By Buster Fayte, Featured Author, Sad Man’s Tongue
What was it about rockabilly music that held such strong appeal to the youth of the 1950s? Why was the music so powerful and why did it become such a defining force in American culture and then worldwide culture? And how has the music’s appeal evolved over time? What makes modern fans love the music as much as–if not more–than the fans of the 1950s. I’m not sure those are questions that can truly be answered, but I’m willing to try!
It’s easy to point out that the young fans of the 1950s had become terribly bored with the music they had available to listen to. Country music was (in my opinion) at its wonderful peak during this era, but it wasn’t really music aimed at the kids. There was lots of great jazz music happening at the time, but it didn’t really move kids either. The kids weren’t looking for jazz sophistication. They needed something more powerful. Other forms of music were also turning out great performances. Neither blues nor rhythm and blues was mainstream enough for a wide audience.
And then Elvis came along. A new music was, if not invented by Elvis, certainly made famous by The King. And it was just what the young fans were looking for. Elvis was young, charismatic, energetic, and completely new and different. That was his appeal. The music he created was unlike anything most people had ever heard before. It was loud, brash, fast, and not just a little bit controversial. That was the music’s appeal!
The very things that made adults despise Elvis and deride his music were the things that appealed to his youthful audience. And of course, Elvis wasn’t alone. Once he exploded on the scene, many other similar artists followed and began to grow the new rock and roll phenomenon. Soon it wasn’t just one outrageous kid from Memphis, rather it quickly became a movement. And being part of this exciting movement of energy, joy, rebellion, and pure fun naturally held amazing appeal to millions of kids who’d finally found something they could claim strictly as their own. The adults didn’t like it and didn’t approve of their listening to it, so of course they liked it and listened to it all the more!
In this way, rockabilly music of the 50s was similar to the punk music of the late 70s and into the 80s. In fact, many people call rockabilly music the original punk music. It’s just that by the 1970s, behaviors had to be even more outlandish in order to get a similar rise out of the establishment. But punk music couldn’t be sustained. It lacked musicality that enabled fans to enjoy the songs as songs themselves. Instead they enjoyed the rebellion and the shock of the music and scene. They enjoyed irritating the adults.
Rockabilly music did that too. Fans enjoyed the rebellion and the shock, but there was musicality to the genre. Fans could appreciate a good rockabilly song for the music that it contained and for the musicianship that it took to play it. You could sit and listen to a rockabilly song in a way you couldn’t with punk music. And so while punk eventually died largely away, the original appeal of rockabilly started to catch on once again. Rockabilly’s revival began as punk music’s reign began to subside. The kids could get the same feelings of rebellion and anti authoritarianism from rockabilly as they were getting from punk. But at the same time, they could actually enjoy the music as great music.
Just like when rockabilly originally hit the scene in the 1950s.
Buster Fayte is an author and rockabilly musician. He Blogs at “Buster Fayte’s Rockabilly Romp” where he writes about the passion he shares with millions of musicians and fans for rockabilly and oldies music. Buster has written several books including the “Complete Home Music Recording Start Kit”. He writes original songs, sings, and plays both guitar and bass.
- A Tribute To the Late Rockabilly Legend Nick Curran – Photos by Libero Api (sadmanstongue.com)
- Stories From A Black Eldorado: An Interview With The Bottle Cap Rockets (sadmanstongue.com)
- Smashing Up Australia With The Drey Rollan Band (sadmanstongue.com)