Rock and roll

For other uses of "Rock and roll", see Rock and roll (disambiguation).

Rock and roll (also spelled rock 'n' roll, especially in its first decade), also called rock, is a form of popular music, usually featuring vocals (often with vocal harmony), electric guitars and a strong back beat; other instruments, such as the saxophone, are common in some styles. As a cultural phenomenon, rock's social impact on the world is likely unparalleled by any other kind of music. It has been credited with ending wars and spreading peace and tolerance, as well as corrupting the innocent and spreading moral rot. Rock, born in the United States, has become popular across the globe, and has evolved into a multitude of highly-varying styles.

The genre of rock and roll is broad, and its boundaries loosely-defined. It is sometimes used to describe a number of genres only distantly related, including soul and heavy metal. The All Music Guide uses specifically rock and roll to refer to the genre's early years in the 1950s and 1960s, and the shorter rock as an umbrella category. Template:RockBox


Precursors and origins

Main article: Origins of rock and roll

Rock and roll emerged as a defined musical style in America in the 1950s, though elements of rock and roll can be heard in rhythm and blues records as far back as the 1920s. Early rock and roll combined elements of blues, boogie woogie, jazz and rhythm and blues, and is also influenced by traditional Appalachian folk music, gospel and country and western. Going back even further, rock and roll can trace a foundational lineage to the old Five Points district of mid-19th century New York City, the scene of the first fusion of heavily rhythmic African shuffles and sand dances with melody driven European genres, particularly the Irish jig.

Rocking was a term first used by gospel singers in the American South to mean something akin to spiritual rapture. By the 1940s, however, the term was used as a double entendre, ostensibly referring to dancing, but with the hidden subtextual meaning of sex; an example of this is Roy Brown's "Good Rocking Tonight". This type of song was usually relegated to "race music" (the music industry code name for rhythm and blues) outlets and was rarely heard by mainstream white audiences. In 1951, Cleveland, Ohio disc jockey Alan Freed would begin playing this type of music for his white audience, and it is Freed who is credited with coining the phrase "rock and roll" to describe the rollicking R&B music that he brought to the airwaves.

There is much debate as to what should be considered the first rock and roll record. Candidates include the 1951 "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats, or later and more widely-known hits like Chuck Berry's "Maybellene" "Johnny B. Goode" or Bo Diddley's "Bo Diddley" or Bill Haley & His Comets' "Rock Around the Clock". Some historians go further back, pointing to musicians like Fats Domino, who were recording in the 40s in styles largely indistinguishable from rock and roll; these include Louis Jordan's "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby?", Jack Guthrie's "The Oakie Bookie" (1947) and Benny Carter and Paul Vandervoort II's "Rock Me to Sleep" (1950).

Early North American rock and roll (1953-1963)

Whatever the beginning, it is clear that rock appeared at a time when racial tensions in the United States were coming to the surface. African Americans were protesting segregation of schools and public facilities. The "separate but equal" doctrine was nominally overturned by the Supreme Court in 1954. It can hardly be a coincidence, then, that a musical form combining elements of white and black music should arise, and that this music should provoke strong reactions, of all types, in all Americans.

The rock 'n' roll music of the 1950s would change popular music forever.
The rock 'n' roll music of the 1950s would change popular music forever.
The phrase may possibly first be heard on Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five's version of Tamburitza Boogie recorded on August 18, 1950, in New York City.

On March 21, 1952 in Cleveland, Alan Freed (also known as Moondog) organized the first rock and roll concert, titled "The Moondog Coronation Ball". The audience and the performers were mixed in race and the evening ended after one song in a near-riot as thousands of fans tried to get into the sold-out venue.

By the end of the decade, rock had spread throughout the world. In Australia, for example, Johnny O'Keefe became perhaps the first modern rock star of the country, and began the field of Australian rock.


Main article: Rockabilly

Two years later in 1954, Elvis Presley began recording with Sam Phillips, starting with the hit "That's All Right, Mama". Elvis played a rock and country & western fusion called rockabilly, which was characterized by hiccupping vocals, slapping bass and a spastic guitar style. He became possibly the first celebrity musician and teen idol to perform in the genre.

