Rock and Roll Timeline

  • Edison's Phonograph

    The first device able to both record and reproduce sound was invented by Thomas Alva Edison and first demonstrated on November 29, 1877. This would soon come to revolutionize communications and music forever - live was no longer the only option. The storage capacity of records became more and more efficient in the following years.
  • Tin Pan Alley

    The existence of Tin Pan Alley, a collection of music publishers in New York City, is roughly dated to 1885. Before this, copyright laws were not strong, with competitors publishing and performing the same popular songs. Tin Pan Alley was and is symbolic of the increase in proprietary restrictions on music for financial gain, rules still strictly in effect and often the cause of court battles to this day.
  • W.C. Handy

    W.C. Handy, who would become known as 'The Father of the Blues', published a song called 'The Memphis Blues' in September 1912, considered by some to be the first blues song. The blues soon went from a minor regional genre to a hugely popular and influential one, and a basis for rock and roll.
  • The Rickenbacker Guitar

    The first solid-bodied electric guitars, nicknamed 'frying pans', were produced by the Ro-Pat-In Corporation (later the Rickenbacker International Corporation). Rickenbacker continued to produce guitars, the company benefiting from The Beatles' high-profile use of them in the 1960s.
  • The Billboard Chart

    On January 4, 1936, Billboard introduced its music 'hit parade', a list of the current most popular recordings. They have been charting music sales and determining the success of songs and albums ever since.
  • Robert Johnson's First Recording

    Blues musician Robert Johnson made his first recordings in San Antonio, Texas on November 23, 1936. Johnson, who died at age 27, has become a legend for his talent, his influence on the development of rock and roll, and his mysterious life and death, including an urban legend about his selling his soul to the devil.
  • King Records

    King Records was founded in Ohio by Syd Nathan. At first, they specialized in country music, but in 1946 they began to produce 'race records', records by and for African-Americans. This both segretated black music and gave black consumers a sense that they were actually being listened and catered to.
  • The Jukebox

    Versions of coin-operated music machines have existed since the 1890s, and the jukebox was an important part of social music-listening through the mid-twentieth century. The model pictured is a Wurlitzer 1015, introduced post-WWII. It is the best-selling jukebox of all time, and an icon of 1950s pop culture.
  • Rhythm and Blues

    Journalist Jerry Wexler coined the term 'rhythm and blues', or 'R&B', to describe soul-influenced black music. It replaced the previous term, 'race records', which had been deemed offensive, and came to refer to nearly all music made by and for African-Americans.
  • The LP Record

    Made of vinyl and less noisy than previous shellac records, the LP (long play) record could play twenty minutes of music per side, the first widely-used long-playing record for home use. Vinyl fell out of favour with the introduction of formats like compact discs, but has made a comeback amongst music aficionados in recent years.
  • Rocket 88

    Another contender for the first true rock and roll song, Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm recorded 'Rocket 88' in Tennessee in 1951. It featured one of the first recorded uses of guitar distortion.
  • The Fender

    The Fender guitar is introduced, the first inexpensive electric guitar. This allowed for more aspiring musicians to purchase instruments.
  • The Moondog Coronation Ball

    Organized by Alan Freed, the disc jockey believed to have coined the term 'rock and roll', the Ball is considered the first rock and roll concert. Both black and white performers were featured.
  • Sun Records

    Sun Records was founded by Sam Phillips in Tennessee in 1952. It would become the home of major artists like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.
  • American Bandstand

    American Bandstand, hosted for most of its run by Dick Clark, was a show which brought pop music into living rooms across the U.S. It featured teens dancing along to the latest pop records, with performances by the artists themselves, and became an institution of wholesome American society during its run.
  • Elvis Presley, 'That's All Right'

    Elvis recorded a cover of the blues song 'That's All Right', his first single, on July 5, 1954. Not only did it launch him to fame, but it was arguably the first song to contain all elements of what is considered 'rock and roll'.
  • Rock Around the Clock

    'Rock Around the Clock' was a musical film featuring Bill Haley and his Comets and intended to capitalize on the popularity of their single of the same name. It is known as the first rock and roll movie, and others followed - some starred rock and roll artists themselves, like Elvis Presley's films, while others had rock sountracks, like Jayne Mansfield's 'The Girl Can't Help It'.
  • The Day The Music Died

    Rock and roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. 'The Big Bopper' Richardson were killed in a plane crash on February 3, 1959. Immortalized as 'the day the music died' in Don McLean's 'American Pie', this tragedy, combined with a series of other rock-related scandals in the late '50s (Alan Freed, Jerry Lee Lewis...), was in a way the death knell of the first era of rock.
  • The Compact Cassette

    The next step in music storage, cassette tapes were introduced as a smaller, convenient, re-recordable alternative to vinyl records in the early 1960s. Cars soon came equipped with cassette players, and devices like Walkmans enabled music fans to listen to their favourite cassettes wherever they went. The format remained popular until the digital revolution and the coming of compact discs.
  • 'Be My Baby' and the Wall of Sound

    Producer Phil Spector developed a complex and layered 'Wall of Sound' recording technique in the 1960s. The Ronettes' hit 'Be My Baby' is widely considered one of the best examples of the technique, as well as being the definitive example of the 1960s girl group sound.
  • The Beatles in America/The British Invasion

