The Theme of Rebellion in the 1950s as It Occurs in the Arts
9 class periods
Grades 4-6 Music
Post WWII US, 1945-1970
Common Core Standards Addressed:
Writing Standards K-5
Louise Gray (2004)
The 1950s was a decade of prosperity, optimism, conservatism and conformity. But as the era neared its end, a counter-culture reared its head through American society along the lines of "Leave It to Beaver" meets "Twin Peaks." Rebellion and non-conformity were the reactions to the “white-bread” texture of American society. Various celebrities epitomized the defiance of youth—Marlon Brandon, James Dean, Elvis Presley, Jack Kerouac, and others. Eddie Cochran, composer and virtuoso guitarist, co-penned the teen-age anthem “Summertime Blues,” which amplified the dissatisfaction and unrest that continue to trouble our youth even today. “Summertime Blues” served as a vehicle to explore the various trends present within 1950’s society whose echoes are still felt more than 50 years later.
Eddie Cochran (1938-1960), killed in a fiery car crash in London in 1960 and thus propelled instantly to iconic rock-n-roll legend, was a song-writer/performer who was over-shadowed by Elvis Presley. In fact, Eddie coveted Elvis’ fame and stardom saying, “I’m gonna be big. . .I can play guitar-he can’t.” Some say that his magnetism wooed more females than Elvis with his aggressive Rockabilly style of performance. “Summertime Blues” was composed in nearly one-half hour in 1958 and recorded that same year. It consists of a three-chord accompaniment with over-dubbed hand-clapping as performed by song-writer Sharon Sheeley. It took Cochran one hour to perfect the hand-clapping of Sheeley who was not an instrumentalist. The spoken lyrics which cap each verse are Eddie’s impression of King Fish from Amos’n-Andy, an African American radio show. “Summertime Blues” was Eddie’s only Top 10 hit in America. It took two months to enter the charts and peaked at number 8 on the Billboard 100.
This success came at a crucial time when Eddie’s career seemed to be at a low point. His management gave him the go-ahead to write, produce, and play his own material and still be creative. “Summertime Blues” encapsulates the rebelliousness of youth, the hypocrisy of politics, and the growing generation gap of the fifties. Although it is not a protest song, it anticipates those songs of the 1960’s through its defiance to authority. Eddie Cochran proves himself to be an innovator rather than a re-creator in this dynamic paean to teenage freedom versus adult responsibility. “Summertime Blues” is one of rock’s most covered songs with recordings made by the Beach Boys, Blue Cheer, T-Rex, Ritchie Valens, Dick Dale, The Who, Alan Jackson, Joan Jett, The Flaming Lips, The Flying Lizards, Olivia Newton-John, Buck Owens, the Ventures, and Motorhead, among others.
What do you know about the 1950s?
What does it mean to rebel?
The students will:
Song used in this lesson:
“Summertime Blues” by Eddie Cochran
“Summertime Blues” will serve as the instructional focal point of an interdisciplinary unit which will involve a minimum of nine teaching sessions of approximately 45 minutes each.
Students will become familiar with the fifties and the theme of rebellion through viewing photographs and excerpts of films and participating in a discussion. Students will become familiar with Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues”.
Students will identify Eddie Cochran and “Summertime Blues” as parts of the 1950’s milieu.
Sessions Three and Four
Students will define the term “icon” and identify several from the 1950s.
Students will become familiar with the life of artist Jackson Pollock and his “drip” style of painting.
Students will compose their own lyrics to “Summertime Blues”
Students will become familiar with a dance popular with 1950's teens.
Students will become familiar with the poetry of Allen Ginsberg.
Students will create an event which foreshadows the “Happenings” of the 1960s by presenting some of the art works that they created during the past nine (or more) sessions.
Students will divide into groups:
Extending the Lesson
Have students do interviews of family and neighbors who lived during the 1950s.
1. What is your name?
2. When were you born?
3. Who are you in relation to the interviewer?
4. What age group did you fall into during the 1950’s?
__Elementary School Student
__High School Student
5. What do you remember about the 1950’s?
6. Who was your favorite musical performer at the time?
7. What was the name of your favorite song back then?
8. Did you ever hear of Eddie Cochran and the “Summertime Blues”?
“Summertime Blues” available at
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Dasher, Richard T. History of Rock Music. J. Weston Walch, Portland, Maine, 1985.
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Foreman, Joel, ed. The Other Fifties: Interrogating Mid-century American Icons. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, c. 1997.
Gish, D.L. Rock’N’Roll. Smart Apple Media: Minnesota, 2002.
King, Stephen. Dreamscapes and Nightmares: “They Must Have Had A Hell of A Band Up There”. Signet: New York, 1994.
Livingston, James, Poland, Michael D, Simmons, E. Ronald. Accountability and Objectives for Music Educators. Educational Media Press:Costa Mesa, California, 1973
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Andy Warhol and His World. 2000.
Music Educators National Conference. Performance Standards for Music Grades PreK-12. Reston, VA: MENC, 1996.
Mundy, Julie and Higham, Darrel. Don’t Forget Me: The Eddie Cochran Story. New York: Billboard Books, 2001.
Patterson, R. Gary. Take A Walk on the Dark Side: Rock and Roll Myths, Legends, and Curses. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004.
Eddie Cochran: “Summertime Blues”, 1988 EMI Records, Ltd., Liberty CD LC 0542
Rock’n’Roll: 50’s and 60’s Hits, 3 CD set; Quebec, Canada: Madacy Entertainment Group, Ltd, 2003.
Cinema on Video:
Blackboard Jungle. MGM Home Entertainment, 1955
Rebel without a Cause. Warner Home Video, 1955
The Wild One. Columbia/Tri Star Home Entertainment, 1954
Copyright 2011-2012 Center for American Music, University of Pittsburgh Library System