However, crossover music may also be a combination of two dominant styles that are each distinctive. Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire" went to the top 3 of the C&W, R&B, and Pop charts because it had distinctive elements of all three styles. Musical styles can sometimes be combined into 'fusion' music, such as Rockabilly, that forms a new style but is still considered a form of crossover.
Crossover is important because it increases the size of the available audience. This is especially true when radio stations are categorized by genre. An audience will have a loyalty to a certain station and by getting airtime on both a rock station and a country station, the artist has doubled their exposure. This phenomena was critical to 45-RPM record sales in the 1950s. Exposure to new music was through the radio and record sales were directly linked to airtime and radio station promotion. A crossover record could double their sales or as in the case of "Great Balls of Fire", sales could triple.
Elvis Presley's musical career peaked in 1960 before he left for the Army. The previous 6 years had an enormous impact on rock and roll that his later career would never have been able to capture. When Elvis signed with Sun Records in 1954, he brought the right ingredients to an environment that meshed perfectly with his style (Stuessy and Lipscomb 36). Rock and Roll had been introduced to a rebellious post war youth in an affluent economy. The 45-RPM record had made music on demand accessible for everyone and it was most popular with the younger audience. To this scene, Elvis brought his unique mix of musical talents. He had a broad range of style from Gospel to hard core Rock and Roll that held a wide appeal (Stuessy and Lipscomb 40). He could successfully blend these styles or use them independently. His physical appearance and performances were just rebellious enough to mirror James Dean and entrance the emerging TV viewers. Elvis was able to dominate the youth culture and exploit the new mediums of recording and television.
After his release from the Army, Rock and Roll had taken new directions and had a life of its own. Music was getting more sophisticated and the audiences had generated expectations of a continually changing sound. His 1960s hits "In the Ghetto" and "Suspicious Minds" lacked the spark that had ignited the Rock revolution (Stuessy and Lipscomb 38). They were generic sounds that could have been performed by a dozen other artists. Though he would always remain one of the most popular figures in music, without the early years he would never have reached the success that he has today.
A Good 1950s Rock and Roll Song
The Rock and Roll of the 1950s was a pulling away from the Big Band era and the crooners of the 1940s. It had to be counter to those sounds. Where Big Band had been highly structured, Rock was required to have little if any structure. This often resulted in songs that were simple and direct with few chords and simple progressions. This was part of Rock's appeal. A good song needed a familiar structure that the audience could immediately relate to. Buddy Holly's "Oh Boy" was built on the I IV V chord progression that had permeated Country and Blues for decades (Stuessy and Lipscomb 30). The successful song would take these familiar progressions and escalate the tempo, timbre, and volume to create a good Rock and Roll