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The Growth Of American Rock Music In Pop-Culture

During the twentieth century, we gained the ability to record music and this has tremendously changed music's role in society. It is now easily available from just about every part of the world. The recording of music allowed different genres to come about, because multiple pieces of music could now be compared to each other. After the invention of recording devices each new generation has brought with it new styles of music, though it wasn't until the 1950s that the growth of music exploded, creating what we know as rock and roll. This among many other types of music from it's time was truly a step forward. Rock changed along with society and society changed along with it. Rock music has become an integral part of our society in a fairly short period of 60 years, compared to other types of music that existed for hundreds of years. Each new form of music has evolved out of a new generation's experiences, which in turn is what inspired other musical generations. This cycle of new culture caused the constant changes in music, because of this music will continually be evolving. Music never truly dies out; because once it is created it will live on through the music of others, it is recycled. Rock music has grown since it's inception in the 1950s, because it's music is always inspiring that of a new generation.

Times were drastically changing; those that didn't conform to blues and jazz were considered outcasts by the older generations. The non-conformists became known as the pioneers of rock. During the 1950s music was rapidly changing, the popular music had gone from jazz and to blues to rock and roll in only a few short years. What was once the standard form of music was now being rejected by much of the nation. Rock like many other styles of music, was not intentionally created. Chuck Berry is one of the fathers of rock, even though what some would call his first rock song; he would have called a blues song. This new form of music was described as "cleared of the blurred overtones of blues singing -- Repetition without tedium" [1] , it was simple, yet edgy. It was fast, repetitive, foul mouthed, and connected with the younger generations, which is exactly what they wanted. Legendary jazz and blues musicians Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, B.B. King, and Frank Sinatra all had falling fan bases in the late 1950s due to the increase in rock and roll listeners. Many of their fellow musicians just tried to push through this difficult time, while some musicians such as Nat King Cole had their hand at rock and roll. Other more traditional musicians such as Frank Sinatra, criticized rock and roll as garbage, music without soul, and something written by ignorant children. Strangely enough these musicians whose careers were failing during the growth of rock and roll, were actually much of the inspiration for the music. The faltering careers of more traditional jazz and blues musicians were due to and gave way to the pioneers of rock. Musicians such as Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and Buddy Holly created the rock genre. Their music was louder, faster, edgier, and simpler which gave way to the social revolution of the younger generations. It allowed other musicians to break through into the mainstream, because now the standard for music was more varied, allowing musicians a plethora of opportunities. This was just the beginning of the rock revolution, it wasn't until rock bands from other countries began coming to the United States that rock music began to fully take shape.

` Up until the 1960s rock music was just a single entity, there was variety in music as a whole, though rock music was much less varied. Most rock music was very similar due to a lack of influences. It wasn't until the invasion of British rock bands in the early sixties that rock music truly began to branch out into other sub-genres. Until this time most British music was unavailable in the US. It wasn't until the popular demand for such bands brought not only their music over, but also the bands to tour in the US. Bands such as The Beatles, The Who, and The Rolling Stones finally began touring in the US. This flood of British musicians known as the British Invasion diminished the careers of most American musicians. Rock music was evolving and so the tastes of the people were ever changing. What ever was new was usually the most popular. Many musicians struggled to keep up with the times and fell behind, while other musicians such as The Doors, the Grateful Dead, and Bob Dylan started a social and political revolution. The mid 1960s were a time of great change for the music industry; the Vietnam War and an increase in drug usage changed the foundation of rock music. It was no longer just about teenage rebellion; it was now about political and social reform in the United States. Bands such as The Doors and the Grateful Dead created psychedelic/acid rock, which was different from anything the world had ever seen. Psychedelic rock was unpredictable, it was characterized by it's distorted guitars, long solos, exotic instruments, and complex song structures. Many psychedelic songs were much longer than conventional rock songs, such as Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida", which ran for over nineteen minutes. Psychedelic rock can be largely attributed to the increase in drug usage beginning in the early 1960s. This music was usually listened to, created by, and performed by individuals under the influence of hallucinogens or other narcotics. While the psychedelic movement was taking place, another genre folk rock was being created. It was a combination of two individual genres of music that were combined in order to appeal to a new generation. Unlike psychedelic rock, folk rock was cleaner; it commonly contained harmonicas and acoustic instruments, which was quite uncharacteristic of most rock music at the time. Many folk rock musicians, such as Bob Dylan used their music to protest the Vietnam War. A lot of the bands that came out of the 1960s came from the Haight-Ashbury scene in San Francisco, which had notoriety for it's very large drug scene. The biggest event of the 1960s by far though was Woodstock, a three day festival in which some of the world's most prominent rock and folk musicians performed, such as Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. The expected turnout for the festival was around 200, 000 people, though in reality over half a million people showed up. Woodstock was psychedelic rock at it's greatest. The 1960s was a decade of musical exchange, ideas were constantly being traded between England and the US, which gave way for the evolving music. In 1967 an American band Steppenwolf recorded "Born to be Wild" it was "a tune that not only features many criteria that fit the modern day definition of heavy metal" [2] . This single song is considered by many to be the foundation of heavy metal and hard rock. It led the way for British bands such as Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin who are also considered to be pioneers of the hard rock and heavy metal genres. The 1960s was a decade of change, it solidified the foundation of rock music and allowed it to branch out into other sub-genres, vastly expanding it's audience beyond just the teenage rebels of the 1950s.

