The most popular song in 1948 was Ballerina by Vaughn Monroe. Ten years later (1958) it was At The Hop by Danny and the Juniors. If one is looking for evidence of a seismic shift in music, that change and the decade in which it occurred is it.
We of that 1950s generation were witness to the end of the music genre of our parents and the advent of today’s music. Younger people may argue there is a vast difference in music of the late 1950s and 1960s compared to today’s music. Those differences pale in comparison with the outgoing and incoming music then. Big bands and ballads were the music from the early 1900s till that shift occurred. It was the music of those of us who grew up in the 1940s and were in our teens in the 1950s, as well as that of our parents and grandparents. The rock form of music, as best I can recall, started small, then exploded on the scene with Bill Haley and Rock Around The Clock. Nothing was the same after that.
It seemed that musical revolution was two-fold. Along with introducing rock and roll to the nation and the world, it also introduced the idea that music didn’t have to fit a single mold. Musicians were free to spread their creative wings and allow other forms of music to fill the air. And so early rock progressed, transforming itself into classic rock and heavy metal and all that came thereafter. Ballads remained but the lyrics were no longer about storybook love and simple relationships. The world of music was irreversibly altered.
I wonder if rap is to these times what the introduction of rock and roll was back then. What variations on that form of music, as much poetry based as musical, if any, will evolve over time? Perhaps it’s just a short-lived deviation in the history of music, which will become a footnote decades from now, or perhaps it is the Bill Haley of our times.
Even now, the golden oldies stations are moving beyond the music of the 1930s and 1940s to The Grateful Dead and that ilk. The definition of what is old and what is new has changed and will continue to do so as listeners grow older.
To this listener’s ears, which are growing older and older with every passing day, the music of the music of the 30s and 40s will always sound great and evoke memories of a simpler time. And some day, when the last of us pass on, perhaps someone then will sing the words of Don McLean’s American Pie one last time (slightly revised):
A long long time ago I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while
But February made me shiver with every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about the music’s slide
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.