Key Events in Rock and Roll History

If you’re seriously into rock and roll, wanting to discover its colorful history most likely comes naturally to you. You even wish there’s a rock and roll subject in your class! Anyway, here are some of the major events that, in our opinion, forever shaped the landscape of rock and roll and the music industry in general.


 1.The Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show

Key Events in Rock and Roll History
The Beatles and Ed Sullivan

One of the most phenomenal moments in rock history happened on February 9, 1964. Over 73 million viewers (or about a third of the nation) tuned in to see the Beatles for the first time on The Ed Sullivan Show. Several days after the episode was aired, American kids had begun to grow their hair long and pleaded with their parents to buy them guitars. Following that episode, an influx of other English acts arrived in the US and dominated the American music scene, instigating the British Invasion. Rock and roll would never be the same again after that.

2.Elvis Presley sings “That’s All Right” during a recording session break

Elvis Presley during a promotion shoot for Jailhouse Rock
Elvis Presley during a promotion shoot for Jailhouse Rock

The King of Rock and Roll was then an 18-year-old truck driver who presented himself as a ballad crooner. But he was struggling to make a name for himself, churning out demos that went unnoticed. During a break from the recording sessions at Sun Studios, Presley and his fellow session musicians broke into an off-hand rendition of Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right.” This eventually transformed Presley into rock and roll’s first true idol.

3.”The day the music died” – Buddy Holly dies in a plane crash

Buddy Holly
Buddy Holly publicity picture for Brunswick Records. (Source: Wikipedia)

It’s amazing that Buddy Holly enjoyed mainstream success and popularity in less than a couple of years before his tragic death from a plane crash in the morning of February 3, 1959. He was only 22 years old. The accident also took the life of Ritchie Valens, J. P. “Big Bopper” Richardson, and pilot Roger Peterson. Along with the absence of Elvis Presley (who was in the US Army then), Jerry Lee Lewis (whose career took a downturn following his marriage scandal in 1958), Chuck Berry and others, rock and roll experienced a somber lull during this period.



4.Bob Dylan goes electric

After the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, it seemed that folkies wanted to “plug in,” so to speak. And these folkies include Bob Dylan, one of the biggest forces in the 1960s folk and protest movement. His decision to play an electric set at the Newport Folk Festival was roundly met with outrage by many folk purists who felt he corrupted the essence of his artistry. However, Dylan’s move was also welcomed by a lot more people who felt that he simply brought folk music into a whole new level.


5.The launch of MTV

mtv_logo_2010-svgMTV logo

On August 1, 1981, MTV (Music Television) made its maiden broadcast with the Buggles’ music video “Video Killed the Radio Star” which appeared to be quite portentous. With the launch of MTV, image is a big thing, although the network seems to favor visual appeal over true musical talent. However, it’s doubtless that MTV changed the landscape of music forever.

6.The Beatles release Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

The Beatles Album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Beatles Album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Often cited as the first concept album and first art rock album, The Beatles’ eighth studio LP Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) broke new musical grounds and elevated pop and rock into an art form. One critic even referred the album as “a decisive moment in the history of Western civilization” — if you had been thrown back to the 1960s era where the album was released, you will realize how mind-blowing and monumental the impact Sgt. Pepper has made. Sgt. Pepper garnered an immediate critical and commercial success across the globe — many music insiders believe that Sgt. Pepper‘s success, despite never having a single, ushered in the album-oriented rock (AOR) era. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is definitely a shining moment not only in the Beatles’ career, but also in the whole rock spectrum as well.

7.Nirvana displaced Michael Jackson on the charts


Who would have thought that the humble grunge rock would suddenly become a big phenomenon — not to mention dislodge the throne of the King of Pop? Seattle’s grunge rock trio Nirvana released their second album Nevermind in 1991 and as usual, had low expectations about it. However, late in the year it became a surprise commercial success. By January 1992, it toppled Michael Jackson’s Dangerous at the number one spot of the Billboard 200 chart. The success of Nevermind ushered in the grunge era and catapulted alternative music to the mainstream. Most importantly, though, Nirvana’s success inspired budding rock musicians to start their own bands.


A performance during 1969’s Woodstock Music and Art Fair
A performance during 1969’s Woodstock Music and Art Fair

About half a million strong attended the Woodstock festival in the summer of 1969. This three-day event of “peace and music” brought many artists of different backgrounds and genres and proved that rock can be a major communal as well as cultural force. About 32 acts such as The Allman Brothers Band, Grand Funk Railroad, Santana, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, The Who and Jimi Hendrix performed in what would become one of the major driving forces of the counterculture movement.


9.The launch of Napster and the digital revolution

The rise of the file-sharing website Napster made a rattling impact to both the music and digital industry in a way that nothing else could. We know that Napster had been embroiled in copyright infringement lawsuits here and there, however putting aside those things, we shouldn’t fail to acknowledge that the rise of Napster and the Internet as a whole that suddenly gave freedom to many rock and pop artists to record their own music from the comfort of their own spaces. It also provides a way to promote and distribute their music at virtually no cost and without the help of major labels. As a result, live performances take the place of record sales as the main source of the artists’ revenues.

10.The first rock and roll record

Rocket "88" label
Rocket “88” label

Chronicling the history of rock and roll without tracing its origins would be meaningless. Before we could say what the first true rock and roll record is, first we have to determine what makes a record rock and roll song: dominant guitars with blues elements, raw emotions, rhythm, overtones of rebellion and distorted guitars. And we found that “Rocket 88,” a 1951 record by Ike Turner (featuring Jackie Brenston on vocals), has all the ingredients of a rock and roll sound. Thus, “Rocket 88” is considered the first rock and roll record to have been released.

Of course, you may have in mind other events in rock and roll history as being the most important, which is fine. We hope this list has brought back fond memories or helped you learn more about the history of rock and roll.