History of 20th century popular music

The order of history and how much music has evolved over the years. I will show my understanding of  how the development of popular music in the 20th century has changed, socially and politically.

The journey of music is a fascinating one; it’s path reflecting and interweaving with social, cultural, political, fashionable and technological changes.  Global music is now accessible to the masses in many ways, it can be streamed, downloaded, shared through social media, heard on radio, cd’s, via a number of smart devices etc and is an integral part of modern day life.  Music plays a significant part in the backdrop of 20th century life.  Music is so evocative of a time, place, memory or feeling.  its accessibility and use for entertainment purposes, advertising and general public use is taken for granted as it’s everywhere and so available in an advancing technological world. Its hard to imagine a time when people could go weeks without hearing any music at all, even in the 19th century you may only have heard your favorite symphony four times in your whole lifetime in the days before music could be recorded.

Development of recording and the recording industry

The acoustical era of sound is from the 1890s until 1925.   Sound recordings were made mechanically without the use of microphones or electrical amplification.  Musicians literally would play in front of a flared metal horn which caused a diaphragm to vibrate.  This then made an attached stylus to etch the sound waves onto a blank wax rotating cylinder or disc. modifications to the sound were made by changing the performer’s position relative to the horn or by using  different size horns. To play back an acoustic recording, a mechanical reproducing machine reversed the process. A needle, that would run over a cylinder made the diaphragm  vibrate and create sound waves.  (www.loc.gov/jukebox/about/acoustical-recording)

The emergence of Jazz and Blues

Jazz and Blues first emerged in the 19th century.  It was deeply rooted in African-American history when Africans were being used as slaves in South America.  The way of life for these slaves who toiled the cotton and vegetable fields singing work call and response songs this later developed the sound we now know as blues.  Also Irish workers also working the land at that time who were singing their celtic folk songs influenced the sound of these African slaves.

Towards the end of the 19th century jazz music became very popular especially with marching bands, they would also improvise over melodies which is common in jazz music. Influential jazz artists: see jazz essay.

Well known blues pioneers from the 1920s were Son House, Blind Lemon, Jefferson, Leadbelly, Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson.

the 1920s saw an explosion of recording music at a time when prohibition had A firm grip throughout the United States and everyone was looking for ways to have a good time, entertainment boomed and popular blues themes were adapted to suit fun loving audiences, gutsy, dynamic female singers became popular. Ma Rainey “sang the blues like it had never been sung before” and popularized for the first time blues as the 12 bar format. Towards the end of the classic blues period some blues guitarists took to accompanying female Singers. In the eastern states dance halls and clubs provided the entertainment, Allowing blues and jazz musicians performance space aimed at their own culture.

No single person invented the blues, but W.C. Handy insisted that the blues were revealed to him in 1903 by an itinerant street guitarist at a train station in Tutwiler, Mississippi.

Unlike jazz, the blues didn’t spread out from the South to the Midwest until the 1930s and ’40s. Once the Delta blues made their way up the Mississippi to urban areas, the music evolved into electrified Chicago blues, other regional blues styles, and various jazz-blues hybrids. A decade or so later the blues gave birth to rhythm ‘n blues and rock ‘n roll ()

