How well-received would "modern" rock be by a pre-Beatles rock crowd?

Duran Duran (or your favorite artist post-1980) wakes up one day and finds itself on stage in the year 1959 (or a similar pre-Beatles year where people are already familiar with early sounds of rock). The audience is awaiting a rock ‘n’ roll performance.*

They crank it up and play Rio (or insert a song corresponding with your favorite post-1980 artist).

What kind of response would they likely get? What thoughts would go through the heads of the audience?

Would they be duly amazed and worship the new rock gods or would they throw rotten tomatoes?

  • For purposes of this exercise, assume the audience consists solely of non-time travelers.

Interesting question.

I don’t think they’d make it (assuming they weren’t arrested for their flamboyant style of dress!).

I’d love to see the looks on the faces of 1953-54 teenagers if they were try and comprehend Culture Club.

By 1959, the pioneers of rock (Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Elvis, etc) were being replaced by generic manufactured pop stars like Fabian, Dion, and [shudder] Pat Boone.

Thank Og for Buddy Holly.

Modern rock’s a pretty broad category, so I don’t think you can give one answer. For the most part, though, it would be too big a leap for the audience. The Beatles were successful doing all the weird stuff they did only because they made it big with a pretty standard pop sound first.

Think Back to the Future after Marty does his freak-out punk rock guitar solo after playing Johnny Be Goode. Rememer the weird looks they gave him?


Does it have to be rock? I’m trying to imagine something like “Lovers And Friends”, Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz Featuring Usher & Ludacris (just something I selected off the Top 40) 50 years go. But I’m not sure how well anything would go down. Alternative? Maybe, but be careful in picking the band. Something like The Police might go better. Or how about U2?

Feel free to provide input as to any particular band or sub-genre.

New Wave
Hip Hop


For example, I think the audience would just scratch their heads if they heard the song at the end of Revenge of the Nerds.

Time warp! 1950’s teenager here!

I liked a lot of the music of the early 1980’s and was an MTV addict for a while. The Eurythmics, the Police, Hall and Oates, Duran Duran, Michael Jackson, Men at Work, Stevie Nicks, and Billy Joel to name a few.

But I don’t keep up with rock anymore at all.

Geez. I never thought I’d say that.


Rap, hip-hop and techno are not rock, if that matters. Really, the only thing that might go over well is Beatles-inspired pop, and even that might be too different for the audience to handle. The key thing to understand here is that the last 45 or so years have seen more significantly more musical change than the rest of history, and it’d be really tough for someone who missed all that to deal with the results.

I’m having a lot of trouble believing that the popular music of 2005 is more different from the popular music of 1960 than the popular music of 1960 was from the popular music of 1750.

Who said anything about popular music? You’re right; there are certain genres that have not evolved as quickly, but the question wasn’t restricted to them.

That’s exactly what I thought of. If you took a hard rock band like Korn - not even a band I like, but they were my first thought for some reason - I think the crowd would be scared and hate the sound.

I don’t think there would be much differentiation between the way they reacted to middle-of-the-road modern rock - melodic and nonthreatening stuff rather than, say, Sonic Youth or My Bloody Valentine - and the way that they originally reacted to the Beatles. I think it would be far more interesting to play them something like a Lil Jon song or a Neptunes production - the weirder stuff that still breaks the top 10 - and see their reaction to hearing that this is the stuff that makes it to the top of the charts in 2005.

That makes me wonder how the 1959 crowd, essentially the group that liked the early Beatles, would react to later Beatles stuff.

What do you have in mind as examples?

That’s what I was going to say. Figure out how old someone would be now who was a teenager in 1959, and then find someone that age and ask them whether they like modern rock. It’s a little different because if they’ve have had the radio on once or twice since then, they’ve been eased into a little. But it’s still a good approximation.

I don’t think so - at all. Any “ex fifties teenager” living now has an entire life’s worth of cultural experiences between then and now. It’s so much more than “easing into it” - music is a reflection of the overriding culture, which they’ve lived through. There’s a huge difference between the way that an 80-year-old today would react to a laptop or Ipod and the way that a person in the 1925 would if suddenly presented with one, even though that 80-year-old is that “same” 20-year-old from 1925.

