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The History of Popular Music

Course Content

Rock and R&B (Rhythm & Blues) are still some of the most popular forms of music enjoyed by teenagers today. A look at the origins of these styles provides students with an appreciation of their favorite music. A research project into the early pioneers of rock and R&B allows students to choose artists in whom they are interested in order to learn more about their lives and influence in the music industry.

1937 - Bluegrass


A style of American country music that grew in the 1940s from the music of Bill Monroe and his group the Blue Grass Boys. It combines elements of dance, home entertainment and religious folk music of the south-eastern highlands. Bands have four to seven singers, who accompany themselves on acoustic string instruments. The repertory includes traditional folksongs and newly composed pieces. In the 1970s, ‘newgrass’ groups combined bluegrass style with rock songs and techniques.

 Representative composers and performers: 

1911 - 1996 Bill Monroe  

1988 - 2006 Bela Fleck And The Flecktones

1940 - 1960 Doo-Wop

Doo-wop is a style of vocal-based rhythm and blues music, which developed in African-American communities in the 1940s and which achieved mainstream popularity in the 1950s and early 1960s. An African-American vocal style known as doo-wop emerged from the streets of northeastern and industrial Midwest cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. With its smooth, consonant vocal harmonies, doo-wop was one of the most mainstream, pop-oriented R&B styles of the 1950s and 1960s. 


 Representative composers and performers: 

1953 - The Platters


1940 – Country

An American style of popular music, developed from the folk music of the rural southern USA and first known as Hillbilly music. Until the 1920s it was performed largely at home, in church or at local functions, on fiddles, banjos and guitars. Later it developed towards a commercial industry, with local radio and gramophone cultivation of such artists as Fiddlin′ John Carson, Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. After World War II, Nashville became the centre of country music, and exponents like Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams became internationally known. The style broadened, with a fusion of south-western and south-eastern elements, to encompass other types of popular music in the 1960s and 1970s and became less regionally based. More recent performers include Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. The subject matter for country songs has continued to be mother and home, the rambling man, prison, hard work, love and religion.

 Representative composers and performers: 

1928 - 2003 Dave Dudley

1932 - 2003 Johnny Cash

1950 - R&B

Rhythm and blues, often abbreviated to R&B, is a genre of popular African American music that originated in the 1940s. The term was originally used by record companies to describe recordings marketed predominantly to urban African Americans, at a time when "urbane, rocking, jazz based music with a heavy, insistent beat" was becoming more popular. The term has subsequently had a number of shifts in meaning. In the early 1950s and beyond, the term rhythm and blues was frequently applied to blues records. Starting in the 1950s, after this style of music contributed to the development of rock and roll, the term "R&B" became used to refer to music styles that developed from and incorporated electric blues, as well as gospel and soul music. By the 1970s, rhythm and blues was used as a blanket term for soul and funk. In the 1980s, a newer style of R&B developed, becoming known as contemporary R&B.

 Representative composers and performers: 

1930 -  2004 Ray Charles

1950 - Stevie Wonder

1963 - 2012 Whitney Houston

1950 - Rock'n Roll

Rock and roll (often written as rock & roll or rock 'n' roll) is a genre of popular music that originated and evolved in the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s, primarily from a combination of the blues, country music and gospel music. Though elements of rock and roll can be heard in country records of the 1930s, and in blues records from the 1920s, rock and roll did not acquire its name until the 1950s. An early form of rock and roll was rockabilly, which combined country and jazz with influences from traditional Appalachian folk music and gospel

 Representative composers and performers: 

1935 - 1977 Elvis Presley

1926 -  Chuck Berry

1932 - Little Richard

1935 - Jerry Lee Lewis

1953 - 1958 Rockabilly

Rockabilly is one of the earliest styles of rock and roll music, and emerged in the early 1950s. The term rockabilly is a portmanteau of rock (from rock 'n' roll) and hillbilly, the latter a reference to the country music (often called hillbilly music in the 1940s and 1950s) that contributed strongly to the style's development. Other important influences on rockabilly include western swing, boogie woogie, and rhythm and blues. While there are notable exceptions, its origins lie primarily in the Southern United States. The influence and popularity of the style waned in the 1960s, but during the late 1970s and early 1980s, rockabilly enjoyed a major revival of popularity that has endured to the present, often within a rockabilly subculture.


