Rock music is a broad genre of popular music that originated as "rock and roll" in the United States in the late 1940s and early 1950s, developing into a range of different styles in the mid-1960s and later, particularly in the United States and the United Kingdom. It has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll, a style that drew directly from the blues and rhythm and blues genres of African-American music and from country music. Rock music also drew strongly from a number of other genres such as electric blues and folk, and incorporated influences from jazz, classical, and other musical styles. For instrumentation, rock has centered on the electric guitar, usually as part of a rock group with electric bass, drums, and one or more singers. Usually, rock is song-based music with a 4
4 time signature using a verse–chorus form, but the genre has become extremely diverse. Like pop music, lyrics often stress romantic love but also address a wide variety of other themes that are frequently social or political.
Rock musicians in the mid-1960s began to advance the album ahead of the single as the dominant form of recorded music expression and consumption, with the Beatles at the forefront of this development. Their contributions lent the genre a cultural legitimacy in the mainstream and initiated a rock-informed album era in the music industry for the next several decades. By the late 1960s "classic rock" period, a number of distinct rock music subgenres had emerged, including hybrids like blues rock, folk rock, country rock, southern rock, raga rock, and jazz rock, many of which contributed to the development of psychedelic rock, which was influenced by the countercultural psychedelic and hippie scene. New genres that emerged included progressive rock, which extended the artistic elements, glam rock, which highlighted showmanship and visual style, and the diverse and enduring subgenre of heavy metal, which emphasized volume, power, and speed. In the second half of the 1970s, punk rock reacted by producing stripped-down, energetic social and political critiques. Punk was an influence in the 1980s on new wave, post-punk and eventually alternative rock.
From the 1990s, alternative rock began to dominate rock music and break into the mainstream in the form of grunge, Britpop, and indie rock. Further fusion subgenres have since emerged, including pop punk, electronic rock, rap rock, and rap metal, as well as conscious attempts to revisit rock's history, including the garage rock/post-punk and techno-pop revivals in the early 2000s. The late 2000s and 2010s saw a slow decline in rock music's mainstream popularity and cultural relevancy, with hip hop surpassing it as the most popular genre in the United States.
Rock music has also embodied and served as the vehicle for cultural and social movements, leading to major subcultures including mods and rockers in the United Kingdom and the hippie counterculture that spread out from San Francisco in the US in the 1960s. Similarly, 1970s punk culture spawned the goth, punk, and emo subcultures. Inheriting the folk tradition of the protest song, rock music has been associated with political activism as well as changes in social attitudes to race, sex, and drug use, and is often seen as an expression of youth revolt against adult consumerism and conformity. At the same time, it has been commercially highly successful, leading to charges of selling out.
The sound of rock is traditionally centered on the amplified electric guitar, which emerged in its modern form in the 1950s with the popularity of rock and roll. Also, it was influenced by the sounds of electric blues guitarists. The sound of an electric guitar in rock music is typically supported by an electric bass guitar, which pioneered in jazz music in the same era, and percussion produced from a drum kit that combines drums and cymbals. This trio of instruments has often been complemented by the inclusion of other instruments, particularly keyboards such as the piano, the Hammond organ, and the synthesizer. The basic rock instrumentation was derived from the basic blues band instrumentation (prominent lead guitar, second chordal instrument, bass, and drums). A group of musicians performing rock music is termed as a rock band or a rock group. Furthermore, it typically consists of between three (the power trio) and five members. Classically, a rock band takes the form of a quartet whose members cover one or more roles, including vocalist, lead guitarist, rhythm guitarist, bass guitarist, drummer, and often keyboard player or other instrumentalist.
Rock music is traditionally built on a foundation of simple unsyncopated rhythms in a 4
4 meter, with a repetitive snare drum back beat on beats two and four. Melodies often originate from older musical modes such as the Dorian and Mixolydian, as well as major and minor modes. Harmonies range from the common triad to parallel perfect fourths and fifths and dissonant harmonic progressions. Since the late 1950s, and particularly from the mid-1960s onwards, rock music often used the verse-chorus structure derived from blues and folk music, but there has been considerable variation from this model. Critics have stressed the eclecticism and stylistic diversity of rock. Because of its complex history and its tendency to borrow from other musical and cultural forms, it has been argued that "it is impossible to bind rock music to a rigidly delineated musical definition."
Unlike many earlier styles of popular music, rock lyrics have dealt with a wide range of themes, including romantic love, sex, rebellion against "The Establishment", social concerns, and life styles. These themes were inherited from a variety of sources such as the Tin Pan Alley pop tradition, folk music, and rhythm and blues. Music journalist Robert Christgau characterizes rock lyrics as a "cool medium" with simple diction and repeated refrains, and asserts that rock's primary "function" "pertains to music, or, more generally, noise." The predominance of white, male, and often middle class musicians in rock music has often been noted, and rock has been seen as an appropriation of black musical forms for a young, white and largely male audience. As a result, it has also been seen to articulate the concerns of this group in both style and lyrics. Christgau, writing in 1972, said in spite of some exceptions, "rock and roll usually implies an identification of male sexuality and aggression".
Since the term "rock" started being used in preference to "rock and roll" from the late-1960s, it has usually been contrasted with pop music, with which it has shared many characteristics, but from which it is often distanced by an emphasis on musicianship, live performance, and a focus on serious and progressive themes as part of an ideology of authenticity that is frequently combined with an awareness of the genre's history and development. According to Simon Frith, rock was "something more than pop, something more than rock and roll" and "[r]ock musicians combined an emphasis on skill and technique with the romantic concept of art as artistic expression, original and sincere".
In the new millennium, the term rock has occasionally been used as a blanket term including forms like pop music, reggae music, soul music, and even hip hop, which it has been influenced with but often contrasted through much of its history. Christgau has used the term broadly to refer to popular and semipopular music that cater to his sensibility as "a rock-and-roller", including a fondness for a good beat, a meaningful lyric with some wit, and the theme of youth, which holds an "eternal attraction" so objective "that all youth music partakes of sociology and the field report." Writing in Christgau's Record Guide: The '80s (1990), he said this sensibility is evident in the music of folk singer-songwriter Michelle Shocked, rapper LL Cool J, and synth-pop duo Pet Shop Boys—"all kids working out their identities"—as much as it is in the music of Chuck Berry, the Ramones, and the Replacements.
1950s: Rock and roll
The foundations of rock music are in rock and roll, which originated in the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s, and quickly spread to much of the rest of the world. Its immediate origins lay in a melding of various black musical genres of the time, including rhythm and blues and gospel music, with country and western. In 1951, Cleveland, Ohio disc jockey Alan Freed began playing rhythm and blues music (then termed "race music") for a multi-racial audience, and is credited with first using the phrase "rock and roll" to describe the music.
Debate surrounds which record should be considered the first rock and roll record. Contenders include Goree Carter's "Rock Awhile" (1949); Jimmy Preston's "Rock the Joint" (1949), which was later covered by Bill Haley & His Comets in 1952; and "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats (in fact, Ike Turner and his band the Kings of Rhythm), recorded by Sam Phillips for Sun Records in 1951. Four years later, Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" (1955) became the first rock and roll song to top Billboard magazine's main sales and airplay charts, and opened the door worldwide for this new wave of popular culture.
It also has been argued that "That's All Right (Mama)" (1954), Elvis Presley's first single for Sun Records in Memphis, could be the first rock and roll record, but, at the same time, Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle & Roll", later covered by Haley, was already at the top of the Billboard R&B charts. Other artists with early rock and roll hits included Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Gene Vincent. Soon rock and roll was the major force in American record sales and crooners, such as Eddie Fisher, Perry Como, and Patti Page, who had dominated the previous decade of popular music, found their access to the pop charts significantly curtailed.
Rock and roll has been seen as leading to a number of distinct subgenres, including rockabilly, combining rock and roll with "hillbilly" country music, which was usually played and recorded in the mid-1950s by white singers such as Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and with the greatest commercial success, Elvis Presley. Hispanic and Latino American movements in rock and roll, which would eventually lead to the success of Latin rock and Chicano rock within the US, began to rise in the Southwest; with rock and roll standard musician Ritchie Valens and even those within other heritage genres, such as Al Hurricane along with his brothers Tiny Morrie and Baby Gaby as they began combining rock and roll with country-western within traditional New Mexico music. Other styles like doo wop placed an emphasis on multi-part vocal harmonies and backing lyrics (from which the genre later gained its name), which were usually supported with light instrumentation and had its origins in 1930s and 1940s African American vocal groups. Acts like the Crows, the Penguins, the El Dorados and the Turbans all scored major hits, and groups like the Platters, with songs including "The Great Pretender" (1955), and the Coasters with humorous songs like "Yakety Yak" (1958), ranked among the most successful rock and roll acts of the period.
The era also saw the growth in popularity of the electric guitar, and the development of a specifically rock and roll style of playing through such exponents as Chuck Berry, Link Wray, and Scotty Moore. The use of distortion, pioneered by electric blues guitarists such as Guitar Slim, Willie Johnson and Pat Hare in the early 1950s, was popularized by Chuck Berry in the mid-1950s. The use of power chords, pioneered by Willie Johnson and Pat Hare in the early 1950s, was popularized by Link Wray in the late 1950s.
