Tales of Rock – The Theory of the 13-year Rock vs. Pop cycle – 1951–1963 – Part 1

At first glance, trends and sounds in popular music seem to come at us in random, fractalized bursts. Viewed up close on a day-to-day, week-to-week or even month-to-month basis, that’s how it appears. But if you stand back, patterns begin to emerge, patterns which have held surprisingly together over the last seven decades.

Since rock was born in the 1950s, rock and pop have been locked in a battle for cultural supremacy with each combatant a constant 180 degrees out of phase with the other. When rock is strong and ascendant in the public’s consciousness, pop is on a decline.

Eventually, though, rock tops out and begins a decline as the public’s attention moves towards pop. Then once pop peaks and rock bottoms out, the cycle begins again. This back-and-forth dance has played itself out every 12 or 13 years.

Let me tell you how it’s all gone down.

The First Cycle

While it’s impossible to pin down the birth of rock’n’roll — it was born through a gradual coming together of a dozen sounds and influences — many scholars point to March 3, 1951, with the release of a song called “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston and the Delta Cats. This band didn’t really exist. Jackie was the sax player for Ike Turner in his Kings of Rhythm and was thrust into the spotlight for this one recording with Ike and the boys providing backup. The sound, attitude and subject matter of “Rocket 88” make it a prime candidate for being the first true rock’n’roll record.

Even if you don’t subscribe to “Rocket 88” being the first rock record — and there are plenty of reasons not to — we can probably at least agree that something new was in the air by 1951, even if we weren’t calling it “rock’n’roll” yet.

Once loosed upon the earth, this new form of music gathered momentum with the mainstream, peaking with Elvis in 1956. But when he entered the army on March 2, 1958, rock went into a period of decline.

“See? It was all just a fad!” the haters said. “Time to get back to some good music!”

And lo, things were pretty dire for rock through the late 1950s and the early 1960s. The charts were filled with light pop such as Percy Faith’s “Theme from ‘A Summer Place’” and those execrable Sing Along With Mitch albums.

Yet there was still some rebellion in the air, except that it was rather quiet. The folk music boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s — a boom that would eventually result in Bob Dylan — tried to keep things interesting for people who weren’t interested in mainstream music.

 

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Author: phicklephilly

Copyright © 2016 by Phicklephilly All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. All stories and characters are based on real people and events. The names and images have been changed to protect their privacy. Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation!”

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