It was the following year's "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley & His Comets that really set the rock boom in motion, though. The song was one of the biggest hits in history, and frenzied teens flocked to see Haley and the Comets perform it, even causing riots in some places; "Rock Around the Clock" was a breakthrough for both the group and for all of rock and roll music. If everything that came before laid the groundwork, "Clock" certainly set the mold for everything else that came after. With its combined rockabilly and R & B influences, "Clock" topped the U.S. charts for several weeks, and became wildly popular in places like Australia and Germany. The single, released by independent label Festival Records in Australia, was the biggest-selling recording in the country at the time.


Main article: Cover version

Through the late 1940s and early 1950s, R&B music had been gaining a stronger beat and a wilder style, with artists such as Fats Domino and Johnny Otis speeding up the tempos and increasing the backbeat to great popularity on the juke-joint circuit. Despite the efforts of Freed and others, black music was still taboo on many white-owned radio outlets. However, savvy artists and producers quickly recognized the potential of rock and raced to cash in with white versions of this black music.

Covering was customary in the music industry at the time. One of the first successful rock and roll covers was Wynonie Harris's transformation of Roy Brown's "Good Rocking Tonight" from a jump blues to a showy rocker. The most notable trend, however, was white pop covers of black R&B numbers.

Black performers saw their songs recorded by white performers, an important step in the dissemination of the music, but often at the cost of feeling and authenticity. Most famously, Pat Boone recorded sanitized versions of Little Richard songs, though Boone found "Long Tall Sally" so intense that he couldn't cover it. Later, as those songs became popular, the original artists' recordings received radio play as well. Little Richard once called Pat Boone from the audience and introduced him as "the man who made me a millionaire".

The cover versions were not necessarily straightforward imitations. For example, Bill Haley's incompletely bowdlerized cover of "Shake, Rattle and Roll" transformed Big Joe Turner's humorous and racy tale of adult love into an energetic teen dance number, while Georgia Gibbs replaced Etta James's tough, sarcastic vocal in "Roll With Me, Henry" (covered as "Dance With Me, Henry") with a perkier vocal more appropriate for an audience unfamiliar with the song to which James's song was an answer, (Hank Ballard's "Work With Me, Annie").

Rock spreads and diversifies

Diversification of American rock

Main article: American rock

With the runaway popular success of rock, the style began to influence other genres. Vocalized R&B became doo wop, for example, while uptempo, secularized gospel music became soul, and audiences flocked to see Appalachian-style folk bands playing a rock-influenced pop version of their style. Young adults and teenagers across the country were playing in amateur rock bands, laying the roots for local scenes, garage rock and alternative rock. More immediately, places like Southern California produced their own varieties of rock, such as surf.

Surf music

Main article: surf music

The rockabilly sound reached the West Coast and mutated into a wild, mostly instrumental sound called surf music. This style, exemplified by Dick Dale and The Surfaris, featured faster tempos, innovative percussion, and processed electric guitar sounds which would be highly influential upon future rock guitarists. Other West Coast bands, notably The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean, would capitalize on the surf craze, slowing the tempos back down and adding harmony vocals to create the "California Sound."


Main article: Australian rock

After Johnny O'Keefe's last major hit in 1961, Australian popular music was dominated by clean-cut family bands. Bubbling beneath the surface, however, was a group of pioneering bands like the surf band The Atlantics.

British rock

Main article: British rock

American rock and roll had an impact across the globe, perhaps most intensely in the United Kingdom, where record collecting and trend-watching were in full bloom among the youth culture prior to the rock era, and where color barriers were less of an issue. Countless British youths listened to R&B and rock pioneers and began forming their own bands to play with an intensity and drive seldom found in white American acts. Britain quickly became a new center of rock and roll, leading to the British Invasion from 1964 to 1969.

In 1958 three British teenagers formed a rock and roll group, Cliff Richard and the Drifters (later renamed Cliff Richard and the Shadows). The group recorded a hit, "Move It", marking not only what is held to be the very first true British rock 'n' roll single, but also the beginning of a different sound — British rock. Richard and his band introduced many important changes, such as using a "lead guitarist" (virtuoso Hank Marvin) and an electric bass. Richard inspired many British teens to begin buying records and follow the music scene, thus laying the groundwork for Beatlemania.

