ROCK: An Overview
“Pop music often tells you everything is okay, while rock music tells you that it’s not but you can change it.”
During the mid-1960s, America’s military action in Vietnam was escalating out of control;students around the world were becoming more politically involved, civil rights and feminism were hot issues and the burgeoning youth movement was turning onto the effects of mind-bending drugs. Accordingly, certain strains of popular music melded attitude, experimentation and a social conscience, and the newly defined rock genre was the all-encompassing result. By the second half of the decade, many record buyers regarded pop as a tame and dated form of escapism for oldies and prepubescent teens. Rock, by comparison, diverted some of its listeners through psychedelic, acid-drenched terrain, yet it also provided a heavy dose of realism, serving as an introspective outlet for a growing number of composer-performers, while expressing the concerns of those who were no longer prepared to look at the world through rose-tinted spectacles…
Indeed, John Lennon and The Beatles led the way among the handful of artists who made a successful transition from pop to rock. These included the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds and the Who, who had already started out with a more aggressive rock sensibility. Add to them former folkies such as Bob Dylan and the Byrds, as well as emerging west coast acts like the Doors, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, and it was clear that, echoing the musical revolution that had exploded on both sides of the Atlantic a decade earlier, rock was the new voice of the youth.
Rock music is characterised by a heavy drum style, which provides a steady yet rhythmically varied base for the other musicians to play against, together with aggressive, riff-based (wiki: a repeated chord progression, pattern, refrain or melodic figure; short melodic phrases) guitar playing.
As the optimism of the Summer of Lover gave way to late-1960s cynicism fueled by civil unrest, bloody anti-war riots and the hippy counterculture, so psychedelic and Eastern-tinged music were superseded by the vocal histrionics of Janis Joplin and Joe Cocker, as well as the blues-based hard rock of bands like Cream and the Jimmy Hendrix Experience. Breaking with the pop tradition of producing catchy, radio and juke-box-friendly 3-minute songs, these acts indulge themselves and their followers with far lengthier numbers that were often distinguished by extended instrumental solos. In so doing, they paved the way for subsequent decades’ purveyors of heavy metal, progressive jam and arena rock… supergroups like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.
In a world where Alice Cooper and David Bowie were displaying thespian-like theatricality, innovative psychedelia transmogrified into razzle-dazzle glam rock, people were pushing for bigger sounds onstage and in the studios and concerts were being produced on an increasingly grand scale. It was as if excess was being equated to success… Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis had inspired teenagers, outraged parents and revolutionised Western culture, contemporary music had basically lost touch with its raison d’être… promoted an instrumental virtuosity that was completely at odds with the easy-to-play, do-it-yourself appeal of early rock’n’roll. Then came along punk rock, and for a brief time, the entire scene was treated to the shakeup that it so badly needed.
Between 1976 and 1978, the British punks in particular pumped up the aggression and devil-may-care attitude of their 1950s rock predecessors and quite literally spat in on the face of the authority, middles class values and, just the hell of it, one another. Drawing on often limited musical talents, outfits such as the Sex pistols and the Clash channeled their frustration and disenchantment of disaffected youth. The music was simply structured rock… Nevertheless, almost as soon as the punk rock movement became an international phenomenon, it started to disintegrate, hijacked by kids from comfortable backgrounds who didn’t have a clue about life on the streets…
Recalling how rock’n’roll had been usurped by parent-friendly pop at the start of the 1960s, the record companies attempted to broaden punk’s appeal by associating numerous more mainstream acts with the genre, and the result was a watered down hybrid that the media quickly dubbed “new wave”… hard rockers and exotically-attired “new romantics” catered to the rapidly emerging MTV generation.
Once easy to categorise, rock music continued to fragment throughout the 1980s and 1990s, with heavy metal splitting off into subgenres ranging from thrash, speed and progressive to black death and doom. At the same time the alternative indie tag served as a catch-all for a variety of styles, including that whose aesthetic – if not its unmelodic structured – was closest to that of vintage rock’n’roll, and which consequently had the most far-reaching impact on the latter-day rock scene.
Du Noyer, Paul, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, From Rock, Pop, Jazz, Blues and Hip Hop to Classical, Folk and World, 2003