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What Effects Did Rock and Roll Have in the 1950s?

Guitars, cars and rock and roll defined teen life in the 1950s.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Generally regarded as the first rock and roll record, "Rocket 88" reached its 60th anniversary in 2011. Featuring an 18-year-old Ike Turner on piano, it served as a musical template for the new style, and was even recorded in Sun Studios by Sam Phillips, who would make further contributions to rock in the coming days. Paving the way for wholesale cultural revolution in the 1960s, rock and roll in the '50s became the voice of adolescence.


The 1950s were an economic boom time for the United States, with manufacturing and new homes growing at record rates. The automobile solidified its cultural place, and economic prosperity was, for the first time, reflected in teen society. The word "teenager" was barely 10 years old. Allowances and discretionary spending grew. Radio stations appealed to the newly affluent youth through the draw of rock and roll. The economy was given a boost through both the growing record industry and the results of rock and roll radio advertising.


The coalescing force of rock and roll was magnified with the rise of the teen demographic that resulted from the post-World War II baby boom. The sheer number of potential fans allowed an upward spiral to begin, with more demand for rock and roll, which increased its exposure, and that in turn attracted more fans. As the teen population climbed toward the end of the decade, so did the popularity of the music.


Rock and roll as a style has origins in both white folk music and black blues. Common points of shared music began to help blur the racial lines, encouraging empathy and acceptance. Rock and roll reviews started out with black and white audience members separated by rope, but audience mixing became more common, and original "race" records found mainstream popularity over watered-down white cover versions.

Planting Seeds

Fans of rock and roll in the 1950s included many of the musicians of the '60s, who ushered in changes to music, fashion and culture 10 years later. Artists such as the Beatles were influenced by '50s rockers like Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. The Beach Boys built on the car/music alliance forged by Chuck Berry. Presley's massive popularity in the late '50s brought rock and roll into the mainstream.

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