British invasion

Main article: British Invasion

By the early 1960s, bands from England were dominating the rock and roll scene world-wide. First re-recording standard American tunes, these bands then infused their original rock and roll compositions with an industrial-class sensibility. Foremost among these was The Beatles, who became the single most influential and popular act in the history of rock and roll. The Beatles brought together an appealing mix of image, songwriting, and personality and, after initial success in the UK, were launched a large-scale US tour to ecstatic reaction, a phenomenon quickly dubbed Beatlemania.

Although they were not the first British band to come to America, The Beatles spearheaded the Invasion, triumphing in the US on their first visit in 1964 (including historic appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show). In the wake of Beatlemania other British bands headed to the U.S., notably the Rolling Stones (who disdained the Beatles' clean-cut image and presented a darker, more aggressive image), and other acts like The Animals and The Yardbirds. Throughout the early and mid-60s Americans seemed to have an insatiable appetite for British rock. Other British bands, including The Who and The Kinks, had some success during this period but saved their peak of popularity for the second wave of British invasion in the late 1960s.

1960s garage rock

Main article: Garage rock

The British Invasion spawned a wave of imitators in the U.S. and across the globe. Many of these bands were cruder than the bands they tried to emulate. Playing mainly to local audiences and recording cheaply, very few of these bands broke through to a higher level of success. This movement, later known as Garage Rock, gained a new audience when record labels started re-issuing compilations of the original singles; the best known of these is a series called Nuggets. Some of the better known band of this genre include The Sonics, ? & the Mysterians, and The Standells.

Bob Dylan and folk-rock (starting 1963)

Main articles: Bob Dylan, Folk-rock

As the British Invasion led by The Beatles picked up steam, a homegrown American trend was making itself felt, led by Bob Dylan. By 1963 the 22 year old Dylan had assimilated a variety of regional American styles and was set to create a new genre, usually dubbed "folk-rock". From 1961 to mid-1963 Dylan had kept his distance from rock and roll even though his first adolescent musical forays owed more to early rockers like Buddy Holly and Little Richard than to any of the more obscure folk and blues artists he would later revere as paradigms (in particular, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Robert Johnson). Dylan and others on the new folk circuit tended to view The Beatles as bubblegum (that is, tritely commercial), but admitted to a grudging respect for their melodic originality and energetic, danceable delivery. In 1963 Dylan's release of the album The Times They Are A-Changin was a watershed event, bringing "relevant" and highly poetic lyrics to the edge of rock and roll. The Beatles listened to this album incessantly and moved away from the exclusively romantic/interpersonal themes of their songs to date.

In 1964 and 1965 Dylan threw off all pretense to roots purity and embraced the rock beat and electrified instruments, culminating in the release of the song "Like a Rolling Stone" which, at over six minutes playing time, changed the landscape of hit radio and ushered in a period of intense lyrical and structural experimentation on both sides of the Atlantic. Dylan would continue to surprise fans and critics with tour-de-force albums in many styles, but, from 1964 on, he has worked mostly within the rock and roll framework. His influence on all rock sub-genres is incalculable, probably equaled only by The Beatles'. Among Dylan's most important disciples was Neil Young, whose lyrical inventiveness, wedded to an often wailing electric guitar attack, would presage grunge.

Birth of a counterculture (1967-1974)

Main article: Counterculture

As part of the societal ferment in North America and Europe, rock changed and diversified in a number of subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

As early as the mid-1960s, the image of rock and roll became less like previous musical forms. The Rolling Stones are credited with being the first band to dispense with band uniforms; band members simply wore whatever clothes they wished, and these clothes were often outlandish or controversial. Hair styles also became longer and less tamed. As trivial as these changes may sound today, this break from tradition was shocking to audiences used to clean-cut musical groups in matching suits.

But in 1967, one album forever changed the course of rock and roll. The Beatles' groundbreaking album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, was unlike any album or song that had come before, with a sound unlike anything The Beatles (or any other band or solo artist) had performed. After the climactic final chord of A Day In The Life, it was clear that rock and roll was about to move in different directions, such as the following:

Psychedelic rock

Main article: Psychedelic rock

The music took on a greater social awareness; it was not just about dancing and smooching anymore, but took on themes of social justice. The counterculture that was emerging (partly as a reaction to the Vietnam War) adopted rock and roll as its defining feature, and the music began to be heavily influenced by the various drugs that the youth culture was experimenting with. In America, psychedelic rock influenced and was influenced by the drug scene and the larger psychedelic lifestyle. It featured long, often improvised jams and wild electronic sounds. Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Iron Butterfly, and the Grateful Dead were leading practitioners of psychedelia. A more esoteric form of British psychedelia and the Canterbury Sound is exemplified by the Soft Machine, who accompanied Hendrix on his first U.S. tour. Pink Floyd found their roots in British psychedelia, moving on to becoming more of a progressive rock, and arena rock band later in their careers.