No, I think you’re definitely right. I took a few music history courses in college, and as far as I can tell, the last couple decades have seen a higher rate of change of musical genres than any other time in history. Gregorian Chant was sung with very little change over the course of centuries, and now we expect every decade to have its own unique sound. Granted, my courses mostly covered “classical” music, but from what little we did discuss of popular (ie, folk) music, it did not change at nearly the rate we’re used to today.

So, yes, I’m sure 50s audiences would be freaked out by a lot of modern music. And if you think the teenagers back then wouldn’t understand today’s music, just think what their parents would have thought of it!

But really, don’t most people have to go through their own type of evolution before they get to the more complex, hard-hitting music being made today? Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think that most people, when they first reach the age at which they’re trying to develop their own musical tastes (the pre-teen years, approximately?) jump straight into really crazy stuff. A lot of people that age start out by listening to bubble-gum pop, eventually outgrow it, then seek out something a bit harder, and on and on till you get to the cutting edge. For some people (myself included) this even takes a pretty linear form. I know I used to love listening to old 50s songs – doo-wop and the like. That kind of stuff, like modern “bubble-gum” pop, is very easily digestible. Eventually I moved on to the 60s, but nothing too “hippy” – early Beatles pop, but none of their “weird” stuff from Sgt Peppers; Beach Boys surfing songs, but not Pet Sounds. And on and on. I guess I’m kind of a slow study, because I’m 25 now and just breaking into the 90s – just got my first Dave Matthews Band CD, hey hey! Well, I’m not that slow, because I did take some great sidetrips – some jazz, blues, country, bluegrass, 30s-40s, stuff, etc. But rap is still mostly incomprehensible to me – at my current rate, I’ll break into it in a few years. :frowning:

Did most other people have to go through a similar evolution in taste, or were you able to jump straight from Disney sing-a-longs to Guns ‘n’ Roses?

Well, OK: I’ve got a year on Zoe. I was 13 in the summer of 1956 when I saw Elvis for the first time. They held his show in a movie theater and I had a seat in the fourth row.

It wasn’t all dead back then, ya’ know. Elvis, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and James Brown could cut up on stage too. I grew up in Miami, and was able to see just about all the early rock ‘n’ roll stars. I was into it big time!

Now, Rock lost me somewhere in the 80’s. Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock & Roll” and Foreigner’s “Juke Box Hero” are about the last rock songs I really liked. Those type of songs would probably have been well received in '59. Some of the more current stuff, not so much.

Sometimes I think some of the later groups replaced musical talent with shocking behavior on the stage, and sold it. Or maybe that’s just geezer talk. Anyways, check out the sig line.

Tell me, Mr. Elvis fan, who was it who began this practice of replacing musical talent with shocking behavior on the stage???* :wink:
A couple of interesting side questions:

How would more recent Rock music have been received by music critics and musicians of 1959?
It’s possible that music that would have been too far out for Billy Averageteen would have been appreciated by people who were more far out themselves. If you had played a Pearl Jam CD for Chuck Berry in 1959 what would he have thought? What about if you played Beck for Buddy Holly? What would William S. Burroughs of 1959 have thought of Korn?
Also, what would the Time Travelling band have sounded like with 1959 gear? To use the OP’s example of Duran Duran, they wouldn’t have had any synths, and the effects that they could put on the guitar sounds would have been limited. I don’t know enough about gear to answer this, I’m sure someone more knowledgeable will check in. What would “Rio” have sounded like with 1959 gear?
What about Nine Inch Nails’ “Head Like a Hole”? Or Garbage’s “I’m Only Happy When it Rains”? It’s possible that once you acount for the change in effects, the sound actually wouldn’t have seemed quite so far out.

*Yes, I know he was a great singer, but he didn’t write and his guitar didn’t have any strings! :stuck_out_tongue:

There certainly is some music the 50s teen would appreciate, or think was kind of stale.
Cherry Poppin Daddies, and the swing craze, for example.
The White Stripes might be comprehendable. So would some of the recent ‘indy’ stuff. And some bubblegum pop, like Hollaback Girl.

Lot of it, though, they probably couldn’t even understand the words.