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“All Shook Up: How Rock ‘n Roll Changed America,” Book Review

People may turn to music for comfort when they are going through difficult circumstances, and the soundtrack to their life has the potential to transform them. In his book titled “All Shook Up: How Rock ‘n Roll Changed America,” Glenn Altschuler tells the story of how the rock ‘n roll craze of the 1950s changed American society by transforming its social structure as well as its cultural norms. This story is told in Altschuler’s book “All Shook Up: How Rock ‘n Roll Changed America.” Altschuler investigates how the phenomena changed the dynamics of race and gender, as well as the pop music business and society’s perspectives on the sexuality of adolescents. The author is a historian who now teaches at Cornell University; among his other works are books on the school’s history and its alumni.

The book’s first chapter delves into how members of society respond to the disruption of the previously established order and standards. In the America of the postwar era, with its backyard bunkers, the “crusade against Communism,” and the era of wonderful economic prosperity, parents allowed their children to live just as they did while pursuing the American Dream. This was even though the country was still recovering from World War II. Because of this, the eruption of the rock ‘n’ roll rebellion prompted a broad moral panic, resulting in the cancellation of shows and banning musicians and disk jockeys from radio stations. Psychologists liken the fad to an “epidemic of dancing anger” in the Middle Ages.

The politicians denounced it as a “plot to damage the morality of a generation of Americans,” which they believed was their responsibility (Altschuler 6). The music business tried to whitewash the origins of rhythm and blues by enlisting white singers like Elvis Presley and Pat Boone to record versions of songs that black artists originally performed in a more subdued manner. The newly emerging civil rights movement, which was “committed to desegregation and real racial equality,” and the new musical style were seen by Americans as an effort to subvert the foundations of American culture. This created a climate of unease in the United States. Because of this, rock ‘n’ roll was seen to be encouraging juvenile delinquency, inappropriate conduct, and general non-conformism; the older generations were appalled as the phenomena spread like wildfire.

The topic of discussion for the next chapter is the impact that rock ‘n’ roll had on race relations, particularly in drawing attention to challenges with racial identity and economic disparities. The movement of African Americans from the South to other parts of the United States after World War II “provided further fuel to the attempts to overcome racial segregation.” The “new political dynamics” was something society did not quickly embrace. The proponents of segregation saw the “violent mayhem” of the music as evidence of the presumed savagery of Black people. In contrast, extremely devout Black listeners were wary of the blatantly sexual undertones of some songs due to their religious beliefs. Black artists’ high-energy performances were seen as primitive and wicked; older generations were outraged that younger generations liked performers like Little Richard, LaVern Baker, and Fats Domino, and African American musicians were barred from performing in live events. On the other hand, Nat King Cole was a prominent participant in the Civil Rights movement; nonetheless, individuals of his own race fiercely attacked him for performing in front of all-white “Jim Crow audiences” (Altschuler 41). Despite the efforts of the business, rock ‘n’ roll was still able to break down racial boundaries as young people interacted with one another at dances and provided financial rewards to Black performers.

In the third chapter, the author demonstrates how rock ‘n’ roll contributed to creating an atmosphere in which old moral standards on sexuality were subjected to scrutiny and ultimately altered. The taboos were breached in various ways, including the provocative gestures Elvis used when performing on television and the explicitness of some songs, like the notorious original lyrics to “Tutti Frutti.” It was said that even the “prehistoric rhythmic trance” character of the dance was unacceptable, putting it outside the bounds of what was considered appropriate. On the other hand, the television program American Bandstand, which has been described as a “weekday afternoon habit for millions of American youths,” portrayed a more subdued perspective, which assisted society in seeing teenage conduct in a more favorable light (Altschuler 85). Teenage sexuality and premarital sex were normalized by rock ‘n’ roll, allowing adolescents to express their uniqueness and feel the pleasure life had to offer. Rock ‘n’ roll was able to do this because it “placed sexuality in a framework of love” (Altschuler 67).

The next chapter examines how older generations eventually passed on their economic power to younger generations, even though older generations were originally reluctant to give up their economic authority. The America of the postwar era “yearned for peace and security.” As a result, the parents of rock ‘n’ roll enthusiasts considered their children’s aspirations for instant fulfillment unreasonable. These kids want the financial means to buy albums and memorabilia, and the industry saw an opportunity to increase the amount their parents spent by taking advantage of the “thriving economy.” The increasing media presence of genre stars resulted in the creation of new dress trends; as a result of being exposed to all of these changes, the older generation was obliged to embrace the “modes of behavior, the preferences, and the notions of life” of the younger age (Altschuler 111).

The next chapters of the book focus on the struggle of the new music trend to establish its foothold in popular culture and to maintain its widespread appeal among people of all ages. The author states that Alan Freed “gave rock ‘n’ roll its name – and was its most famous casualty” while focusing on the flamboyant persona of Freed, who was a pioneering disk jockey who was prosecuted for bribery and tax avoidance as a way to remove him from the industry. This was done to remove him from the industry (Altschuler 22). Freed passed away in 1965 while living in poverty, yet his legacy will be remembered forever. His opponent, Dick Clark, who had more connections, gave a more sanitized version of the genre phenomena, contributing to the wider appeal of the genre as a whole.

According to the allegations, Clark evaded a conviction because of his friendships with several influential business executives of the day. However, before the Beatles were on the scene, rock music experienced a lull as other genres ruled the sound waves; in addition, important performers were missing from the scene. This was the case until the Beatles came along. Elvis Presley was serving in the United States Army and stationed in Germany then; Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens had just passed away, and numerous notable artists were in jail. Despite this, rock ‘n’ roll managed to thrive; the music was an essential component of the counterculture youth movement of the 1960s, and in the shape of punk rock, it served as a soundtrack to the economic difficulties of the 1970s. This music continues to have a place in the hearts and minds of many generations of Americans, as is shown by the success of Bruce Springsteen’s career.

When rock ‘n’ roll first became popular among adolescents, observers, and even influential professionals in the business, they anticipated that it would not last long. Nevertheless, the style had an influence well beyond music; as a social and cultural phenomenon, it helped mold today’s America. Altschuler provides a persuasive argument for his point of view about how this music contributed to shifts in the postwar society’s ethnic relations, cultural standards, and economic power balance. It is reasonable to argue that rock ‘n’ roll is directly responsible for the people that the United States of America has become today.

Work Cited

Altschuler, Glenn C. All shook up: how rock’n’roll changed America. Oxford University Press, 2003.

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