In the United Kingdom, the trad jazz and folk movements brought visiting blues music artists to Britain. Lonnie Donegan's 1955 hit "Rock Island Line" was a major influence and helped to develop the trend of skiffle music groups throughout the country, many of which, including John Lennon's Quarrymen, moved on to play rock and roll.
Commentators have traditionally perceived a decline of rock and roll in the late 1950s and early 1960s. By 1959, the death of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens in a plane crash, the departure of Elvis for the army, the retirement of Little Richard to become a preacher, prosecutions of Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry and the breaking of the payola scandal (which implicated major figures, including Alan Freed, in bribery and corruption in promoting individual acts or songs), gave a sense that the rock and roll era established at that point had come to an end.
Pop rock and instrumental rock
The term pop has been used since the early 20th century to refer to popular music in general, but from the mid-1950s it began to be used for a distinct genre, aimed at a youth market, often characterized as a softer alternative to rock and roll. From about 1967, it was increasingly used in opposition to the term rock music, to describe a form that was more commercial, ephemeral and accessible. In contrast rock music was seen as focusing on extended works, particularly albums, was often associated with particular sub-cultures (like the counterculture of the 1960s), placed an emphasis on artistic values and "authenticity", stressed live performance and instrumental or vocal virtuosity and was often seen as encapsulating progressive developments rather than simply reflecting existing trends. Nevertheless, much pop and rock music has been very similar in sound, instrumentation and even lyrical content.
The period of the later 1950s and early 1960s has traditionally been seen as an era of hiatus for rock and roll. More recently some authors have emphasised important innovations and trends in this period without which future developments would not have been possible. While early rock and roll, particularly through the advent of rockabilly, saw the greatest commercial success for male and white performers, in this era, the genre was dominated by black and female artists. Rock and roll had not disappeared at the end of the 1950s and some of its energy can be seen in the Twist dance craze of the early 1960s, mainly benefiting the career of Chubby Checker.
Cliff Richard had the first British rock and roll hit with "Move It", effectively ushering in the sound of British rock. At the start of the 1960s, his backing group the Shadows was the most successful group recording instrumentals. While rock 'n' roll was fading into lightweight pop and ballads, British rock groups at clubs and local dances, heavily influenced by blues-rock pioneers like Alexis Korner, were starting to play with an intensity and drive seldom found in white American acts.
Also significant was the advent of soul music as a major commercial force. Developing out of rhythm and blues with a re-injection of gospel music and pop, led by pioneers like Ray Charles and Sam Cooke from the mid-1950s, by the early 1960s figures like Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder were dominating the R&B charts and breaking through into the main pop charts, helping to accelerate their desegregation, while Motown and Stax/Volt Records were becoming major forces in the record industry. Some historians of music have also pointed to important and innovative technical developments that built on rock and roll in this period, including the electronic treatment of sound by such innovators as Joe Meek, and the elaborate production methods of the Wall of Sound pursued by Phil Spector.
The early 1960s saw the early recording careers of Al Hurricane and his brothers Tiny Morrie and Baby Gaby, they blended their traditional New Mexico music with rock and country-western to great success. They had earlier begun recording instrumental rock during the 1950s, but Al Hurricane saw his first hit singles, as a singer-songwriter, with his 1960s vocal recordings of "Sentimiento" and "Mi Saxophone". Carlos Santana began his recording career in the late 1960s, with his band simply referred to as Santana. His first hit single Evil Ways debuted in 1969, on the eponymous album Santana.
The instrumental rock and roll of performers such as Duane Eddy, Link Wray and the Ventures was developed by Dick Dale, who added distinctive "wet" reverb, rapid alternate picking, and Middle Eastern and Mexican influences. He produced the regional hit "Let's Go Trippin'" in 1961 and launched the surf music craze, following up with songs like "Misirlou" (1962). Like Dale and his Del-Tones, most early surf bands were formed in Southern California, including the Bel-Airs, the Challengers, and Eddie & the Showmen. The Chantays scored a top ten national hit with "Pipeline" in 1963 and probably the best known surf tune was 1963's "Wipe Out", by the Surfaris, which hit number 2 and number 10 on the Billboard charts in 1965.
Surf music achieved its greatest commercial success as vocal music, particularly the work of the Beach Boys, formed in 1961 in Southern California. Their early albums included both instrumental surf rock (among them covers of music by Dick Dale) and vocal songs, drawing on rock and roll and doo wop and the close harmonies of vocal pop acts like the Four Freshmen. The Beach Boys first chart hit, "Surfin'" in 1962 reached the Billboard top 100 and helped make the surf music craze a national phenomenon. It is often argued that the surf music craze and the careers of almost all surf acts was effectively ended by the arrival of the British Invasion from 1964, because most surf music hits were recorded and released between 1961 and 1965.
By the end of 1962, what would become the British rock scene had started with beat groups like the Beatles, Gerry & the Pacemakers and the Searchers from Liverpool and Freddie and the Dreamers, Herman's Hermits and the Hollies from Manchester. They drew on a wide range of American influences including 1950s rock and roll, soul, rhythm and blues, and surf music, initially reinterpreting standard American tunes and playing for dancers. Bands like the Animals from Newcastle and Them from Belfast, and particularly those from London like the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds, were much more directly influenced by rhythm and blues and later blues music. Soon these groups were composing their own material, combining US forms of music and infusing it with a high energy beat. Beat bands tended towards "bouncy, irresistible melodies", while early British blues acts tended towards less sexually innocent, more aggressive songs, often adopting an anti-establishment stance. There was, however, particularly in the early stages, considerable musical crossover between the two tendencies. By 1963, led by the Beatles, beat groups had begun to achieve national success in Britain, soon to be followed into the charts by the more rhythm and blues focused acts.
"I Want to Hold Your Hand" was the Beatles' first number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100, spending seven weeks at the top and a total of 15 weeks on the chart. Their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on 9 February 1964, drawing an estimated 73 million viewers (at the time a record for an American television program) is considered a milestone in American pop culture. During the week of 4 April 1964, the Beatles held 12 positions on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, including the entire top five. The Beatles went on to become the biggest selling rock band of all time and they were followed into the US charts by numerous British bands. During the next two years British acts dominated their own and the US charts with Peter and Gordon, the Animals, Manfred Mann, Petula Clark, Freddie and the Dreamers, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Herman's Hermits, the Rolling Stones, the Troggs, and Donovan all having one or more number one singles. Other major acts that were part of the invasion included the Kinks and the Dave Clark Five.
The British Invasion helped internationalize the production of rock and roll, opening the door for subsequent British (and Irish) performers to achieve international success. In America it arguably spelled the end of instrumental surf music, vocal girl groups and (for a time) the teen idols, that had dominated the American charts in the late 1950s and 1960s. It dented the careers of established R&B acts like Fats Domino and Chubby Checker and even temporarily derailed the chart success of surviving rock and roll acts, including Elvis. The British Invasion also played a major part in the rise of a distinct genre of rock music, and cemented the primacy of the rock group, based on guitars and drums and producing their own material as singer-songwriters. Following the example set by the Beatles' 1965 LP Rubber Soul in particular, other British rock acts released rock albums intended as artistic statements in 1966, including the Rolling Stones' Aftermath, the Beatles' own Revolver, and the Who's A Quick One, as well as American acts in the Beach Boys (Pet Sounds) and Bob Dylan (Blonde on Blonde).
Garage rock was a raw form of rock music, particularly prevalent in North America in the mid-1960s and so called because of the perception that it was rehearsed in the suburban family garage. Garage rock songs often revolved around the traumas of high school life, with songs about "lying girls" and unfair social circumstances being particularly common. The lyrics and delivery tended to be more aggressive than was common at the time, often with growled or shouted vocals that dissolved into incoherent screaming. They ranged from crude one-chord music (like the Seeds) to near-studio musician quality (including the Knickerbockers, the Remains, and the Fifth Estate). There were also regional variations in many parts of the country with flourishing scenes particularly in California and Texas. The Pacific Northwest states of Washington and Oregon had perhaps the most defined regional sound.
The style had been evolving from regional scenes as early as 1958. "Tall Cool One" (1959) by The Wailers and "Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen (1963) are mainstream examples of the genre in its formative stages. By 1963, garage band singles were creeping into the national charts in greater numbers, including Paul Revere and the Raiders (Boise), the Trashmen (Minneapolis) and the Rivieras (South Bend, Indiana). Other influential garage bands, such as the Sonics (Tacoma, Washington), never reached the Billboard Hot 100.
The British Invasion greatly influenced garage bands, providing them with a national audience, leading many (often surf or hot rod groups) to adopt a British influence, and encouraging many more groups to form. Thousands of garage bands were extant in the US and Canada during the era and hundreds produced regional hits. Despite scores of bands being signed to major or large regional labels, most were commercial failures. It is generally agreed that garage rock peaked both commercially and artistically around 1966. By 1968 the style largely disappeared from the national charts and at the local level as amateur musicians faced college, work or the draft. New styles had evolved to replace garage rock.
