The Rock n' Roll Revolution: From Elvis to the Beatles and Beyond

By Jack Ripley | January 10, 2024

The [Not So Beachy] Beach Boys

Rock n' roll began to flourish in the 1950s. However, many artists before then laid the foundation for the genre as we know it today. The inception of rock n' roll can be traced to rhythm and blues, gospel, and jazz music from decades prior, and in the '50s musicians began to uniquely meld sounds from other genres to create altogether new ear candy. In its infancy, rock n' roll was characterized by its high-energy, rebellious spirit paired with hard-hitting instrumentation and boundary-pushing lyrics.

From this seed grew different subsects of the rock n' roll genre, which eventually became an umbrella term for music containing a 12-bar structure as well as a guitar, bass, and drums. From its diverse uprising, rock n' roll has embraced the likes of artists who run the gamut from soulful gospel singers to pop sensations and theatrical glam rock to heavy metal headbangers. Threaded in and around each of these sub-genres of rock are artists who had a hand in revolutionizing rock n' roll. Check out some of the many musicians who lent their talents to the formation of this timeless music genre.

 

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While The Beach Boys’ music had a more wholesome feel than rockers of their time, the band was not without its fair share of rock n’ roll strife. This five-man band dealt with mental health struggles, addiction, legal troubles, and beyond. Despite all that, The Beach Boys led an illustrious career that began in 1961 and, to some extent, still pervades. The band’s music is characterized by happy-go-lucky lyrics and themes of a California beach bum lifestyle.

Some of the band’s most popular songs include “Surfin’ U.S.A,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” and “Kokomo,” all of which depict summer days and nights spent on the beach. While their music dealt with light themes, the band members dealt with some dark in-fighting; at one point, two of the members even had restraining orders against one another. Brian Wilson, one of the band’s most recognizable members, was deaf in one ear despite having keen musical insight.

Meet the Godmother of Rock: Sister Rosetta Tharpe

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This mighty musician gained traction in the '30s when she paired an electric guitar with her gospel lyrics and melodies. The unexpected sound of electrifying guitar riffs behind bible-thumping sentiments suddenly made the Lord a little more cool. Aptly nicknamed the Godmother of Rock, Tharpe created a new soundtrack for morality when social immorality began to experience an uptick that never truly leveled out.

Tharpe's wholesome, spiritual lyrics spoke to the unsavory social climate of the '30s with songs like “Strange Things Happening Everyday.” In this bop, Tharpe reminds listeners, in a very un-rock n’ roll sentiment, that God is responsible for all the wondrous and inexplicable things in our lives. Despite its wholesome message, Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s sound is characterized by gritty vocals and exhilarating guitar riffs. Interestingly, even though her message cosigned the church’s message, she wasn’t always well-received by the church, which scoffed at her unconventional gospel sound.