The culmination of rock and roll as a socially-unifying force was seen in the rock festivals of the late '60s, the most famous of which was Woodstock which began as a three-day arts and music festival and turned into a "happening", as hundreds of thousands of youthful fans converged on the site.

Progressive rock

Main article: Progressive rock

The music itself broadened past the guitar-bass-drum format; while some bands had used saxophones and keyboards before, now acts like The Beach Boys and The Beatles (and others following their lead) experimented with new instruments including wind sections, string sections, and full orchestration. Many bands moved well beyond three-minute tunes into new and diverse forms; increasingly sophisticated chord structures, previously limited to jazz and orchestrated pop music, were heard.

Dabbling heavily in classical, jazz, electronic, and experimental music resulted in what would be called progressive rock (or, in its German wing, krautrock). Progressive rock could be lush and beautiful or atonal and dissonant, highly complex or minimalistic, sometimes all within the same song. At times it was hardly recognizable as rock at all. Some notable practitioners include King Crimson, Genesis, Gentle Giant, The Nice, Yes, Gong, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Magma, Can, Pink Floyd and Faust.

German prog

Main article: Krautrock

In the mid-1960s, American and British rock entered Germany, especially British progressive rock bands. At the time, the musical avant-garde in Germany were playing a kind of electronic classical music, and they adapted the then-revolutionary electronic instruments for a progressive-psychedelic rock sound. By the early 1970s, the scene, now known as krautrock, had begun to peak with the incorporation of jazz (Can) and Asian music (Popol Vuh). This sound, and later pioneers like Kraftwerk, were to prove enormously influential in the development of techno and other genres later in the century.

Italian prog

In Italy progressive rock had a great success in the 1970s and some bands played prog at the same level of the more famous American groups and went in tour in the States.

Some Italian progressive rock bands were Premiata Forneria Marconi, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso and Area International Popular Group.

Birth of heavy metal

Main article: Heavy metal music

A second wave of British bands and artists gained great popularity during this period dominant; these bands typically were more directly steeped in American blues music than their more pop-oriented predecessors but their performances took a highly amplified, often spectacular form. These were the bands that were led by the guitar; Cream and Led Zeppelin were early examples of this blues-rock form and were followed by heavier rock bands including Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. This style of rock would come to be known as heavy metal music.

Corporate movements out of the counterculture (the 1970s)

Arena rock

Main article: Arena rock

The Beatles and the Rolling Stones had set the table for massive live performances in stadia and arenae. The growing popularity of metal and progressive rock led to more bands selling out large venues. The corporate world saw the chance for huge profits and began marketing a series of what came to be called arena rock bands. Bands whose roots were in other genres, like Queen, Pink Floyd and Genesis, paved the way by putting on extravagant live shows drawing a large number of fans. Following in this wake, Boston, Styx, Foreigner, Journey, and many other bands began playing similar music, often less progressive and metal-like. This movement became a precursor to the power pop of future decades, and set the mold for live performances by popular artists.

Soft rock/Pop

Main article: Pop music

Even rock music would get soft, or at least in between soft and hard. Out of the short-lived "bubble gum pop" era came such groups as The Partridge Family, The Cowsills, The Osmonds, and The Archies (the last "group" was actually one person, Ron Dante, who would go on to help manage the career of Barry Manilow).

With the demise of The Beatles as a group, other bands and artists would take this emerging soft rock format and add a touch of orchestration to partially form some of the first "power ballads". Solo artists such as Manilow, Elton John, Billy Joel, Olivia Newton-John, and Eric Carmen, and groups such as Bread, The Carpenters, and England Dan & John Ford Coley would make popular the format we know today as Soft rock.

Other well-known artists from the 1960s such as Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand were continuing to chart.

