1. There actually was serious social commentary but it wasn't PRESENTED as serious social commentary, largely because that wouldn't have sold and because artists in the 50's had absolutely no outlets, let alone sympathetic outlets (such as later rock mags) to discuss their intent as they would later on, nor did they have intellectual music fans who parsed every lyric and found (mostly mistakenly) insigificant things for which they then attributed great insight and meaning. There's a fairly well known story from a few years back about some blog or something online discussing what certain Dylan lyrics meant and all these weighty ideas were being thrown around. Dylan himself then logged on and told them they were full of shit, it wasn't about ANY of that stuff, it just flowed well and sounded good at the time. Nobody believed it was him and they challenged him to prove it by opening his next show with a song he hadn't done in decades. He did, shocking the hell out of these nitwits who couldn't believe they'd actually been talking to Bob Freaking Dylan. Once they got over it of course they then went on to discuss what they felt the rest of his lyrics "really meant", ignoring the actual writer's own explanations. The moral - the introspection everyone often credits is only found by those looking for it because they WANT to find it and have it mean something more than lyrics like ' You look good, let's get wasted and fuck in the backseat".
I'm not sure what the point of this story is. Sure, some of the lyrics that came out of that time were taken as having much more import than they did. So? It doesn't change the fact that the way rock songwriting was done changed hugely, as did the way rock was perceived and consumed.
But songs like Chuck Berry's "Downbound Train" about alcoholism, or Leiber & Stoller's "Run Red Run", or Dave Bartholomew's "The Monkey" were blatant social protests, none of which of course became hits because the era's listeners were interested in that. The next generation were. It was the AUDIENCE that grew up, the artists simply followed the money.
They didn't just follow the money. They drove the changes. If The Beatles hadn't come along, social conscience probably would have remained the province of folk music, and rock and roll may well not have become the overarching force we think of it as being today.
2. The first album to be unquestionably "an event unto itself" (artistically, creatively, socially, etc.) was James Brown's Live at The Apollo. I thought this has already been definitively shown. It was an album for which you had to hear the entire thing to appreciate, it wasn't singles and filler, it was a full-length "expression" over two sides, even the fade at the end of side one in the midst of the epic 11 minute "Lost Someone" before it fades back in on side two shows how this was consciously crafted. When that album went to #2 on the charts, by a still largely unknown artist on a small label, with no singles from the LP to sell it, that was what showed the album market was viable for more than just the few big names in rock that previously sold LP's in big numbers. Dylan and the Beatles and the Beach Boys all recorded for major labels that had extensive experience in albums and knew the value of them financially and when they saw that rock LP's could sell, they gave them the means to do it. But Brown, the Ventures (who were really the FIRST album-oriented rock artists) and Ray Charles had already proven this was possible.
Sure. But the James Brown album was a concert recording, which is a somewhat different thing. The Ventures and Ray Charles were making very successful (and, at least with Charles, artistically very important) albums, but they weren't perceived the way albums were later perceived. The fact is that it wasn't until the albums of 1965-66 (Rubber Soul and Revolver, Highway 61 Revisited, Bringing It All Back Home and Blonde On Blonde, Pet Sounds) that the nature of the album in rock fundamentally changed. And one way we know that those were the albums that did that is that despite the importance of Apollo and Modern Sounds (and Otis Blue), thinking of the album that way never took root among black artists and audiences to quite the same extent, and the closest it came was in the early 70s, not the 60s.
This is where I think your defining "influence" as "doing it first" rather than "influencing what others do" falls short. Not to mention that it's so hard to define what "it" is.
Furthermore by the mid-60's you had the first wave of adults who had grown up with rock 'n' roll as a steady presence in their lives entering into the media. The obvious examples are Paul Williams founding Crawdaddy and Jann Wenner former Rolling Stone, but just in general you had an influx of now-grown up rock fans contributing to the national dialogue on the subject and so postions softened. This is absolutely no different than any other form of popular music that begins as disrespectable (jazz in the 20's, rock in the 50's, rap in the 80's) but once it proves it's not going anywhere and enough time passes the views on it change and jazz by the 50's became "serious" music, while rock by the late 60's became "serious" music and rap by the 90's became "serious" music. The same people that were ripping Public Enemy when they were new and controversial were writing essays a decade later on how "important" their social outlook had been. Nothing changes in that regard. The ones who were writing the praise about rock by the 60's and claiming it "grew up" were simply trying to justify their placing so much importance on it.
There's a great line in the movie Chinatown that goes - "Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough". Same with rock 'n' roll. It had been around damn near twenty years by then, of course it got respectable.
So, teenage music was inevitably going to become huge because of the demographics--guess Elvis wasn't that important. The electric guitar was the perfect instrument for its times--guess Chuck Berry wasn't so important, either.
Sure, artists acheive what they do in part because of the times they live in. But that shouldn't change the credit they get for doing it.