The Evolution of Pop Music Industry: from The 1950s to 1970s

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1930 |

Pages: 4|

10 min read

Published: Apr 5, 2023

Words: 1930|Pages: 4|10 min read

Published: Apr 5, 2023

Table of contents

  1. The 1950s
  2. The 1960s
  3. The 1970s
  4. Conclusion

Pop music has become a ubiquitous part of our cultural landscape, dominating radio airwaves and streaming platforms alike. But where did this genre come from? How did it evolve over time to become the force it is today? In this essay, we will explore the history of pop music during 1950s-70s. By understanding the rich history of pop music, we can gain a deeper appreciation for its enduring appeal and cultural significance.

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The 1950s

From the 1950s to the 1990s, Pop music has developed drastically through each decade. Whether we say it has improved or deteriorated, we can see a clear change in the past 50 years. The most important and recognisable aspect of these changes is the evolution of technology, where we have gained inspiration in music to make something new and unheard of before.

The 1950s is where it all began, with genres such as Rock n Roll, Rhythm and Blues, Blues, Rockabilly, Country, Jazz and Swing, with the most popular being Rock N Roll in this particular decade. Rock N Roll is a type of popular dance music, characterised by a heavy beat and simple melodies. It was an amalgam of black rhythm and blues and white country music,, usually based around a 12 bar structure and an instrumentation of guitar, double bass, and drums. This decade was the beginning of not only different genres of music, but different styles of dance. The Jive was one of the key dance movements of this period. The Jive is a lively latin dance, originally created in the United States, and is known as a variation of the ‘Jitterbug’ from Swing music.

Many songs in the 1950s represent the decade, however I think there is one in particular that defines Rock N Roll music. ’Jailhouse Rock’ by Elvis Presley in 1957 was an extremely popular song due to the fast, upbeat tempo and swung rhythm (also allowing for a perfectly danced jive). It utilises the 12 bar blues, guitar distortion and the chords I, IV, V which are typical chords used in Rock N Roll music. With improvised solos, guitar and piano, and hints of country and western elements, it became a popularised song which inspired the decade. Also taken from this, is the familiar musician who everybody knows, Elvis Presley. Also known as ‘The King of Rock’, Presley was, and still is, known as the most evolutionary singer of this time. Before the 1950s, there had never been a musician more iconic than him, having his music played not only in the United States, but in Britain too.

Rock N Roll music has clearly taken hints from previous songs, for example ‘Move It On Over’ by Hank Williams in 1951 (written by Cole Porter, a jazz musician). This song also features the 12 bar blues, the chords I, IV, V, improvisation and elements of country and western. However, the difference between this song and Presleys’ ‘Jailhouse Rock’ is that the lyrics are more metaphorical and suggestive. The song is about a break up or an argument, without actually explicitly mentioning it.

As the 1950s is the beginning of the musical development, future songs have had to have taken influence from this decade. This is conveyed within the song ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ by The Beatles, 1963. With a fast, cheerful tempo and a drum backbeat which gives it a rock and roll sound, this can be seen as a pop song influenced by Rock N Roll. The Beatles were heavily influenced by this genre, taking ideas from artists like Chuck Berry, but making it their own by adding harmonies and monophonic texture (musicians do not play over one another).

As mentioned earlier, many technological advances occurred over the decades, but in the 50s in particular there were some incredible improvements made in the music industry. Vacuum tube amplifiers, Seeburg Select-O-Matic Jukebox, Clean-Channel Radio/Transistor Radio are to name but a few. The 7inch single vinyl records elevated recording capabilities to the next level by delivering a clearer and crisper sound with excellent noise reduction, the Electric Bass Guitar mentored by Les Paul achieved a modern rock sound from the growth and popularity of the electric guitar. The rise of Rock N Roll also drove demand for better microphone technology, where The Shure Unidyne 55s Microphone became the go-to brand. The Fender, Telecaster and Stratocaster made a prominent indent in the way rock was shaped in the first half of the decade.

With music developing, controversial topics also developed. In the 1950s, many black music artists entered the industry, which means they faced a lot of racism due to the fact that black artists hadn’t been widely popular before the 1950s. An iconic black musician in the 1950s, was Little Richard. Racism was slowly dying and white teenagers had grown to love black music whilst parents and the government didn’t appreciate it. At first, black music only appealed to younger audiences. The clear decrease in racism and the increase in black music can be suggested by white singers who began covering Little Richard’s songs. Elvis Presley was initially disliked by many because his music was on the radio, and people thought he was black since he ‘sung like a blak man’, but due to this Presley actually helped abolish the divide between white and black.

Following the 1950s, the 1960s brought new genres into the industry. Rock split into subgenres: Folk Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Surf Rock, Garage Rock, Blues Rock, Roots Rock and Progressive Rock.

The 1960s

Other than the subgenres of rock, Soul (Motown and Sax), Bubblegum Pop, Art Rock and Ska were also brought into the music industry in the 60s. Although many will argue about which genre overpowered the 60s, I believe that Psychedelic Rock steered this particular decade. The most iconic musicians of the 60s have to be The Beatles, heavily influenced by Rock N Roll when they started out and then progressed to Psychedelic Rock in the late 60s. ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’, 1967, is a true demonstration of psychedelic rock, utilizing a Lowrey Organ, distorted lead guitar (Leslie speaker) and tambura for instrumentation, dotted rhythms, triple metre, quadruple metre and tempo changes, with three different keys and improvisation on the lead guitar. The hecticity of the song once broken down just emphasises how psychedelic or drug-influenced this song truly is.

