Rock music has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll and rockabilly, which evolved from blues, country music and other influences. According to Allmusic, "In its purest form, Rock & Roll has three chords, a strong, insistent back beat, and a catchy melody. Early rock & roll drew from a variety of sources, primarily blues, R&B, and country, but also gospel, traditional pop, jazz, and folk. All of these influences combined in a simple, blues-based song structure that was fast, danceable, and catchy.
In the late 1960s, rock music was blended with folk music to create folk rock, blues to create blues-rock and with jazz, to create jazz-rock fusion, and with electrical instrument ambiance to create psychedelic rock. In the 1970s, rock incorporated influences from soul, funk, and latin music. Also in the 1970s, rock developed a number of subgenres, such as soft rock, glam rock, heavy metal, hard rock, progressive rock, and punk rock. Rock subgenres that emerged in the 1980s included New Wave, hardcore punk and alternative rock. In the 1990s, rock subgenres included grunge, Britpop, indie rock, and nu metal.
A group of musicians specializing in rock music is called a rock band or rock group. Many rock groups consist of a guitarist, lead singer, bass guitarist, and a drummer, forming a quartet. Some groups omit one or more of these roles and/or utilize a lead singer who plays an instrument while singing, sometimes forming a trio or duo; others include additional musicians such as one or two rhythm guitarists and/or a keyboardist. More rarely, groups also utilize stringed instruments such as violins or cellos, and/or horns like saxophones, trumpets or trombones.
There is much debate as to what should be considered the first rock & roll record. One leading contender is "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. Rolling Stone magazine argued in 2004 that "That's All Right (Mama)" (1954), Elvis Presley's first single for Sun Records in Memphis, was 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.
The 1950s 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 Berry, Link Wray, and Scotty Moore. It also saw major developments in recording technology such as multitrack recording developed by Les Paul, and the electronic treatment of sound by such innovators as Joe Meek. All these developments were important influences on later rock music.
The social effects of rock and roll were worldwide and massive. Far beyond simply a musical style, rock and roll influenced lifestyles, fashion, attitudes, and language. In addition, rock and roll may have helped the cause of the civil rights movement because both African American teens and white American teens enjoyed the music. However, by the early 1960s, much of the initial musical impetus and social radicalism of rock and roll had become dissipated, with the growth of teen idols, an emphasis on dance crazes, and the development of lightweight teenage pop music.
Cliff Richard had the first British rock 'n' 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 one of a number of groups having success with surf music instrumentals. And while rock 'n' roll was fading into lightweight pop and schmaltzy ballads, at clubs and local dances British rock groups, heavily influenced by blues-rock pioneers like Alexis Korner, were starting to play with an intensity and drive seldom found in white American acts.
By the end of 1962, the British rock scene had started with groups like the Beatles drawing on a wide range of American influences including soul music, rhythm and blues and surf music. Initially, they reinterpreted standard American tunes, playing for dancers doing the twist, for example. These groups eventually infused their original rock compositions with increasingly complex musical ideas and a distinctive sound.
In mid-1962 The Rolling Stones started as one of a number of groups increasingly showing blues influence, along with The Animals and The Yardbirds. In late 1964, The Kinks, The Who and The Pretty Things represented the new Mod style. Towards the end of the decade, British rock groups began to explore psychedelic musical styles that made reference to the drug subculture and hallucinogenic experiences.
The Byrds, playing Bob Dylan's Mr. Tambourine Man, helped start the trend of folk rock, and helped stimulate the development of psychedelic rock. Dylan continued, with his \"Like a Rolling Stone\" becoming a US hit single. Neil Young's lyrical inventiveness and wailing electric guitar attack created a variation of folk rock. Other folk rock artists include Simon & Garfunkel, Joan Baez, The Mamas & the Papas, Joni Mitchell, Bobby Darin and The Band.
In Britain, Fairport Convention began applying rock techniques to traditional British folk songs, followed by groups such as Steeleye Span, Lindisfarne, Pentangle, and Trees. Alan Stivell in Brittany had the same approach.
The Fillmore was a regular venue for groups like another former jug band, Country Joe and the Fish, and Jefferson Airplane. Elsewhere, The Byrds had a hit with Eight Miles High. The 13th Floor Elevators titled their album The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators. The music increasingly became associated with opposition to the Vietnam War.
