ROCK & ROLL TAKE-OVER: A color-coded chart depicting the greatest musical revolution in history.

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 Whether you like Rock and Rock or not, you have to admit that it's take-over of popular music in the fifties was one of the most unique phenomenon in the cultural history of man. Forget what your parents told you about the coming of the swing era and what baby-boomers say about the psychedelic and hard-rock eras. All of those styles, at their most popular, accounted for no more than half of the top hits at any time. Only Rock and Roll managed to take complete control of the charts. Fifty years later, it's still a dominant influence and is likely to be so forever.

To appreciate how great the change was, consider that it went from songs like the Chordettes hit Mr. Sandman dominating the charts in 1954:

To songs like Elvis Presley's Hound Dog dominating them less than two years later:

The following chart shows this take-over. Rock and Roll songs are in orange, everything else is in yellow. I worked with my father-in-law (Mr. Dana Patten, a professional musician during the swing era) to decide which songs qualified as being Rock and Roll. This was not an easy task considering the range of styles that qualify. The chart runs from the first year a Rock and Roll song made it into the top-ten songs for that entire year (1954) and traces the revolution through 1960 when the take-over was complete. The songs shown for each year are the top ten songs for that year listed in order with the most popular at the top. They were obtained from Joel Whitburn's Top 40 Hits, 6th edition.

Little Things Mean a Lot - Kitty Kallen
Sh-Boom - Crew Cuts

Wanted - Perry Como
Oh! My Papa - Eddie Fisher
Mr. Sandman - Chordettes
Make Love to Me - Jo Stafford
Hey There - Rosemary Clooney
Secret Love - Doris Day
This Old House - Rosemary Clooney
I Need You Now - Eddie Fisher

Sincerely - McGuire Sisters
Cherry Pink & Apple Blossom White - Perez Prado
Rock Around the Clock - Bill Haley and the Comets

Sixteen Tons - Tennessee Ernie Ford
The Yellow Rose of Texas - Mitch Miller
Love Is a Many Splendored Thing - Four Aces
Ballad of Davy Crocket - Bill Hayes
Let Me Go Lover - Loan Weber
Autumn Leaves - Roger Williams
Hearts of Stone - Fontaine Sisters

Singing the Blues - Guy Mitchell
The Wayward Wind - Gogi Grant
Heartbreak Hotel - Elvis Presley

Poor People of Paris - Les Baxter
Rock and Roll Waltz - Kay Starr
Memories Are Made of This - Dean Martin
Love Me Tender - Elvis Presley
Don't Be Cruel - Elvis Presley
Hound Dog - Elvis Presley
Lisbon Antigua - Nelson Riddle

Love Letters in the Sand - Pat Boone
Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear - Elvis Presley
Jailhouse Rock - Elvis Presley
Young Love - Tab Hunter
All Shook Up - Elvis Presley
April Love - Pat Boone
Tammy - Debbie Reynolds
Honeycomb - Jimmie Rodgers
Too Much - Elvis Presley
Butterfly - Andy Williams

At the Hop - Danny & the Juniors
The Purple People Eater - Sheb Wolley
It's All in the Game - Tommy Edwards
Volare - Domenico Modugno
All I Have to Do Is Dream - Everly Brothers
Don't - Elvis Presley
He's Got the Whole World in His Hands - Laurie London
Sugar Time - McGuire Sisters
The Chipmunk Song - The Chipmunks (David Seville)
Witch Doctor - David Seville

Mack the Knife - Bobby Darin
Battle of New Orleans - Johnny Horton
Venus - Frankie Avalon
Stagger Lee - Lloyd Price
Come Softy to Me - The Fleetwoods
Lonely Boy - Paul Anka
The Three Bells - The Browns
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes - The Platters
Kansas City - Wilbert Harrison
Heartaches By the Number - Guy Mitchell

A Summer Place - Percy Faith
Are You Lonesome Tonight - Elvis Presley
Cathy's Clown - Everly Brothers
It's Now or Never - Elvis Presley
Stuck on You - Elvis Presley
Running Bear - Marty Robbins
I'm Sorry - Brenda Lee
Save the Last Dance for Me - The Platters
Teen Angel - Mark Dinning
El Paso - Marty Robbins


As you can see, the Rock and Roll revolution really only took two years, from 1956 to 1958. During this period it moved to representing more than half of the songs in the top ten. After that there was no looking back.

One of the many factors driving the revolution was the music industry's desire to increase profits by reducing costs. The big bands of the swing era were enormously expensive to maintain. The high level of virtuosity required to play in such bands took so long for the average musician to develop that by the time many of them were ready to join a band they were adults with the responsibility of a family to support. As such they justly felt they had earned and certainly required higher incomes than a much younger and less accomplished artists capable of playing the simpler music of rock and roll. Additionally, rock and roll bands are much smaller than swing bands, which greatly reduced their overhead costs. Finally, the music companies saw that the average age of the dominate music purchaser was decreasing in the 1950s and that rock and rock's faster rhythms would be more attractive to them than the more melodious pacing of swing and orchestral band music. Consequently many of the major recording studies were more than happy to embrace the rock and roll revolution.

The chart also shows why Elvis is still called The King. A strong argument can be made that he single-handedly powered the revolution. It's intersting to speculate what would have happened to Rock and Roll if he hadn't come along when he did. It's possible the entire movement would have died out and we'd still be listening to Doris Day.


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