Where was this psychedelic music influenced from? Paul McCartney grew up listening to classical music, which influenced his writing in The Beatles and in ‘LSD’. Similar to ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ by Tchaikovsky (1892), the ¾ tempo is shared between the two songs. Furthermore, the use of orchestra on Sgt. Pepper conceals a fluctuating psychological approach, and orchestral instrumentation was used in the Waltz. This whole album takes its influences from classical music and waltz time, using several instruments from the orchestra (demonstrated in ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘When I’m 64’) and rapid chromatic descending scales (as demonstrated in ‘Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite’).

As The Beatles are largely known as one of the UK’s best bands, many other artists took influence from them. Many songs of Oasis include lyrics and chord structures similar to The Beatles music. ‘Little James’ (2000) mentions many lyrics that reference The Beatles. “Have you ever played with plasticine” compared to “plasticine porters with looking glass ties” from Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, “You swam the ocean like a child”, compared to “Julia, Julia, oceanchild, calls me” from Julia. Another song by Oasis demonstrates The Beatles work. ‘Who Feels Love’ (2000) is quite Sitar based with instrumentation, similar to ‘Within You, Without You’ and ‘LSD’. Oasis enjoyed using A7s as transitions and taking power chords from grunge to punk rock using distortion.

Throughout the 60s, technological kept on advancing throughout. Live performances could be streamed on television due to the rise of colour TV, radio transistors further evolved from cumbersome systems to small portable devices which led to the production of billions of radios, tape cartridge cassettes were introduced, as well as 8-track tapes, and the synthesiser was invented (Moog).

As musicians increasingly produced studio music and performed live, there is a big comparison of which is better. The Beatles, a hard working live act, who had played hundreds of gigs stopped playing live in 1966. Hampered by poor amplification which then existed and the sheer noise of their riotous and frenetic audiences they could no longer hear themselves play or sing on stage and felt that they couldn’t do justice to their songs. The relentless touring schedule also meant they had little time to write and record new material. Their first few albums were recorded fairly basically using mainly their live line up of instruments (guitars, bass & drums) along with their harmonised vocals. Along with their producer George Martin they found by multi-tracking they could increase the number of instruments they used on their recordings and from around 1965 onwards they began experimenting in the studio. So in the early 60s and probably through much of it live performances were considerably different from their studio equivalents purely because of the relative low quality of concert amplification. Despite this acts like The Who, The Doors and Jimi Hendrix brought a ferocity and intensity to their live performances that far outweighed the studio versions of their songs.

The 1970s

Moving forward, the following decade brought many different genres, such as Funk, Soul & Disco (derivative from Motown and Stax), Hard Rock, Soft Rock, Punk Rock, Glam Rock, Progressive Rock, Reggae.

The 1970s was a decade of significant evolution in pop music, with new styles and sub-genres emerging and gaining popularity. The decade was marked by a shift away from the psychedelic and experimental sounds of the 1960s towards a more polished, mainstream sound. This was reflected in the rise of disco, soft rock, and singer-songwriter styles, as well as the continued popularity of funk, soul, and R&B.

One of the biggest trends of the 1970s was the rise of disco. Originating in underground clubs in the late 1960s, disco music gained mainstream popularity in the mid-1970s, thanks in large part to the success of the film Saturday Night Fever and its accompanying soundtrack. Disco was characterized by its uptempo dance beats, lush orchestration, and infectious hooks, and quickly became a dominant force in pop music.

Another popular style of the era was soft rock, which was characterized by its smooth melodies and lush arrangements. This style was epitomized by artists such as James Taylor, Carole King, and Fleetwood Mac, who crafted catchy, radio-friendly hits that appealed to a broad audience. Singer-songwriters also gained popularity in the 1970s, with artists such as Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and Neil Young creating introspective, emotionally charged songs that reflected the changing times.

Despite the rise of new styles, funk, soul, and R&B remained popular in the 1970s, with artists such as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Earth, Wind & Fire dominating the charts. These styles emphasized rhythm and groove, and were characterized by their funky basslines, soulful vocals, and horn arrangements.

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In conclusion, the evolution of pop music is a testament to the power of artistic innovation and cultural exchange. From its humble beginnings in the early 20th century, to its explosive growth and diversification in recent decades, pop music has constantly pushed boundaries and challenged conventions. Whether it's the catchy hooks, infectious beats, or relatable lyrics, pop music has the ability to connect with people across generations and cultures, and to reflect the social and political issues of its time. As the genre continues to evolve and adapt to new technological and cultural contexts, we can only imagine what new directions it will take in the years to come.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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The Evolution of Pop Music Industry: From the 1950s to 1970s. (2023, April 05). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 18, 2024, from
“The Evolution of Pop Music Industry: From the 1950s to 1970s.” GradesFixer, 05 Apr. 2023,
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