    The Beatles made their U.S. television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, garnering the largest number of viewers that had ever been recorded up to that point. Their official arrival in America kicked off the Beatlemania phenomenon and triggered the British Invasion.
  • The Animals

    The Animals' cover of blues classic 'The House of the Rising Sun' is now considered the first folk-rock hit. It helped to usher in the era of the British Invasion, establishing it as more than just a case of Beatlemania.
  • Death of Sam Cooke

    Sam Cooke, one of the pioneers of soul music and known as 'King of Soul', was killed under mysterious circumstances at the age of 33. Cooke was involved in the American Civil Rights Movement, and in addition to being a singer, he founded his own record label and publishing company.
  • Bob Dylan At Newport

    Bob Dylan was reviled by folk 'purists' after he performed an electric set at the Newport Folk Festival. He was thought to have betrayed the acoustic essence of folk, but as it turned out, he was simply experimenting with the boundaries of the genre, and folk rock would continue to increase in popularity.
  • Rolling Stone Magazine

    Named for the Muddy Waters song 'Rollin' Stone', the magazine debuted on November 9, 1967, with John Lennon on the cover. It became a popular source for not only music news, but general pop culture and political coverage as well.
  • Woodstock

    The iconic Woodstock Festival was held in White Lake, New York, from August 15-19, 1969. It was one of the largest rock festivals of all time, and is still considered iconic of the 1960s and the hippie generation. Arguably, the defining event of Woodstock was Jimi Hendrix's searing and possibly ironic guitar rendition of 'The Star-Spangled Banner'.
  • Altamont Speedway

    The antithesis of Woodstock, though both were held in the same year, the Altamont Speedway Free Festival in California, headlined by the Rolling Stones, was a disaster, with several deaths (notably, one homicide) and a lot of property damage. It is considered by some to be the symbolic end and disillusionment of the hippie era.
  • The 27 Club

    Jimi Hendrix died September 18, 1970, followed shortly by Janis Jopin on October 4 and Jim Morrison on July 3 of the following year. These deaths stunned the music world and illustrated the dangers of falling into drug addiction, something which was all too common among musicians.
  • Kraftwerk

    Kraftwerk released 'Autobahn' in 1974, their innovative use of synthesizers and computers laying the groundwork for techno, dance music, electronica, and any other artist who would incorporate electronic technology and sound into their work.
  • Death of Elvis Presley

    After a long decline and drug addiction, Elvis died at the age of 42 on August 16, 1977. So great was his cultural legacy that he and his music have remained popular and lucrative for decades after his death.
  • Death of John Lennon

    John Lennon was assassinated in New York City by Mark David Chapman on December 8, 1980.
  • Debut of MTV

    MTV, or Music Television, debuted on August 1, 1981, paving the way for the increasing importance of music videos, image, and style as determinants in the success of recording artists. The first video played was, appropriately, The Buggles' 'Video Killed the Radio Star'.
  • The Compact Disc

    The CD, used not only for music but computers as well, led to a digital music revolution in the 1980s. The first album released on CD was Billy Joel's '52nd Street', on October 1, 1982.
  • The Parents Music Resource Center

    Co-founded by Tipper Gore, this group of parents, concerned over profanity, sexuality, and violence in music, pushed the Recording Industry Association of America for warning stickers on potentially offensive albums. This led to the removal of many albums from big-box department stores and a debate on the issue of censorship and music. In a Senate hearing on censorship, musicians Frank Zappa, John Denver, and Dee Snider testified in favour of free artistry.
  • Live Aid

    Live Aid, two simultaneous charity concerts in London and Philadelphia featuring dozens of the most popular rock and pop acts in the world, was held on July 13, 1985. It was one of the biggest television broadcasts of all time. Similar spin-off charity concerts, Farm Aid, Live 8 and Live Earth, were held in 1985, 2005 and 2007.
  • Walk This Way

    The first rap song to break the top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, the collaboration between rappers Run-D.M.C. and rockers Aerosmith was a hit, proving that rap and rock elements could be successfully combined and influencing both genres from then on.
  • Death of Freddie Mercury

    The lead singer of Queen, Freddie Mercury, died of AIDS one day after publically announcing he had it. He was the first major music figure to die of AIDS, bringing attention to a disease which had been shrouded in fear, revulsion, and misconceptions.
  • Death of Kurt Cobain

    Three years after Nirvana's 'Nevermind' ushered in the era of grunge rock, lead singer Kurt Cobain committed suicide, leading to years of speculation on the circumstances. Young grunge fans and musicians had lost the idol who paved the way for the breakthrough of alternative rock into the mainstream.
  • Lilith Fair

    Co-founded by Sarah McLachlan, who was frustrated by concerts and radio stations who would not play two female artists in a row for fear of alienating audiences, Lilith Fair was an all-female concert tour (in 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2010) which raised money for women's charities.
  • Napster

    Napter, a peer-to-peer file sharing service, was founded in 1999. The company ran into legal problems after its enabling consumers to share mp3 music files led to cases of copyright infringement, but Napster was the first large service to take advantage of the new and growing digital music market, which would explode over the next decade.
  • The iPod

    The advent of portable music devices - the boombox, then the Walkman, the Discman, the mp3 player, and the iPod, capable of carrying the work of thousands of musical artists everywhere we go - changed the way we interact with music. The iPod has become an icon of culture and technology.
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