Rock 'n' Roll Revolution: Elvis Presley's Impact on America

July 20, 2023
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Music has played a significant role in history since time immemorial. The emergence of Rock and Roll between 1945 and 1965 marked a transformative period in the American ethos. The advent of Rock 'N' Roll ignited intense debates across America. Its enduring impact on American culture is still evident today, exerting a profound influence on people's lives. The 1950s witnessed numerous cultural clashes surrounding this music genre. In his book, "All Shook Up: How Rock 'N' Roll Changed America," Glenn C. Altschuler sheds light on the impact of this musical genre on American culture. Altschuler explores how the introduction of Rock 'N' Roll rhythms led to integration and, subsequently, conflicts with the prevailing culture. These changes are vividly depicted in chapters discussing race, sexuality, and generational conflict, which reshaped the attitudes of the youth and society. Altschuler posits that the rise of Rock 'N' Roll was met with considerable opposition from parents and educators, who resisted its rapid growth. While this genre brought both positive and negative consequences, its profound influence cannot be denied.

Glenn C. Altschuler earned a Ph.D. in history from Cornell in 1976 and is an author of several books on American history, including "Changing Channels: America in TV Guide." He has contributed over a thousand scholarly essays to various works and publications, and his expertise lies in the history of American popular culture. In his book, "All Shook Up," Altschuler employs a narrative style and relies on primary sources such as magazines, newspaper articles from the period, and books as evidence to support his arguments. The book is organized by topics and interspersed with song titles, a format that aligns well with the narrative style, effectively presenting cultural changes from 1945 to 1965.

Rock 'n' Roll's Impact on Music

In the book's first chapter, Altschuler cites the New York Times headline, "Rock 'n' Roll Fight hospitalizes youth" (All Shook Up, p.3), which epitomizes the impact of Rock 'N' Roll in the nation. During this era, the genre was perceived as a "communicable disease" due to its profound influence on society (All Shook Up, p.4-5). Altschuler reflects on the effects of Rock 'N' Roll on American society, particularly in terms of race, sex, and youth attitudes. The 1950s was a period of stabilization for America after the traumas of World War II and the Cold War, which had left the nation in disarray. The rise of Rock 'N' Roll disrupted a society already grappling with an "age of anxiety" since 1945, as noted by historian James Gilbert. Additionally, the 1950s saw a push for equal rights for African Americans through movements like the NAACP and the Civil Rights Movement. These societal changes set the stage for integration, and music was destined to play a pivotal role.

The emergence of Rock 'N' Roll sparked tensions between the younger generation, drawn to its rhythms, and the older generation grappling with the challenge of leaving behind the age of anxiety while navigating new expectations for a better life. As the nation's wealth increased, the youth married at a younger age, leading to the "baby boom" era. The genre's influence on youth behavior after Rock 'N' Roll shows led to its prohibition in various places, like the decision of the San Antonio city council to eliminate Rock 'N' Roll music from municipal swimming pool jukeboxes due to its perceived negative impact. While the music business could not resolve issues of segregation and racism, the Civil Rights movement, influenced by black writers and performers, advocated for integration among record producers and radio station owners.

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Chapter one also highlights the proliferation of television sets in American households by 1955, with programming and commercials projecting an idealized image of prosperity and happiness. This portrayal was at odds with the reality of social issues, leading to growing dissatisfaction among the youth. The emergence of R&B music, representing a departure from "race records," brought about a shift towards more upbeat and dance-oriented music. The Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North during this period further shaped the music's development. Despite resistance from whites to integration, white youths began embracing "race music," leading to significant changes in the music industry. Elvis Presley, with his Gospel and R&B influences, emerged as a pivotal figure in this musical evolution.

Elvis Presley: The King of Rock 'n' Roll

Elvis Presley, often hailed as the "King of Rock 'n' Roll," is extensively featured in Altschuler's book, which demonstrates the author's fascination with this iconic artist. Born in Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis was exposed to both Gospel and black rhythms, as well as white music, enabling him to develop his distinctive style. His stage performances, with their gyrations and sensual energy, captivated teenagers worldwide, earning him a massive fan following. However, his unorthodox performances faced harsh criticism, even being labeled as "degrading" by some, while others questioned the reaction, pointing out the double standards regarding the acceptability of similar behaviors from male artists in different contexts. Despite such criticisms, Elvis Presley's profound impact on the music industry and society at large cannot be denied.

Rock 'n' Roll's Influence on Race and Sexuality

The subsequent chapters delve into the influence of Rock 'N' Roll on race and sexuality during a time when the genre was gaining traction and African Americans were striving for civil rights and an end to racial discrimination. Altschuler highlights the challenges faced by black artists performing this music, as they were often criticized for not actively supporting their race's cause for equality. The lyrics of Nat King Cole were especially controversial, as they conveyed strong messages on sexuality. The societal norms of the time dictated that teenagers should abstain from sex until marriage, and parents, along with popular magazines, reinforced these expectations. The rise of Rock 'N' Roll intensified parental concerns, leading to the banning of songs with sexual content, seen as a threat to the prevailing rhythm and blues culture.

Chapter four delves into the generational conflict that arose due to the increasing popularity and influence of Rock 'N' Roll. Parents and elders struggled to comprehend the fascination of the youth with this music, leading to a growing divide within society. Parents believed that Rock 'N' Roll accentuated the most troublesome aspects of youthful values, fostering resentment towards adult authority and a preference for peer-group norms over traditional values. This genre was perceived as a catalyst for rebellious behavior among the youth. Despite the societal divide, Rock 'N' Roll provided a means of expression for the younger generation and played a significant role in shaping American culture during this transformative era.

Rise of Pop Culture

Chapter five examines the rise of "Pop culture wars" and their impact on the Rock 'N' Roll music industry. The genre's overwhelming success led to economic challenges for other music genres, resulting in disputes and debates within the industry. The American Federation of Musicians voiced their concerns over the dominance of Rock 'N' Roll, and some artists questioned whether this music's popularity was manipulated by the media. As hostility between Rock 'N' Roll artists and other musicians grew, the genre faced setbacks. However, it remains undeniable that Rock 'N' Roll had a significant impact on the music industry and American culture as a whole.


In conclusion, Altschuler's narrative sheds light on the transformative influence of Rock 'N' Roll on American culture between the 1950s and 1960s. This powerful music changed America, coinciding with the country's push for integration and the generation gap between the youth and their parents. The rise of Rock 'N' Roll brought about both positive and negative consequences, with significant criticism and opposition from various quarters. However, its enduring impact on American society cannot be overlooked. As Altschuler aptly observes, the current musical landscape is incredibly diverse, reflecting the ever-changing nature of music and its capacity to unite people across the world.

Works Cited

  • Altschuler, G. C. (2004). All shook up: how rock n roll changed America. New York: Oxford University Press.
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