The genre of rock and roll cannot be defined by a single sound, theme, or artist. This is because rock and roll has branched out into countless subgenres since its creation. Music is always changing and evolving, and rock and roll is no exception. Standout artists from major subgenres all interconnect to form what is known as rock and roll. The blues is credited as being the genre that began rock and roll. This is because many rock artists cite blues artists as influences, and a similar sound can be found in many rock songs. Bessie Smith was a prominent blues singer in the 1920s. She had a difficult childhood because her father died not long after her birth, her mother died when she was about twelve, and two of her brothers died the same year as her mother. This sadness is reflected in her music. Smith started performing on the street and was taken under the wing of another female blues singer before being discovered by Columbia records. One of her first singles, “Downhearted Blues”, gained her her fame and title of “the Empress of the Blues.” Bessie Smith is important to the history of rock and roll because of her contributions to the blues era of music that was inspiration for rock years later. She also has been an influence on many following artists, such as Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin, further proving the connection between genres. I chose her for the blues because her sorrowful songs were representative of the genre. By the 1950s, early rock and roll had emerged. It was Elvis Presley who made rock mainstream. His influences of blues and gospel music could be heard in his music, causing controversy at the beginning of his career because radio stations were hesitant to play his songs. However, Presley persevered to become a star. His first major hit was “Heartbreak Hotel” in 1956, and his fame continued from then on. Elvis was unique to rock and roll because he was the genre’s first real star and had a huge following. He contributed to its history with his enthusiastic performances, controversial dance moves, and bad boy persona. I chose him to represent early rock and roll because he was the catalyst of the genre’s popularity and is rightly referred to as the “King of Rock and Roll.” I also enjoy his music. Folk rock was one of the major subgenres of rock from the 1960s. It’s popularity was due to its ability to connect with the youth of the time, specifically with their feelings concerning the Vietnam war. One of the main folk artists from this time is Simon and Garfunkel. Simon and Garfunkel are a duo that produced folk music ranging from originals to covers of classics. Their major influence was Bob Dylan, and Simon said that he had to consciously make an effort to have a separate sound from him. They rose to fame with their song, “The Sound of Silence,” which made it into the Top Ten. They used the success of this song to prove that they could create other hits. Simon and Garfunkel are important to rock and roll because their soft, calm sound was very different from that of previous rock stars like Elvis Presley and the Beatles. I chose Simon and Garfunkel for folk rock because I like their music. At the same time as folk rock, hard rock was formed. Hard rock was drastically different from preceding genres because of their distorted sound, upbeat rhythm, and lyrics about “sex, drugs and rock and roll.” The Kinks were a band that exemplified this new genre. The Kinks had obvious blues influences in their music. The band was formed by two brothers and their songs “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All the Night” both were hits early in their career. These songs both have a riff, which was a new concept that became more common through hits of hard rock. The Kinks are unique because of their blues influences and the riffs in their music. They are important to rock and roll’s history by being one of the creators of hard rock. I chose to write about them because they are an accurate depiction of their genre, and I like their music as well. In the 1970s, glam rock became a popular music genre. Glam rock succeeded in bringing show back to rock and roll after the singer-songwriter movements common in the 1960s. David Bowie was one of the most important artists from this genre. Bowie was known for his outrageous performances and costumes that challenged many sensitive topics ranging from drugs to gender identity. This can be seen in his music video for his 1974 hit, “Rebel Rebel.” Bowie also was also referred to as a chameleon due to his ability to write and perform as various characters he created. Ziggy Stardust is the most famous example of this. Bowie’s shows brought theatrical elements back to rock and roll, making him important to its history. The creativity he put into his music made him unique to rock. I chose him because his different personas and controversial reputation represent glam rock well. He is also my favorite artist.Funk music evolved in the 1970s when African Americans began questioning how much effect the Civil Rights movement actually had on American society. Funk music typically featured upbeat music with lyrics that contained this message. An artist that exemplifies this is Curtis Mayfield. He had songs like “Move on