American rock  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

American rock is rock music from the United States. Rock and roll originated in the United States from the synthesis of blues, country and other styles of music from both white and black Americans. American rock music has had great success over the second half of the 20th century, with its greatest success during the 1950s, then again in the 1980s-2000s. During the 1960s-1970s, British bands now known as the British Invasion dominated the music charts in the United States, which caused fewer American bands to reach the musical spotlight, although several of the most influential American rock bands and artists thrived during this time period, such as the Beach Boys, Aerosmith, Jimi Hendrix, Kiss and Van Halen.



Covers: Early 50s

Through the late 1940s and early 1950s, rhythm and blues music had been gaining a stronger beat and a wilder style, with artists such as Fats Domino, Johnny Otis, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley speeding up the tempos and increasing the backbeat to great popularity on the juke-joint circuit. Despite the pioneering efforts of Alan Freed and others, black music, or "race music", was still taboo on many white-owned radio outlets. However, savvy artists and producers recognized the popularity and potential of rock and roll and raced to cash in with white versions of this black music. 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 (Little Richard retaliated by getting wilder, creating in "Long Tall Sally", a song so intense that Boone couldn't find a way to cover it). Similarly, Ricky Nelson recorded Fats Domino. Later, as those songs became popular, the original artists' recordings received radio play as well (though this seldom resulted in any remuneration to the original artists). The cover versions were not necessarily straightforward imitations. For example, Bill Haley's incompletely bowdlerized cover of "Shake, Rattle and Roll" transformed Joe Turner's humorous and racy song into an energetic teen dance number, while Georgia Gibbs replaced Etta James's 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 which James's song was an answer to (Hank Ballard's "Work With Me, Annie").

Rockabilly: Mid-50s

At the same time that R&B was turning into rock and roll, country & western music was undergoing a similar transformation to faster tempos and more aggressive playing. In cities like Memphis, Tennessee, country and blues record producers such as Sam Phillips combined this "hillbilly" music with the driving rhythm of rock and roll and rockabilly was born. In 1954, an unknown performer named Elvis Presley would come into Phillips' studio with a request to record a disc for his mother. Recognizing talent in the shy young man, Phillips arranged to have Elvis record some ballads with professional musicians, but that date quickly turned into a jam session as Elvis sang the R&B songs he loved. Elvis' first release for Phillips' Sun Records, "That's All Right Mama" became the first rockabilly hit and established Elvis as the first true rock and roll star.

But it was in 1955 that the rock era really began to take off with Bill Haley & His Comets' seminal recording, "Rock Around the Clock". The song 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 has since been featured on the soundtrack to such films as Blackboard Jungle and American Graffiti, as well as the original theme music to the TV series Happy Days.

Diversification of American rock: Late 50s

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 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

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".


British Invasion

American rock and roll had an impact across the globe, perhaps most intensely in Britain, 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 and were influenced by the R&B and rock and roll pioneers and began forming their own bands to play the new music with an intensity and drive seldom found in white American acts. This set the stage for Britain becoming a new center of rock and roll, leading to the British Invasion from 1958 to 1969.

By the early 1960s, bands from England were dominating the rock and roll scene world wide, giving rock and roll a new focus. 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, comprised of four youths from Liverpool who became the single most important and influential act in the history of rock and roll. The Beatles brought together a near-perfect mix of image, songwriting, and personality and, after initial success in the UK, were signed in the US and launched a large-scale stateside 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 U.S. 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, as well as other bands like The Animals and The Yardbirds. Throughout the early and mid-'60s Americans seemed to have an insatialble appetite for British rock; one of the groups who made a greater mark in the USA than on the UK was Herman's Hermits. Other British bands, including The Who and The Kinks, would have 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

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 known of these is a series called Nuggets. Some of the better known band of this genre include The Sonics, Question Mark & the Mysterians, and The Standells.


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 deep variety of regional American styles and was about to work some alchemy to create an entirely new genre, usually dubbed "folk-rock". From 1961 to mid 1963 Dylan had kept his distance from rock and roll even though his first musical forays back in high school 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 embrace. He and others on the new folk circuit tended to view The Beatles as "bubblegum", but admitted to a grudging respect for their originality and energetic style. 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 exclusive love themes of their work to date. In 1964 and 1965 Dylan threw off all pretense to roots purity and embraced the rock beat and electric instruments, climaxed by the release of the song "Like a Rolling Stone" which, at over six minutes, changed the landscape of hit radio and ushered in a period of intense experimentation on both sides of the Atlantic. Dylan would continue to surprise fans and critics with tour-de-force albums in many different styles, but, after 1964, rarely strayed far from 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.

Psychedelic rock

Psychedelic music sprang up in numerous centers - New York, London, Los Angeles, and elsewhere - but early on, and strongly, in San Francisco. For some years, the so-called San Francisco Sound shared equal esteem (and nearly equal popularity) with British super-star acts like the Rolling Stones, the Who, Cream. Performers and bands like Jimi Hendrix, an American who got his big career break in England and Europe, the Grateful Dead, the Doors, and Pink Floyd all made considerable use of live improvisation.


Hard Rock

A number of groups in the early 1970s continued the trend towards heavier and heavier rock and roll begun by 1960s supergroups such as Cream and The Jeff Beck Group. The most notable of these groups was undoubtedly British supergroup Led Zeppelin, who in a very short span of time rose to the apex of the rock world. Their hard-edged, loud approach to the blues and guitar rock, the epic span of many of their compositions and their unhinged lifestyle would be a great influence on many American acts of the time. What is more, they, along with fellow British group Black Sabbath, would later be recognized as the roots of heavy metal. The early albums of American group Aerosmith would greatly reflect these influences. The band Kiss (band) is also noted for helping popularize hard rock music in the mid and late 70s they were also known for their live performances. The Plasmatics with Wendy O. Williams!