Classic rock emerging

Main article: Classic rock

Meanwhile, groups such as Queen, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Aerosmith, REO Speedwagon, ZZ Top, Van Halen, and The Rolling Stones, as well as such solo artists as Peter Frampton and Paul McCartney, were being heard mainly on AM radio and sharing the charts with their soft rock counterparts.

For example, Frampton's 1976 live album Frampton Comes Alive, rapidly becoming the best-selling live album of all time, had spawned a number of singles that hit the Top Ten charts, such as "Show Me The Way" and "Baby, I Love Your Way". Aerosmith's rock anthem "Walk This Way", among others, were becoming popular with junior high and high school students. It was an era where both soft and hard rock mixed together. Extremely popular recordings, such as Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," actually put the two together.

Mexican Rock

Rock crosses the border

In the early 1970's Mexican singer Rigo Tovar took not only the musical elements of rock melody and blues and fused it with cumbia, and tropical music. He also used the rock and roll image; sporting long black shaggy hair, ray ban aviator glasses, glam outfits, and tattoos. He started using electric guitars, synthesizers and electronic effects previously unused in mexican music. In his live performances he would cover songs by Ray Charles and the Beatles. His fame and influence were not limited to Mexico and Latin America but eventually went world wide reaching Europe. Many of todays mexican "rockeros" cite Rigo as an influence.

Disco, punk and New Wave (1973-1981)


Main article: Disco

While Funk music had been part of the rock and roll scene in the early 1970s, it would eventually give way to more accessible songs with a danceable beat. The Disco format was propelled by such groups as K.C. and the Sunshine Band, MFSB, The Three Degrees, The O'Jays, Barry White, Gloria Gaynor, Chic, and The Trammps. Suddenly, many popular hits featured the danceable disco beat, and discotheques -- previously a European phenomenenon -- began to open in the U.S., notably Studio 54 in New York, which became the model for dozens of disco clubs nationwide.

The group most associated with the Disco era was The Bee Gees, whose music for the 1977 Paramount film Saturday Night Fever marked the pinnacle of the era. Many mainstream rock acts, including the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Queen and even the Grateful Dead, incorporated disco beats into their releases in attempts to keep up with the trend; many rock radio stations began to adopt all-disco formats.

But by the end of the 1970s an anti-disco backlash occurred as, in the rush to capitalize on the popular format, the overall quality of disco music began to fall and as rock fans reacted to the perceived loss of traditional rock outlets in favor of disco. The anti-disco movement culminated in the disco demolition riot in Chicago during the summer of 1979.

While much of the cachet of disco as a genre had dissipated by the end of the '70s, danceable sounds persisted; disco, in its own way, would spin off Rap/Hip-Hop music as we know today, when The Sugarhill Gang took portions of Chic's hit "Good Times" and transformed them into "Rapper's Delight", generally considered to be the first popular rap single.

Punk Rock

Main article: Punk rock

Punk rock started off as a reaction to the lush, producer-driven sounds of disco, and against the perceived commercialism of progressive rock that had become arena rock. Early punk borrowed heavily from the garage band ethic: played by bands for which expert musicianship was not a requirement, punk was stripped-down, three-chord music that could be played easily. Many of these bands also intended to shock mainstream society, rejecting the "peace and love" image of the prior musical rebellion of the 1960s which had degenerated, punks thought, into mellow disco culture.

Punk rose to public awareness nearly simultaneously in Britain with the Sex Pistols and in America with The Ramones.

The Sex Pistols chose aggressive stage names (including "Johnny Rotten" and "Sid Vicious") and did their best to live up to them, deliberately rejecting anything that symbolized "hippies": long hair, soft music, loose clothing, and liberal politics, and displaying an anarchic, often confrontational, stage presence; well represented on their first two singles "Anarchy in the U.K." and "God Save the Queen". Despite an airplay ban on the BBC, the record rose to the top chart position in the UK. The Sex Pistols paved the way for The Clash, whose approach was less nihilistic but more overtly political and idealistic.

The Ramones exemplified the American side of punk: equally aggressive but mostly apolitical, more alienated, and not above fun for its own sake. The Ramones reigned as the kings of the New York punk scene, which also included Richard Hell and Television, and centered around rough-and-tumble clubs, notably CBGB's. Punk was mostly an East-coast phenomenon in the US until the late 1970s when Los Angeles-based bands such as X and Black Flag broke through.