Rock and roll in 1950’s 

“Rock ‘n’ roll music it was the single thing that was able to reach down communicate and give you a sense of the world outside” – Bruce Springsteen 
End of World War II was was a time of great economic prosperity.Early 1950s popular music belong to the of wholesome white performers such as Doris Day and Gail storm. Songs they sang were designed to be as innocent and inoffensive as possible music that reflected the taste of the growing white middle-class.
Gradually records by top black artists started showing on jukeboxes wear white kids congregate. Eventually a few white DJs began playing rhythm and blues records specifically for A teenage audience some using the term rock ‘n’ roll to hide its black origin. They would play a lot of black vocal harmony groups but rather than promote these unknown groups The record companies found that they could sell more records if they rerecorded the songs by established white groups.The singer took most of the flack for this grubby business was Pat Boone a devout Christian in his 20s who tamed some of the wildest rock ‘n’ roll hits “ain’t that a shame”, “longtail Sally” and “tutti-frutti” from all mainstream largely white audience.
Time had come for a performer who could adapt rhythm and blues without losing its vitality. in 1952 small time country-western guy called “Bill Hayley”  began playing a curious mixture of rhythm and blues and country swing, this new music soon attracted an enthusiastic following up and down the new Jersey Shore. His song “Rock around the clock” was just a moderate success when it first was released in 1954 but was chose as the theme song for the film backboard jungle, not only made the song the years biggest hit but catapulted Bill Haley and rock ‘n’ roll to national attention. “It had given kids everywhere and music that spoke their language”.
In Spite of the growing acceptance of rhythm and blues, cover versions White artist still dominated. Fats domino’s New Orleans classic sound of piano and sax was rearranged to offer white kids and easy step into the world of black music. Before this black artists had been kept on special on blues charts and their records only released by small independent companies, fats was one of the first to crossover with his song “ain’t that a shame” .
 Some southern musicians began to incorporate the blues with their country sound one of them was the 18-year-old Memphis truck driver Elvis Presley, growing up he had heard the blues on Memphis front porches. his first record “that’s alright” began climbing the charts by creating music extremely different to what the world was used to.”no one has had the pop culture impact of Elvis Presley. adults didn’t get him at all. He invented him self, a true modernist drawing on the best of everything that surrounded him, and making it new”.
 The rock and roll culture was seen as a rebellion by many adults. Adults were not used to the modern, free, rebelious style of rock and roll as they had grown up in a much different era  “The obscenity and vulgarity of the rock ‘n’ roll music is obviously a means by which the white man and his children can be driven to the level of the nigger” – anonymous man from the documentary this is Elvis. Now teenagers had a new found attitude, they were getting jobs and being independent.  This allowed them to purchase films and any genre of music they wanted to. This changed the way people started to dress and also there attitudes as they were inspired by their Rock’n’Roll icons and actors such as Elvis Presley and James dean.The Image of young leather jacket and pompadour on bikes or scooters identified the style of a naive rebellious teen of that era.

During the 1950’s the civil rights movement was at its peak, and as Martin Luther King was a very big public figure at this time, once the war ended it was decided that black people and white people should be treated as equals. During this time the development of the rock sound continued to increase with the music getting louder and live performances more popular. Artists such as Elvis are known to have benefited massively from the black culture of music as he was inspired to create music based from rhythm and blues which was popularly performed by African Americans. I feel as though rock and roll continued to become more and more exciting and evolved more throughout the decade. In the 1950’s Elvis Presley was at his peak; Also at this time, politically Martin Luther King was at the forefront of the Civil rights movements. Many black musicians encompassed politically motivated lyrics into their music to comment on inequality issues and issues that black people faced at that time; Up to the mid 1950’s black artists had sold miniscule amounts of their recorded music relative to the national market potential.  Black songwriters had mostly limited horizons.  But after Presley purchased the music of black american artists such as Otis Blackwell, the industry underwent a dramatic change.   Also at this time other black musicians were emerging; one of these musicians was James Brown, Brown became notable for songs of social commentary, including the 1968 hit “I’m black and proud”, this Africanised approach to music making, influenced the development of funk music. he was a larger than life character, whose shows were equally focused on the theatrical performance as well as the music itself.This approach to music became embedded in the progression of rock, seeing music getting louder and live performances more popular.

The 1960’s and the development of Rock music

The 1960’s were a time of upheaval in society, fashion, attitudes and especially music. Before 1963, the music of the sixties still reflected the sound, style and beliefs of the previous decade and many of the hit records were by artists who had found mainstream success in the 1950s, n 1963 and the years to follow, a number of social influences changed what popular music was and gave birth to the diversity that we experience with music today.

The assassination of President Kennedy, the escalation of the war in Vietnam and the forward-progress of the Civil Rights Movement all greatly impacted the mood of American culture and the music began to reflect that change. The “British Invasion” also began around 1963 with the arrival of The Beatles on the music scene and the type of fandom that followed them would change the way people would view and interact with music and musicians forever.

education reforms at the end of the Second World War meant that many more school leavers went on to higher education. In 1961 to 1962 things started to move in America; record labels like Motown broke down race barriers by selling black artist to a mass white audience was mirrored in politics as The civil rights movement  put segregation on the political agenda.

he change in British culture can be seen by the way the Beatles image changed just between their formation in 1960 and the global breakthrough in 1963. In the beginning they supported greasy Quiffs, leather jackets and heavy duty Jeans with turn-ups it was a style most definitely looking back to the 50s rather than towards the 60s. Where as in 1963 the grease had been washed out and replaced by soft and mopped hair cuts . The rocky form of denim and leather was gone and in its place smart suits with a sharpe more modern look.Overnight they had gone from brooding rockers to  mods.