In England, Pink Floyd had been developing psychedelic rock since 1965 in the underground culture scene. In 1966 the band Soft Machine was formed. Donovan had a folk music-influenced hit with Sunshine Superman, one of the early psychedelic pop records. In August 1966 The Beatles released their Revolver album, which featured psychedelia in \"Tomorrow Never Knows\" and in \"Yellow Submarine\", along with the memorable album cover. The Beach Boys responded in the U.S. with Pet Sounds. From a blues rock background, the British supergroup Cream debuted in December, and Jimi Hendrix became popular in Britain before returning to the US.
1967 was the year when the psychedelic scene truly took off. Many pioneering records came out including the first album from The Doors and Jefferson Airplane's highly successful Surrealistic Pillow. The Beatles' groundbreaking album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released in June, and by the end of the year Pink Floyd's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Cream's Disraeli Gears and even The Rolling Stones's Their Satanic Majesties Request. As the Summer of Love reached its peak, the Monterey Pop Festival went underway headlining the top bands of the genre including Jefferson Airplane and also introducing Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix to the mainstream.
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 in 1969 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.
Psychedelic rock enjoyed a modest revival in the mid-1980s as prominent bands like Echo and the Bunnymen and R.E.M. incorporated sounds lifted from earlier groups like The Doors and The Byrds into the burgeoning post-punk scene. Additionally, the collectively-titled Paisley Underground bands of Los Angeles epitomized the role played by Sixties psychedelia and folk-rock in American New Wave.
However, Glam rock's legend is distinctly British, where it was a culture phenomenon and its stars were among the biggest stars in pop culture circa 1971 through 1974. Glam itself was a nostalgic mesh of various styles, both visual art and music, ranging from 1930s Hollywood glamor, to 1950s pin-up sex appeal and rock n' roll teenage rebellion, to pre-war Cabaret theatrics, to Victorian literary and Symbolist styles, to ancient and occult mysticism and mythology (such as Bowie's references to Aleister Crowley's \"starman\" in his song of the same name, and themes of reincarnation and self-invention in T. Rex's Cosmic Dancer). Glam is most noted for it's sexual and gender ambiguity and androgyny, and use of theatrics.
Throughout glam rock's popularity, many bubble-gum acts - such as Elton John, Slade, Gary Glitter, and Alvin Stardust - adopted raunchier and more sexual takes on Glam style. Other previously famous acts such as The Rolling Stones and Lou Reed re-invented themselves in a glam fashion, often to great success (including Reed's only #1 hit single, Walk On the Wild Side). However, glam's success in America was modest at best, with artists such as T. Rex and Roxy Music having only a fraction of the success they had in the UK.
However, glam went on to influence many other genres, including punk, new wave, goth, jangle pop, college rock, and grunge, with artists as diverse as Siouxsie Sioux, Steve Kilbey, Johnny Rotten, Billy Corgan, Peter Murphy (who's band Bauhaus covered T. Rex's Telegram Sam and Bowie's Ziggy Stardust), and Adam Ant citing glam artists as key influences. Glam has since enjoyed sporadic modest revivals courtesy bands such as Chainsaw Kittens and Louis XIV (band).
Arena rock's origins can be traced to the late 1960s, with bands such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Who. Those bands \\"set the stage for huge live performances in stadiums and arenas around the globe.\\" The genre itself, though, was created by bands such as Boston, Styx, Foreigner, Journey, Queen, Kansas, Peter Frampton, and (Phil Collins-era) Genesis. Those bands would go on to "sell-out the world’s largest venues throughout most of (the 1970s) and beyond" and help make arena rock popular in the 1980s.
Arena rock's popularity peaked in the 1980s with bands such as Heart, REO Speedwagon, Cheap Trick, Asia, Bon Jovi, KISS and Aerosmith "were at the zenith of their popularity, selling millions of units". At this time, arena rock's popularity "only seemed on the way up."
Eventually, arena rock would lose its popularity to alternative rock and grunge for a number of reasons. One reason was the "limitations in the style". Many of the younger fans felt a more personal connection with genres such as punk, new wave, and indie rock, and the older fans tired of stadium rock, as many of "the performers were ants on the stage from the upper decks." Other reasons include "declining admission sales and album sales" and stadiums decreasing in size. By the time MTV had formed, "it no longer bore any relevance."
