Early American Pop Music You Need to Know

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Here are 8 early American pop songs you need to know. These classics are sure to get you dancing and singing along.


Although pop music is often thought of as a product of the past few decades, the genre has actually existed in some form since the late 19th century. Early American pop music was a melting pot of styles, including classical, ragtime, jazz, and blues. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most influential early American pop songs and the artists who created them.

“The Yellow Rose of Texas” is one of the earliest and most well-known American pop songs. The song was written in 1853 by Minorcan composer J.P. Sousa, who would later become known as “The March King” for his military marching band compositions. The song became popular during the American Civil War, when it was sung by both Union and Confederate soldiers.

Another early American pop song is “After the Ball,” which was written in 1891 by composer Charles K. Harris. The song became a massive hit, selling over five million copies of sheet music. It tells the story of a young woman who is heartbroken after her lover goes off to war and doesn’t come back.

“Alexander’s Ragtime Band” is one of the most iconic early American pop songs. It was written in 1911 by Irving Berlin, who is considered one of the most important songwriters in American history. The song was originally intended to be a parody of ragtime music, but it ended up becoming one of the most popular tunes of its time.

“God Bless America” is another early American pop song that has stood the test of time. It was written by Irving Berlin in 1918 as a patriotic anthem during World War I. The song gained even more popularity during World War II, when it was performed by many different artists, including Kate Smith and Bing Crosby.

These are just a few examples of early American pop songs that have had a lasting impact on popular culture. There are many other great tunes from this era worth exploring, so get out there and start listening!

The 1920s – Jazz and Blues

Early American popular music typically consists of Western popular music that has developed in the United States prior to the Civil War. The first American popular music was primarily influenced by British and Irish folk music, with some influence from African and Native American music. In the 19th century, minstrelsy was a form of early American popular music that consisted of white performers singing and playing songs that were created by African Americans.

After the Civil War, African American spirituals, work songs, field hollers, and blues became more popular. In the late 19th century, Ragtime became popular, followed by early Jazz in the early 20th century. The 1920s was a decade known as the “Jazz Age”, where Jazz and Blues became extremely popular. Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong were two very famous Jazz musicians during this time.

The 1930s – Swing

The 1930s saw the rise of a new form of pop music known as swing. Swing was a style of jazz that was characterized by a fast tempo,livelier rhythm, and a more distinctive beat. Many of the biggest stars of the era, such as Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and Glenn Miller, were associated with swing music. Swing became increasingly popular in the latter half of the 1930s and remained one of the most popular genres of pop music until the end of World War II.

The 1940s – Boogie-Woogie and Bebop

During the early 1940s, many big bands began to disband as musicians were drafted into the military. The smaller band lineups that became popular during this time were easier to transport and allowed for more improvisation, which in turn led to the development of two new genres: boogie-woogie and bebop.

Boogie-woogie is a style of piano blues that was popularized by artists like Meade Lux Lewis and Amos Milburn. Bebop, on the other hand, was built around complex chord progressions and fast tempos and featured artists such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.

Both genres would go on to have a profound influence on American pop music, especially as rock ‘n’ roll began to take shape in the 1950s.

The 1950s – Rock ‘n’ Roll

The 1950s was the decade that started it all. Rock ‘n’ roll was born in the early 50s and changed music forever. Artists like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard appealed to a wide audience and had a profound impact on popular culture. Doo-wop groups like The Platters and The Drifters also rose to prominence in the early 50s with their catchy tunes and smooth harmonies. The 1950s was truly a golden era for pop music.

The 1960s – Motown

The sound of Motown Records defined the 1960s for many Americans. The record label, based in Detroit, Michigan, was founded in 1959 by Berry Gordy, Jr. Its first hit came in 1960 with “Shop Around” by The Miracles. Over the next decade, Motown would produce a string of hits by artists such as The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Motown’s music was a blend of R&B and pop that appealed to a wide audience, and its artists had a major impact on both black and white performers who followed in their footsteps.

The 1970s – Disco

The 1970s was the decade in which disco music became mainstream. It started as a underground movement in clubs in New York City and Philadelphia but soon spread across the country and the world. Disco was characterized by its heavy beat, often sexualized lyrics, and flashy clothes and hairstyles. The most famous disco songs include “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor, “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge, and “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. The popularity of disco declined in the early 1980s, but it has continued to influence popular music through the decades.

The 1980s – Hip Hop

The 1980s was the decade of hip hop. Famous rappers like Run-DMC, LL Cool J, and the Beastie Boys created a new style of music that would change America forever. Hip hop was born in the Bronx, New York, and quickly spread to other parts of the country. By the mid-1980s, it had become one of the most popular genres in America.

Hip hop is a style of music that is characterized by its use of rhyming lyrics, turntable scratching, and bass-heavy beats. It often tells stories about the struggles of inner-city life. Hip hop artists often use their music to draw attention to social issues such as racism and poverty.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a new subgenre of hip hop called gangsta rap emerged. Gangsta rap is defined by its aggressive lyrics and violent themes. Gangsta rap artists often glorified illegal activity and violence in their songs. This led to criticism from some people who felt that gangsta rap was harmful to young people.

The 1990s – Grunge

The early 1990s were a difficult time for American pop music. The previous decade had been dominated by glossy, synth-based pop and hair metal, both of which fell out of favor with the arrival of Nirvana and the grunge movement. Hip-hop was also on the rise, and would soon come to dominate the charts.

For a brief period in the early ’90s, though, alternative rock ruled the airwaves. Grunge bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden released a string of massively successful albums, while other alternative acts like R.E.M., Talking Heads, and Sonic Youth enjoyed critical acclaim. It was a great time to be a fan of alternative music.

Sadly, it didn’t last. By the mid-’90s, grunge was already on the decline, victim to both its own success (the mainstreaming of alternative rock) and tragedy (the deaths of Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley). But while grunge may be gone, its legacy lives on in the form of the many great bands it inspired.


In conclusion, Early American Pop music is an important and interesting genre that you should definitely check out. It has a rich history and has influenced many other genres of music today. So go ahead and give it a listen! You might just find your new favorite type of music.

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