This week we'll turn our attention to the world of popular music in America, before rock and roll really broke in 1955. That's the date that we're going to give for the beginning of rock and roll, though as we continue into the course, you'll see that exactly fixing an exact date is pretty tough to do. But let's say it's 1955 so we'll want to know what was the world like before 1955. I'll give a little bit away of what I'm going to say when we get to next week when we talk about the birth of rock and roll, and say that most scholars will say that rock and roll was the result of blending together of three styles that had been prominent in popular music up to 1955. And those styles are mainstream pop, country & western music, and rhythm & blues music. And those styles were thought to be very different from each other, not only in sound but in terms of the kinds of people who would buy that music. So mainstream pop music was mostly purchased and consumed by the average middle class white consumer. Rhythm and blues was thought of as music for mostly urban African American consumers. And country and western music was thought of as music for mostly rural white farming communities this kind of thing. And so these really thought of as three separate markets. Even though stylistically there were some real differences. So the way we'll proceed is this week we'll work in three parts. We'll first start talking about Mainstream Pop. And then we'll move to a discussion of the development of Country & Western in this period before 1955 and then the development of Rhythm & Blues in this period before 1955. So let's dive right in with mainstream pop here. One of the first things we have to understand about popular music before rock and roll, is the song is the primary thing, not any particular performance of it. The basic idea, if you were in the music business, was to write songs, to publish songs, and try to get as many different people to sing those songs as possible. That's very different from the way we think about rock and roll today, right, the way we think about it even in the '60s. Who wants a version of Sgt Pepper that isn't done by The Beatles? Who wants a version of Sgt Pepper that isn't the one The Beatles released and sanctioned for release when they did it? Nobody, really. You want that particular recording. But back in these days, it wasn't that way at all. The song was the important thing. And so, in many ways, the music business before, the mainstream pop business before 1955 was really driven by music publishers. Music publishers job were to get songwriters to write songs and then for them to publish them. Now yes, record them, yes, get them on the radio, yes, but the main way in which they sold these songs was through sheet music. Now this business of selling sheet music, this is something that has really disappeared in our current life almost completely. When was the last time you went into some kind of a music store and saw sheet music on the wall? Even when I was a kid in the 70s you could still buy tons of sheet music, but not so much anymore. Maybe you go into Guitar Center, you see all the guitar instruction books on the wall in one corner of the store, but other than that sheet music is really sort of way out of our picture. It certainly is not the booming business it was but in the first half of the twentieth century, the last half of the nineteenth century, it was the primary thing that people were interested in selling, if you were a publisher. And so the idea with sheet music would be you would buy this sheet music so you could play it at home. And back in those days, a lot of people had pianos in their living room. It was like having a stereo or a big screen TV is today and there were people in a family who can play the piano, often multiple members of the family. And so you would go up to the local five and dime and you would pick out the song that you wanted to buy that week, or maybe a couple of songs. They sold so much sheet music that these stores actually had resident piano, and a resident pianist right there in the store to play the music for you so that you could hear it before you bought it. This is how important the sheet music business was. And so people would take this music back to the home, and they would perform it themselves. Now when recording started to become more and more prevalent in the first half of the century, into the 1920s, into the 1930s, people had recordings, and recordings of course, were an important kind of thing but you probably didn't have as many recordings in the house as you had sheet music. So recordings were that special instance where you wanted to hear something recorded by a particular person. Maybe it was Judy Garland or Bing Crosby or something like that. But otherwise sheet music was the big thing. Of course, rock and roll didn't rely very much on sheet music, so this was one of the apple carts in the rock and roll upset, when it became so popular in 1955. The other thing we have to remember when we think about popular music in this period, is that song writers and performers were essentially thought of as entirely different kinds of people, or different kinds of jobs. A song writer was somebody who wrote a song. And that was, wrote songs, and that's what they did. They didn't particularly perform them. They didn't even have to have great piano skills or great singing voices, but they had to be able to write these songs. And they would churn out song after song after song, sometimes in a formulaic kind of way, but also sometimes in extremely interesting ways, if you know the songs of George and Ira Gershwin for example, Cole Porter. A lot of these classic songwriters from the American songbook wrote fantastic and very, very clever and interesting and sophisticated kinds of songs. But that was their job, there's no recording, or not that I'm aware of anyway, of Cole Porter sings the music of Cole Porter. It was really not expected that a song writer should be able to do that, that took, singing the songs, that is, took a performer to be able to do. And what performers did is they made their mark by having their own personal style. A performer was a song stylist. So the way it would work is that a song would become popular in the, in a culture, and people would hear the song various kinds of ways. We'll talk about that in just a minute. And then these performers would try to put their own special mark on it. So you might hear a song let's think from a little bit later period. Something like My Way or New York New York. That's a great song. I wonder what it sounds like if I heard Frank Sinatra sang that song. I wonder what it would sound like if I heard Elvis Presley sing that song, I wonder what it'd sound like if I heard Liza Minnelli sing that song? So the idea was, there was a song was one entity, and the performance of it was another entity, and these people specialized. This is something that we see change in the history of rock music where the model starts to be from about the mid 60s that the people who write the songs are the same people who perform the songs. So the idea of a cover version, say, in this period before 1955, it almost doesn't apply because everybody's doing versions of everybody else's songs. So this gives us a little bit of an idea of how the music business was structured this period before 1955. The most important thing you could take away from this is the song's the thing not particular performances of it. So now, in the next video, we need to move on to the idea of once we know these songs are the important, sort of basic unit of trade, how do these songs reach people who are interested in hearing popular music? How do they get to the songs, how do they get to know about them? That's what we'll deal with next.