Punk rock lyrics are typically frank and confrontational; compared to other popular music genres, they frequently comment on social and political issues. Trend-setting songs such as The Clash's "Career Opportunities" and Chelsea's "Right to Work" deal with unemployment and the grim realities of urban life. Especially in early British punk, a central goal was to outrage and shock the mainstream. The Sex Pistols classics "Anarchy in the U.K." and "God Save the Queen" openly disparage the British political system and social mores. There is also a characteristic strain of anti-sentimental depictions of relationships and sex, exemplified by "Love Comes in Spurts", written by Richard Hell and recorded by him with The Voidoids. Anomie, variously expressed in the poetic terms of Hell's "Blank Generation" and the bluntness of the Ramones' "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue", is a common theme. Identifying punk with such topics aligns with the view expressed by Search and Destroy founder V. Vale: "Punk was a total cultural revolt. It was a hardcore confrontation with the black side of history and culture, right-wing imagery, sexual taboos, a delving into it that had never been done before by any generation in such a thorough way. However, many punk rock lyrics deal in more traditional rock 'n' roll themes of courtship, heartbreak, and hanging out; the approach ranges from the deadpan, aggressive simplicity of Ramones standards such as "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend to the more unambiguously sincere style of many later pop punk groups.
In 1976 the Ramones, along with British punk band the Sex Pistols, went on a tour of the United Kingdom. The tour was widely credited for inspiring the first wave of English punk bands such as The Clash, The Damned, and The Buzzcocks. In England, the music became a more violent and political form of expression, represented with the Sex Pistols first two singles "Anarchy in the U.K." and "God Save the Queen". Despite an airplay ban on the BBC, the records rose to the top chart position in the UK. Many in the original punk rock scene claimed that the Sex Pistols and other popular punk bands of the time were compromising a newly emerging underground DIY ethic of punk rock. This phenomenon was the origin of the phrase "Punks Not Dead." The Exploited wrote a song entitled 'Punks Not Dead' which immortalized the saying and claimed that even with the advent of more popular punk rock that hardcore punk was now emerging to raise the level of aggression in punk and take it underground once again. Other bands, like The Clash, were less nihilistic, more overtly political and idealistic.
As the Sex Pistols toured America, they spread their music to the West Coast. Before, punk was mostly an East Coast phenomenon in the US, with scenes in New York and Washington D.C.. In the late '70s, California punk bands such as the Dead Kennedys, X, Fear, the Germs, Circle Jerks and Black Flag, gained greater exposure.
Punk's next evolution saw its rise in the underground movement of hardcore punk, a subgenre that originated in North America around 1980. The new sound was generally thicker, heavier and faster than earlier punk rock. Notable bands in this subgenre include Black Flag, Minor Threat and Bad Brains, among numerous others. The songs are usually short, fast and loud, covering topics ranging from apathy, boredom, politics, personal freedom, violence, social alienation, straight edge, war, and the hardcore subculture itself. Hardcore spawned several fusion genres and subgenres, some of which had mainstream success, such as skate punk, melodic hardcore and metalcore.
Since punk rock's initial popularity in the 1970s and the renewed interest created by the punk revival of the 1990s, punk rock continues to fight to remain an underground form of anti-corporate expression. 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. The latter of which is a politicized fusion of hardcore and extreme metal which has arguably become a dominant voice for the modern political punk movement. Crust punk is typified by bands such as Doom, Amebix, Nausea, and Behind Enemy Lines. These strains remain largely unrecognizable to the majority of the general public and tend to focus on issues such as anarchism, freeganism, animal rights, sexism, and racism.
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.
Between 1982 and 1985, influenced by Kraftwerk, David Bowie, and Gary Numan, New Wave went in the direction of such New Romantics as 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. Some rock bands reinvented themselves and profited too from MTV's airplay, for instance Golden Earring, who had a second round of success with "Twilight Zone", but in general the times of guitar-oriented rock were over. Although many "Greatest of New Wave" collections feature popular songs from this era, New Wave more properly refers to the earlier "skinny tie" rock bands such as the Knack or, more famously Blondie.