The 60s was a time for racial equality had finally come, President Lyndon Johnson was flooded with success from passage of the Civil Rights act.

Drugs were big in the sixtys, they were’t seen in the negative light they are in now. A large number of bands used this topic as a subect for their writing. there was also a mass of sexual encounters as the birth control Pill enabled people to have sex without fear of pregnancy, Homo Sexuality became legal and Censorship ended in the theatre .

In 1960 Britain was ruled by a Conservative government and American pop music dominated youth culture the Beatles were at the heart of this transformation became a symbol for the decade,

when he was in school, John Lennon was a rebelious character, bunking off school whenever he could seeking out the new music that was coming into the country from America. The music he was listening to was all about the dramatization of being a teenager, this was brought in particularly by Elvis.. British pop music began with skiffle, A curious mix of improvised instruments and music such as folk jazz and most importantly American rock ‘n’ roll. Lonnie Donegan combined the excitement of rock ‘n’ roll with skiffle and became the first British pop Idol, Hundreds of teenagers up and down the country were inspired to pick up the wash board.

Heavy metal

In the 1970’s heavy metal was introduced by Black Sabbath who created a new style of music influenced by extreme rock and horror movie music. The music mainly consisted of powerchords into long phrases which gave the music a dark, dense and morbid atmosphere.    Progressive rock like Jethro toll and king Crimson and apocalyptic rock like The Doors influenced  this new music.   The term heavy metal refers to both the genre as a whole and sub-genre of the first wave of 1970s metal music.  Heavy metal shortened the long power cord riffs of black sabbath and instead used the rock influenced riffing, melodic lead picked fills and harmonised guitars to produce a similar sense of structured riff without having to use full phrasal riffs that require the music to move a slower pace.      The first heavy metal bands including Black Sabbath, Led Zepplin and deep purple attracted large audiences. In the mid-1970s    Judas Priest helped spur the genre’s evolution by removing much of its blues influence and it was Motorhead  who brought a punk rock feeling with an emphasis on speed.

Jazz Fusion

Jazz Fusion is a subgenre of Jazz music; It is arguably the most inventive and experimental form of jazz.

Jazz Fusion is a mixture of jazz improvisation with the power and rhythms of rock, blending together other elements of R&B, funk, psychedelic and classical music. it typically encompasses the amplification and electronic effects of rock music.Complex time signatures extended, are also a common feature of Jazz Fusion.

Jazz fusion grew in popularity in the 1970s with many of the best jazz fusions artists rising to prominence during this time. Up until around 1967, the worlds of jazz and rock were very much separate entities on the musical spectrum. But as rock became more creative and the jazz world became less exclusive, the two different genres began to combine forces. By the early ’70s, fusion had its own separate identity as a creative jazz style. The roots of jazz rock/ fusion can be traced back to-jazz artists such as Miles Davis, who was one of the most influential Jazz artists of the 20th Century. Davis was an American jazz musician, trumpeter, bandleader, and composer. Davis was the first jazz musician of the post-hippie era to incorporate rock rhythms, and his influence on others, in both jazz and rock, encouraged a whole spectrum of subsequent experiments.


During the 1950’s soul music originated in the United States, this genre combines rhythm and blues and gospel music. It has great emphasis on vocalists and melodies.  Today soul singers are often considered  to be the backbone of the modern music movement.    Labels such as Stax, Motown and Atlantic Records played an important role in shaping the music business. Sam cook, Ray Charles and James Brown are considered the earliest pioneers of soul music. Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder,  Al Green, and Marvin Gaye are also very influential soul artists.  Ray Charles song “I’ve got a woman” merged rock ‘n’ roll blues and Gospel together developing  a whole new style of music.


Funk music was created mostly by James Brown in the 1960s. The accent on the beat is on the one on the three (of four) counts. Unlike most soul music which was based around melodies, the basic idea of a funk was to create a strong Groove. Songs were simpler and more repetitive as the emphasis was always on the rhythm and the baseline and often and lasted much longer than the usual three or four minutes for a pop song. Heavy baseline was frequent characteristic of a funk and guitars and horns would be used to create a percussive effect. With James Brown as an inspiration vocals were often more raw on earth they then soul or R&B. That upbeat sound of funk time at a time when African Americans were feeling a new feeling of empowerment. By the late 1960s the times of the Civil Rights movement were beginning to be realised and the sections of the movement had became more militant. This sense of empowerment is reflected back in the music of James Brown and the early Funk pioneers.