New Wave

Main article: New Wave

Punk rock attracted devotees from the art and collegiate world and soon bands sporting a more literate, arty approach, such as the 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.

If punk rock was a social and musical phenomenon, it garnered little in the way of record sales (small specialty labels such as Stiff Records had released much of the punk music to date) or American radio airplay, as the radio scene continued to be dominated by mainstream formats such as disco and album-oriented rock. 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 were essentially pop bands dressed up in New Wave regalia; others, including The Police and The Pretenders managed to parlay the boost of the New Wave movement into long-lived and artistically lauded careers.

Punk and post-punk bands would continue to appear sporadically, but as a musical scene, punk had largely self-destructed and been subsumed into mainstream New Wave pop by the mid-1980s, but the influence of punk has been substantial. The grunge movement of the late 1980s owes much to punk, and many current mainstream bands claim punk rock as their stylistic heritage. Punk also bred other genres, including hardcore, industrial music, and goth.

Rock diversifies in the 1980s

Main article: 1980s in music

In the 1980s, popular rock diversified. The early part of the decade saw Eddie Van Halen achieve musical innovations in rock guitar, while vocalists David Lee Roth (of Van Halen) and Freddie Mercury (of Queen) raised the role of frontman to near performance art standards. Concurrently, pop-New Wave bands remained popular, while pop-punk performers, like Billy Idol and The Go-Go's, gained fame. American heartland rock gained a strong following, exemplified by Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, and others. Led by the American folk singer-songwriter Paul Simon and the British former prog rock star Peter Gabriel, rock and roll fused with a variety of folk music styles from around the world; this fusion came to be known as "world music", and included fusions like Aboriginal rock. Amidst this, Michael Jackson would reach the peak of his remarkable career with the album Thriller.

Hard rock and hair metal

Main article: Hair metal (also see Hard rock and Heavy metal.)

Heavy metal languished in obscurity until the mid- or late 1970s. A few bands maintained large followings, like Queen, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith, and there were occasional mainstream hits, like Blue yster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper". Music critics overwhelmingly hated the genre, and mainstream listeners generally avoided it because of its strangeness. However this changed in 1978 with the release of the hard rock band Van Halen's eponymous debut, which ushered in an era of widely popular, high-energy rock and roll, based out of Los Angeles, California.

While bands like Van Halen and Metallica innovated in the genre, and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal found fans, a group of musicians formulated what later became known as hair metal. Taking cues from Van Halen, but without their humor, Mtley Cre, Bon Jovi, and Ratt are often regarded as the first hair metal bands to gain popularity. They became known for their debauched lifestyles, teased hair, feminized use of make-up, clothing (usually spandex,) and over-the-top posturing. Their songs were bombastic, aggressive, and often defiantly macho, with lyrics focused on sex, drinking, drugs, and the occult. After Def Leppard's wildly popular Pyromania, and Van Halen's seminal 1984, hair metal became ubiquitous. Many hair metal bands became one-hit wonders, or as David Lee Roth once said of them, "here today, gone later today," (for example, Winger and Slaughter.)

By the middle of the 1980s, a formula developed in which a hair metal band had two hits -- one a soft ballad, and the other a hard-rocking anthem. The original line-up of Van Halen broke up in 1985, creating something of a quality vacuum in the genre; however, in 1987, Guns n' Roses released Appetite for Destruction, which became phenomenally successful. Until hair metal's demise in the early-1990s, Guns n' Roses were hard rock's standard-bearers, and influenced its sound by incorporating influences from punk rock, and thrash metal.

Birth of Chinese rock

Main article: Chinese rock

Beginning about 1986, the Northwest Wind (xibeifeng, 西北风) style of rock began to enter the burgeoning youth culture in China. The first Chinese rock song may be "I Have Nothing" by Cui Jian, now the widely-admired godfather of the Chinese rock scene. Spurred by pro-democracy activism, such as at Tiananmen Square, and by governmental repression, rock flourished in the Chinese counterculture. Of especial popularity later in the decade were melancholy tunes called prison songs. By 1990, Chinese rock had begun to enter the mainstream, but almost immediately incorporated sounds and styles from the Cantopop style. Though alternative bands remained, Chinese rock became subverted, often by bands working in cohesion with the Chinese government and in favor of the status quo; many of rock's fans in China became disillusioned as a result, leading to a general decline in popularity later in the decade.

