The Fifties Rock the 20th Century

Posted May 7, 2002 - Sheree Homer -
           The fabulous fifties had a great influence on the 20th Century, because the styles of music and fashion have lasted throughout the years. They tend to reappear with each new generation. Television and the movies also were influential in society. I would like to express the way in which these things have impacted our lives. If something has longevity, then there must be something good about it as far as our culture is concerned.
           One might say that the 1950s were a springboard to the sexual revolution, when teenagers were coming of age. The music, movies, and fashion gave them the chance to vent their frustrations and develop a unique sense of style, something they could call their own. It was definitely an age of rebellion.
           Many of the movies of the 1950s exemplified the times of rebellion. Peyton Place, Rebel Without a Cause, The Wild One, and Jailhouse Rock were just a few of the movies that teenagers seemed to identify with. Marlon Brando and James Dean were their heroes, because they personified everything that they wanted to be. They helped to give reality to their dreams and exemplified teenage rebellion. Marlon Brando's character of Johnny in The Wild One was asked "what you rebelling against Johnny," and his response was "what do you got"?
           Marlon Brando and James Dean were two stars in demand for movie magazine interviews. Hedda Hopper, a famous gossip columnist for the magazines, always got her scoop. Movie magazines became very popular as teenagers wanted to read about their favorite stars. They wanted to know what made the stars so alluring. Photoplay and Motion Picture exploded in popularity. According to the book, Time Life - The Good Old Days, teenagers had more money in the 1950s than ever before, so they made up for a large portion of the buying community.
           As far as television goes, we still enjoy watching reruns from the golden era of television. I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners, two classic television shows, will never go out of style. Through these sitcoms, we could learn to laugh at ourselves. Who can forget Lucy's zany stunts or how her husband Ricky always ended up giving in after his refusal to do what she wanted or Ralph Kramden's boisterous voice yelling at his wife Alice: "one of these days Alice, one of these days, pow right in the kisser"?
           The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was also popular with both parents and teenagers alike. Parents liked the family atmosphere, and the teenagers were drawn to the Nelson's youngest son, Ricky, because of his good looks and rock and roll music. Many of his songs were included in the episodes. According to Billboard Magazine, his first song, "I'm Walkin'," which was sung on the show, was very popular, selling one million copies in its first week alone. The Nelsons helped to make rock and roll mainstream and a household name. Parents learned to accept it because the Nelsons accepted it.
           There were also wonderful game shows on television. You Bet Your Life, I've Got a Secret, and What's My Line? are just a few of the shows that were popular at the time. We can still watch Groucho on reruns with his wild brand of humor. On one of the episodes of You Bet Your Life, one guest brandished a bottle of Teddy Bear perfume from her purse and squirted it all over Groucho. She was a big Elvis fan and even had a lock of his hair and his famous red and white cowboy outfit from his movie, Loving You. She said that she would not part with it for a million bucks.
           Also, television brought a whole new way to how we did things. People now knew about their city and the world in a profound way. By seeing the images visually, television gave us a new perspective on life. Television had an impact on movies for a while as more people stayed home, but movies regained popularity with the invention of 3-D and drive-ins. Television allowed for people to see their favorite stars weekly, and it was cheaper than the movies.
           With the advent of television, commercials soon followed. There needed to be sponsors to pay for the programming. Advertisers sold their products through commercials. They were usually endorsed by movie stars or sport stars, which helped to boost sales. Groucho Marx advertised for the DeSoto Plymouth on his You Bet Your Life, the Nelsons advertised for Kodak camera on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz advertised for Pall Mall cigarettes on I Love Lucy. Famous names and faces helped to sell the product.
           Television also changed the way our presidential elections were held. Debates between the republican and democratic candidate could now be seen and not just heard. Their personalities and looks had a major impact on how we voted in the election. These debates still occur today. There were commercials to promote the candidates as well, such as the catchy slogan "I Like Ike" for Eisenhower's election.
           When it came to music of the 1950s, it changed dramatically from beginning to end. From 1950 to 1955, crooners and vocal groups were popular such as Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Perry Como, The Four Lads, and The Platters. Then came the explosion of rock and roll with people like Elvis Presley, Bill Haley, and Chuck Berry. True rock and roll ended in 1959 with the death of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens, Little Richard entering the ministry, Chuck Berry going to prison, Jerry Lee Lewis and his scandalous marriage, and Elvis entering the Army.
           Teen idols were especially popular in the late 50s. Ricky Nelson, Fabian, Paul Anka, Bobby Darin, Tab Hunter, and Frankie Avalon were some of the girls' favorites. Connie Francis, Annette, and Brenda Lee were some of the guys' favorites. Most of these teen idols got their start on American Bandstand hosted by Dick Clark. This was a musical program popular with teens in the 50s. It had popular music of the day, dancers, and musical acts.
           Rock and roll remains very popular to this day. There are many radio stations that play the oldies. Many musicians of today explain that their influences were 50s icons, especially Elvis. He has been the biggest influence. According to Legends, a program on VH1, one of Bruce Springsteen's biggest influences was Elvis. His mother adored Elvis and would play his music. Bruce decided early on that he wanted to be a singer.
           Elvis was highly influential because of his unique blend of gospel, country and western, and rhythm and blues. He kicked the door open for many artists and allowed black music to become mainstream. Blues and rhythm and blues artists became better known because he covered their tunes (singing songs that were popularized by other singers). His music introduced a whole new sound that was never heard before, rockabilly and later rock and roll. His moves also helped to express the feelings he had when singing, as he often said: "If you like rock and roll music, you can't help but move to it." All of his insecurities were lost when performing on stage. Elvis not only revolutionalized music but also culture.
           Jerry Lee Lewis was a wild performer. His song, "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" caused quite a stir within the framework of society. He even knew how to play the piano with his feet, which really stirred up the crowd.
           Little Richard wowed the crowd with his wild clothes, his high-pitched shrieks, and his makeup. "Tutti Frutti" was a big hit for him as kids could dance to it.
           Hairstyles that were big with the teenagers were crew cuts or ducktails for the guys, and ponytails for the girls. Guys liked the ducktails because then they could look like Elvis and that was a sure way to get a girl. The guys wanted to look like him, and the girls wanted to be with him.
           White bucks, saddle shoes, and penny loafers were popular with both the guys and girls. The girls wore scarves around their necks, poodle skirts, and sweaters. The guys wore blue jeans, white T-shirts, and leather jackets.
           There was also a glamorous side to fashion, which was represented by Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. They wore fancy full-skirted dresses, spiked heels, and lots of jewelry and makeup. They had well coiffed hair. Every young girl hoped to be as beautiful and elegant as they were.
           The cars of the 1950s were probably the most stylish and elegant we ever had. Lincolns, Cadillacs, and Chevrolets had lots of chrome and big fins that really caught the eye. The youth loved the cars as they experienced many things with them: sex, drag racing, and scooping the loop. Guys especially liked to have hot cars that moved fast. Gas was cheap back then, so operating a big car was no problem.
           The 1950s had a huge influence in so many areas, too numerous to mention. Unfortunately, I was born too late to have experienced the 50s first hand, but my mom has introduced me to the era. She is reliving her teenage years all over again as she did not realize how great everything was back then. I, myself, would have loved to live in the 1950s as the cars, clothes, music, and movies are my favorites of any era. The fashion is still seen with the styles of today, and the music will always thrive.
           Parents did not accept the rock and roll revolution right away but gradually learned to accept it. Their children were growing up, and rock and roll seemed to be a mainstay in society. The skeptics were wrong, and the teenagers were right, as rock and roll and culture of the 1950s never died: "Long Live Rock and Roll."

