Music for Teenagers

Earlier in the week Dave recommended a documentary about a pioneering record label, Chess Records (which still has a few days left on iPlayer; catch it if you can!). The film charts Chess Records’ role in the Blues, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Soul music of the 50s and 60s, but something that particularly caught my attention was a fleeting reference to teenagehood. This week’s genre, Rock ‘n’ Roll, is described as music that captured the imagination of the emerging teenage subculture.

It turns out that the teenage years are a relatively new thing. For most of history, civilisations all over the world have recognised two developmental stages in humans: childhood and adulthood. It wasn’t until the post-war period of increasing affluence and longer compulsory schooling that the idea of the teenager appeared to bridge the gap between the two. For the first time ever huge numbers of young people were free of the responsibility of working for a living, and had pocket money to spend. The teenager was born.

Teenagers were new and different, and they wanted to show it. What better way to express their independence than with the explosive sounds of Rock ‘n’ Roll? Rock ‘n’ Roll’s eminently danceable beats and youth-focussed lyrics were very popular, and the new found economic power of teenagers pushed Rock ‘n’ Roll records up the charts. New dances, fashions and slang (and even politics) appeared to match the music, and Rock ‘n’ Roll soon transcended tunes to become a fully fledged youth movement.

Arguably the first teenage subculture of its kind, Rock ‘n’ Roll’s influence has been immense. Since then each generation has had distinct youth movements of its own; from the punks and goths to the emos and indie kids, teenage culture is here to stay.

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3 Responses to Music for Teenagers

  1. Dave says:

    Teenagers have definitely been the driving force behind many musical movements. Punk and emo, as you said, are great examples. Sadly, for the last twenty years or so, record companies have been targeting this lucrative ‘market’, saturating it with their manufactured pop groups and talent TV shows. I find particularly disgusting the way they have taken Christmas number one (and often Christmas number two and three as well), exploiting the festive period for its commercial opportunity. It may be a long time before a Christmas song is number one.

    • Fran says:

      Hmm… not sure I agree with you there Dave. I would say that record companies have been exploiting the teenage markets for almost as long as there have been record companies. One of the things I noticed from the Chess Records documentary was the way they talked about trying to write ‘hits’ that would sell well over artistry; isn’t that exploitation? Not that exploitation is necessarily a bad thing… it gave us Rock ‘n’ Roll!

      As to Christmas number ones, you seem to be implying that Christmas songs are written out of the joy of the season, rather than being a cynical ploy to gain lucrative sales (like the X-factor?). In my opinion the vast majority of the popular-culture Christmas has been created by companies looking for a profit (don’t forget that Coca-Cola invented jolly red santa) but that doesn’t hinder my enjoyment of it!

  2. Tom the Bear says:

    Considered as background music for the awesome dancing shown in this video, this genre makes perfect sense to me. However, purely for listening to, it sounds like a quick, upbeat version of the slow, samey blues genre, but with all of the soulful charm and dynamics removed. Perhaps it’s something to do with the brevity of its audience – it just seems a bit shallow.

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