The history of "rock and roll," as a term, is fairly simple to tell, but the story of rock and roll, the cultural phenomenon, is far more difficult to pin down, some would even say "impossible." Why? Because music, especially this sort—rebellious, spontaneous, even, "dangerous"—resists the conventions of historical timelines. There isn't one moment, one day, or even one year that marks the very beginning of rock; it didn't suddenly appear with the release of a Little Richard, Chuck Berry, or Elvis Presley song, nor did any single political, social, or economic event incite the rise of this new genre.
Because the first affordable solid-body electric guitars were introduced in the 1940s, and because the term "rock and roll" became popular in the early 1950s, we can cite these decades as significant turning points in the evolution of American music. But the sounds we call "rock" evolved from many different sources, in many different regions, and at many different moments in twentieth-century history. And, perhaps most importantly, these sounds were shaped—and continue to be shaped—by countless regular people, some doing what they love, others seeking refuge from what they hate, some hoping to change the world, and still others resisting what they fear.
Rock and roll, once a pleasure enjoyed in private by American teens seeking to differentiate themselves from their parents' generation, has become something far more acceptable—even ubiquitous! It has become a global trend, one that continues to fascinate, inspire, thrill, and—as the Parental Advisory labels remind us—unnerve, all because its essence has remained unchanged. No matter how it has evolved, stretched, and transformed, "rock and roll" continues to call to mind the same youthful rebellion and spontaneous energy that charged the music half a century ago.