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1950s - A Revolutionary Decade for Popular Songs and Singers
The fifties began as a carefree musical decade of easy-to-listen-to singers, infectious arrangements, and catchy, easy-to-sing-along-with lyrics. The concinnity of singers, arrangements, and lyrics created quintessential 1950s EASY-POP music. Bill Haley & His Comets broke that mold in the summer of 1955 with Rock Around the Clock and Elvis Presley burst on the scene in 1956 when he moved from Sun Records to RCA-Victor and released his first #1 hit Heartbreak Hotel. Teen-agers began to exert their influence over popular music and they changed the direction of popular music forever.
The Transition from EASY-POP to Rock 'n' Roll
The Astonishing Variety of Popular Singers
The EASY-POP sounds of the early fifties are intertwined with the images of the song stylists—the unforgettable ‘girl singers’: Doris Day and Patti Page; and the even more popular ‘guy singers’: Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Eddie Fisher, and Frank Sinatra. In EASY-POP music the lyrics suggested a playful adolescent idealism—not a realistic depiction of the way things were, but a more optimistic vision. Historians sometimes criticize 50s EASY-POP lyrics as ‘sappy’ and ‘gushy’ but the songs were not as banal as critics claim and even if they were not provocative or stimulating, they were often clever and imaginative.
The vocal style of rock ‘n’ roll was harsh, and the instruments— guitar, bass, keyboard, and drums—dominated. The cultural impact of the louder and glitzier rock ‘n’ roll sound was so dramatic that it completely eclipsed the EASY-POP music of the early fifties. The strident and pulsating sounds of rock ‘n’ roll contradicted those of the earlier, warmer 50s EASY- POP. The lyrics were explicit, the music was loud, and the tempo was fast. The rhythm accented the ‘off beats’, the second and fourth beats,—pa-BOOM! pa-BOOM!—giving rock ‘n’ roll its pulsating beat, its sense of urgency, and its energy.
Perry Como and Elvis Presley, the McGuire Sisters and the Platters, Nat King Cole and Fats Domino, Patti Page and Harry Belafonte, shared the top spots on the charts in 1956! It was a remarkable year in music.
The king of rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis Presley had ten top-twenty records including five #1 hits in 1956. Harry Belafonte started the calypso craze, Buddy Holly introduced ‘western bop,’ the Dave Brubeck Quartet popularized jazz on college campuses, and Miles Davis formed his cool jazz quintet.