Psychedelia and progressivism
Blues and folk fusions
Although the first impact of the British Invasion on American popular music was through beat and R&B based acts, the impetus was soon taken up by a second wave of bands that drew their inspiration more directly from American blues, including the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds. British blues musicians of the late 1950s and early 1960s had been inspired by the acoustic playing of figures such as Lead Belly, who was a major influence on the Skiffle craze, and Robert Johnson. Increasingly they adopted a loud amplified sound, often centered on the electric guitar, based on the Chicago blues, particularly after the tour of Britain by Muddy Waters in 1958, which prompted Cyril Davies and guitarist Alexis Korner to form the band Blues Incorporated. The band involved and inspired many of the figures of the subsequent British blues boom, including members of the Rolling Stones and Cream, combining blues standards and forms with rock instrumentation and emphasis.
The other key focus for British blues was John Mayall; his band, the Bluesbreakers, included Eric Clapton (after Clapton's departure from the Yardbirds) and later Peter Green. Particularly significant was the release of Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton (Beano) album (1966), considered one of the seminal British blues recordings and the sound of which was much emulated in both Britain and the United States. Eric Clapton went on to form supergroups Cream, Blind Faith, and Derek and the Dominos, followed by an extensive solo career that helped bring blues rock into the mainstream. Green, along with the Bluesbreaker's rhythm section Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, formed Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, who enjoyed some of the greatest commercial success in the genre. In the late 1960s Jeff Beck, also an alumnus of the Yardbirds, moved blues rock in the direction of heavy rock with his band, the Jeff Beck Group. The last Yardbirds guitarist was Jimmy Page, who went on to form The New Yardbirds which rapidly became Led Zeppelin. Many of the songs on their first three albums, and occasionally later in their careers, were expansions on traditional blues songs.
In America, blues rock had been pioneered in the early 1960s by guitarist Lonnie Mack, but the genre began to take off in the mid-1960s as acts developed a sound similar to British blues musicians. Key acts included Paul Butterfield (whose band acted like Mayall's Bluesbreakers in Britain as a starting point for many successful musicians), Canned Heat, the early Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Johnny Winter, the J. Geils Band and Jimi Hendrix with his power trios, the Jimi Hendrix Experience (which included two British members, and was founded in Britain), and Band of Gypsys, whose guitar virtuosity and showmanship would be among the most emulated of the decade. Blues rock bands from the southern states, like the Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and ZZ Top, incorporated country elements into their style to produce the distinctive genre Southern rock.
Early blues rock bands often emulated jazz, playing long, involved improvisations, which would later be a major element of progressive rock. From about 1967 bands like Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience had moved away from purely blues-based music into psychedelia. By the 1970s, blues rock had become heavier and more riff-based, exemplified by the work of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, and the lines between blues rock and hard rock "were barely visible", as bands began recording rock-style albums. The genre was continued in the 1970s by figures such as George Thorogood and Pat Travers, but, particularly on the British scene (except perhaps for the advent of groups such as Status Quo and Foghat who moved towards a form of high energy and repetitive boogie rock), bands became focused on heavy metal innovation, and blues rock began to slip out of the mainstream.
By the 1960s, the scene that had developed out of the American folk music revival had grown to a major movement, utilising traditional music and new compositions in a traditional style, usually on acoustic instruments. In America the genre was pioneered by figures such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger and often identified with progressive or labor politics. In the early sixties figures such as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan had come to the fore in this movement as singer-songwriters. Dylan had begun to reach a mainstream audience with hits including "Blowin' in the Wind" (1963) and "Masters of War" (1963), which brought "protest songs" to a wider public, but, although beginning to influence each other, rock and folk music had remained largely separate genres, often with mutually exclusive audiences.
Early attempts to combine elements of folk and rock included the Animals' "House of the Rising Sun" (1964), which was the first commercially successful folk song to be recorded with rock and roll instrumentation and the Beatles "I'm a Loser" (1964), arguably the first Beatles song to be influenced directly by Dylan. The folk rock movement is usually thought to have taken off with The Byrds' recording of Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" which topped the charts in 1965. With members who had been part of the cafe-based folk scene in Los Angeles, the Byrds adopted rock instrumentation, including drums and 12-string Rickenbacker guitars, which became a major element in the sound of the genre. Later that year Dylan adopted electric instruments, much to the outrage of many folk purists, with his "Like a Rolling Stone" becoming a US hit single. According to Ritchie Unterberger, Dylan (even before his adoption of electric instruments) influenced rock musicians like the Beatles, demonstrating "to the rock generation in general that an album could be a major standalone statement without hit singles", such as on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963).
Folk rock particularly took off in California, where it led acts like the Mamas & the Papas and Crosby, Stills, and Nash to move to electric instrumentation, and in New York, where it spawned performers including The Lovin' Spoonful and Simon and Garfunkel, with the latter's acoustic "The Sounds of Silence" (1965) being remixed with rock instruments to be the first of many hits. These acts directly influenced British performers like Donovan and Fairport Convention. In 1969 Fairport Convention abandoned their mixture of American covers and Dylan-influenced songs to play traditional English folk music on electric instruments. This British folk-rock was taken up by bands including Pentangle, Steeleye Span and the Albion Band, which in turn prompted Irish groups like Horslips and Scottish acts like the JSD Band, Spencer's Feat and later Five Hand Reel, to use their traditional music to create a brand of Celtic rock in the early 1970s.
Folk-rock reached its peak of commercial popularity in the period 1967–68, before many acts moved off in a variety of directions, including Dylan and the Byrds, who began to develop country rock. However, the hybridization of folk and rock has been seen as having a major influence on the development of rock music, bringing in elements of psychedelia, and helping to develop the ideas of the singer-songwriter, the protest song, and concepts of "authenticity".
Psychedelic music's LSD-inspired vibe began in the folk scene. The first group to advertise themselves as psychedelic rock were the 13th Floor Elevators from Texas. The Beatles introduced many of the major elements of the psychedelic sound to audiences in this period, such as guitar feedback, the Indian sitar and backmasking sound effects. Psychedelic rock particularly took off in California's emerging music scene as groups followed the Byrds's shift from folk to folk rock from 1965. The psychedelic lifestyle, which revolved around hallucinogenic drugs, had already developed in San Francisco and particularly prominent products of the scene were Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. The Jimi Hendrix Experience's lead guitarist, Jimi Hendrix did
extended distorted, feedback-filled jams which became a key feature of psychedelia. Psychedelic rock reached its apogee in the last years of the decade. 1967 saw the Beatles release their definitive psychedelic statement in Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, including the controversial track "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", the Rolling Stones responded later that year with Their Satanic Majesties Request, and the Pink Floyd debuted with The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Key recordings included Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow and the Doors' Strange Days. These trends peaked in the 1969 Woodstock festival, which saw performances by most of the major psychedelic acts.
Sgt. Pepper was later regarded as the greatest album of all time and a starting point for the album era, during which rock music transitioned from the singles format to albums and achieved cultural legitimacy in the mainstream. Led by the Beatles in the mid-1960s, rock musicians advanced the LP as the dominant form of recorded music expression and consumption, initiating a rock-informed album era in the music industry for the next several decades.
Progressive rock, a term sometimes used interchangeably with art rock, moved beyond established musical formulas by experimenting with different instruments, song types, and forms. From the mid-1960s the Left Banke, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys, had pioneered the inclusion of harpsichords, wind, and string sections on their recordings to produce a form of Baroque rock and can be heard in singles like Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" (1967), with its Bach-inspired introduction. The Moody Blues used a full orchestra on their album Days of Future Passed (1967) and subsequently created orchestral sounds with synthesizers. Classical orchestration, keyboards, and synthesizers were a frequent addition to the established rock format of guitars, bass, and drums in subsequent progressive rock.
Instrumentals were common, while songs with lyrics were sometimes conceptual, abstract, or based in fantasy and science fiction. The Pretty Things' SF Sorrow (1968), and the Kinks' Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) (1969) introduced the format of rock operas and opened the door to concept albums, often telling an epic story or tackling a grand overarching theme. King Crimson's 1969 début album, In the Court of the Crimson King, which mixed powerful guitar riffs and mellotron, with jazz and symphonic music, is often taken as the key recording in progressive rock, helping the widespread adoption of the genre in the early 1970s among existing blues-rock and psychedelic bands, as well as newly formed acts. The vibrant Canterbury scene saw acts following Soft Machine from psychedelia, through jazz influences, toward more expansive hard rock, including Caravan, Hatfield and the North, Gong, and National Health.