Alternative music and the indie movement

Main article: Alternative music

The term alternative music (also often known as alternative rock) was coined in the early 1980s to describe bands which didn't fit into the mainstream genres of the time. Bands dubbed "alternative" could be most any style not typically heard on the radio, however, most alternative bands were unified by their collective debt to punk. Although these groups never generated spectacular album sales, they exerted a considerable influence on the generation of musicians who came of age in the 80s. Two of the most famous bands to arise from this genre were R.E.M. and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

Grunge and the anti-corporate rock movement

Main article: Grunge music

By the late 1980s rock radio was dominated by aging rock artists, slick commercial pop-rock, and hair metal; MTV had arrived and brought with it a perception that style was more important than substance. Any remaining traces of rock and roll rebelliousness or the punk ethic seemed to have been subsumed into corporate-sponsored and mass-marketed musical product. Disaffected by this trend, some young musicians began to reject the polished, glamor-oriented posturing of hair metal, and created crude, sometimes angry music. The American Pacific Northwest region, especially Seattle, became a hotbed of this style, dubbed grunge.

Early grunge bands, particularly Mudhoney and Soundgarden, took much of their sound from early heavy metal and much of their approach from punk, though they eschewed punk's ambitions towards political and social commentary to proceed in a more nihilistic direction. Grunge remained a mostly local phenomenon until the breakthrough of Nirvana in 1991 with their album Nevermind. A slightly more melodic, more completely produced variation on their predecessors, Nirvana was an instant sensation worldwide and made much of the competing music seem stale and dated by comparison, hair metal faded almost completely from the mainstream.

Nirvana whetted the public's appetite for more direct, less polished rock music, leading to the success of bands like Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots. Pearl Jam took a somewhat more traditional rock approach than other grunge bands but shared their passion and rawness. Pearl Jam were a major commercial success from their debut but, beginning with their second album, refused to buy in to the corporate promotion and marketing mechanisms of MTV and Ticketmaster, with whom they famously engaged in legal skirmishes over ticket service fees.

While grunge itself can be seen as somewhat limited in range, its influence was felt across many geographic and musical boundaries; many artists who were similarly disaffected with commercial rock music suddenly found record companies and audiences willing to listen, and dozens of disparate acts positioned themselves as alternatives to mainstream music; thus alternative rock emerged from the underground.


Main article: Britpop

While America was full of grunge, post-grunge, and hip hop, Britain launched a 1960s revival in the mid-90s, often called Britpop, with bands like Oasis, the Verve, Radiohead, Pulp and Blur. These bands drew on myriad styles from the 80s British rock underground, including twee pop, shoegazing and space rock and from the alternative rock. For a time, the Oasis-Blur rivalry was similar to the Beatles-Rolling Stones rivalry. While bands like Blur tended to follow on from the Small Faces and The Kinks, Oasis mixed the attitude of the Rolling Stones with the melody of the Beatles. The Verve and Radiohead took inspiration from performers like Elvis Costello, Pink Floyd and R.E.M. with their progressive rock music, manifested in their most famous album, OK Computer. These bands became very successful, and for a time Oasis was given the title "the biggest band in the world" thanks to an album selling some 14 million copies worldwide but slowed down after band breakups, publicity disasters in the United States and slightly less popular support. The Verve disbanded after on-going turmoil in the band, but on the other hand Radiohead threw themselves into electronic experimentation in their latest records and have stood the test of time in both the U.K and the USA as a major act.

Indie rock

Main article: Indie rock

Alternative music and the rebellious, DIY ethic it espoused became the inspiration for grunge, the popularity of which, paradoxically, took alternative rock into the mainstream. By the mid-90s, the term "alternative music" had lost much of its original meaning as rock radio and record buyers embraced increasingly slick, commercialized, and highly marketed forms of the genre. At the end of the decade, hip hop music had pushed much of alternative rock out of the mainstream, and most of what was left played pop-punk and highly polished versions of a grunge/rock mishmash.

