All Shook Up: How Rock 'n' Roll Changed America


The birth of rock 'n roll ignited a firestorm of controversy--one critic called it "musical riots put to a switchblade beat"--but if it generated much sound and fury, what, if anything, did it signify?

As Glenn Altschuler reveals in All Shook Up, the rise of rock 'n roll--and the outraged reception to it--in fact can tell us a lot about the values of the United States in the 1950s, a decade that saw a great struggle for the control of popular culture. Altschuler shows, in ...

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All Shook Up: How Rock 'n' Roll Changed America

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The birth of rock 'n roll ignited a firestorm of controversy--one critic called it "musical riots put to a switchblade beat"--but if it generated much sound and fury, what, if anything, did it signify?

As Glenn Altschuler reveals in All Shook Up, the rise of rock 'n roll--and the outraged reception to it--in fact can tell us a lot about the values of the United States in the 1950s, a decade that saw a great struggle for the control of popular culture. Altschuler shows, in particular, how rock's "switchblade beat" opened up wide fissures in American society along the fault-lines of family, sexuality, and race. For instance, the birth of rock coincided with the Civil Rights movement and brought "race music" into many white homes for the first time. Elvis freely credited blacks with originating the music he sang and some of the great early rockers were African American, most notably, Little Richard and Chuck Berry. In addition, rock celebrated romance and sex, rattled the reticent by pushing sexuality into the public arena, and mocked deferred gratification and the obsession with work of men in gray flannel suits. And it delighted in the separate world of the teenager and deepened the divide between the generations, helping teenagers differentiate themselves from others. Altschuler includes vivid biographical sketches of the great rock 'n rollers, including Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Buddy Holly--plus their white-bread doppelgangers such as Pat Boone.

Rock 'n roll seemed to be everywhere during the decade, exhilarating, influential, and an outrage to those Americans intent on wishing away all forms of dissent and conflict. As vibrant as the music itself, All Shook Up reveals how rock 'n roll challenged and changed American culture and laid the foundation for the social upheaval of the sixties.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"One of the first to do rock-and-roll the significant service of locating it within the cultural and political maelstrom it helped to create. Altschuler does so with a good ear for the music and a deft hand, making this account a pleasure to read and ponder. He is not a flashy writer, but so much the better for his storytelling, which shows intelligence and narrative discipline.... Altschuler surpasses the admittedly sparsely populated field in the nuanced way he places the music within the conflicts--racial, sexual, commercial, and political--that it variously helped to encourage, exacerbate, and (occasionally) ameliorate. Altschuler tells a story of liberation and fear, of inspiration and exploitation, of repeated attempts to homogenize a form of cultural expression that sprang from somewhere so authentic in Western youth culture that it proved bigger and more powerful than any combination of its myriad opponents."--Eric Alterman, Atlantic Monthly

"A well thought out, well researched work, peppered with evocative archival photos and full of terse, sharp comment and considerable feel for the music and its performers."--Toronto Globe and Mail

"In All Shook Up, Glenn C. Altschuler vividly demonstrates that Rock 'n' Roll--as music, lyric, and gesture--provides the guide, the Ariadne's thread, through the labyrinth of social, cultural, generational, and sexual upheaval that was post-World War II America."--Kevin Starr, author of Americans and the California Dream

"While incorporating extensive research and quotes from the most astute rock music critics, past and present, he manages to craft prose that will suit a general audience."--Library Journal

"A book rich with shocking and humorous anecdotes.... Also offers insight into the often complicated racial and legal issues surrounding rock 'n' roll in the 1950s."--AP Weekly

"A soulful, scholarly, and thoroughly fascinating examination of the transforming power of rock and roll in American culture. Brandishing the chops of a loving fan and a scrupulous historian, Altschuler nimbly tracks the rock-propelled revolutions in manners and morality that first rumbled forth from the 1950s, a decade that seems ever more the epoch of Elvis not Eisenhower. His is a finely tuned, perfectly pitched appreciation of the rhythms of a music that became not only a soundtrack but a heartbeat to American life."--Thomas Doherty, Brandeis University

"Includes enough tantalizing tales along with thumbnail sketches of the forefathers and key moments from the annals of pioneer rock to keep the narrative lively and flowing.... This PhD is such an enthusiastic fan, my '50s generation awards him our ultimate accolade: he's obviously a 'Good Rockin' Doc.'"--Miami Herald

"A fascinating and important look at a pivotal decade in American history.... Put on those old 45s and curl up for an enlightening and eminently readable story."--PW Daily

"A remarkably thorough short history of the birth of rock and roll and its cultural contexts. Glenn Altschuler manages to weave the stories of musicians and record producers, cultural critics and legislators, psychologists and sociologists, businessmen and teenaged consumers into a lively, astute narrative of cultural change. The result is not just an especially informative history of rock, but an important cultural history of the 'long' 1950s."--Tom Lutz, author of Crying: A Natural and Cultural History of Tears and American Nervousness, 1903: An Anecdotal History

