A Little Something We Call "Rock and Roll"
"I guess you guys aren't ready for that yet... But your kids are gonna love it."Sooner or later, a time traveler will need to impress the historical types with an artifact or idea from his own era. Sometimes, this may be as simple as This Is My Boomstick; but if said time traveler is a teenager with a penchant for music, these primitive screwheads are about to witness A Little Something We Call Rock And Roll. Reactions vary, but a historical culture will usually be shocked and terrified, unprepared as they are for a squealing, vaguely Van Halen-esque electric guitar solo. Gradually or suddenly, but often by the time the time traveler has solved their problems (and perhaps learned something himself) rock is accepted, and mundane medieval or prehistoric life will be just a little more "in your face" than our hero found it. Future civilizations are not immune to this trope. Those which have forgotten their roots may be initially bemused by the crude back beat rhythm, but will learn to "get down" with it. In other cases, they might view the time-traveler's music as "classical" or see it as stuffy "old people" music. In seriously reality-challenged situations, the time traveler may be able to construct or otherwise produce an electric guitar capable of all the feedback and distortion necessary for a properly face-melting, dad-enraging solo. In other cases, the time traveler may have simply brought a walkman or reproduce rock-like sounds on period instruments. The ultimate pinnacle of radness occurs when our hero has cobbled together a complete band of historical persons and taught them to build and play crude drum sets and keytars built from available materials. Bonus points if they have somehow discovered and harnessed electrical power to make this work. It's a similar situation when a historical person is brought from the past to the present. This also increases the likelihood of their adopting present day music and slang. And Cool Shades. Compare Giving Radio to the Romans, in which other types of modern technology are given to past civilizations. Note: As with The Power of Rock, "Rock" in this trope can be replaced by any form of popular music from the movie's "present". For instance, in a movie is a comedy about the differences between Martin Lawrence and 10th century Britain, funk may be introduced.
— Marty McFly, Back to the Future
open/close all folders
- Jimmy Olsen is "The Red-Headed Beatle of 1,000 B.C.!" (Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #79, 1964) Hooray for the Silver Age indeed.
- Now for a non-time-traveling example. Radioactive Man (yes, Bart Simpson's favorite superhero) is a nuclear-powered heroic being who gained his super powers in 1952 and hasn't altered his technological or cultural sensibilities since. On his last adventure before being reunited with his long-lost parents, in 1996, RM ventures out into the city on a dark and stormy night to confront the neocommunist villain Dr. Crab, who plans to use a device called an airwave silencer to censor all the city's radio and TV networks for disseminating "capitalist propaganda." After winning a fight with another villain in an alley, RM is starting to round a street corner when he hears an ominous "DOOM, DOOM, DOOM!" approaching the intersection. RM is frightened by the sound, and wonders if Dr. Crab "has some weird, fiendish new weapon." But just as he is preparing for a possible fight to the death, the sinister sound is revealed as nothing more than a ghetto blaster pumping out hip-hop beats as it is carried by a Vanilla Ice-like teenager. (RM gives him a stern lecture about staying out past curfew.)
- Used in an early MAD parody of Flash Gordon called "Flesh Garden", in which the evil alien emperor pits Flesh Garden against the great enemy of all - a man in boxing gloves.
Film - Animated
Film - Live-Action
- Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure has multiple variations of this trope:
- Bill and Ted quote Kansas' "Dust in the Wind" to Socrates. Socrates does not speak English, instead interpreting it as "Like sand through the hourglass, so are the Days of Our Lives!"
- Beethoven is thrilled to find a Casio keyboard in the San Dimas mall and immediately amalgamates a classical melody with 80s-style pop (Extreme's "Play With Me"). It sounds oddly baroque, despite Beethoven being from the 19th century. (The song itself is "Do You Want To Play" in a condensed form.)
- And, of course, the Princesses, who by Bill And Ted's Bogus Journey have not only joined the Wyld Stallyns, but well surpassed Bill and Ted in both musicianship (and modern English grammar). With Bill and Ted, that's not very difficult.
- In Back to the Future:
- Marty utilizes a walkman and Van Halen tape to scare the George McFly of the 1950s by claiming he is Darth Vader from the planet Vulcan. Later, Marty takes the stage at the sock hop and plays "Johnny B. Goode" to the teenagers' delight. A band member is so impressed he phones his cousin, Chuck Berry, implying a Stable Time Loop. Marty then lapses into a wailing hair metal solo that terrifies everyone and inspires the page quote.
- Indeed, 'kid goes back in time and invents rock and roll' was one of the main premises the movie was built round.
