Episode 1: The Precursors

The show opens in New York City at the end of World War 2. We discuss social, technological, and economic forces that converge in the early postwar years: the Baby Boom generation and its impact, the rise of the American middle class, technological advances in radio and recording.

In the early Fifties, “Race Records” (Rhythm & Blues records by African American musicians) start becoming popular with white American Teens. We assert this is in large part a response to the bland, conformist zeitgeist of popular culture. We meet an early adopter and champion of R&B music: the DJ and radio personality Alan Freed, who popularized the term “Rock n Roll.”

We briefly discuss two other cultural phenomena that will become important later: Skiffle in the United Kingdom and the Beat Poets in urban America.

We also meet two Rock n Roll pioneers: Ray Charles and Bill Haley.

Two key social and political issues are examined in detail: racial segregation and anticommunist hysteria. In 1954, the Supreme Court publishes the Brown v Board of Education decision, and Senator Joseph McCarthy is humiliated and discredited. These shifting political realities drive—and are driven by—momentous changes in the popular culture: the lid comes off; freedom of expression takes a big step forward.

Finally, we briefly meet the first Rock n Roll superstar, Elvis Presley, and set up Episode Two.

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Songs from Episode One

Pink Floyd: “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt 1” from The Wall, 1979 Harvest/EMI Records

The Who: “Sparks” from Tommy, 1969 Decca Records.

The Who: “My Generation” from The Who Sings My Generation, (American Release) 1966 Decca Records

Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters: “Ac-Cen-Tchu-Ate the Positive” single released 1944, Decca Records

Billie Holiday: “Strange Fruit” 78 rpm single released 1939 on Commodore Records

Buddy Guy: “Damn Right I Got the Blues” from Damn Right I Got the Blues, released 1991, Silvertone Records

Ray Charles: “The Mess Around” single released 1953, Atlantic Records

Mama Don’t Wanna Skiffle no more, Huw Wheldon show, Jimmy Page, 1957

The Chords: “Sh Boom” single released 1954, Cat Records

The Penguins: “Earth Angel” single released 1956, Mercury Records

Big Joe Turner: “Shake, Rattle and Roll” single released 1954, Atlantic Records

Bill Haley and his Comets: “Rock Around the Clock” single released 1954, Decca Records

Sweet Honey in the Rock: “Ain’ Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” from Freedom Song, released 2000, Freedomsong Productions

Lou Lou Belle and Scotty, “I’m No Communist” single released 1952, Mercury Records

Elvis Presley: “That’s All Right” single released 1955, Sun Records


Cohodas, Nadine (2005). Spinning Blues into Gold: The Chess Brothers and the Legendary Chess Records.

Cohn, Nik (1970). Wopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: Pop From the Beginning.

Galbraith, John Kenneth (1998). The Affluent Society, Fortieth Anniversary Edition.

Ginsberg, Alan (1955). Howl and Other Poems.

Greenfield, Robert (2012) The Last Sultan: The Life and Times of Ahmet Ertegun.

Guralnick, Peter (1995). Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley.

Mills, C. Wright (1951). White Collar: The American Middle Classes.

Morgan, Ted (2003). Reds: McCarthyism in Twentieth-Century America.

Pleasants, Henry (1966). The Great Singers: From the Dawn of Opera to Our Own Time.

Whyte, William H. (1956). The Organization Man.

Zinn, Howard (2005). A People’s History of the United States.

Movies and Television Shows

Volkswagen television commercial

Almost Famous, Directed by Cameron Crowe, 2000 Dreamworks Pictures

Ray, Directed by Taylor Hackford, 2004 Universal Pictures

Good Night and Good Luck, Directed by George Clooney, 2005 Warner Independent Pictures

Online Sources, by Topic in Order of Appearance

Invention of the Transistor:


Invention of the 45-rpm record:


Affluent Society, Consumerism

Volkswagen ad, 1971,

Beat Poets:


Alan Freed:



Brown v Board of Education Decision:







Sound by John Michael Berry

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