Once upon a time, before Rock arrived on the scene, music was classified
by the culture or location that inspired it. There were Polish Polkas,
Spanish Sambas, Argentine Tangos, Irish Jiggs, and in the US, because of
our ethnic diversity, there was music taking on the Rock sound within
all the various ethnicities. Louis Prima is an example. He started out
as a Jazz trumpet player, in the 30s, along with the New Orleans trumpet
player Louis Armstrong, who is, by the way, in The Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame. By the 50s, having moved through R&B, Prima arrived with an
Italian-Rock song, Come On-A My House, with the now familiar backbeat
that is decidedly Rock, though the lyric style is not common in Rock.
An ethnic classification for this song might have been Italian-Rock.
Louis Armstrong, originally a Jazz and Blues musician, was classified
with the new Rock musicians coming out of the South, a location
classification. Memphis is Rock’s hometown. During these early years
before Rock had a name, it was simply an outgrowth of Jazz, Blues,
Gospel, Country, and probably some influences no one even remembers.
In the early 50s all the separate genres, were playing their music using Rock sounds, Country singers added Rock beats to their broken hearts, calling it Rockabilly, Cajun music became Zydeco, British music became Skiffle, classed as Roots-Rock. These innovations eventually developed into the many variations of Rock we have today. Rock is really beyond the concept of genre. There are Soft Rock ballads, love songs, intense progressive sound experiences like Stan Kenton’s contributions, songs with thoughtful lyrics, some with political messages and all are considered Rock.
Because of all this crazy variety, radio DJs had an awful time
announcing songs; they didn’t know what to call them. Then, finally,
Moondog, a DJ at WXEL in Cleveland, came up with the term Rock ‘n Roll,
and Rock was officially a musical genre. Moondog’s real name was Alan Freed.
Freed’s live Rock ‘n Roll shows were packed with people and drew
national attention. The first Moondog Coronation Ball was on March 21,
1952. Some consider Cleveland, and not Memphis, to be the home of Rock
because of Freed’s promotional activities there and because it is the
home of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It seems Rock just can’t be
pinned down to particulars.
Elvis Presley recorded the song That’s All Right on July 5, 1954, it is thought, by some people, to be the song that started the Rock ‘n Roll craze. That is so firmly believed by some that in July 2004, 1,500 radio stations played the song, simultaneously via satellite, to commemorate its 50th anniversary. This could be debated but it would be futile to try to settle on a precise beginning for a phenomenon like Rock, as far as anyone knows there has never been another phenomenon like it. This would be a study for a Cultural Anthropologist. It’s a result of the musical passion of many people.
In the end, the wide acceptance of Rock has actually changed the way we classify music. It is now classified by the musical properties that are most common in the style. The top four are Pop/Rock, Jazz, Rhythm & Blues, and Folk.