Follow TV Tropes


A Little Something We Call "Rock and Roll"

Go To

"I guess you guys aren't ready for that yet... But your kids are gonna love it."
Marty McFly, Back to the Future, after getting a little into playing "Johnny B. Goode"

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 who have forgotten their roots may be initially bemused by the crude backbeat 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 reproduced 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.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Dr. STONE, Senku and the Kingdom of Science bring rock and roll (well, pop) to the future, since it's been over 3700 years since the collapse of civilization. They have a little help from the astronauts from whom Ishigami village is descended, who recorded a glass disc with music from one of them, pop star Lillian Weinberg. Senku builds a record player, and for the first time in millennia, people hear Lillian's music again. There's only the one song recorded, but it's enough to bring the villagers to tears (and Gen is very good at imitating voices, so he can recreate some music).

    Comic Books 
  • MAD: Used in an early 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.
  • Radioactive Man: Radioactive Man (yes, Bart Simpson's favorite superhero) is a nuclear-powered heroic being who gained his superpowers 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.)
  • Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen: In issue #79, Jimmy Olsen is "The Red-Headed Beatle of 1,000 B.C.!" Hooray for the Silver Age indeed.

    Fan Fic 

    Film — Animated 
  • Although Time Travel wasn't involved, a variant appeared in the movie FernGully: The Last Rainforest when Zac uses his walkman to start a dance party with the fairies to Guy's cover of "Land of a Thousand Dances".

    Film — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • Back to the Future used this as one of its main gimmicks, especially in the first film, whose protagonist is a rock-loving teenager from 1985 stuck in 1955 (three years after rock was technically invented, but it was still new so whatever):
    • Marty tries to scare George McFly into asking Lorraine out to the dance by dressing up in his radiation suit, hooking up his Walkman to a sleeping George's ears, turning up the volume, and blasting some Van Halen. George wakes up bolt upright. Marty completes the guise by claiming he's "Darth Vader from the planet Vulcan".
    • In the film's climax, Marty has to take over for the band's guitarist and breaks out into "Johnny B. Goode". The teachers hate it, but the kids love it — as does the band's guitarist, who phones his cousin Chuck Berry to get him to listen to it. It's almost a Stable Time Loop — "almost" because by the time he makes the call, Marty has started a loud, 1980s-style, jump-around-the-stage wailing hair metal solo, which nobody seems to enjoy:
      Marty: I guess you guys aren't ready for that yet... but your kids are gonna love it.
  • 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.
  • 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 a culturally contemporary 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 (2001), Jamal 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In The Spirit of '76, Chanel-6 stumbles into an 8-track player, causing it to blast "We're An American Band." The time travellers cringe and cover their ears.
    Chris: They are, like, the American band.
    Heinz-57: The American band?
    Chris: Shit, yeah.
    Tommy: Yeah, they, like, they come into your town, and help you party down.
    Heinz-57 (tapping at his keyboard): Help you... party... down.
  • Star Trek:
    • 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.
    • Star Trek Beyond also uses this after Jaylah uses "Sabotage" by Beastie Boys to disrupt the signal coordinating Krall's swarm ships.
    McCoy: Is that... classical music?
    Spock: Yes, doctor, it would seem to be.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Used again in 11/22/63, where the protagonist accidentally outs himself as a time-traveler when he sings Honky Tonk Woman while on a roadtrip with his 60's girlfriend, who's understandably shocked by the lyrics.
  • Everworld:
    • 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.

    Live Action TV 
  • 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".
  • In Being Erica, Erica time travels back to her university days in the (early) 90s. As she had 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.
  • 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".
  • Doctor Who:
  • In Goodnight Sweetheart, Gary makes a name for himself as a songwriter by performing Beatles hits during the Blitz. This gets examined a little further in later seasons, where "his" songs become known beyond the pub, and he begins to worry that he may be changing history to the extent that the Beatles will have grown up hearing these songs.
  • Fan Xian, the main character of Joy Of Life does this a few times.
    • At one point, Fan Xian is roped into a poem competition during which he simply copies down from memory "Climbing High" (登高), a famous ancient Chinese seven-verse poem by the Poet-Sage Du Fu, thus winning the competition and receiving wide-spread acclaim.
    • Later, at an imperial banquet, he gets drunk and starts reciting hundreds of classic poems from memory, thus earning for himself the nickname "Poet-Sage".
    • As a child, he'd written letters to his younger sister Ruoruo telling her the story of Dream of the Red Chamber (红楼梦), one of the four great Chinese classical novels, only to find out later when he gets to the capital that she'd distributed his letters to many of the other noble ladies in the city and it'd become extremely popular.
  • 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.
  • There was a one-season wonder called Otherworld about a typical American family that gets stuck in a parallel Earth. The teenage son and daughter become rich by performing all of our world's rock and roll hits.
  • 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- the aliens hate jazz music and eventually abandon the Doctor's classical opera style for "music" that consists of nothing but a intrinsically complicated series of sounds that are confusing if not outright awful.

    Music Videos 

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • In Horizon Forbidden West, one of the few remnants of pre-apocalypse culture is a song by an amateur garage band. Most delvers consider it a mere curiosity, but the argumentative, hard-drinking Oseram- in other words, exactly the kind of people who would have been rock fans pre-apocalypse- love it. It even inspired Erend to recreate Old One instruments.


    Web Originals 
  • Engines of Creation features several instances of modern music being introduced to a medieval society.

    Western Animation 
  • Aliens visiting the Earth rather than time travel, but Secret Scout David introduces the Dinosaucers to rock music; they find the sounds incredibly painful and can't imagine why humans would like it. Eventually, during a concert where David and his band members had been performing in costumes of the Dinosaucers, the Tyrannos end up kidnapping them from off stage, forcing the real deal to briefly stand in for the band, and they're unable to do so with any semblence of ability.
  • In the DuckTales (1987) 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.
  • In Star vs. the Forces of Evil, Rubierot writes Star a rock anthem in contrast to the very light melodies traditional for princesses; it goes down well, at least until the part that tells the whole kingdom and the Council about losing her spellbook.

    Real Life 
  • Played straight by the GIs who imported American music to Germany, Japan and Korea 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.
    • Wham! did the same thing 4 years later as the first Western vocal group to tour in China.
  • 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 had 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".