They revolutionized music as we know it, changed the way society thinks, and filled many a generation gap. These are the most revered, most significant, and most influential acts in music history. (A bold statement, we know. But we're standing by it)
It goes without saying, of course, that my decision to accept an assignment to definitively chronicle the single most important musical act of each decade since the 1950s was preposterous: Music is entirely subjective, album sales and chart accomplishments can be completely incongruent with quality, and, frankly, who am I to judge? But here we are. So, with a little trepidation and armed with a résumé referencing some 10 years of music journalism, I offer the following: a valiant attempt to present the single most important act of the decade (the easy part) and to suggest a few tracks worth checking out from some of that decade's underdogs, which you might have missed the first time around (highly debatable). Please direct counterarguments to AmericanWayMag.com (click the "voices of a Generation" button). I'm going into hiding.
1950s: Elvis Presley
It's hard to believe that before the 1950s, rock and roll as we know it today was not a part of the national psyche - nor was the concept of a rock star. Even harder to believe is that it was a hip-shaking, good ol' boy from Tupelo, Mississippi, with a hymnal-inspired swagger in his voice and a blues-laced guitar strum in his fingers, who introduced it to the masses: Elvis Aaron Presley.
When Elvis walked into the Memphis Recording Service (part of the now-legendary Sun Studio) in 1954, he was little more than a truck driver for an electric company. When he walked out that July, with a $4 ten-inch acetate carrying the songs "I Love You Because," "Blue Moon of Kentucky," and "That's All Right" in hand, he was days from becoming the world's first true rock-and-roll star - and its biggest, to this day.
Though rock and roll had begun to take shape in the beginning of the decade, it lacked sex appeal and soul. Bill Haley & His Comets are actually the ones most often credited with charting the first rock-and-roll song, "Rock Around the Clock," in 1955, but it wasn't exactly rough around the edges or sexy. In walked Elvis. His dapper looks didn't hurt, and when the world saw him shake his hips - the first blatant sexual gyrating to be seen on American televisions - women of all ages fainted and censors of all ages nearly died of shock. Below-the-waist shots of him were eventually banned from TV, lest he cause apocalyptic pandemonium and the general decline of civilization.
It's estimated that Elvis has sold more than a billion records worldwide, though no SoundScan figures nor any other reliable counting methods were available then. If anything, he's probably sold more than that. There is unequivocally no part of rock and roll today that doesn't somewhere, somehow lead back to Elvis. His songs touch our hearts to this day. They inspire everything from sweat-soaked evenings on low-slung Southern porches to gospel revivals in third world countries. There will never be anyone quite like him again. Though he died an untimely death in an unsavory manner in 1977, his rock-and-roll wake will shimmy and shake forever.
Our Signature Track: "Heartbreak Hotel"
The Underdogs: (Translation: You may or may not have heard of them; either way, they weren't as famous [or as rich] as the guy above. But they were just as cool.)
Carl Perkins, "Blue Suede Shoes"
Bill Haley & His Comets, "Crazy Man, Crazy"
Howlin' Wolf, "Wang Dang Doodle"