The pioneers of rock and roll music in the 1940’s, the Beatles, took their name from the popular music that had been played as a form of entertainment on radio stations by a group called the Melody Makers. The term “rock and roll” was coined by the English DJ called Anthony Newley in 1948 and included musicians such as the Butlins and Billy Bull and Johnny Hallyday and the Busters. The music that they were playing was then a mixture of the blues and jazz music that had been popular in the UK for many years, as well as songs that were already in circulation such as Jive Turkey, Jive Texas and We’re Only In It For The Money.
For a while the term “rock and roll” meant something that had a specific feel to it and that could be classified in this way, but over time it has now become the broad title for any music with a certain quality. There are two main reasons for this change in the meaning of the term.
Firstly, with the development of a modern band or pop musician into a political party that was now influencing many other bands and artists, then the word “rock and roll” had an air of negativity about it. As an expression of rebellion against some form of government or authority, or indeed against social convention, the music that they played had a whiff of an underlying authoritarianism about it. This led people to think that “rock and roll” was meant to be a strong type of authoritarian music.
Conversely, however, the new wave of music that were becoming popular and had become known as heavy metal and punk rock, were quite anti-authoritarian and had little, if any, political content. It is fair to say that rock and roll would have to have something to do with the particular tastes of the listeners. The reason why the term has changed is because it has become increasingly impossible to think of rock and roll without thinking of the huge industry that it has become part of.
As well as “rock and roll”, it can also mean the music associated with a particular style or period, as opposed to its content. In this sense it can still be taken to refer to any music that is an influence on popular music. This can include other forms of music such as classical music, jazz and pop, even if the music was made around the time of the famous rock and roll music, rather than any later music.
Another example of the use of the term rock and roll in music is the way that people often describe anything that is so exciting that it is “rock and roll”. This is true of the movies too, although they tend to refer to the genre when describing their favorite movies, and not to the specific times when the films were made. As an example, the movie Dead Poet’s Society is known as one of the best films of all time, but its place in rock and roll music is different to that of some of the better-known rock and roll music.
This film was made in 1969, when there was no concept of the term rock and roll music, or indeed any term that specifically described the sound that was made by the film. If someone said that a particular movie was “something really good”, it was sometimes used to mean that they really liked the film, and not that it was well written or had a particularly good soundtrack. For instance, with The Exorcist, it was thought to be so controversial that people were either going to really like it or they were going to hate it.
Even though the term “rock and roll” had become meaningless, it continues to refer to the particular kind of music that had formed the basis of the bands and artists that had formed in the UK. However, the term has continued to change as the industry has developed, and this has led to the way that the term is used today.