Broadcast: April 5, 2004
Rock music has influenced American culture for fifty years. I'm Ray Freeman with Rich Kleinfeldt. Today, we continue the story of rock and roll on THIS IS AMERICA, in VOA Special English.
Rock and roll music developed in the United States in the early nineteen-fifties. It was based on the music called rhythm and blues that was performed by African American musicians.
Early rock and roll singers developed their own kinds of music. Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys, and Bob Dylan were the most popular rock and roll musicians in the early nineteen-sixties. All were American. Then, in nineteen-sixty-four, a new rock and roll group from England invaded America: the Beatles.
Some people say the Beatles' music shook America like an earthquake. The Beatles changed rock and roll forever. Their early songs were influenced by American rock and roll musicians, including Chuck Berry. But the Beatles looked different and sounded different from any musical group before them.
The Beatles released their first album in the United States in nineteen-sixty-four. That year, all of the top five records in America were by the Beatles.
In nineteen-sixty-seven, they released an album called "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." It was one of the first "concept" albums. That is, all the songs were linked by a common story or idea. Here is the title song from that album.
The popularity of the Beatles led the way for more rock and roll bands from England to become popular in America. The Rolling Stones was the most important of these bands. The Rolling Stones is one of the few groups from the nineteen-sixties that is still performing and recording today. In nineteen-sixty-five, the group recorded one of its most famous songs, "Satisfaction."
The musical instrument most linked to rock and roll is the guitar. Experts say Jimi Hendrix was one of the most influential guitar players in rock and roll during the late nineteen-sixties. He made electric guitar music more expressive by creating new sounds on the instrument. Here is Jimi Hendrix playing "Purple Haze."
By the nineteen-seventies, rock and roll music became known as rock music. It expanded into many new forms. For example, there was country rock, hard rock, acid rock, and heavy metal rock. Punk rock, jazz rock, and glitter rock.
Rock music became a bigger business than ever. It was the most popular music in America's music industry.
In the middle nineteen-seventies, experts say rock music regained some of the energy of early rock and roll. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band became popular with their album "Born to Run."
Springsteen's music was like the lively rock and roll music of the early nineteen-sixties. Many of his songs were about social issues. He sang about the effects of unemployment and the war in Vietnam. Here, he sings "Born to Run."
A new kind of music, called rap music, became popular in the nineteen-eighties. It developed from the culture of young African Americans in big cities. Rap songs are spoken over the sounds of electronic rhythms.
Rap artists express the concerns of young African Americans in their songs. However, some people have denounced rap music that is about sex and violence.
During the nineteen-eighties, many rock performers began to show their music in short films called music videos. These videos may include music, acting, dancing, and unusual special effects. A new music network began showing these programs on cable television in America in nineteen-eighty-one. It was called the Music Television Network, or MTV. It showed rock music videos all day and all night.
Singer and dancer Michael Jackson made several very successful music videos. In nineteen-eighty-two, MTV began showing music videos from his album "Thriller." These included the video for his song "Beat It." The videos helped make "Thriller" the biggest-selling album in popular music history. And Michael Jackson became one of the most popular performers in the history of rock music. Here is his song "Beat It."
In the early nineteen-nineties, a new sound known as "grunge" became popular. Grunge bands were influenced by the hard rock, punk and heavy metal bands of the nineteen-seventies. Bands like Nirvana with Kurt Cobain came out of Seattle, Washington, in the Pacific Northwest. Here is one of Nirvana’s major hits, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Today there are new sounds, but much of rock music is still played by males for males. Women have worked hard for success in this industry. In two-thousand-one, Time magazine declared the group Sleater-Kinney “America’s Best Rock Band.” Yet radio stations rarely play their music. Sleater-Kinney is an all-female band that formed in nineteen-ninety-four. Here is Sleater-Kinney with the song “Oh.”
Rock and roll changed a lot in its first fifty years. Yet rock is still just as difficult to define. It continues to reinvent itself, and the appeal now reaches far beyond America. Today, rock is often called the music of the world.
Our program was written by Shelley Gollust and produced by Caty Weaver and Lawan Davis. I'm Ray Freeman with Rich Kleinfeldt. Listen again next week for THIS IS AMERICA, in VOA Special English.