Greater commercial success was enjoyed by Pink Floyd, who also moved away from psychedelia after the departure of Syd Barrett in 1968, with The Dark Side of the Moon (1973), seen as a masterpiece of the genre, becoming one of the best-selling albums of all time. There was an emphasis on instrumental virtuosity, with Yes showcasing the skills of both guitarist Steve Howe and keyboard player Rick Wakeman, while Emerson, Lake & Palmer were a supergroup who produced some of the genre's most technically demanding work. Jethro Tull and Genesis both pursued very different, but distinctly English, brands of music. Renaissance, formed in 1969 by ex-Yardbirds Jim McCarty and Keith Relf, evolved into a high-concept band featuring the three-octave voice of Annie Haslam. Most British bands depended on a relatively small cult following, but a handful, including Pink Floyd, Genesis, and Jethro Tull, managed to produce top ten singles at home and break the American market. The American brand of progressive rock varied from the eclectic and innovative Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart and Blood, Sweat & Tears, to more pop rock orientated bands like Boston, Foreigner, Kansas, Journey, and Styx. These, beside British bands Supertramp and ELO, all demonstrated a prog rock influence and while ranking among the most commercially successful acts of the 1970s, heralding the era of pomp or arena rock, which would last until the costs of complex shows (often with theatrical staging and special effects), would be replaced by more economical rock festivals as major live venues in the 1990s.
The instrumental strand of the genre resulted in albums like Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells (1973), the first record, and worldwide hit, for the Virgin Records label, which became a mainstay of the genre. Instrumental rock was particularly significant in continental Europe, allowing bands like Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Can, and Faust to circumvent the language barrier. Their synthesiser-heavy "krautrock", along with the work of Brian Eno (for a time the keyboard player with Roxy Music), would be a major influence on subsequent electronic rock. With the advent of punk rock and technological changes in the late 1970s, progressive rock was increasingly dismissed as pretentious and overblown. Many bands broke up, but some, including Genesis, ELP, Yes, and Pink Floyd, regularly scored top ten albums with successful accompanying worldwide tours. Some bands which emerged in the aftermath of punk, such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, Ultravox, and Simple Minds, showed the influence of progressive rock, as well as their more usually recognized punk influences.
In the late 1960s, jazz-rock emerged as a distinct subgenre out of the blues-rock, psychedelic, and progressive rock scenes, mixing the power of rock with the musical complexity and improvisational elements of jazz. AllMusic states that the term jazz-rock "may refer to the loudest, wildest, most electrified fusion bands from the jazz camp, but most often it describes performers coming from the rock side of the equation." Jazz-rock "...generally grew out of the most artistically ambitious rock subgenres of the late '60s and early '70s", including the singer-songwriter movement. Many early US rock and roll musicians had begun in jazz and carried some of these elements into the new music. In Britain the subgenre of blues rock, and many of its leading figures, like Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce of the Eric Clapton-fronted band Cream, had emerged from the British jazz scene. Often highlighted as the first true jazz-rock recording is the only album by the relatively obscure New York-based the Free Spirits with Out of Sight and Sound (1966). The first group of bands to self-consciously use the label were R&B oriented white rock bands that made use of jazzy horn sections, like Electric Flag, Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago, to become some of the most commercially successful acts of the later 1960s and the early 1970s.
British acts to emerge in the same period from the blues scene, to make use of the tonal and improvisational aspects of jazz, included Nucleus and the Graham Bond and John Mayall spin-off Colosseum. From the psychedelic rock and the Canterbury scenes came Soft Machine, who, it has been suggested, produced one of the artistically successfully fusions of the two genres. Perhaps the most critically acclaimed fusion came from the jazz side of the equation, with Miles Davis, particularly influenced by the work of Hendrix, incorporating rock instrumentation into his sound for the album Bitches Brew (1970). It was a major influence on subsequent rock-influenced jazz artists, including Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Weather Report. The genre began to fade in the late 1970s, as a mellower form of fusion began to take its audience, but acts like Steely Dan, Frank Zappa and Joni Mitchell recorded significant jazz-influenced albums in this period, and it has continued to be a major influence on rock music.
Reflecting on developments in rock music at the start of the 1970s, Robert Christgau later wrote in Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981):
The decade is, of course, an arbitrary schema itself—time doesn't just execute a neat turn toward the future every ten years. But like a lot of artificial concepts—money, say—the category does take on a reality of its own once people figure out how to put it to work. "The '60s are over," a slogan one only began to hear in 1972 or so, mobilized all those eager to believe that idealism had become passe, and once they were mobilized, it had. In popular music, embracing the '70s meant both an elitist withdrawal from the messy concert and counterculture scene and a profiteering pursuit of the lowest common denominator in FM radio and album rock.
Rock saw greater commodification during this decade, turning into a multibillion-dollar industry and doubling its market while, as Christgau noted, suffering a significant "loss of cultural prestige". "Maybe the Bee Gees became more popular than the Beatles, but they were never more popular than Jesus", he said. "Insofar as the music retained any mythic power, the myth was self-referential — there were lots of songs about the rock and roll life but very few about how rock could change the world, except as a new brand of painkiller ... In the '70s the powerful took over, as rock industrialists capitalized on the national mood to reduce potent music to an often reactionary species of entertainment—and to transmute rock's popular base from the audience to market."
Roots rock is the term now used to describe a move away from what some saw as the excesses of the psychedelic scene, to a more basic form of rock and roll that incorporated its original influences, particularly country and folk music, leading to the creation of country rock and Southern rock. In 1966 Bob Dylan went to Nashville to record the album Blonde on Blonde. This, and subsequent more clearly country-influenced albums, have been seen as creating the genre of country folk, a route pursued by a number of largely acoustic folk musicians. Other acts that followed the back-to-basics trend were the Canadian group the Band and the California-based Creedence Clearwater Revival, both of which mixed basic rock and roll with folk, country and blues, to be among the most successful and influential bands of the late 1960s. The same movement saw the beginning of the recording careers of Californian solo artists like Ry Cooder, Bonnie Raitt and Lowell George, and influenced the work of established performers such as the Rolling Stones' Beggar's Banquet (1968) and the Beatles' Let It Be (1970). Reflecting on this change of trends in rock music over the past few years, Christgau wrote in his June 1970 "Consumer Guide" column that this "new orthodoxy" and "cultural lag" abandoned improvisatory, studio-ornamented productions in favor of an emphasis on "tight, spare instrumentation" and song composition: "Its referents are '50s rock, country music, and rhythm-and-blues, and its key inspiration is the Band."
In 1968, Gram Parsons recorded Safe at Home with the International Submarine Band, arguably the first true country rock album. Later that year he joined the Byrds for Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968), generally considered one of the most influential recordings in the genre. The Byrds continued in the same vein, but Parsons left to be joined by another ex-Byrds member Chris Hillman in forming the Flying Burrito Brothers who helped establish the respectability and parameters of the genre, before Parsons departed to pursue a solo career. Bands in California that adopted country rock included Hearts and Flowers, Poco, New Riders of the Purple Sage, the Beau Brummels, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Some performers also enjoyed a renaissance by adopting country sounds, including: the Everly Brothers; one-time teen idol Rick Nelson who became the frontman for the Stone Canyon Band; former Monkee Mike Nesmith who formed the First National Band; and Neil Young. The Dillards were, unusually, a country act, who moved towards rock music. The greatest commercial success for country rock came in the 1970s, with artists including the Doobie Brothers, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles (made up of members of the Burritos, Poco, and Stone Canyon Band), who emerged as one of the most successful rock acts of all time, producing albums that included Hotel California (1976).
The founders of Southern rock are usually thought to be the Allman Brothers Band, who developed a distinctive sound, largely derived from blues rock, but incorporating elements of boogie, soul, and country in the early 1970s. The most successful act to follow them were Lynyrd Skynyrd, who helped establish the "Good ol' boy" image of the subgenre and the general shape of 1970s' guitar rock. Their successors included the fusion/progressive instrumentalists Dixie Dregs, the more country-influenced Outlaws, funk/R&B-leaning Wet Willie and (incorporating elements of R&B and gospel) the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. After the loss of original members of the Allmans and Lynyrd Skynyrd, the genre began to fade in popularity in the late 1970s, but was sustained the 1980s with acts like .38 Special, Molly Hatchet and the Marshall Tucker Band.
Glam rock emerged from the English psychedelic and art rock scenes of the late 1960s and can be seen as both an extension of and reaction against those trends. Musically diverse, varying between the simple rock and roll revivalism of figures like Alvin Stardust to the complex art rock of Roxy Music, and can be seen as much as a fashion as a musical subgenre. Visually it was a mesh of various styles, ranging from 1930s Hollywood glamor, through 1950s pin-up sex appeal, pre-war Cabaret theatrics, Victorian literary and symbolist styles, science fiction, to ancient and occult mysticism and mythology; manifesting itself in outrageous clothes, makeup, hairstyles, and platform-soled boots. Glam is most noted for its sexual and gender ambiguity and representations of androgyny, beside extensive use of theatrics. It was prefigured by the showmanship and gender-identity manipulation of American acts such as the Cockettes and Alice Cooper.