 Representative composers and performers: 


1932 - 1998 Carl Lee Perkins

1957 - Everly Brothers

1959 - 1998 Motown

This label once made the Motor City a music Mecca. No longer located in Detroit, Motown Records (which also does business as Universal Motown Records Group) is one of the best-known R&B record labels in the world, with a back catalog that includes such legends as the Commodores, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, the Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson, and the Supremes. The label continues charting new R&B territory with such current artists as Erykah Badu, Brian McKnight, Kem, Q-Tip, and Stevie Wonder. Founded in 1959 as Tamla Records by Berry Gordy Jr., Motown operates today as part of Universal Music Group.

The characteristics of Motown are:

  • dotted crotchet-quaver bass rhythms

  • use of chord III with sharpened third as secondary dominant in major keys

  • orchestral arrangements featuring high horn section and scalic strings

  • drum backbeat

  • abundant repetition of lyrics

 Representative composers and performers: 

1944 - Diana Ross

1960 – 1965 Twist

A rock dance of the 1960s, the first of the rock dance-songs. Originally danced to a song of the same name, it is in a fast, pounding, evenly stressed 4/4 metre; the partners dance without contact, rotating their hips.

 Representative composers and performers: 

1940 - Joey Dee

1960 - 1964 Surf

Surf music is a genre of popular music associated with surf culture, particularly Orange County and other areas of Southern California. It was particularly popular between 1961 and 1965, has subsequently been revived and was highly influential on subsequent rock music. It has two major forms: largely instrumental surf rock, with an electric guitar or saxophone playing the main melody, pioneered by acts such as Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, and vocal surf pop, including both surf ballads and dance music, often with strong harmonies that are most associated with The Beach Boys. Many notable surf bands have been equally noted for both surf instrumental and surf pop music, so surf music is generally considered as a single genre despite the variety of these styles.

 Representative composers and performers: 

1961 -  Beach Boys

1960 – 1970 Beat

Beat music, British beat, or Merseybeat (for bands from Liverpool beside the River Mersey), is a pop music genre that developed in the United Kingdom in the early 1960s. Beat music is a fusion of rock and roll, doo wop, skiffle, R&B and soul. The beat movement provided most of the bands responsible for the British invasion of the American pop charts in the period after 1964, and provided the model for many important developments in pop and rock music. Beat groups characteristically had simple guitar-dominated line-ups, with vocal harmonies and catchy tunes. The most common instrumentation of beat groups featured lead, rhythm and bass guitars plus drums, as popularized by The Beatles, The Searchers, Gerry & The Pacemakers and others. Beat groups - even those with a separate lead singer - often sang both verses and choruses in close harmony, resembling doo wop, with nonsense syllables in the backing vocals. The most distinctive characteristic of the music was the strong beat, using the backbeat common to rock and roll and rhythm and blues, but often with a driving emphasis on all the beats of 4/4 bar.

 Representative composers and performers: 

1956 - 1970 The Beatles

1961 - Rolling Stones

1960 – Bluesrock

Blues-rock is a hybrid musical genre combining bluesy improvisations over the 12-bar blues and extended boogie jams with rock and roll styles. The core of the blues rock sound is created by the electric guitar, bass guitar and drum kit, with the electric guitar usually amplified through a tube guitar amplifier, giving it an overdriven character. While the early blues-rock bands "attempted to play long, involved improvisations which were commonplace on jazz records", by the 1970s, blues rock got heavier and more riff-based. By the "early '70s, the lines between blues-rock and hard rock were barely visible", as bands began recording rock-style albums. In the 1980s and 1990s, blues-rock acts returned to their bluesy roots.

 Representative composers and performers: 

1944 - Joe Cocker

1952 - Gary Moore

1951 - Robin Ford

1960 - Latin Rock

Latin America has produced a variety of genres born at the crossroads of European folk music, African music and native traditions. While not as popular as the popular music of the USA (also born out of the integration of European music and African music), Latin American genres shares the same characters that made it a universal kone'.

