The American Songbook vs. Rock n Roll


The great divide in fifties music was the American Songbook – featured on each and every variety TV show, and Rock n roll featured on a few transistor radios along with the static.
Top 40 radio opened up music to all styles, though rock n roll soon became the mainstay style.
What I think is interesting is this differences between the American Songbook and Rock n roll. I’ve thought about it some and there are two things that stand out.
1. The American Songbook was a collection of great songs that any good singer could cover. There was really no definitive recording of any great song.
But rock n roll was very different. No one could do Johnny B Good but Chuck Berry. No one could do Jailhouse Rock but Elvis. and no one could do their one hit wonder, better than those that recorded it and got the big hit, and so on. When others tried to cover a rock n roll song, it just was not the same. It didn’t sound authentic.
Before rock n roll there was a very popular tv show called “Your Hit Parade, that began on radio and ran on tv from 1950-1959. A cast of singers sang the big hits of the day. But the shows downfall was that the cast could sing the American Songbook with a their big band arrangement behind them, and sound fine; but, when they began trying to imitate the Rock n Roll hits, with a big band, it sounded ludicrous to say the least. Rock and roll was about the record as much as the songwriting. It wasn’t about songs, it was about hits.
2. Then too rock n roll was not rhythm and blues, or country, or boogie-woogie. Those were all adult styles of music with adult themes. Rock n roll was very much teen music – more simple, more passionate, and with a big beat – something that adults that grew up with the big band music, didn’t get. Many still don’t.


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