- A deleted scene that makes it into the novelization goes further, incorporating a reference to Battlestar Galactica (1978) while Marty brandishes a hair-dryer as if it were a dangerous weapon, among others. The director thought it was a waste of time to show the entire scene (which is much longer than the scene that made the final cut) when George sums it up in a few seconds.
- For the record, the year to which Marty travels back is 1955, which is at least three years late to be the ground zero of rock 'n' roll.
- This trope is de rigueur in modern adaptations of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.
- Despite predating rock 'n' roll, the 1949 musical version uses an unformed version of the trope, having the protagonist (played by Bing Crosby) teaching King Arthur's minstrels to perform big band music.
- The 1989 TV movie version has the protagonist impressing the court with rap music from her boom box.
- A Kid in King Arthur's Court has basically the same scene, with the boom box replaced with a Discman.
- In Black Knight, Martin Lawrence wins over the king by teaching the court musicians to play Sly And The Family Stone's "Dance to the Music" on medieval instruments in a matter of minutes. Naturally, the musicians pick this up with very little prompting, and naturally, it gets everyone in the court up and dancing.
- In the movie Crusade In Jeans (but not the book), the time-traveling protagonist carries a walkman that he tries to use to seduce a local girl. This backfires because he puts in a tape of heavy metal music, rather than romantic melodies. Later, he uses it to bribe a merchant; this works out just fine.
- Parodied in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, where Dr. Evil plays Joan Osborne's "One Of Us" for his cohorts back in the '60s and claims he put it together himself.
- Star Trek: First Contact has a weird inversion, where rock 'n' roll is a nearly-forgotten historical curiosity to the Enterprise crew, but is still alive and well in the era they travel back to. "Magic Carpet Ride" by Steppenwolf is featured prominently.
- It's weird to think that a movie in the 1990s about people from the 2370s in the 2060s who hear a song from the 1960s caused that song to be a belated hit in the 1990s.
- Played straight in the popular Soviet film Ivan Vasilievich Changes His Profession, where two guys from 70s Moscow end up trapped in Tsar Ivan the Terrible's court, while the tsar himself is trapped in the 20th century. One of the characters decides to liven up a medieval feast by getting the minstrels to play along with his singing a popular 70s Russian song (which he does very well). Everybody gets down with it, including the tsar's wife and her ladies-in-waiting. Nobody even notices when the singer takes out a pack of Marlboro for a smoke.
- It's hip-hop instead of rock in Hot Tub Time Machine, wherein Nick, after performing his cover of Rick Springfield's "Jesse's Girl", wows the audience of 1986 with his rendition of "Let's Get it Started" by Black Eyed Peas.
- Reversed in Leningrad Cowboys Go America: When the Leningrad Cowboys arrive in America after having been advertised and sold as an American band, it becomes clear that they know nothing about rock and roll... or country or hard rock or any other kind of Western music. They have to teach themselves just about everything on their way through the States, depending on where they are.
"Your music will go over big down there. Here we have somethin' different. It's called rock and roll."
- In The Smurfs, Patrick Winslow introduces the time-traveling Smurfs to a little something called Guitar Hero. They even bring the music style back to their own time and Brainy forms his own band called the Brainiacs.
- The time-travelling protagonist of The Philadelphia Experiment II doesn't actually bring rock to the alternate Nazi-run America, but its absence is indirectly noted. The main bad guy is introduced as he tries to decide what background music to use for a propaganda film celebrating 50 years of totalitarian rule. After listening to Mahler, Wagner, Strauss, and Handl, he decides that "highbrow Eurotrash" won't cut it. Later on, he settles on country swing, but it still doesn't sound quite right.
- The 1944 comedy Time Flies, whose characters travel from then-present New York to late Elizabethan England, features several non-rock examples. All of the pieces are ostensibly Source Music, but clearly involve instruments that aren't actually in the scenes.
- Stephen King's The Dark Tower series has a few examples of the ancient oldies version with "Hey Jude" being a popular bar song in a post-apocalyptic world, and the drum beat Z.Z. Top's "Velcro Fly" driving the residents of an otherwise abandoned city insane.
- When the kids first enter Everworld and bump into Vikings, they impress them with "Killing Me Softly" and a version of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" with Viking related lyrics.
- Another example is seen in the ninth book. When Anica became allied with the Amazons, she taught them several late-twentieth century songs. This may have worked to her disadvantage, however, as the Amazon leader singing "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" was enough to tip off Anica's witch daughter that she was alive and nearby.
- Subverted in Eric Flint's 1632, the "uptimers" from Grantville(a contemporary West Virginia mining town sent back to the year 1632) hold the Spanish army at bay by playing various recordings on an amplifier, ranging from Ludwig van Beethoven and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to Bon Jovi.