 Representative composers and performers: 

1947 - Carlos Santana

1977 – Shakira

1960 – Phillysoul

Philadelphia (or Philly) soul, sometimes called the Philadelphia Sound or Sweet Philly, is a style of soul music characterized by funk influences and lush instrumental arrangements, often featuring sweeping strings and piercing horns. The subtle sound of a glockenspiel can often be heard in the background of Philly soul songs. The genre laid the groundwork for disco and what are now considered Quiet Storm and smooth jazz by fusing the R&B rhythm sections of the 1960s with the Pop Vocal tradition, and featuring a slightly more pronounced jazz influence in its melodic structures and arrangements.

 Representative composers and performers: 

1958 - O'Jays

1960 – Pop Music

Pop music (a term that originally derives from an abbreviation of "popular") is usually understood to be commercially recorded music, often oriented towards a youth market, usually consisting of relatively short and simple love songs and utilizing technological innovations to produce new variations on existing themes. Pop music has absorbed influences from most other forms of popular music, but as a genre is particularly associated with the rock and roll and later rock style.

 Representative composers and performers: 

1958 - 2009 Michael Jackson

1958 - Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone 

1951 – Sting

1969 - 1983 The Carpenters

1960 – Rock

Musical style that arose in the U.S. in the mid-1950s and became the dominant form of popular music in the world. Though rock has used a wide variety of instruments, its basic elements are one or several vocalists, heavily amplified electric guitars (including bass, rhythm, and lead), and drums. Its roots lay principally in rhythm and blues (R&B) and country music. Both R&B and country existed outside the mainstream of popular music in the early 1950s, when the Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed (1921 – 65) and others began programming R&B, which until then had been played only to black audiences. Freed's success gave currency to the term rock and roll.

 Representative composers and performers: 

1949 - Bruce Springsteen

1964 - The Who

1965 - 1973 The Doors 

1970 - 1991 Queen

1960 - Progressive Rock

The characteristics of Progressive Rock are:-

  • avoids common popular music song structures of verse-chorus-bridge, 

  • blurs the formal distinctions by extending sections or inserting musical interludes

  • often with exaggerated dynamics to heighten the contrast between sections

  • extended instrumental passages, marrying the classical solo tradition with the improvisational traditions of jazz and psychedelic rock. 

  • add length to progressive rock music pieces, which may last longer than twenty minutes and are usually not "songs", but musical works that have a lot more in common with more established musical concepts.

 Representative composers and performers: 

1967 - Genesis - Peter Gabriel

1965 - Psychadelic Rock

Psychedelic rock is a style of rock music that is inspired or influenced by psychedelic culture and attempts to replicate and enhance the mind-altering experiences of psychedelic drugs. It emerged during the mid 1960s among folk rock and blues-rock bands in United States and Britain. It often used new recording techniques and effects and drew on non-Western sources such the ragas and drones of Indian music. Psychedelic rock bridged the transition from early blues- and folk music-based rock to progressive rock, glam rock, hard rock and as a result influenced the development of sub-genres such as heavy metal. Since the late 1970s it has been revived in various forms of neo-psychedelia.


The characteristics of Psychadelic Rock include:

  • Inspired by drug-related experiences.

  • Loud sounds, 

  • Distortion, strange sounds, 

  • Bizarre electronic effects to mimic 

  • The experience of LSD or marijuana.

  • Lengthy, improvised.

 Representative composers and performers: 

1964 - Pink Floyd

1967 - 1969 - Flower Power

Flower power was a slogan used by the American counterculture movement during the late 1960s and early 1970s as a symbol of passive resistance and non-violence ideology. It is rooted in the opposition movement to the Vietnam War. The expression was coined by the American Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in 1965 as a means to transform war protests into peaceful affirmative spectacles. Hippies embraced the symbolism by dressing in clothing with embroidered flowers and vibrant colors, wearing flowers in their hair, and distributing flowers to the public, becoming known as flower children. The term later became generalized as a modern reference to the hippie movement and a culture of drugs, psychedelic music, psychedelic art and social permissivenes.

 Representative composers and performers: 

1941 - Bob Dylan - Robert Allen Zimmerman

1941 - Joan Baez

1943 - 1970 Janis Joplin

1968 - Heavy Metal - Hard Rock

Type of rock music marked by highly amplified, distorted "power chords" on electric guitar, a hard beat, thumping bass, and often dark lyrics. It evolved in Britain and the U.S.

