Rock music began in the 1950s as a fusion of country and R&B, but the influential and initially controversial genre proved its longevity as it spanned across multiple decades. Even today, as it’s often eclipsed by hip-hop and electro-tinged pop music in the Billboard charts, rock endures in the DNA of popular songcraft and in the hard-edged production and instrumentation of many underground and alternative acts. The long history of rock music, encompassing literally hundreds of movements and subgenres, is impossible to condense into something easily digestible. But we tried anyway, using specific artists to summarize the origins and the impact of several key eras and movements within rock and roll music.
1. Elvis Presley
Rock and roll music became a significant cultural force in the mid-1950s, as multiple artists culminated showy, energetic public images while releasing hit singles bridging the genres of rockabilly, country-western music, R&B, and of course, rock music. The biggest star of this formative period for rock and roll music was the Memphis-based singer Elvis Presley, whose 1954 single “That’s All Right (Mama)” is often placed in the running for the first bona fide rock song. Skewing closer to rockabilly than more soul-centric counterparts like Little Richard, Presley became a musical and cultural icon following a string of successful singles and controversial television appearance where viewers reacted with both scorn and screaming admiration to his sexualized hip-swiveling dance moves. Elvis Presley personifies the early days of rock and roll, when it was a new but powerful and controversial cultural force, still having some difficulties in distinguishing itself from its genre forebears.