The origins of glam rock are associated with Marc Bolan, who had renamed his folk duo to T. Rex and taken up electric instruments by the end of the 1960s. Often cited as the moment of inception is his appearance on the BBC music show Top of the Pops in March 1971 wearing glitter and satins, to perform what would be his second UK Top 10 hit (and first UK Number 1 hit), "Hot Love". From 1971, already a minor star, David Bowie developed his Ziggy Stardust persona, incorporating elements of professional make up, mime and performance into his act. These performers were soon followed in the style by acts including Roxy Music, Sweet, Slade, Mott the Hoople, Mud and Alvin Stardust. While highly successful in the single charts in the United Kingdom, very few of these musicians were able to make a serious impact in the United States; Bowie was the major exception becoming an international superstar and prompting the adoption of glam styles among acts like Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, New York Dolls and Jobriath, often known as "glitter rock" and with a darker lyrical content than their British counterparts. In the UK the term glitter rock was most often used to refer to the extreme version of glam pursued by Gary Glitter and his support musicians the Glitter Band, who between them achieved eighteen top ten singles in the UK between 1972 and 1976. A second wave of glam rock acts, including Suzi Quatro, Roy Wood's Wizzard and Sparks, dominated the British single charts from about 1974 to 1976. Existing acts, some not usually considered central to the genre, also adopted glam styles, including Rod Stewart, Elton John, Queen and, for a time, even the Rolling Stones. It was also a direct influence on acts that rose to prominence later, including Kiss and Adam Ant, and less directly on the formation of gothic rock and glam metal as well as on punk rock, which helped end the fashion for glam from about 1976. Glam has since enjoyed sporadic modest revivals through bands such as Chainsaw Kittens, the Darkness and in R&B crossover act Prince.
After the early successes of Latin rock in the 1960s, Chicano musicians like Carlos Santana and Al Hurricane continued to have successful careers throughout the 1970s. Santana opened the decade with success in his 1970 single "Black Magic Woman" on the Abraxas album. His third album Santana III yielded the single "No One to Depend On", and his fourth album Caravanserai experimented with his sound to mixed reception. He later released a series of four albums that all achieved gold status: Welcome, Borboletta, Amigos, and Festivál. Al Hurricane continued to mix his rock music with New Mexico music, though he was also experimenting more heavily with Jazz music, which led to several successful singles, especially on his Vestido Mojado album, including the eponymous "Vestido Mojado", as well as "Por Una Mujer Casada" and "Puño de Tierra"; his brothers had successful New Mexico music singles in "La Del Moño Colorado" by Tiny Morrie and "La Cumbia De San Antone" by Baby Gaby. Al Hurricane Jr. also began his successful rock-infused New Mexico music recording career in the 1970s, with his 1976 rendition of "Flor De Las Flores". Los Lobos gained popularity at this time, with their first album Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles in 1977.
Soft rock, hard rock, and early heavy metal
From the late 1960s it became common to divide mainstream rock music into soft and hard rock. Soft rock was often derived from folk rock, using acoustic instruments and putting more emphasis on melody and harmonies. Major artists included Carole King, Cat Stevens and James Taylor. It reached its commercial peak in the mid- to late 1970s with acts like Billy Joel, America and the reformed Fleetwood Mac, whose Rumours (1977) was the best-selling album of the decade. In contrast, hard rock was more often derived from blues-rock and was played louder and with more intensity. It often emphasised the electric guitar, both as a rhythm instrument using simple repetitive riffs and as a solo lead instrument, and was more likely to be used with distortion and other effects. Key acts included British Invasion bands like the Kinks, as well as psychedelic era performers like Cream, Jimi Hendrix and the Jeff Beck Group. Hard rock-influenced bands that enjoyed international success in the later 1970s included Queen, Thin Lizzy, Aerosmith, AC/DC, and Van Halen.
From the late 1960s the term "heavy metal" began to be used to describe some hard rock played with even more volume and intensity, first as an adjective and by the early 1970s as a noun. The term was first used in music in Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild" (1967) and began to be associated with pioneer bands like San Francisco's Blue Cheer, Cleveland's James Gang and Michigan's Grand Funk Railroad. By 1970 three key British bands had developed the characteristic sounds and styles which would help shape the subgenre. Led Zeppelin added elements of fantasy to their riff laden blues-rock, Deep Purple brought in symphonic and medieval interests from their progressive rock phase and Black Sabbath introduced facets of the gothic and modal harmony, helping to produce a "darker" sound. These elements were taken up by a "second generation" of heavy metal bands into the late 1970s, including: Judas Priest, UFO, Motörhead and Rainbow from Britain; Kiss, Ted Nugent, and Blue Öyster Cult from the US; Rush from Canada and Scorpions from Germany, all marking the expansion in popularity of the subgenre. Despite a lack of airplay and very little presence on the singles charts, late-1970s heavy metal built a considerable following, particularly among adolescent working-class males in North America and Europe.
Rock, mostly the heavy metal genre, has been criticized by some Christian leaders, who have condemned it as immoral, anti-Christian and even demonic. However, Christian rock began to develop in the late 1960s, particularly out of the Jesus movement beginning in Southern California, and emerged as a subgenre in the 1970s with artists like Larry Norman, usually seen as the first major "star" of Christian rock. The genre has been particularly popular in the United States. Many Christian rock performers have ties to the contemporary Christian music scene, while other bands and artists are closely linked to independent music. Since the 1980s Christian rock performers have gained mainstream success, including figures such as the American gospel-to-pop crossover artist Amy Grant and the British singer Cliff Richard. While these artists were largely acceptable in Christian communities the adoption of heavy rock and glam metal styles by bands like Petra and Stryper, who achieved considerable mainstream success in the 1980s, was more controversial. From the 1990s there were increasing numbers of acts who attempted to avoid the Christian band label, preferring to be seen as groups who were also Christians, including P.O.D and Collective Soul.
Punk rock was developed between 1974 and 1976 in the United States and the United Kingdom. Rooted in garage rock and other forms of what is now known as protopunk music, punk rock bands eschewed the perceived excesses of mainstream 1970s rock. They created fast, hard-edged music, typically with short songs, stripped-down instrumentation, and often political, anti-establishment lyrics. Punk embraces a DIY (do it yourself) ethic, with many bands self-producing their recordings and distributing them through informal channels.
By late 1976, acts such as the Ramones and Patti Smith, in New York City, and the Sex Pistols and the Clash, in London, were recognized as the vanguard of a new musical movement. The following year saw punk rock spreading around the world. Punk quickly, though briefly, became a major cultural phenomenon in the UK. For the most part, punk took root in local scenes that tended to reject association with the mainstream. An associated punk subculture emerged, expressing youthful rebellion and characterized by distinctive clothing styles and a variety of anti-authoritarian ideologies.
By the beginning of the 1980s, faster, more aggressive styles such as hardcore and Oi! had become the predominant mode of punk rock. This has resulted in several evolved strains of hardcore punk, such as D-beat (a distortion-heavy subgenre influenced by the UK band Discharge), anarcho-punk (such as Crass), grindcore (such as Napalm Death), and crust punk. Musicians identifying with or inspired by punk also pursued a broad range of other variations, giving rise to New wave, post-punk and the alternative rock movement.
Although punk rock was a significant social and musical phenomenon, it achieved less in the way of record sales (being distributed by small specialty labels such as Stiff Records), or American radio airplay (as the radio scene continued to be dominated by mainstream formats such as disco and album-oriented rock). Punk rock had attracted devotees from the art and collegiate world and soon bands sporting a more literate, arty approach, such as Talking Heads and Devo began to infiltrate the punk scene; in some quarters the description "new wave" began to be used to differentiate these less overtly punk bands. Record executives, who had been mostly mystified by the punk movement, recognized the potential of the more accessible new wave acts and began aggressively signing and marketing any band that could claim a remote connection to punk or new wave. Many of these bands, such as the Cars and the Go-Go's can be seen as pop bands marketed as new wave; other existing acts, including the Police, the Pretenders and Elvis Costello, used the new wave movement as the springboard for relatively long and critically successful careers, while "skinny tie" bands exemplified by the Knack, or the photogenic Blondie, began as punk acts and moved into more commercial territory.
Between 1979 and 1985, influenced by Kraftwerk, Yellow Magic Orchestra, David Bowie and Gary Numan, British new wave went in the direction of such New Romantics as Spandau Ballet, Ultravox, Japan, Duran Duran, A Flock of Seagulls, Culture Club, Talk Talk and the Eurythmics, sometimes using the synthesizer to replace all other instruments. This period coincided with the rise of MTV and led to a great deal of exposure for this brand of synth-pop, creating what has been characterised as a second British Invasion. Some more traditional rock bands adapted to the video age and profited from MTV's airplay, most obviously Dire Straits, whose "Money for Nothing" gently poked fun at the station, despite the fact that it had helped make them international stars, but in general, guitar-oriented rock was commercially eclipsed.
If hardcore most directly pursued the stripped down aesthetic of punk, and new wave came to represent its commercial wing, post-punk emerged in the later 1970s and early 1980s as its more artistic and challenging side. Major influences beside punk bands were the Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart, and the New York-based no wave scene which placed an emphasis on performance, including bands such as James Chance and the Contortions, DNA and Sonic Youth. Early contributors to the genre included the US bands Pere Ubu, Devo, the Residents and Talking Heads.