The characteristics of Heavy Metal are:

  • Characterised by white teenage

  • males, macho image ('cock rock'). 

  • Female equivalent bands - 'frock rock'

  • Distorted guitar-based music, usually fats and riffbased. Focus upon guitar and drummer performing skills (lengthy solos).

  • Upper tenor registers for vocals, often screams and shouts.

in the late 1960s from the heavy, blues-oriented music of Steppenwolf, Jimi Hendrix, and others. In the 1970s the genre was defined by the music of bands such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Kiss, AC/DC, and Aerosmith. After a period of decline, a new generation of bands such as Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Mötley Crüe, and Van Halen revived heavy metal in the 1980s, along with the careers of many of its pioneers, including Ozzy Osbourne of Black Sabbath.

 Representative composers and performers: 

1942 - 1970 Jimmy Hendrix 

1968 - 1980 Led Zeppelin

1968 - Deep Purple

1987 - 1994 Nirvana

1995 - Rammstein

1969 – Woodstock

Rock music festival held near Bethel, N.Y., U.S. (its site was to have been the nearby town of Woodstock), on Aug. 15 – 17, 1969. It attracted about 450,000 young rock fans and featured performers such as the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, the Who, and Janis Joplin. The festival, the participants of which exhibited extraordinary good feeling in the face of rain and organizational chaos, marked the high point of U.S. youth counterculture in the 1960s. It was documented in the film Woodstock (1970). The festival was revived with mixed success on its 25th and 30th anniversaries.

 Representative composers and performers: 

1942 - 1970 Jimmy Hendrix 

1943 - 1970 Janis Joplin

1970 - Country Rock

Country rock is sub-genre of popular music, formed from the fusion of rock with country. The term is generally used to refer to the wave of rock musicians who began to record country-flavored records in the late 1960s and early 1970s, beginning with Bob Dylan and The Byrds; reaching its greatest popularity in the 1970s with artists like Emmylou Harris and the Eagles; continuing with cult status and occasional mainstream success to the present day.

 Representative composers and performers: 

1969 - The Doobie Brothers

1970 – Eagles

1970 - 1980 Symphonic Rock

Symphonic rock is a sub-genre of progressive rock. Since early in progressive rock's history, the term has been used sometimes to distinguish more classically influenced progressive rock from the more psychedelic and experimental sorts. Symphonic rock can be described as combining of progressive rock with classical music traditions. Some artists perform rock arrangements of themes from classical music or compose original pieces in classical composition structures. Additionally, they may play with the accompaniment of a symphony, orchestra or use a synthesiser or mellotron to emulate orchestral instruments. 

 Representative composers and performers: 

1970 - Electric Light Orchestra

1970 – Punk

Aggressive form of rock music that coalesced into an international movement in 1975 – 80. Originating in the countercultural rock of artists such as the Velvet Underground and Iggy (Pop) and the Stooges, punk rock evolved in New York City in the mid-1970s with artists such as Patti Smith and the Ramones. It soon took root in London — where distinctly "punk" fashions, including spiked hair and ripped clothing, were popularized — with bands such as the Sex Pistols and the Clash, and later in California, with X, Black Flag, and the Dead Kennedys. 


The characteristics of Punk are:

  • fast, aggressive beat

  • loud guitar with abrupt chord changes

  • nihilistic lyrics. 

 Representative composers and performers: 

1975 - 1978 Sex Pistols

1970 - Singer-Songwriter

A singer-songwriter is a musician who writes, composes and sings their own material including lyrics and melodies. They often provide the sole accompaniment to an entire composition or song, typically using a guitar or piano. A number of other well-known musicians may write some of their own songs, but are usually called singers instead

 Representative composers and performers: 

1949 - Billie Joel

964 - Tracy Chapman

1984 - Olly Murs

1970 Southern Rock


Southern rock is a subgenre of rock music, and genre of Americana. It developed in the Southern United States from rock and roll, country music, and blues, and is focused generally on electric guitar and vocals. Although no one really knows where the term southern rock came from, "many people feel that these important contributors to the development of rock and roll have been minimized in rock’s history."

 Representative composers and performers: 

1967 - 1972 Creedence Clearwater Revival


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