Glam Rock

British bands such as David Bowie, T. Rex and Sweet are identified as key artists of the 1970s glam rock genre. Their popularity was equalled by American acts such as Alice Cooper, The New York Dolls and Kiss. Their music is marked by live performance kitsch antics, provocative yet catchy lyrics, and a cutting-edge sound on albums like Alice Cooper's Bob Ezrin-produced Billion Dollar Babies. Conversely, The New York Dolls sound was more stripped down and raw, influenced by 1960s girl groups, and protopunk groups like The MC5 and The Stooges. The ironic mockery of rock excess presented by glam rock acts would later influence both punk rock and glam metal.

Progressive Rock

Prog Rock can largely be seen as an expansion on the supergroup idea. It was highly technical rock that attempted to move past the dominance of blues rock improvisation into a compositional framework more reminiscent of classical music. Some significant European Prog Rock groups are Pink Floyd, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, King Crimson, Genesis and Yes. Some of the most notable, and influential American Prog Rock bands are Kansas, Spock's Beard, and more currently Dream Theater.

Punk Rock

Fed up with what they perceived as the excess and decadence of arena rockers like The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, a number of groups centered in urban New York and London began playing a stripped down sound that came to be called punk. These groups felt that rock had lost sight of its rebellious, cutting-edge origins and had become obsessed with money and fame. Bands like Britain's The Clash and The Sex Pistols and America's the Ramones and Patti Smith Group would lead this musical revolution. Punk rock in the US was largely an east coast phenomenon, especially centered around New York City, though the decade would later see the development of the hardcore punk movement, lead by Los Angeles' Black Flag.


New Wave

In the early '80s New Wave groups came to the forefront of the American music scene. Due in large part to heavy rotation during the early existence of MTV, influential groups like Blondie and Talking Heads achieved pop chart success, as well a plethora of one-hit wonder acts.

Heavy metal

Heavy metal also became popular with acts such as Slayer and Metallica.

Later began the rise of glam metal with popular acts such as Poison and Bon Jovi. Twisted Sister became popular with 1984's Stay Hungry (despite being formed several years earlier in New York). Nearing the end of the 80's Guns N' Roses made an appearance, proving to be the most successful band in nearly a decade, and reaching "Led Zeppelin" status for a short while. But it was short lived and the band died off in the mid '90's.



Early grunge bands, particularly Alice in Chains, 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 purely 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 immediately made much of the competing music seem stale and dated by comparison. Nirvana were a great success during the nineties but they really hit the big time with their hit Smells Like Teen Spirit which is their most well-known song.

Nirvana whetted the public's appetite for more direct, less polished rock music, and one place it was found was in the debut album from a hard-rocking West Coast band with ties to the grunge movement, a band named Pearl Jam. 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 traditional corporate promotion and marketing mechanisms of MTV and Ticketmaster (with whom they famously engaged in legal skirmishes over ticket service fees).

Nu metal

The mid to late '90s were dominated by the rap-metal blend of styles called nu metal. Korn and Limp Bizkit are two of the more popular acts of the time period. Linkin Park is said to be the most successful of the genre. More recently System of a Down and Disturbed have also been influenced by this genre.

Pop punk

Green Day released their first album in 1989 but it wasn't until they released Dookie in 1994 that they really achieved world wide success. Their success made way for bands like The Offspring, and Blink-182 throughout the decade.


At this point, a band with great influence has not come out of the 2000s. Guns N' Roses, who have yet to release Chinese Democracy, have seen a following, as well as the associated act Velvet Revolver. Along with Audioslave, Velvet Revolver has been a successful supergroup in the decade. Indie rock or Garage Rock bands like Modest Mouse, The White Stripes, and The Strokes have released material garnering critical acclaim and widespread popularity. Glide Magazine listed Vampire Weekend, Sufjan Stevens, The Mars Volta, Wolfmother, Decemberists, Maroon 5, Fall Out Boy, Brand New, The Strokes, and Arcade Fire as the top ten best bands of the first decade of the 21st century.

Nu metal was extremely popular at the beginning of the decade, with bands such as Limp Bizkit, Korn, and Linkin Park leading the genre's movement. Limp Bizkit and Korn, however, began to fade near the end of the decade as Linkin Park continued to increase in popularity.

Post-grunge bands such as Nickelback and Three Days Grace (Canada), Creed, 3 Doors Down, and more have also been successful throughout the decade.

Pop punk has seen a return with one of the most influential albums released yet in the 2000s, American Idiot by Green Day. Another similar and very popular release was The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance. Others who have done well include Fall Out Boy and Panic at the Disco, who have also been considered a part of the emo movement. The fellow genre, Pop rock has also seen a rise in popularity with the likes of The All-American Rejects, Simple Plan, and Good Charlotte.

Many popular rock acts of the 1990s have remained popular, specifically Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, Nine Inch Nails, and Pearl Jam. Rage Against The Machine and Stone Temple Pilots, who both disbanded near the beginning of the decade, reunited in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

Several European bands have become huge hits recently in the United States with bands like Coldplay, Snow Patrol, and Muse filling up high spots on the charts too.

Progressive bands, in the likeness of Pink Floyd or Yes, have made a return with the likes of Coheed & Cambria, The Mars Volta and the aforementioned Muse.

Metalcore bands like Killswitch Engage, Lamb Of God, As I Lay Dying, Atreyu, and Avenged Sevenfold have become very popular in the last few years.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "American rock" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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