I ALSO WROTE THIS ESSAY for a contest they held on atributetoaking yahoo group. I ended up winning first prize and won an Elvis collector's plate. It is guitar shaped with Elvis from Aloha in Hawaii in the body of it. Hope you enjoy reading it and please let me know what you think. Thanks. Sheree - homersm2001@y

           My love for Elvis sprang from my mom, who was playing his music for me while I was still in the womb. She said she would play his music, and I would "dance" around in her stomach. I do not know what my life would have been like if she was not my mom. Without her, I might not have known Elvis and certainly would not have known any of the other artists that I love from the 1950s. It is all thanks to her that I know and love their music. I will never be able to repay her for that wonderful gift she has given me. Music, especially Elvis, is an essential part of who I am. There is not a day that goes by that I do not listen to his music. I always have it on in the morning as it gets me in an uplifting good mood. Elvis makes the day brighter. To quote my friend Lacy, "Elvis is the cure all pill." If you are feeling depressed, crank up an Elvis cd. You will feel better instantly. His beautiful voice puts sunshine in your soul.
           When I was younger, I was embarrassed to tell anyone that I was an Elvis fan for fear that they would not understand and make fun of me. By them not knowing and not letting me be who I was, they did not know the true me and were not really my friends. However, I have matured through the years and do not allow others to tell me who and who not to like anymore. I am my own person now, and anyone who knows me knows how much I love Elvis. Once I start talking about him, there is no stopping me. He is my favorite subject. However, sometimes my conversations have led to disagreement. I have gotten into arguments with Beatle fans about who was best, Elvis or The Beatles. I always have to have the last word and give reason why indeed Elvis is the best singer and performer of all-time. The Beatles may have had more #1 songs, but Elvis has had more of an influence. Ask any musician, including The Beatles, and they will tell you that Elvis is his/her influence.
           Elvis' influence on my life arises from the fact that we have a lot in common with each other. He loved his mother more than anything in the world and wanted to make sure she had everything she ever wanted. Her happiness was his happiness. The first thing he did when he got rich was buy his parents a house and a car/cadillac. That was his dream to be able to have enough money to be able to buy them a house. This is my goal too. My mom has lived in the same house since 1961. We once owned it but because my dad was off work so much, we lost it. We are now paying high rent for the house we used to own because we cannot afford to move. I hope to one day soon be able to buy my mom a beautiful house where she can display all her collections and have room for everything, as of right now we are very crowded. I would like to be able to give back to my mom as she has given me so much.
           I feel Elvis obtained the American Dream, going from a poor country boy to a wealthy famous man. I too know what it is like to be poor and to go without and to be picked on by others. I would like to be famous and to be remembered, but not so famous that you have no privacy. I bet he would have given up all the wealth and fame for just a little privacy. He could not go anywhere without causing havoc.
           I never realized there are so many Elvis fans out there, and all are very nice. "I have never met a kinder, gentler group of people" to quote Elvis. He would be surprised to know how many people love him and are keeping his legacy alive almost 25 years after his death. When he started singing, I bet he would never have guessed the profound impact he would have on millions of people for generations to come. We all were happier knowing him. As long as we listen to his music and watch his movies, he will never die. Long live the King of Rock and Roll!

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