Following the lead of Pearl Jam, many acts who, by choice or fate, remained outside the commercial mainstream, became part of the indie rock movement. Indie rock acts placed a premium on maintaining complete control of their music and careers, often releasing albums on their own independent record labels and 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 encompasses a wide range of styles, from hard-edged, grunge influenced bands like Superchunk to punk-folk singers such as Ani DiFranco.

Currently, many countries have an extensive local Indie scene, flourishing with bands with much less popularity than commercial bands, just enough of it to survive inside the respective country, but virtually unknown outside them.

Alternative Rock and Current Trends (1995-present)

With the death of Kurt Cobain, rock and roll music searched for a new face, sound, and trend. A second wave of alternative rock bands began to become popular, with grunge declining in the mid-90s. The Foo Fighters, Green Day and Radiohead spearheaded rock radio. In 1995, a Canadian pop star Alanis Morissette arose, and released Jagged Little Pill, a major hit that featured blunt, personally-revealing lyrics. It succeeded in moving the introspection that had become so common in grunge to the mainstream. The success of Jagged Little Pill spawned a wave of popularity in the late 90s of confessional rock releases by female artists including Jewel, Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, and Liz Phair. Many of these artists drew on their own alternative rock heroes from the 1980s and early 90s, including the folksy Tracy Chapman and various Riot Grrl bands. The use of introspective lyrics bled into other styles of rock, including those dubbed alternative.

The late 1990s brought about a wave of mergers and consolidations among US media companies and radio stations such as the Clear Channel Communications conglomerate. This has resulted in a homogenization of music available and the creation of artificially-hyped acts. Bands like blink-182 and Green Day defined pop punk at the end of the 90s. At this time, "nu-metal" began to take popular form, it contained a mix of grunge, metal, and hip-hop. Using downtuned 7 string guitars KoRn first created their heavy crushing riffs in 1994 with their first self-titled album. This then spawned a wave of "nu-Metal" bands such as Linkin Park, Slipknot, Static-X, Creed, Disturbed, and Limp Bizkit.

In the early 2000s the entire music industry was shaken by claims of massive theft of music rights using file-sharing tools such as Napster, resulting in lawsuits against private file-sharers by the recording industry group the RIAA.

After existing in the musical underground, garage rock finally saw a resurgence of popularity in the early 2000s, with bands like The White Stripes, The Strokes, Jet, The Vines, and The Hives all releasing successful singles and albums. This wave is often referred to as back-to-basics rock because of its raw sound. Currently popular rock trends include, "Emo", or Emotional music, which draws its style from softer punk and alternative rock styles from the 1980s. Many new emo bands have become well-known since 2001, including Jimmy Eat World, My Chemical Romance, Dashboard Confessional and Taking Back Sunday. Additionally, the retro trend has led to the revitalization of dance-rock. Bands like Franz Ferdinand, Muse, and The Killers mix post-punk sensibilities with electronic beats.

Meanwhile, "Top 40" Rock music today is dependent on either synthesizer orchestration or sampling, prominent in such pop rock artists like Pink, Gwen Stefani, Ashlee Simpson, Hilary Duff, Lindsay Lohan, Jessica Simpson, and Kelly Clarkson.

Rap/Hip-Hop music dominantes the U.S. charts pop charts, with artists like 50 cent, Snoop Dogg, Puff Daddy, Nelly, Eminem and Jay Z selling millions of records. R&B acts like Destiny's Child, Eve and Alicia Keyes are very popular on the pop charts.

Timeline of well-known rock bands and artists


Social impacts

Main article: Social impact of rock and roll

The influence of rock and roll is far-reaching, and has had significant impact worldwide on fashion, film styles, and attitudes towards sex and sexuality and use of drugs and alcohol. This impact is broad enough that "rock and roll" may also be considered a life style in addition to a form of music.


In rock and roll, there are four major US music awards shows that take place annually to honor the artists and their music: the American Music Awards (held in November), the Billboard Music Awards (held in December), the Grammy Awards (held in February), and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (held in March).


  • The first gramophone record released in Britain to feature the words Rock and Roll was "Bloodnock's Rock And Roll Call", a 1956 record from The Goon Show.
  • There have been many songs with the title "Rock and Roll" from The Treniers in the 1950s to Led Zeppelin and Gary Glitter in the 1970s.

External links


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