Live Action TV
- In the pilot movie of Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, 20th Century Buck loosens up a futuristic formal dance by introducing the uptight future humans to "something kinda funky." He teaches the keyboardist to play it simply by snapping his fingers a few times and telling the musician to "let yourself go."
- In Goodnight Sweetheart, Gary makes a name for himself as a songwriter by performing Beatles hits during the Blitz.
- The American version of Life On Mars has Sam Tyler (2008 policeman stuck in 1973) impress some cool black New Yorkers by rapping a imperfectly remembered rendition of Ice Ice Baby.
- Doctor Who:
- Mildly lampshaded in "The Doctor Dances". In WWII, when the nanogenes restore young Jamie from gasmask-zombie to human, the Doctor lifts the boy up, joyously announcing, "Welcome back, Jamie! Twenty years to pop music, you're gonna love it!"
- Subverted in an early William Hartnell episode. From the way the others had been describing them, Vicki (who is from The Future) is surprised to hear the Beatles playing what she considers to be "classical music."
- In "The End of the World", Britney Spears' "Toxic" is referred to as a traditional ballad, and Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" as classical music in the year 5 billion.
- In "Doctor Who S35 E1 "The Magician's Apprentice"," the Doctor makes his entrance into a Medieval arena wearing Cool Shades, playing and electric guitar, and riding a tank. As the title suggests, the locals justifiably believe him to be a magician.
- Star Trek:
- A non-time-travel variation; in Star Trek: Voyager, the titular ship encounters an alien race that feel themselves superior to them—until they hear the Doctor singing, and are entranced. Evidently the aliens never developed the concept of music during their history, and were amazed to discover that simple harmonic arrangements of sound and beat could be so pleasing.
- Played straight later with the aliens hating jazz music and eventually abandoning the Doctor's classical opera style for "music" that consists of nothing but a intrinsically complicated series of sounds that are just confusing if not outright awful.
- In Being Erica, Erica time travels back to her university days in the (early) 90s. As she long forgotten her poetry assignment that she was supposed to read in from of the class that that day, she started to recite the lyrics to "Hit Me Baby One More Time". The cynical literature prof was quite impressed.
- Non-time-travel example: at one point in the miniseries The 10th Kingdom, Virginia, trapped in a rural part of a a fairy-tale world, must compete in a singing contest wherein all songs must relate to sheep and shepherding. She chooses "We Will Shear You", in the style of Queen's "We Will Rock You".
- Brütal Legend is practically built around this trope. Though, with a twist: Heavy Metal actually came *before* the time Eddie travels to, but was lost to the ages. Eddie actually comes from the future, where it has been re-discovered, and brings Metal back.
- In Halo: Combat Evolved, the video from the helmet camera of the dead marine shows one soldier complaining to Sergeant Johnson why they have to listen to "the old stuff"—rock music known as Flip Music In-Universe—while on the transport to their target zone. Johnson gives them a pep talk about how it's an important part of Earth's history and culture.
- Engines of Creation features several instances of modern music being introduced to a medieval society.
- In the DuckTales episode "Time Is Money", Huey, Dewey, and Louie wow prehistoric "caveduck" Bubba with the Eighties "tunes" they brought back in time.
- Inverted in Futurama: when Bender and Leela find Fry in his apartment watching TV and playing Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back", Leela insists he can't spend all his time sitting around listening to classical music. Bender later refers to said music as "Stuffy Old Songs About the Buttocks."
- Averted in "Journey Through Time", a particularly trippy episode of Jem. The Holograms are unknowingly sent back in time by Eric's goon, Techrat. They visit Mozart's period and Woodstock without even getting a song in, but they do a swing song in 1941 London.
- An alien girl sends The Beatles to a distant planet in the episode "Day Tripper," where their playing of the song has the inhabitants dancing among the rock formations.
- Played straight by the GIs who imported American music to Germany in the 50s.
- In October 1981, Jean-Michel Jarre was the first contemporary Western musician ever to play in the People's Republic of China. The Chinese audience had only just been introduced to Jarre's music (and any modern Western music, for that matter because Jarre's albums Oxygène and Equinoxe were the first Western music albums available in China thanks to the British Embassy), and they had never in their lives heard electrically amplified live music before, let alone synthesizers. All they had in Mao's times was classical Chinese music and military marches.
- Not just a music trope: many sports, such as baseball and basketball, have been exported to other countries because of soldiers or missionaries.
- The Leningrad Cowboys used to parody this at their concerts as one can hear on Live In Prowinzz. They announced to play a style of music that may be unfamiliar to the audience called rock & roll; the current number one rock & roll song in America, to be more specific, which has been number one for seven years already. And then they played Russian folk, for example "Katyusha". Then again, that was in a time when the Leningrad Cowboys referred to themselves as "the worst rock & roll band in the world".