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rock music

The Late 1950s and Early 60s—Elvis, Motown, and the British Invasion

The greatest exponent of rock 'n' roll from 1956 to 1963 was Elvis Presley, a truck driver and aspiring singer from Tupelo, Miss., whose plaintive, wailing, dynamic delivery and uninhibited sexuality appealed directly to young audiences while horrifying older people. As rock 'n' roll became a financial success, record companies that had considered it a fad began to search for new singers; they generally succeeded in commercializing the music, robbing it of much of its gutsy, rebellious quality. In the late 1950s, for example, there was a fad for sentimentally morbid songs such as "Laura" and "Teen Angel."

At the turn of the decade Detroit became an important center for black singers, and a certain type of sound known as "Motown" [motor town], named for Motown Records, developed. The style is characterized by a lead singer singing an almost impressionistic melody story line to the accompaniment of elegant, tight, articulate harmonies of a backup group. Popular exponents of this style are the Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and Gladys Knight and the Pips.

Rock music again surged to popularity in 1962 with the emergence of the Beatles, a group of four long-haired lads from Liverpool, England. They were initially acclaimed for their energy and appealing individual personalities rather than for any innovations in their music, which was derived from Berry and Presley. Their popularity inevitably produced other groups with unusual names. One of the most important of these was the Rolling Stones, whose music derived from the black blues tradition. These British bands instigated a return to the blues orientation of rock 'n' roll, albeit in ever louder and more electric reincarnations.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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