It Wasn't All Rock 'n' Roll

By Jeff Little

Rock 'n' Roll was, without a doubt, the biggest entertainment news of the 1950's. But there was other popular music in the decade.

Classic vocalists like Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Tony Bennett and Perry Como all remained popular throughout and beyond the 1950's.

And even though their overall sales would be eclipsed by rock 'n' roll in the middle of the decade, they managed to maintain a strong fan base among listeners who had no taste for "that crazy new music."

For most of us, rock 'n' roll became a blessing; a forerunner of sounds that were far more dynamic than the top-selling records of the past that now seem unbelievably bland by comparison.

But there was a price to be paid for the excitement rock 'n' roll provided (and that price was a lack of variety).

As we all know, it's the music business. And, as we all know, business people often show a profound lack of imagination.

The bigger players in the music business of the 1950's proved to be no exception as they rushed to cash-in on the next big thing and started to ignore the marketing of most everything else.

Today most songs at the top of the sales charts are either rock 'n' roll or one of its many derivatives. And even though most everyone today might find such tunes preferable to Percy Faith's Song from Moulin Rouge (#1 record of 1953), the average person would readily admit that a little variety never hurt anyone (except maybe Percy Faith).

Looking at a typical year in 1950's music sales is not unlike watching a schizophrenic moth having an epileptic seizure. For example, Billboard (one of the music industry's leading publications) reported 1955's top-selling records as:

1. CHERRY PINK AND APPLE BLOSSOM WHITE (an orchestral arrangement)

2. ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK (rock 'n' roll)

3. YELLOW ROSE OF TEXAS (a group sing)

4. AUTUMN LEAVES (a ballad)

5. UNCHAINED MELODY (a ballad)

Such a list could make a person believe that variety is a bad thing. But at least choices were available.

Also available in the 1950's was country and western music that sounded like country and western music. Unlike modern recordings in the genre, country music did not sound like twangy rock 'n' roll with a southern accent.

It also was not performed by "wanna-be-rockers" who couldn't make it in mainstream popular music due to lack of talent.

Country music of the 50's was presented, for the most part, by talented songwriters and performers. And even though mostly popular only in rural areas at the time, the genre and its performers had a profound effect on most every form of American music.

Thankfully, modern technology provides us with a much greater chance to research, find and listen to all forms of music from every era today.

We are now free to enjoy a variety that was mostly lost due to marketing moguls who began their musical homogenation process in the 50's.

As for meI'll take rock 'n' roll.

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