The Roaring Twenties: Cultural Rebellion and Economic Excess


The 1920s was a decade of deep cultural conflict. The decade witnessed a titanic struggle between an old and a new America. The conflicts of the 1920s were primarily cultural, pitting a developing more cosmopolitan, modernist, urban culture against the traditional more provincial, rural culture. Immigration, race, alcohol, evolution, gender politics, and sexual morality all became major cultural battlefields during the 1920s. Wets battled Drys, religious modernists battled religious fundamentalists, and urban ethnics battled the Ku Klux Klan. The 1920s was also a decade of profound economic changes. The most obvious signs of change were the rise of a consumer-oriented economy and of mass entertainment, which helped to bring about a “revolution in morals and manners.” Sexual mores, gender roles, hair styles, and dress all changed profoundly during the 1920s. Many Americans regarded these changes as liberation from the country’s Victorian past. But for others, morals seemed to be decaying, and the United States seemed to be changing in undesirable ways. The result was a thinly veiled “cultural civil war.” The following songs reflect some of these phenomena.

“The Jazz Age”, Glyn Lehmann, 2004,

When the band struck up that rhythm
Syncopation filled the room
You could see the flapper on the dance floor

Her short dress was oh so shocking
The Dixieland was hot and loud
That’s what they called the Roaring Twenties

When the Charleston was the rage*
From New York to Adelaide
The Floating Palais on the Torrens
In the Jazz Age

The wireless and the television
Loudspeakers and penicillin
All had their dawning
In the Jazz Age

Louis taught the world to scat
Doo-be-doo-bup, doo-bop, doo-bow!
Yeah man that’s where it’s at
Flip-flop, skidaly-bop, shoo-be-doo-wah!

When the Charleston was the rage*
From New York to Adelaide
The Floating Palais on the Torrens
In the Jazz Age

Then Wall Street had a crash
Fortunes vanished in a flash
The money all ran out
In the Jazz Age
But the dancing never stopped
In the Jazz Age……..yeah!

* alternate lyric
When the Charleston was the rage
From New York to Saint-Tropez
Ev’rybody kicked their heals up
In the Jazz Age

“The Roaring Twenties Song”,;

Twenties came in like a lion, by the end that lion was dyin’

Couldn’t even pounce, Jazz Age, Dukes and Counts,

Big band, swing time make you bounce,

You know what this is – prohibition, no liquor sipping, no we’re bootlegging,

Like Al Capone running Chicago, organized crime, making the dough,

Making more booze than Busch is, ladies for the first time, shaken their tushes,

Flappers happening, fellows looking dapper, old folk’s cheeks turning red like the snapper,

Big business is back in business, big business is good for us, isn’t it,

Fundamentalist Tennessee trying evolution, the Scopes Monkey,

KKK wearing their sheets, Birth of a Nation is on the screens,

Black leader Marcus Garvey packs it up, wants blacks to return to Africa,

My favorite poet loves the blues, King of the Harlem Renaissance, its Langston Hughes