Do you remember the first ten years of rock and roll? Was it the music you liked when you moved on from your teen years? If so, chances are you’re a pre-boomer, and the pop music of those years is still your favorite.
It was in Wildwood New Jersey on Memorial Day weekend in 1954 that Bill Haley & His Comets performed at the HofBrau Hotel. They played Rock Around the Clock, and rock and roll was born. The band is long gone as is the hotel, but rock is here to stay — even if today’s music seems to have strayed far away from its roots.
The early years were exciting, even for us who weren’t entertainers. DJs spun the platters with lots of patter and everyone was dancing the latest craze. It was a time of convergence with lots of crossover and blending of cultures leading to new sounds which lead to new customs. Country, rhythm & blues, jazz, gospel, as well as what can be called “standards” all had a part in forming our music. In the end, diversity became uniformity and may have been the precursor to the changes that lay ahead.
In the beginning, the music of the black community and those who performed these songs was covered by white artists. Pat Boone “covered” a couple of Little Richard’s songs – Good Golly Miss Molly and Tutti Frutti – because white stations wouldn’t play black records. It wasn’t long before people, having heard both versions, insisted on the better renditions. And, Little Richard won that vote by an overwhelming margin. Covering was commonplace in the early years. Sometimes the situation was reversed. For instance, the Crew Cuts covered Sh-Boom, originally sung by the Chords. In this case, many believe the white group had the better recording. C&W artists had mixed success, some were covered and some were not, but overall they found crossover easier for them. Of course, Elvis and many others of his time were hybrids: R&B, Country and Rock. It doesn’t matter what they called it, we loved it.
Popular opinion – not of our parents, but of us kids – ultimately decided which music would be played. (Payola had something to do with it too, but let’s not get into that right now). The big deal was not the color of the artist’s skin or where they were from. What counted was the sound of their music. Listeners’ ears were color and culture blind. All we cared about was if we liked the beat and could we dance to it. This suggests that in the post-WWII era one of the great unifiers of the young people was our music. It gave us an identity and began the process of knocking down barriers.
I don’t want to steal the thunder of our younger brothers and sisters by taking credit for the changes that came out of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Let’s just say we planted the seeds and enjoyed the harvest. They also can claim the British invasion, revised folk and protest music. But for pre-boomers, rock and roll will always be the music of our lives.
Don Potter, a Philadelphia native, was born in 1936 and is a 50 year veteran of the advertising agency business. Now living in Los Angeles, he has written two novels in retirement, frequently writes on marketing issues, and has a blog dedicated to pre-boomers (those born between 1930 and 1945).