The first wave of British post-punk included Gang of Four, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division, who placed less emphasis on art than their US counterparts and more on the dark emotional qualities of their music. Bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, the Cure, and the Sisters of Mercy, moved increasingly in this direction to found Gothic rock, which had become the basis of a major sub-culture by the early 1980s. Similar emotional territory was pursued by Australian acts like the Birthday Party and Nick Cave. Members of Bauhaus and Joy Division explored new stylistic territory as Love and Rockets and New Order respectively. Another early post-punk movement was the industrial music developed by British bands Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, and New York-based Suicide, using a variety of electronic and sampling techniques that emulated the sound of industrial production and which would develop into a variety of forms of post-industrial music in the 1980s.
The second generation of British post-punk bands that broke through in the early 1980s, including the Fall, the Pop Group, the Mekons, Echo and the Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes, tended to move away from dark sonic landscapes. Arguably the most successful band to emerge from post-punk was Ireland's U2, who incorporated elements of religious imagery together with political commentary into their often anthemic music, and by the late 1980s had become one of the biggest bands in the world. Although many post-punk bands continued to record and perform, it declined as a movement in the mid-1980s as acts disbanded or moved off to explore other musical areas, but it has continued to influence the development of rock music and has been seen as a major element in the creation of the alternative rock movement.
American working-class oriented heartland rock, characterized by a straightforward musical style, and a concern with the lives of ordinary, blue-collar American people, developed in the second half of the 1970s. The term heartland rock was first used to describe Midwestern arena rock groups like Kansas, REO Speedwagon and Styx, but which came to be associated with a more socially concerned form of roots rock more directly influenced by folk, country and rock and roll. It has been seen as an American Midwest and Rust Belt counterpart to West Coast country rock and the Southern rock of the American South. Led by figures who had initially been identified with punk and New Wave, it was most strongly influenced by acts such as Bob Dylan, the Byrds, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Van Morrison, and the basic rock of 1960s garage and the Rolling Stones.
Exemplified by the commercial success of singer songwriters Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, and Tom Petty, along with less widely known acts such as Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers, it was partly a reaction to post-industrial urban decline in the East and Mid-West, often dwelling on issues of social disintegration and isolation, beside a form of good-time rock and roll revivalism. The genre reached its commercial, artistic and influential peak in the mid-1980s, with Springsteen's Born in the USA (1984), topping the charts worldwide and spawning a series of top ten singles, together with the arrival of artists including John Mellencamp, Steve Earle and more gentle singer-songwriters such as Bruce Hornsby. It can also be heard as an influence on artists as diverse as Billy Joel, Kid Rock and the Killers.
Heartland rock faded away as a recognized genre by the early 1990s, as rock music in general, and blue-collar and white working class themes in particular, lost influence with younger audiences, and as heartland's artists turned to more personal works. Many heartland rock artists continue to record today with critical and commercial success, most notably Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and John Mellencamp, although their works have become more personal and experimental and no longer fit easily into a single genre. Newer artists whose music would perhaps have been labeled heartland rock had it been released in the 1970s or 1980s, such as Missouri's Bottle Rockets and Illinois' Uncle Tupelo, often find themselves labeled alt-country.
Emergence of alternative rock
The term alternative rock was coined in the early 1980s to describe rock artists who did not fit into the mainstream genres of the time. Bands dubbed "alternative" had no unified style, but were all seen as distinct from mainstream music. Alternative bands were linked by their collective debt to punk rock, through hardcore, New Wave or the post-punk movements. Important alternative rock bands of the 1980s in the US included R.E.M., Hüsker Dü, Jane's Addiction, Sonic Youth, and the Pixies, and in the UK the Cure, New Order, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and the Smiths. Artists were largely confined to independent record labels, building an extensive underground music scene based on college radio, fanzines, touring, and word-of-mouth. They rejected the dominant synth-pop of the early 1980s, marking a return to group-based guitar rock.
Few of these early bands achieved mainstream success, although exceptions to this rule include R.E.M., the Smiths, and the Cure. Despite a general lack of spectacular album sales, the original alternative rock bands exerted a considerable influence on the generation of musicians who came of age in the 1980s and ended up breaking through to mainstream success in the 1990s. Styles of alternative rock in the US during the 1980s included jangle pop, associated with the early recordings of R.E.M., which incorporated the ringing guitars of mid-1960s pop and rock, and college rock, used to describe alternative bands that began in the college circuit and college radio, including acts such as 10,000 Maniacs and the Feelies. In the UK, Gothic rock was dominant in the early 1980s, but by the end of the decade, indie or dream pop like Primal Scream, Bogshed, Half Man Half Biscuit and the Wedding Present, and what were dubbed shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Ride and Lush entered. Particularly vibrant was the Madchester scene, producing such bands as Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets and the Stone Roses. The next decade would see the success of grunge in the US and Britpop in the UK, bringing alternative rock into the mainstream.
Disaffected by commercialized and highly produced pop and rock in the mid-1980s, bands in Washington state (particularly in the Seattle area) formed a new style of rock which sharply contrasted with the mainstream music of the time. The developing genre came to be known as "grunge", a term descriptive of the dirty sound of the music and the unkempt appearance of most musicians, who actively rebelled against the over-groomed images of other artists. Grunge fused elements of hardcore punk and heavy metal into a single sound, and made heavy use of guitar distortion, fuzz and feedback. The lyrics were typically apathetic and angst-filled, and often concerned themes such as social alienation and entrapment, although it was also known for its dark humor and parodies of commercial rock.
Bands such as Green River, Soundgarden, Melvins and Skin Yard pioneered the genre, with Mudhoney becoming the most successful by the end of the decade. Grunge remained largely a local phenomenon until 1991, when Nirvana's album Nevermind became a huge success, containing the anthemic song "Smells Like Teen Spirit". Nevermind was more melodic than its predecessors, by signing to Geffen Records the band was one of the first to employ traditional corporate promotion and marketing mechanisms such as an MTV video, in store displays and the use of radio "consultants" who promoted airplay at major mainstream rock stations. During 1991 and 1992, other grunge albums such as Pearl Jam's Ten, Soundgarden's Badmotorfinger and Alice in Chains' Dirt, along with the Temple of the Dog album featuring members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, became among the 100 top-selling albums. Major record labels signed most of the remaining grunge bands in Seattle, while a second influx of acts moved to the city in the hope of success. However, with the death of Kurt Cobain and the subsequent break-up of Nirvana in 1994, touring problems for Pearl Jam and the departure of Alice in Chains' lead singer Layne Staley in 1998, the genre began to decline, partly to be overshadowed by Britpop and more commercial sounding post-grunge.
Britpop emerged from the British alternative rock scene of the early 1990s and was characterised by bands particularly influenced by British guitar music of the 1960s and 1970s. The Smiths were a major influence, as were bands of the Madchester scene, which had dissolved in the early 1990s. The movement has been seen partly as a reaction against various US-based, musical and cultural trends in the late 1980s and early 1990s, particularly the grunge phenomenon and as a reassertion of a British rock identity. Britpop was varied in style, but often used catchy tunes and hooks, beside lyrics with particularly British concerns and the adoption of the iconography of the 1960s British Invasion, including the symbols of British identity previously utilised by the mods. It was launched around 1993 with releases by groups such as Suede and Blur, who were soon joined by others including Oasis, Pulp, Supergrass, and Elastica, who produced a series of successful albums and singles. For a while the contest between Blur and Oasis was built by the popular press into the "Battle of Britpop", initially won by Blur, but with Oasis achieving greater long-term and international success, directly influencing later Britpop bands, such as Ocean Colour Scene and Kula Shaker. Britpop groups brought British alternative rock into the mainstream and formed the backbone of a larger British cultural movement known as Cool Britannia. Although its more popular bands, particularly Blur and Oasis, were able to spread their commercial success overseas, especially to the United States, the movement had largely fallen apart by the end of the decade.
The term post-grunge was coined for the generation of bands that followed the emergence into the mainstream and subsequent hiatus of the Seattle grunge bands. Post-grunge bands emulated their attitudes and music, but with a more radio-friendly commercially oriented sound. Often they worked through the major labels and came to incorporate diverse influences from jangle pop, pop-punk, alternative metal or hard rock. The term post-grunge originally was meant to be pejorative, suggesting that they were simply musically derivative, or a cynical response to an "authentic" rock movement. Originally, grunge bands that emerged when grunge was mainstream and were suspected of emulating the grunge sound were pejoratively labelled as post-grunge. From 1994, former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl's new band, the Foo Fighters, helped popularize the genre and define its parameters.
Some post-grunge bands, like Candlebox, were from Seattle, but the subgenre was marked by a broadening of the geographical base of grunge, with bands like Los Angeles' Audioslave, and Georgia's Collective Soul and beyond the US to Australia's Silverchair and Britain's Bush, who all cemented post-grunge as one of the most commercially viable subgenres of the late 1990s. Although male bands predominated post-grunge, female solo artist Alanis Morissette's 1995 album Jagged Little Pill, labelled as post-grunge, also became a multi-platinum hit. Post-grunge morphed during the late 1990s as post-grunge bands like Creed and Nickelback emerged. Bands like Creed and Nickelback took post-grunge into the 21st century with considerable commercial success, abandoning most of the angst and anger of the original movement for more conventional anthems, narratives and romantic songs, and were followed in this vein by newer acts including Shinedown, Seether, 3 Doors Down and Puddle of Mudd.
