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.