Hip Hop

The evolution of Funk, R&B and soul is Hip Hop .originating in the early 1970s hiphop was a style of music that came out of the New York ghetto’s.  Hip-hop,  was a produced by extracting rhythms and melodies from existing records and mixing them up with  poetry about their lives focussing on sex, drugs and violence.  Television  and a many  Hollywood movies, helped hip-hop gain millions of fans across America.  It soon spread far and wide all over the world. Today it is one of the most potent and successful musical forms of the 20th Century.  “Hip-hop is the voice of a generation that refused to be silenced by urban poverty, a phenomenon fueled with passion and truth it could not help but reach the entire world.”


Punk Rock was originally used to describe the garage musicians of the ’60’s. One such garage band was the Sonics. The Sonics were an American Garage-Rock band from Washington, who played a mixture of garage standards and rock’n’roll, alongside their own songs. The sound was raw, loud and brash; the Sonic’s were playing out with “no musical or vocal instruction, and often limited skill”, www.sonicscoop.com/…/the-sonics
The Sonics produced a raw and arguably crude sound, an early pioneering sound now greatly associated with Punk. Other elements of Punk were also recognisable in these early sounds; “They played simply structured songs hard and fast- tracks”, such as ‘Louie Louie’ and ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’, “The Sonics in their inspired amateurism came up with something more memorable than their competent contemporary”. citybeat.com/cincinnati/article-32611-hooked_on_sonics.htm
“Driven by Gerry Roslie’s fearsome howl, Larry Parypa’s distortion-heavy guitar work and Rob Lind’s squalling sax, the band delivered a brutal, propulsive sound with a swaggering, primal attitude to match”. https://www.facebook.com/The.Original.Sonics/app_178091127385
Their musical individuality amalgamated to form a unique sound; by taking rock ‘n’ roll to the edge, the Sonics helped to lay the groundwork for punk decades before the genre existed.

Leading on from the Sonics came other bands with a unique and raw sound similar to that of their Garage based predecessors. One of these bands was the Velvet Underground. The Velvet Underground, were an American rock band that came onto the music scene in the early 60’s. The Velvet underground were heavily influenced by the contemporary art movement scenes of the time via their involvement with Andy Warhol, Pop Artist and his contemporaries; as a result the band were very experimental in their approach to music, like that of the experimental art movements of that time. “This band was producing music that often bordered on noise. They were expanding the definitions of music without even realizing it”. punkmusic.about.com.
The often provocative subject matter around real-life hardships and rebellious attitudes appealed to their young contemporaries and underground youthful music scene.
The experimental approach explored in their music was to prove massively influential in the development of punk rock and alternative music. Although never commercial or main stream successful, the Velvet undergrounds hard edged, raw sound, experimental approach and would prove very influential in the development and growth of punk music and in the defining of its hard edged sound.
Iggy Pop was another influential figure in the journey of punk music; Iggy Pop was an America musician, known for his wild and dangerous stage antics. Iggy experimented with different types of music forming the band the Stooges in the late 60’s. Like the Velvet Underground, the Stooges music was experimental and aggressive. Iggy’s performances were very engaging, visual and wild. Iggy, like the Velvet Underground sang about real life issues; Iggy sang about drug addiction, alcoholism and the chaotic life that he lived as a result of his addictions. Iggy Pop and the Stooges were “raw, crude and often political”. Their concerts were often violent affairs which grabbed headlines, bringing the eyes of the musical world to a type of new music.
In New York, in the 70’s the first concrete punk rock scene was taking shape. Bands like the Ramones, Wayne County, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers were emerging.
The first band to emerge on this budding Punk Scene with a recognisable Punk Rock attitude were the New York Dolls. The New York Dolls, were both outrageous in their dress sense and in their antics and attitude. Their outrageous dress sense was influenced by the glam rock scene; “Building on the Rolling Stones’ dirty rock & roll, Mick Jagger’s androgyny, girl group pop, the Stooges’ anarchic noise, and the glam rock of David Bowie and T. Rex, the New York Dolls created a new form of hard rock that presaged punk rock”. https://itunes.apple.com/gb/artist/new-york-dolls/id81689
Punk remained mainly an underground scene until 1976, until two bands, The Sex Pistols and The Ramones made the outside world take notice.
The Ramones were an American band who are often credited with giving punk music its sound. “The Ramones helped invent punk rock by mastering a simple but extremely effective sound a combination of speedy grooves, sing-along tunes and deadpan lyrics that achieved a kind of boneheaded genius. The sound influenced thousands of bands, and proved so durable that the Ramones more or less stuck to it for their entire career”. http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/the-ramones/biography
The Sex Pistols, a UK Punk band defined and redefined American punk influences to become the most influential Punk Band of that generation. The Sex Pistols appealed to the disaffected youth of the time, who mistrusted politicians and figures of authority. Their hard edged, loud, brash sound, anarchist lyrics and outrageous behavior brought the Pistols to the forefront of music at that time and made them a national sensation. By the summer of 1976 the Sex Pistols had amassed a fan base whose concerts were legendary for their anarchic behavior.
“The Sex Pistols appealed to a young disillusioned teenage generation who were looking for an escape from the boredom and constraints of society, with unemployment, racial tensions and social upheaval providing fuel for their fires”. www.theguardian.com › Arts › Music › Sex Pistols
The Sex pistols only ever made one studio Album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols; however during their peak and in their wake they generated a whole culture of their own in terms of image style and attitude. The Sex Pistols had a great influence on emerging bands such as the Clash to Siouxsie and the Banshees. www.theguardian.com
The Sex Pistols initiated a punk movement in the United Kingdom, and inspired many later punk and alternative rock musicians from their look to their lyrics to their music; they were original and exciting with an extreme and raw sound which made them appeal to a disaffected generation of that time.


