Rock and Roll Has Lost the Ability to Effect Meaningful Societal Change

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Virginia Watkin

Professor Dave Graham

Music 118

November 26, 2013

Rock and Roll has Lost the Ability to Effect Meaningful Societal Change

Music has often been said to be the universal language. Rock musicians especially learned to use the power of rock music and lyrics to effect powerful changes in society, most particularly in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The early age of Rock and Roll was an exciting time for the musicians, lyricists and the mass of young people who listened to them. While it may be that rock music in all of its genres of today can still prod listeners to champion for social change, the rock music market has fragmented so dramatically that rock and roll has lost the ability to impact mass sections of the population and has therefore, lost its unique voice and ability to effect real social change in US society.

The turbulence of the 1960’s, due to the escalation of the conflict in Vietnam to a full out war, the assassination of both President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. and the push for civil rights for all people made for fertile ground for songwriters to encourage change for the better through their music. (Hibbard and Kaleialoha, p 122) Lyricists and composers worked in tandem to write songs to both inform the public and, in some cases, incite the public to take action against what was happening in, around and to the world.

Songs such as “Blowin in the Wind, written by Bob Dylan in 1962 and “Ball of Confusion (that’s what the world is today)”, written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong in 1970 for the Temptations spoke to the listener about war and the stress of living during the confusion of the late 1960’s and 1970’s.

A survey of Top-40 rock stations in Los Angeles, the second largest radio market in the United States shows that in the 1960’s there were 3 major stations that appealed to teenagers and young adults: KHJ, KFWB and KRLA. Young LA listeners could hear many different types of music all on one...