America’s Pop Music History

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From the 19th century onwards, America’s pop music history consists of an expansive list of artists and songs that continue to generate acclaim from music lovers all around the globe. Although popular music technically originated in concert halls, it wasn’t until the development of America’s music industry that “pop music” really took off. With this rise came pop essentials such as platinum records, multi-million-dollar recording deals and larger than life rock and pop stars. To help celebrate this development, let’s take a look at America’s pop music history.


Tin Pan Alley, Broadway & Ragtime

Some of the first American pop songs were written in the mid to late 1800s and were featured primarily as live performance pieces. One of the most recognized and popular songs of this era would undoubtedly be the 1854 song, “Oh Susanna.”


These live performances eventually lead to the rise of both Ragtime and Broadway, the latter of which still remains immensely popular today. One of the most well-known composers of the Ragtime genre was Scott Joplin, an African American composer who had a unique talent of combining classical music with work songs and gospel hymns.


Jazz, Blues & the Development of Early Recorded Music

The phonograph cylinder, invented by the great Thomas Edison, added a new dimension to America’s pop music history: recorded music. With the development of recorded music came record companies who looked to sign and promote musical talent.


Two of the first major record companies in America’s pop music history include Paramount Records and OKeh Records. Both of these record companies predominately targeted jazz and blues artists, the most popular of which include Robert Johnson and Paul Whiteman.


The King of Rock

The commercialization of music soon led to massive growth in the interest and recording of pop music. Some of the first commercial pop stars, such as Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra, entered mainstream in the late 1940s, but the first true rock star – The King of Rock: Elvis Presley – did not arrive for almost a decade after.


Eventually becoming one of most commercialized, best-selling artists in American pop music history, Elvis had multiple number one hits, including “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hound Dog,” and “Jailhouse Rock.”


The Countercultural Movement of the 60s

There was a worldwide cultural shift in the 60s that had a massive impact on the popular music of the time. Thus, the younger generations traded bands that their parents loved for music that was more experimental, highlighting countercultural themes and lyrics.

One of the most famous artists to come from this era of America’s pop music history would certainly be Bob Dylan. Dylan, who many deemed the voice of the countercultural generation, combined folk and rock with lyrics that were at times quite politically charged. Some of his popular hits include “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin’.”


Other artists that rose to fame during this era of America’s pop music history include Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, Joni Mitchell, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and The Doors.


Funk, Soul & Disco Fever

By the early 70s, the countercultural movement died down, which allowed funk and soul music to become popular with the mainstream crowd. Artists from this era that solidified their place in America’s pop music history include Curtis Mayfield, David Bowie, Marvin Gaye, Parliament-Funkadelic, James Brown, War, and Earth, Wind and Fire.


Glammin’ It Up in the 80s

In the late 70s, the disco movement found its popularity dwindling as music listeners were now interested in something a bit less intense than the in-your-face funkiness of that era. Thus, the more relaxed R&B found itself entering mainstream radio and television as young pop stars Prince, Madonna and Michael Jackson found fame amongst the younger generation of listeners.


In the mid to late 80s, hard rock found its place in America’s pop music history as bands like Motley Crue, Guns N’ Roses, and Van Halen became immensely popular.


90s Grunge and the Rise of Hip Hop

By the early 90s, the hard rock craze started to die down with many fans becoming disinterested in the larger-than-life rock star images that many of these artists portrayed. In an act of rebellion, both artists and music listeners shunned the traditional idea of a rock-star, which gave birth to the Grunge Rock era. Popular bands from this time include Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Sonic Youth.


Hip hop also became popular around this time as groups like N.W.A and Public Enemy began using politically charged lyrics and imagery.


The Pop Music of the 2000s and Beyond

By the time 2000 hit, pop music began relying heavily on the idea of girl and boy groups, particularly the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears and Nsync. This craze did not last long though, as many of these groups soon broke up as their main stars began embarking on solo careers.


By the mid 2000s, there became what was considered a rock revival, as bands like The White Stripes and The Strokes found success on the radio and mainstream listeners.


Now, as more music listeners continue to shift from the radio to online streaming, it will be particularly interesting to see the overall impact that this transition has on America’s pop music history. Will pop stars soon rely entirely on streaming services and thus no longer need major media sources like the radio or television? Only the future will tell.






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