From the February 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard
Rock, Around the Clock . . . Yes, Rock n' Roll is the craze—from London to Glasgow, Paris to Berlin, and even Moscow.
Dixieland, New Orleans, Chicago, Swing, Boogie Woogie, Jive, Bop . . . they all come, and go. And now it's Rock 'n' Roll. Teenagers shout, sing and riot wherever the film "Rock Around the Clock" is showing; dance halls hold weekly Rock 'n' Roll nights; records by Bill Haley, the Platters and Elvis Presley, sell by the million, and even the B.B.C. play a few Rock 'n' Roll records. Yes, it's the craze. But why?
Every so often "Pop" music gets a shot in the arm; a new lease of life. In the 'twenties it was the Charleston and Jazz Bands, the 'thirties Swing, Boogie Woogie and Jive; the 'forties the New Orleans revival and Bop. And now . . . "Rock"!
What then is Rock 'n' Roll? It isn't Jazz or Swing or Boogie. It's just a combination of the three . . . a simple beat, a simple lyric, improvisation, plenty of noise—plus "corn"; all the "gimmicks" in the book. Yes it's a gimmick; musical extroversion of the Nth degree. But it's got a beat. Even the "squares" tap their feet, and "cats" just go wild!
Why do many youngsters go wild over Rock 'n' Roll? Why did many go crazy over Goodman, Basie or Harry James in the 'thirties or the Charleston Chasers in the 'twenties? Why do people mob a movie star or a famous footballer? The reason, I think, is that life for most people is pretty boring, "soul destroying"—particularly for youngsters, teenagers, who have more energy than their elders; who have not yet had the zest for life knocked out of them. After eight or nine hours in an office, shop or factory, the "kids" want to do something; they want to express themselves in some way or another. Life for most of them seems empty, purposeless. Modern Capitalist society with its general insecurity, its wars and its call-ups gives them very little to strive for. And after a day at the office or factory bench, they've just got to let themselves go. They need some kind of escape; some kind of outlet for pent-up energy. The movies, the Dance Halls, the Jazz Clubs, provide them with this "escape", this outlet. The cinema, the Dance Halls and Jazz Clubs, each with its variation on an old theme, or a new gimmick or craze such as "Bop" or "Rock" give these youngsters and teenagers a chance once, twice or more times a week to get away from what are often poor, uncomfortable homes; to sing, dance, stamp their feet and "let their hair down," away from the chief clerk, clerk, the factory foreman—and their parents; to leave their worries, their problems, their frustrations and repressions behind—for a while.
Rock 'n' Roll is a new craze. But a Rock 'n' Roll night at the Palais; a Rock 'n' Roll Jamboree can be fun for a few hours a week, yet after all it's not much of a substitute for a really full and interesting life. And our present society denies that to most young people today.
But, for the time being, at least . . . "Rock around the Clock."
Peter E. Newell