class.
But rock & roll had not gone away. The genie was well and truly out of the bottle. In what came to be known as the "British Invasion" the style was to return to it's birthplace with a vengeance in the mid-1960's, led by a group which has arguably had as profound effect on modern popular music as rock & roll itself - The Beatles.

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