Up” that spread his intended message, and there was also an accompanying movement in film that he was involved in called “blaxploitation.” Mayfield participated in this movement by providing the soundtrack to the hit movie Superfly. Curtis Mayfield and his contributions to funk music are important to the history of rock and roll because his music allowed for African Americans to address and bring attention to issues that were important to them in a peaceful way. I chose Curtis Mayfield because his music is very representative of the genre as a whole.Disco is another genre that emerged during the 1970s, and it became the defining genre of the decade. A group that was one of the leading acts of disco was Earth, Wind, and Fire. They drew from influences including church and funk music to create their sound. Their goal was for their music to sound uplifting and spread a message of love without coming across as forced. Earth, Wind, and Fire’s biggest hit on the charts was their 1981 song, “Let’s Groove”. This song accurately represents the typical sound of disco because of its upbeat sound. Earth, Wind, and Fire are unique to the history of rock and roll because their contributions to disco helped to define the sound that dominated the 1970s. I chose this band for disco because they were a huge name during the time, and I was more familiar with them than other disco artists because my dad likes them.Punk was a genre of rock and roll that was very different than disco. It was a reaction against the mainstream qualities that rock and roll had adapted. The sound of the genre was raw, loud, and angry. A band that became well-known for this sound were The Ramones. The Ramones helped to invent punk music and influenced countless following bands including Nirvana, Green Day, and The Misfits. The Rolling Stone describes them as having “simple but extremely effective sound — a combination of speedy grooves, sing-along tunes and deadpan lyrics”. To achieve this sound, they drew from inspirations like Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones. The band produced many iconic hits, including Blitzkrieg Bop which was off of their first album. The Ramones are unique because they were able to create a sound that was all their own, and this lead to the formation of punk music. They are very important to rock and roll’s history since they were one of the creators of punk. I chose The Ramones because I generally do not like punk music but they are an exception for me.New Wave was a popular genre in the 1980s. New Wave was interesting because one sound cannot describe it as the genre was made up of artists who did not fit in any other category of music. One such band was The Cure. The Cure drew upon influences including David Bowie, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Pink Floyd to create unique music made up of minor keys and witty lyrics. The band found success in the UK first before becoming more popular in America. Their top 2 hits were “Love Song” and “Friday I’m In Love”, which was ironic because “Friday I’m In Love” had a very different tone than the rest of their music. The Cure was important to the history of rock and roll because their music shows how New Wave took over the 1980s despite not having a defining sound. I chose to write about The Cure because I really like their music and thought it would be interesting to research them since they were not mentioned in class.Grunge music changed many aspects of pop culture when it emerged in the 1990s. Nirvana was the face of the genre and the one to make it mainstream. The band formed in a small Washington logging town, and the members felt isolated from their working class peers. They did not like or want the amount of fame they received, especially the lead singer Kurt Cobain. However, their song “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, which Cobain actually despised, ended up being the band’s breakthrough hit in 1991. This lead to grunge music becoming very popular with young people, and the flannel shirts and combat boots sported by the band members suddenly being fashionable. The band’s sound was inspired by influences including The Beatles, The Sex Pistols, The Pixies, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Kiss. Nirvana changed rock and roll’s history by being one of the first grunge bands and bringing it to popularity. The changes they brought to music, fashion, and culture in the 90s made the band’s success unusual and noteworthy. I chose them because they define the genre of grunge and are one of my favorite bands.Rock and roll has gone through various phases over the years and will continue to do so in the future. Based on past trends and current popular music, I predict the next generation of music will incorporate advances in technology and start to sound very computerized. I also think that with each new genre of music comes something shocking, so music will continue to bring attention to controversial topics as it has done in its past. There will probably be trends that have already occurred in music’s history appear again, as we have seen before. It will be interesting to see how music will continue to evolve with the new generation.
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