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Economy in History of Rock & Roll

It's What the Kids Want!

Rock and roll's most enduring characteristic is its allure for youth. In its earliest incarnations as rhythm and blues and boogie woogie, the music seduced young people who sought something more spontaneous, aggressive, and sexual than the entertainment enjoyed by their parents' generation. Disc jockeys, record labels, and concert promoters capitalized on this demand, giving young people everything they desired. White, middle-class teens that filled the sprawling post-war suburbs had the expendable income to purchase the records and the concert tickets these entrepreneurs offered, and so helped drive a burgeoning rock and roll industry.

Selling the Rock and Roll Trend

In recent decades, "rock and roll" has become an increasingly lucrative venture, and not only for DJs, record labels, concert promoters, and the few who have attained "rock star" status. Advertisers have successfully utilized it to sell everything from cars to nail polish. Chevrolet has used a number of rock classics to sell its line of cars and trucks including Bob Seger's "Like a Rock." Toyota has promoted its Solara car with a version of Elvis Presley's "Rubberneckin." Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines has transformed an Iggy Pop song about drug addiction, "Lust for Life," into a promotion for its vacation packages. Songs by the Beatles have provided the soundtrack for Nike shoes and Target stores. Alice Cooper, a rock singer best known for nightmarish stage shows featuring various devices of death, has appeared in a commercial for Staples' school supplies in which he referenced his own song, "School's Out." Songs by the groundbreaking rock band Queen have been used to sell, among other things, Coca Cola ("I Want to Break Free"), and Viagra, the male sexual performance-enhancing drug ("We Are the Champions").

Television network executives, filmmakers, authors, concert promoters, playwrights, nightclub proprietors, restaurateurs, and fashion designers have channeled the spirit of the music in order to titillate consumers across the globe. The Hard Rock Café, for example, is perhaps one of the best examples of a business that has profited through the use of rock and roll culture. Its many restaurants, hotels, and casinos, which feature rock memorabilia in display cases and often host autograph signings and live performances, are located in cities all across the globe, from San Francisco, California to Osaka, Japan.

Selling Out?

Rock and roll has seeped into mainstream culture. Resistance from religious organizations, parents' groups, and political figures has failed to prevent rock from becoming commonplace. Today, "rock and roll" refers not only to a variety of musical styles, including punk, progressive, alternative, glam, metal, and emo, but also (perhaps more ambiguously) to fashion, slang, art, and even food! It has become so prevalent in popular culture that the average person has become desensitized to it, a far cry from the days when teens hid their Rolling Stones records from their parents.

For some this is all a sort of travesty; rock and roll, once a force of resistance against mainstream society, has been tamed, watered down and sold to the highest bidder. Perhaps the fate of rock is not unlike the fate of most forms of rebellion in the United States; its power to move people has been harnessed and tamed in order to make it marketable. It may also be that with each new generation, the definitions of "resistance" and "rebellion" change. Many of the things that shocked people in the mid-fifies would earn no more than a raised eyebrow today, and the kind of music that is meaningful to a fan of rock today may not be quite the same for a rock fan fifty years ago. It may also be that in some ways, rock and roll—its artists and its fans—have triumphed in turning a taboo form of art into a global infatuation.

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