In the 1980s, Indie  emerged from post punk, new wave and alternative music released on the late 1970s UK independent labels.   It  ranged from  dark, heavy, intense sounds of bands such as Joy division to the update electro pop from depeshe mode.

In the mid 80s Manchester band The Smiths came to exemplify indie music both musically and culturally. Morrissey the lead singer wrote observational experimental and socio-political lyrics were delivered in a deadpan poetic way over the multi texted, tremolo and reverb sounds of his guitarist Johnny Marr. The complete opposite to superficial major-label manufactured pop of the time.

Indie was at it’s peak during  the 90’s. Blur, Pulp and particularly Oasis were all very popular bands dispite their independent roots they managed to achieve global success. Oasis alone sold more than 70 million albums. Post-Britpop, major labels viewed indie as viable music for the commercial mainstream. (     )

Indie music is still a very popular genre in current times. From he stripped-back, lo-fi production indie-folk sub genre heard in the music of bands such as Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver. to the more typical abrasive indie bands like Arctic Monkeys and arcade fire.Today, indie music is very popular in the festival environment

Basically the ethos behind Indie is a general resistance to popular and mainstream culture, evoking realism, independence and authenticity.

New wave

New wave was a form of rock music that became  popular in the 1980s. It originated in the late 70s and lasted until around 1990.  The sounds are all very electronic using synthesizers and other keyed instruments. It was a kind of mixture of pop music and  punk music.  By the early 80s new wave described nearly every new pop/rock artists especially those that used synthesisers for example the human league and Duran Duran.


Dance music’s most well-known genre is house music this originated in the early 1980s in Chicago. By 1988 house music exploded in the west with acid house becoming increasingly popular.there was a warehouse party subculture based around this music,the music at these parties was predominantly house, during this period MDMA gained its prominence for being a party drug. Within a year up to 10,000 people at a time where attending commercially organised mass raves. Emergence of Digital Technology

Technological developments

Music industry has always been at the forefront of technological developments, in our current technology there are many advantages but also disadvantages to the technology we have. Current technologies such as streaming and downloading has allowed us easy and free access to songs, artists and albums and helped people discover new artist that wouldn’t necessarily have been discovered. However due to the fact it is so easily accessible especially with sites like YouTube it is harder for people in the music industry to make money.
It also makes it easier for people to make music themselves without having to go out and spend lots of money on a recording studio, they could just spend that money on equipment to do it themselves. This also allows them to learn new skills by working with these tools.
New technology’s have made a huge difference in the actual quality of the sound of music being produced with these advances in technology musicians no longer have to rely on their instruments sounding perfect or amazing as there are machines to correct that however when it comes to live performance people may be let down as they have a false idea of what that musician can do.
This project has given me a more in-depth insight into music genres and I have a better understanding of how music has developed throughout the eras affected by human, social, cultural, political situations combined with technological advancements.  For me personally my favourite genre was the music of the 1960’s, in particular The Beatles because they influenced so many others musicians.    However, when it comes to the music that I personally like to perform it’s is the sassy sound of soul that inspires me.





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