One genre that was widely popular in the 1980s (c.1983) was glam metal. Taking influence from various artists such as Aerosmith, Queen, Kiss, Alice Cooper, Sweet and the New York Dolls, the earliest glam metal bands to gain notability included: Mötley Crüe, W.A.S.P., Ratt, Poison, Quiet Riot, and most notably, KISS. They became known for their debauched lifestyles, teased hair and use of make-up and clothing. Their songs were bombastic and often defiantly macho, with lyrics focused on sex, drinking, drugs, and the occult.
In 1987 a second wave of glam metal acts emerged including Bon Jovi, L.A. Guns, Poison and Faster Pussycat. Guns N' Roses emerged from this scene with strong commercial success, though they had a harder edged punk rock influence than most other "glam" bands, thus are not always categorized with them. Guns N' Roses were formed from L.A. Guns and another band, Hollywood Rose.
Early American alternative bands such as R.E.M., The Feelies, and Violent Femmes combined punk influences with folk music and mainstream music influences. R.E.M. was the most immediately successful; its debut album, Murmur (1983), entered the Top 40 and spawned a number of jangle pop followers. One of the many jangle pop scenes of the early 1980s, Los Angeles' Paisley Underground was a 1960s revival, incorporating psychedelia, rich vocal harmonies and the guitar interplay of folk rock as well as punk and underground influences such as The Velvet Underground.
American indie labels SST Records, Twin/Tone Records, Touch & Go Records, and Dischord Records presided over the shift from the hardcore punk that then dominated the American underground scene to the more diverse styles of alternative rock that were emerging. Minneapolis bands Hüsker Dü and The Replacements were indicative of this shift. Both started out as punk rock bands, but soon diversified their sounds and became more melodic, culminating in Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade and The Replacements' Let It Be (both 1984). They were critically acclaimed and drew attention to the burgeoning alternative genre. That year, SST Records also released landmark alternative albums by the Minutemen and the Meat Puppets, who mixed punk with funk and country, respectively.
R.E.M. and Hüsker Dü set the blueprint for much of the decade's alternative, both sonically and in how they approached their careers. In the late 1980s, the U.S. underground scene and college radio were dominated by college rock bands like the Pixies, They Might Be Giants, Camper Van Beethoven, Dinosaur Jr, and Throwing Muses as well as post-punk survivors from Britain. Another major force was the noise rock of Sonic Youth, Big Black, Butthole Surfers, and others. By the end of the decade, a number of alternative bands began to sign to major labels. While early major label signings Hüsker Dü and the Replacements had little success, acts who signed with majors in their wake such as R.E.M. and Jane's Addiction achieved gold and platinum records, setting the stage for alternative's later breakthrough. Some bands such as the Pixies had massive success overseas while they were ignored domestically. By the start of the 1990s, the music industry was abuzz about alternative rock's commercial possibilities and actively courted alternative bands including Dinosaur Jr, fIREHOSE, and Nirvana.
Bands such as Green River, Soundgarden, the Pixies, the Melvins and Skin Yard pioneered the genre, with Mudhoney becoming the most successful by the end of the decade. However grunge remained largely a local phenomenon until 1991, when Nirvana‘s Nevermind which became a hugh success thanks for the lead single "Smells Like Teen Spirit". Nevermind was more melodic than its predecessors and was an instant sensations worldwide, but they refused to buy in to corporate promotion and marketing mechanisms. During 1991 and 1992, other grunge bands such as Soundgarden's Badmotorfinger and Alice in Chains' Dirt, along with the Temple of the Dog album collaboration featuring members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, became among the 100 top selling albums of 1992. The popular breakthrough of these grunge bands prompted Rolling Stone to nickname Seattle "the new Liverpool." Major record labels signed most of the remaining major grunge bands in Seattle, while a second influx of bands moved to the city in hopes of success. 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. This helped pave the way for bands such as the Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots who were initially stereotyped as grunge but later enjoyed commercial and critical success independent of the genre.