The Washington Post
[Altschuler] gives overdue recognition to a number of people, some of whom made absolutely wonderful music that deserves rediscovery not only because of its undeniable influence upon the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and others, but also for its intrinsic merit. — Jonathan Yardley
Publishers Weekly
This brief and well-meaning study of the music's sociological impact from the early 1950s through the early 1960s-the work of such artists as Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry-is surprisingly flat, given the still-exciting quality of the music itself. Altschuler (Changing Channels: America in TV Guide) analyzes "the emergence of rock and roll as a cultural phenomenon" by reviewing all the standard truisms about the music, which makes the book seem like it was written by a committee of rock critics. He sees rock as "a metaphor for integration," as the focal point for anxiety that cultural life in the U.S. had become "sexualized," a catalyst that "provoked conflict" between parents and teenagers, and an enormous influence on the development of a mass market ripe for exploitation. He also looks at the "lull" in the music between Elvis's being drafted into the army in 1957 and the emergence of the Beatles in 1963, as well as the way that artists like Bruce Springsteen continue the rock effort to foster "intragenerational identity." Unfortunately, for all Altschuler's sincere and painstaking factual precision, he repeats what can be found in such previous works as Charlie Gillett's The Sound of the City and overlooks the role that country music played in the birth of rock and roll, found in Nick Tosches's Country and Where Dead Voices Gather. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Altschuler (Thomas & Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies, Cornell Univ.) has previously written on diverse topics related to American history. Although this marks his first foray into music scholarship, he does a fine job of discussing the musical and sociological influences that came together to form rock'n'roll. He also delves into the impact of the genre on life in America in the 1950s and early 1960s. While incorporating extensive research and quotes from the most astute rock music critics, past and present, he manages to craft prose that will suit a general audience, perhaps high school and college students and interested music fans. If the book has one fault, it would be that the chapter "detailing" the continuing import of rock'n'roll seems almost more of an afterthought than a conclusion. Altschuler does not really present any revelations about the sociological implications of rock'n'roll, but he does provide a valuable service in bringing various theories and historical observations and analysis together in one concise, easy-to-read volume. Highly recommended for all libraries with popular music and American studies collections, especially as a complement to Charlie Gillett's The Sound of the City and James Miller's Flowers in the Dustbin.-James E. Perone, Mount Union Coll., Alliance, OH Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A slender academic treatment of rock music as a cultural, political, and historical force. Rock 'n' roll has a long pedigree, and Altschuler (American Studies/Cornell Univ.) follows its history only partway to its birth in the union of black country blues and hillbilly balladry. Instead, his story begins in the late 1940s and early '50s, when a few daring "race" artists managed to bring their sound to white teenagers in an era when "the orchestras of Mantovani, Hugo Winterhalter, Percy Faith, and George Cates created mood music for middle-of-the-road mid-lifers, who hummed and sang along in elevators and dental offices." Greil Marcus, Peter Guralnick, and other rock historians have done better than Altschuler in capturing the mood of the revolution that followed, but Altschuler shines when he sets the history of rock in the context of other social trends, particularly the growing civil-rights movement and American advertising's discovery of adolescents as a market segment. All were calculated to bring down the harrumphing of older social critics, who were legion: the authors of U.S.A. Confidential, who worried that disk jockeys and their audiences were "hopheads. . . . Many others are Reds, left-wingers, or hecklers of social convention"; the poet Langston Hughes, who grumped that rock 'n' roll "makes a music so basic it's like the meat cleaver the butcher uses"; even the late-in-the-day editorialists at the New York Times, who harped at the "nightmare of mud and stagnation" that supposedly was Woodstock. Rock 'n' rollers weren't the only ones to endure controversy, Altschuler adds, noting that the NAACP turned on Nat King Cole for his political indifference (Cole later became a committedcivil-rights activist), and even safe-as-milk Pat Boone was once suspected of harboring hophead thoughts. Rock 'n' roll carried the day against all its critics, though, to become whatever it is now, capable of exciting puritan and prurient emotions alike. So dry at times that the reader may worry whether rock is truly dead. But an informative depiction of the early sound and fury all the same.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Glenn Altschuler is Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies and Dean of the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions at Cornell University. He is the author of several books on American history and popular culture, including Changing Channels: America in TV Guide.

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Table of Contents

Editors' Note
1 All Shook Up: Popular Music and American Culture, 1945-1955 3
2 Brown-Eyed Handsome Man: Rock 'n' Roll and Race 35
3 Great Balls of Fire: Rock 'n' Roll and Sexuality 67
4 Yakety Yak, Don't Talk Back: Rock 'n' Roll and Generational Conflict 99
5 Roll Over Beethoven, Tell Tchaikovsky the News: Rock 'n' Roll and the Pop Culture Wars 131
6 The Day the Music Died: Rock 'n' Roll's Lull and Revival 161
Epilogue: Born in the USA: The Persistent Power of Rock 'n' Roll 185
Notes 193
Index 213
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