In the 30 years following World War II, technology and demographics revolutionized popular culture at a meteoric rate, bringing the planet toward its first global village. The impetus for change came from a previously unseen and unheard influence. The teenager emerged from the prosperity of the postwar world with disposable income and a new level of freedom to spend as an assertion of independence. Teen culture coalesced around rock music, ultimately incorporating other genres, such as jazz and classical music.
The Crooners: 1945 to 1952
The Big Band era ushered America into and through World War II and spawned the success of the best of its singers, including Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee. But in 1948, for almost a year, union musicians stopped recording in protest of the increased use of recorded music on radio. The crooners began using a cappella vocal groups in the studio to generate material for the new vinyl formats -- 12-inch long-playing albums and 7-inch singles -- and ultimately the union relented, paving the way for records as programming content for radio.
Rock 'n' Roll: 1953 to 1960
Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, a group built around Ike Turner, had a hit in 1951 with "Rocket 88," generally heralded as the first rock 'n' roll single. It was 1955's "Rock Around the Clock," however, that brought white audiences to the evolving mix of black rhythm and blues and hillbilly country music. Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry gave the genre an outlaw edge that appealed to rebellious teen spirit. After bebop, cool jazz emerged as a softer, less frenetic style with artists such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane leading the way. Electronic and "chance" music emerged on the classical side.
The British Invasion: 1960 to 1967
While the teen demographic had emerged with the crooners and grew to screaming proportions in the early Elvis era, by the start of the 1960s teens emerged as a cultural force, with music, drive-in movies, cars and burgers merging into the start of a youth-based subculture. In the United States, the arrival of the Beatles in 1964 restored the dashed optimism of the Kennedy presidency. Reinterpreting America's own music, the group served as a focal point for popular music, style and culture for the rest of the 1960s. Folk music developed in the same era, with "fusion" becoming a buzzword. Folk-rock and jazz-rock crossed genres, while classical concert and recording artists, such as Glenn Gould and Van Cliburn, rose to prominence.
Rock Grows Up -- 1967 to 1975
The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album, released in 1967, affixed rock music in the mainstream, attracting critical acclaim beyond the baby-boomer demographic and succeeding commercially. Rock music became serious and experimental, taking advantage of expanding multitrack recording capabilities. Country music also moved into the mainstream, with artists such as Glen Campbell and Bobby Goldsboro scoring pop hits. "Bitches Brew," Miles Davis' 1970 offering, furthered the fusion of jazz, rock and world music. Rock bands such as Procol Harum, Emerson Lake and Palmer and the Electric Light Orchestra expanded the fusion idea into the classical music realm.
- Rolling Stone: The Beatles -- Biography
- Piero Scaruffi: A Brief History of Pop Music -- Post-war Pop Music in the USA
- Wall Street Journal: The Silence That Sparked New Sounds
- W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.: Classical Music, Jazz, and Musical Theater After World War II
- Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: The Number One "Rocket 88"
- Jazz Times: Miles Davis and the Making of Bitches Brew -- Sorcerer's Brew
- Photo Credit Konstantin Grishin/Hemera/Getty Images