A number of factors contributed to grunge's decline in prominence. During the latter half of the 1990s, grunge was supplanted by post-grunge, which remained commercially viable into the start of the 21st century. Post-grunge bands such as Candlebox and Bush emerged soon after grunge's breakthrough. These artists lacked the underground roots of grunge and were largely influenced by what grunge had become, namely "a wildly popular form of inward-looking, serious-minded hard rock." Post-grunge was a more commercially viable genre that tempered the distorted guitars of grunge with polished, radio-ready production.
Conversely, another alternative rock genre, Britpop, emerged in part as a reaction against the dominance of grunge in the United Kingdom. In contrast to the dourness of grunge, Britpop was defined by "youthful exuberance and desire for recognition. Britpop artists were vocal about their disdain for grunge. In a 1993 NME interview, Damon Albarn of Britpop band Blur agreed with interviewer John Harris' assertion that Blur was an "anti-grunge band," and said, "Well, that's good. If punk was about getting rid of hippies, then I'm getting rid of grunge. Noel Gallagher of Oasis, while a fan of Nirvana, wrote music that refuted the pessimistic nature of grunge. Gallagher noted in 2006 that the 1994 Oasis hit single "Live Forever" "was written in the middle of grunge and all that, and I remember Nirvana had a tune called 'I Hate Myself and I Want to Die,' and I was like . . . 'Well, I'm not fucking having that.' As much as I fucking like him [Cobain] and all that shit, I'm not having that. I can't have people like that coming over here, on smack, fucking saying that they hate themselves and they wanna die. That's fucking rubbish.
During the mid-1990s many grunge bands broke up or became less visible. Kurt Cobain, labeled by Time as "the John Lennon of the swinging Northwest," appeared "unusually tortured by success" and struggled with an addiction to heroin. Rumors surfaced in early 1994 that Cobain suffered a drug overdose and that Nirvana was breaking up. On April 8, 1994, Cobain was found dead in his Seattle home from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound; Nirvana summarily disbanded. That same year Pearl Jam canceled its summer tour in protest of what it charged as ticket vendor Ticketmaster's unfair business practices. Pearl Jam then began a boycott of the company; however, Pearl Jam's initiative to play only at non-Ticketmaster venues effectively, with a few exceptions, prevented the band from playing shows in the United States for the next three years. In 1996 Alice in Chains gave their final performances with their ailing estranged lead singer, Layne Staley, who subsequently died from a heroin overdose in 2002. That same year Soundgarden and Screaming Trees released their final studio albums, Down on the Upside and Dust, respectively. Soundgarden broke up the following year.
Many acts that, 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 The Cranberries, Superchunk to do-it-yourself experimental bands like Pavement 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.
Today, pop punk is used to describe modern rock bands with a heavy pop influence such as Green Day and Fall Out Boy are common examples of the sub-genre, while Blink-182 and Sum 41 brought the sub-genre to new commercial heights in the late nineties to early 2000s.
Female solo artist Alanis Morissette also found success while being labeled under the post-grunge tag. In 1995 her album Jagged Little Pill became a major hit by featuring blunt, revealing songs such as "You Oughta Know". Combining the confessional, female-centered lyrics of artists such as Tori Amos with a post-grunge, guitar-based sound created by producer Glen Ballard, it succeeded in moving the introspection that had become so common in grunge to the mainstream. The success of Jagged Little Pill influenced successful more pop-oriented female artists during the late 90s including Fiona Apple, Jewel and Liz Phair.
During much of the 2000s, rock has not featured as prominently in album sales in the US as in other countries such as the UK and Australia. By contrast to those countries, hip hop music has dominated the US single charts, with a recent study by Teenage Research Unlimited stating hip hop is the most popular format of music among adults from ages 18-34 in the United States.
The biggest factor that has affected the production and distribution of rock music is the rise of paid digital downloads in the 2000s. During the 90s, the importance of the buyable music single faded when Billboard allowed singles without buyable, album-separate versions to enter its Hot 100 chart (charting only with radio airplay). The vast majority of songs bought on paid download sites are singles bought from their albums; songs that are bought on a song-by-song basis off artist's albums are considered sales of singles, even though they have no official buyable single.
There are also spiritual aspects tied to rock music. Songwriters like Pete Townshend have explored these in their work. The common usage of the term rock god acknowledges the religious quality of the adulation some rock stars receive.