The origins of 1990s pop punk can be seen in the more song-oriented bands of the 1970s punk movement like Buzzcocks and the Clash, commercially successful new wave acts such as the Jam and the Undertones, and the more hardcore-influenced elements of alternative rock in the 1980s. Pop-punk tends to use power-pop melodies and chord changes with speedy punk tempos and loud guitars. Punk music provided the inspiration for some California-based bands on independent labels in the early 1990s, including Rancid, Pennywise, Weezer and Green Day. In 1994 Green Day moved to a major label and produced the album Dookie, which found a new, largely teenage, audience and proved a surprise diamond-selling success, leading to a series of hit singles, including two number ones in the US. They were soon followed by the eponymous debut from Weezer, which spawned three top ten singles in the US. This success opened the door for the multi-platinum sales of metallic punk band the Offspring with Smash (1994). This first wave of pop punk reached its commercial peak with Green Day's Nimrod (1997) and The Offspring's Americana (1998).
A second wave of pop punk was spearheaded by Blink-182, with their breakthrough album Enema of the State (1999), followed by bands such as Good Charlotte, Simple Plan and Sum 41, who made use of humour in their videos and had a more radio-friendly tone to their music, while retaining the speed, some of the attitude and even the look of 1970s punk. Later pop-punk bands, including All Time Low, 5 Seconds Of Summer, the All-American Rejects and Fall Out Boy, had a sound that has been described as closer to 1980s hardcore, while still achieving commercial success.
In the 1980s the terms indie rock and alternative rock were used interchangeably. By the mid-1990s, as elements of the movement began to attract mainstream interest, particularly grunge and then Britpop, post-grunge and pop-punk, the term alternative began to lose its meaning. Those bands following the less commercial contours of the scene were increasingly referred to by the label indie. They characteristically attempted to retain control of their careers by releasing albums on their own or small independent labels, while relying on touring, word-of-mouth, and airplay on independent or college radio stations for promotion. Linked by an ethos more than a musical approach, the indie rock movement encompassed a wide range of styles, from hard-edged, grunge-influenced bands like the Cranberries and Superchunk, through do-it-yourself experimental bands like Pavement, to punk-folk singers such as Ani DiFranco. It has been noted that indie rock has a relatively high proportion of female artists compared with preceding rock genres, a tendency exemplified by the development of feminist-informed Riot grrrl music. Many countries have developed an extensive local indie scene, flourishing with bands with enough popularity to survive inside the respective country, but virtually unknown outside them.
By the end of the 1990s many recognisable subgenres, most with their origins in the late 1980s alternative movement, were included under the umbrella of indie. Lo-fi eschewed polished recording techniques for a D.I.Y. ethos and was spearheaded by Beck, Sebadoh and Pavement. The work of Talk Talk and Slint helped inspire both post rock, an experimental style influenced by jazz and electronic music, pioneered by Bark Psychosis and taken up by acts such as Tortoise, Stereolab, and Laika, as well as leading to more dense and complex, guitar-based math rock, developed by acts like Polvo and Chavez. Space rock looked back to progressive roots, with drone heavy and minimalist acts like Spacemen 3, the two bands created out of its split, Spectrum and Spiritualized, and later groups including Flying Saucer Attack, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Quickspace. In contrast, Sadcore emphasised pain and suffering through melodic use of acoustic and electronic instrumentation in the music of bands like American Music Club and Red House Painters, while the revival of Baroque pop reacted against lo-fi and experimental music by placing an emphasis on melody and classical instrumentation, with artists like Arcade Fire, Belle and Sebastian and Rufus Wainwright.
Alternative metal, rap rock and nu metal
Alternative metal emerged from the hardcore scene of alternative rock in the US in the later 1980s, but gained a wider audience after grunge broke into the mainstream in the early 1990s. Early alternative metal bands mixed a wide variety of genres with hardcore and heavy metal sensibilities, with acts like Jane's Addiction and Primus utilizing progressive rock, Soundgarden and Corrosion of Conformity using garage punk, the Jesus Lizard and Helmet mixing noise rock, Ministry and Nine Inch Nails influenced by industrial music, Monster Magnet moving into psychedelia, Pantera, Sepultura and White Zombie creating groove metal, while Biohazard and Faith No More turned to hip hop and rap.
Hip hop had gained attention from rock acts in the early 1980s, including The Clash with "The Magnificent Seven" (1980) and Blondie with "Rapture" (1980). Early crossover acts included Run DMC and the Beastie Boys. Detroit rapper Esham became known for his "acid rap" style, which fused rapping with a sound that was often based in rock and heavy metal. Rappers who sampled rock songs included Ice-T, The Fat Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy and Whodini. The mixing of thrash metal and rap was pioneered by Anthrax on their 1987 comedy-influenced single "I'm the Man".
In 1990, Faith No More broke into the mainstream with their single "Epic", often seen as the first truly successful combination of heavy metal with rap. This paved the way for the success of existing bands like 24-7 Spyz and Living Colour, and new acts including Rage Against the Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers, who all fused rock and hip hop among other influences. Among the first wave of performers to gain mainstream success as rap rock were 311, Bloodhound Gang, and Kid Rock. A more metallic sound – nu metal – was pursued by bands including Limp Bizkit, Korn and Slipknot. Later in the decade this style, which contained a mix of grunge, punk, metal, rap and turntable scratching, spawned a wave of successful bands like Linkin Park, P.O.D. and Staind, who were often classified as rap metal or nu metal, the first of which are the best-selling band of the genre.
In 2001, nu metal reached its peak with albums like Staind's Break the Cycle, P.O.D's Satellite, Slipknot's Iowa and Linkin Park's Hybrid Theory. New bands also emerged like Disturbed, Godsmack and Papa Roach, whose major label début Infest became a platinum hit. Korn's long-awaited fifth album Untouchables, and Papa Roach's second album Lovehatetragedy, did not sell as well as their previous releases, while nu metal bands were played more infrequently on rock radio stations and MTV began focusing on pop punk and emo. Since then, many bands have changed to a more conventional hard rock, heavy metal, or electronic music sound.
From about 1997, as dissatisfaction grew with the concept of Cool Britannia, and Britpop as a movement began to dissolve, emerging bands began to avoid the Britpop label while still producing music derived from it. Many of these bands tended to mix elements of British traditional rock (or British trad rock), particularly the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Small Faces, with American influences, including post-grunge. Drawn from across the United Kingdom (with several important bands emerging from the north of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), the themes of their music tended to be less parochially centered on British, English and London life and more introspective than had been the case with Britpop at its height. This, beside a greater willingness to engage with the American press and fans, may have helped some of them in achieving international success.
Post-Britpop bands have been seen as presenting the image of the rock star as an ordinary person and their increasingly melodic music was criticised for being bland or derivative. Post-Britpop bands like Travis from The Man Who (1999), Stereophonics from Performance and Cocktails (1999), Feeder from Echo Park (2001), and particularly Coldplay from their debut album Parachutes (2000), achieved much wider international success than most of the Britpop groups that had preceded them, and were some of the most commercially successful acts of the late 1990s and early 2000s, arguably providing a launchpad for the subsequent garage rock or post-punk revival, which has also been seen as a reaction to their introspective brand of rock.
Post-hardcore and emo
Post-hardcore developed in the US, particularly in the Chicago and Washington, DC areas, in the early to mid-1980s, with bands that were inspired by the do-it-yourself ethics and guitar-heavy music of hardcore punk, but influenced by post-punk, adopting longer song formats, more complex musical structures and sometimes more melodic vocal styles.
Emo also emerged from the hardcore scene in 1980s Washington, D.C., initially as "emocore", used as a term to describe bands who favored expressive vocals over the more common abrasive, barking style. The early emo scene operated as an underground, with short-lived bands releasing small-run vinyl records on tiny independent labels. Emo broke into mainstream culture in the early 2000s with the platinum-selling success of Jimmy Eat World's Bleed American (2001) and Dashboard Confessional's The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most (2003). The new emo had a much more mainstream sound than in the 1990s and a far greater appeal amongst adolescents than its earlier incarnations. At the same time, use of the term emo expanded beyond the musical genre, becoming associated with fashion, a hairstyle and any music that expressed emotion. By 2003 post-hardcore bands had also caught the attention of major labels and began to enjoy mainstream success in the album charts. A number of these bands were seen as a more aggressive offshoot of emo and given the often vague label of screamo.
Garage rock/post-punk revival
In the early 2000s, a new group of bands that played a stripped down and back-to-basics version of guitar rock, emerged into the mainstream. They were variously characterised as part of a garage rock, post-punk or new wave revival. Because the bands came from across the globe, cited diverse influences (from traditional blues, through New Wave to grunge), and adopted differing styles of dress, their unity as a genre has been disputed. There had been attempts to revive garage rock and elements of punk in the 1980s and 1990s and by 2000 scenes had grown up in several countries.
The commercial breakthrough from these scenes was led by four bands: the Strokes, who emerged from the New York club scene with their début album Is This It (2001); the White Stripes, from Detroit, with their third album White Blood Cells (2001); the Hives from Sweden after their compilation album Your New Favourite Band (2001); and the Vines from Australia with Highly Evolved (2002). They were christened by the media as the "The" bands, and dubbed "The saviours of rock 'n' roll", leading to accusations of hype. A second wave of bands that gained international recognition due to the movement included Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the Killers, Interpol and Kings of Leon from the US, the Libertines, Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party, Kaiser Chiefs and Franz Ferdinand from the UK, Jet from Australia, and the Datsuns and the D4 from New Zealand.
Digital electronic rock
In the 2000s, as computer technology became more accessible and music software advanced, it became possible to create high quality music using little more than a single laptop computer. This resulted in a massive increase in the amount of home-produced electronic music available to the general public via the expanding internet, and new forms of performance such as laptronica and live coding. These techniques also began to be used by existing bands and by developing genres that mixed rock with digital techniques and sounds, including indie electronic, electroclash, dance-punk and new rave.
Mainstream decline (2010s–present)
During the 2010s, rock music saw a decline in mainstream popularity and cultural relevancy; by 2017, hip hop music had surpassed it as the most consumed musical genre in the United States. Critics in the latter half of the decade took notice of the genre's waning popularity, the rise of streaming and the advent of technology which has changed approaches toward music creation as being factors. Ken Partridge of Genius suggested that hip-hop became more popular because it is a more transformative genre and does not need to rely on past sounds, and that there is a direct connection to the decline of rock music and changing social attitudes during the 2010s. Bill Flanagan, in an opinion piece to the New York Times in 2016, compared the state of rock during this period to the state of jazz in the early 1980s, 'slowing down and looking back'. Vice suggests that this decline in popularity could actually benefit the genre by attracting outsiders with 'something to prove and nothing to gain'.
Impact of COVID-19 on the rock scene
The COVID-19 pandemic brought extreme changes to the rock scene worldwide. Restrictions, such as quarantine rules, caused widespread cancellations and postponements of concerts, tours, festivals, album releases, award ceremonies, and competitions. Some artists resorted to giving online performances to keep their careers active. Another scheme to circumvent the quarantine limitations was used at a concert of Danish rock musician Mads Langer: the audience watched the performance from inside their cars, much like in a drive-in theater. Musically, the pandemic led to a surge in new releases from the slower, less energetic, and more acoustic subgenres of rock music. The industry raised funds to help itself through efforts such as Crew Nation, a relief fund for live music crews organised by Livenation.
Resurgence in pop-punk
At the start of the 2020s, recording artists in both pop and rap music released popular pop-punk recordings, many of them produced or assisted by Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker. Representing a commercial resurgence for the genre, these acts included Machine Gun Kelly, Willow Smith, Trippie Redd, Halsey, Yungblud, and Olivia Rodrigo. The popularity of the social media platform TikTok helped spark nostalgia for the angst-driven musical style among young listeners during the pandemic. Among the most successful of these releases have been Machine Gun Kelly's 2020 album Tickets To My Downfall, which topped the Billboard 200, and Rodrigo's number-one hit single "Good 4 U" (2021).
Different subgenres of rock were adopted by, and became central to, the identity of a large number of sub-cultures. In the 1950s and 1960s, respectively, British youths adopted the Teddy Boy and Rocker subcultures, which revolved around US rock and roll. The counterculture of the 1960s was closely associated with psychedelic rock. The mid-late 1970s punk subculture began in the US, but it was given a distinctive look by British designer Vivienne Westwood, a look which spread worldwide. Out of the punk scene, the Goth and Emo subcultures grew, both of which presented distinctive visual styles.
When an international rock culture developed, it supplanted cinema as the major sources of fashion influence. Paradoxically, followers of rock music have often mistrusted the world of fashion, which has been seen as elevating image above substance. Rock fashions have been seen as combining elements of different cultures and periods, as well as expressing divergent views on sexuality and gender, and rock music in general has been noted and criticised for facilitating greater sexual freedom. Rock has also been associated with various forms of drug use, including the amphetamines taken by mods in the early to mid-1960s, through the LSD, mescaline, hashish and other hallucinogenic drugs linked with psychedelic rock in the late 1960s and early 1970s; and sometimes to cannabis, cocaine and heroin, all of which have been eulogised in song.
Rock has been credited with changing attitudes to race by opening up African-American culture to white audiences; but at the same time, rock has been accused of appropriating and exploiting that culture. While rock music has absorbed many influences and introduced Western audiences to different musical traditions, the global spread of rock music has been interpreted as a form of cultural imperialism. Rock music inherited the folk tradition of protest song, making political statements on subjects such as war, religion, poverty, civil rights, justice and the environment. Political activism reached a mainstream peak with the "Do They Know It's Christmas?" single (1984) and Live Aid concert for Ethiopia in 1985, which, while successfully raising awareness of world poverty and funds for aid, have also been criticised (along with similar events), for providing a stage for self-aggrandisement and increased profits for the rock stars involved.
Since its early development rock music has been associated with rebellion against social and political norms, most obviously in early rock and roll's rejection of an adult-dominated culture, the counterculture's rejection of consumerism and conformity and punk's rejection of all forms of social convention, however, it can also be seen as providing a means of commercial exploitation of such ideas and of diverting youth away from political action.
Role of women
Professional women instrumentalists are uncommon in rock genres such as heavy metal although bands such as Within Temptation have featured women as lead singers with men playing instruments. According to Schaap and Berkers, "playing in a band is largely a male homosocial activity, that is, learning to play in a band is largely a peer-based ... experience, shaped by existing sex-segregated friendship networks. They note that rock music "is often defined as a form of male rebellion vis-à-vis female bedroom culture." (The theory of "bedroom culture" argues that society influences girls to not engage in crime and deviance by virtually trapping them in their bedroom; it was developed by a sociologist named Angela McRobbie.) In popular music, there has been a gendered "distinction between public (male) and private (female) participation" in music. "Several scholars have argued that men exclude women from bands or from the bands' rehearsals, recordings, performances, and other social activities". "Women are mainly regarded as passive and private consumers of allegedly slick, prefabricated – hence, inferior – pop music ..., excluding them from participating as high status rock musicians". One of the reasons that there are rarely mixed gender bands is that "bands operate as tight-knit units in which homosocial solidarity – social bonds between people of the same sex ... – plays a crucial role". In the 1960s rock music scene, "singing was sometimes an acceptable pastime for a girl, but playing an instrument ... simply wasn't done".
"The rebellion of rock music was largely a male rebellion; the women – often, in the 1950s and '60s, girls in their teens – in rock usually sang songs as personæ utterly dependent on their macho boyfriends ...". Philip Auslander says that "Although there were many women in rock by the late 1960s, most performed only as singers, a traditionally feminine position in popular music". Though some women played instruments in American all-female garage rock bands, none of these bands achieved more than regional success. So they "did not provide viable templates for women's on-going participation in rock". In relation to the gender composition of heavy metal bands, it has been said that "[h]eavy metal performers are almost exclusively male" "...at least until the mid-1980s" apart from "...exceptions such as Girlschool". However, "...now [in the 2010s] maybe more than ever–strong metal women have put up their dukes and got down to it", "carv[ing] out a considerable place for [them]selves." When Suzi Quatro emerged in 1973, "no other prominent female musician worked in rock simultaneously as a singer, instrumentalist, songwriter, and bandleader". According to Auslander, she was "kicking down the male door in rock and roll and proving that a female musician ... and this is a point I am extremely concerned about ... could play as well if not better than the boys".
An all-female band is a musical group in genres such as rock and blues which is exclusively composed of female musicians. This is distinct from a girl group, in which the female members are solely vocalists, though this terminology is not universally followed.
Further reading and listening
- Bogdanov, V.; Woodstra, C.; Erlewine, S. T., eds. (2002). All Music Guide to Rock: the Definitive Guide to Rock, Pop, and Soul (3rd ed.). Milwaukee, WI: Backbeat Books. ISBN 0-87930-653-X.
- Christgau, Robert (1992). "B.E.: A Dozen Moments in the Prehistory of Rock and Roll". Details.
- Gilliland, John (1969). "Crammer: A lively cram course on the history of rock and some other things" (audio). Pop Chronicles. University of North Texas Libraries.
- Robinson, Richard. Pop, Rock, and Soul. New York: Pyramid Books, 1972. ISBN 0-0515-2660-3
- Shepherd, J., ed. (2003). Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World: Volume II: Performance and Production. New York: Continuum. ISBN 0-8264-6322-3.
- Szatmary, David P. Rockin' in Time: a Social History of Rock-and-Roll. Third ed. Upper Saddle River NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1996. xvi, 320 p., ill., mostly with b&w photos. ISBN 0-13-440678-8