Throughout the 1960s into the early 1970s the psychedelic movement slowly died out, while the hard rock and metal revolution continued to grow. Along with the musical growth, the fashion of many rock bands was evolving. Such bands as the Ramones, Aerosmith, Kiss, Rush, and Alice Cooper all took on different looks as a way of attracting attention. Alice Cooper and the members of Kiss all took on different personas on stage. The 1970s was a decade of little new growth in rock music, for the most part the musical styles were just continuing from the 1960s. Hard rock and heavy metal came into existence in the late 1960s, though it didn't really take shape until the 1970s. Alice Cooper is known as one of the fathers of heavy metal, because he took the music to an entirely new level, he helped distinguish metal from rock. Heavy metal music was similar to hard rock, though it was much more aggressive. Then there were the hard rock bands, such as Rainbow, Kiss, Van Halen, and Aerosmith; their music was aggressive and simple, which was very reminiscent of early rock music. A lot of the hard rock and heavy metal bands from the 1970s into the 1980s came from part of Los Angeles known as the Sunset Strip. The Sunset Strip was an icon of rock music, because it was all about Sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Another form of music known as progressive rock took shape in the mid 1970s. Rush and Phish were two forefront leaders of prog-rock. Their music took elements from many different types of music, such as fusion, blues, and jazz. The name progressive rock comes from the music's ability to be ahead of its time, when the first prog-rock bands formed it was unlike anything people ha ever heard before. In the US there was also a small punk-rock movement, which was fast, edgy, aggressive music that was aimed at the younger generations. Punk music was much bigger in England, with bands such as The Clash and The Sex Pistols. Although there was little new growth in rock music throughout the 1970s, music that already existed was continued upon to the point where it could be individualized.

The 1980s was similar to the 1970s in that there was little new musical growth, though the hard rock and heavy metal genres were very much continued upon. Los Angeles had a very strong foundation in rock music; many of the bands from the L.A. seen would change their looks in what is known as glam rock or hair metal to gather attention. This included bands such as Motley Crue and Poison straight from the L.A. scene, who viewed their image as a large part of the music. Both bands would wear large amounts of facial make up, reminiscent of Kiss and Alice Cooper. While this was going on some bands were still adamant about staying truer to rock music with a more raw sound and look. This included bands, such as Guns N' Roses, who were strong believers in the simplicity of early rock. No make up, no distractions, it was just about the music. Guns N' Roses reflecting on the roots of rock music is what caused there debut album Appetite for Destruction to become one of the best selling alums of all time, with over 28 million copies sold. Other bands who came out of this scene were Metallica and Megadeth. Metallica along with Slayer, Anthrax, and Megadeth created the thrash metal genre, which continued on heavy metal's aggressiveness, though it was also much faster, and often included more of a shouting style instead of actual singing. The bands Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, and Megadeth are known as the "Big Four", because they are pioneers of the American thrash metal scene. In 1979 -1980 a huge change occurred in the heavy metal world when the British band Black Sabbath fired lead singer Ozzy Osbourne and replaced him with an American singer Ronnie James Dio formerly of Rainbow. This completely revamped Black Sabbath and brought them a much larger fan base in the United States. This was a very significant event for the American heavy metal scene, because up to this point most of the heavy metal bands were British, but now an American singer fronted the pioneer band of heavy metal. In September of 1985 an even more important event occurred in the music industry when a group known as the Parents Music Resource Center attempted to censor song lyrics and imagery, particularly those of rock musicians. The PMRC's goals changed though when they realized it would be illegal to just have the government censor the music and imagery. What they did instead was try to get warning labels on any music with explicit content, which was opposed by all the musicians who were called into testify. Dee Snider's response to the idea of the labels was "The content of most albums can be determined from the cover and the titles of the songs. Parents should listen to the album first." [3] Dee Snider believed that the cover and the titles of the songs along with parental guidance was all the warning that kids needed. The PMRC won the case, though it actually worked to the advantage of the musicians, because the parental guidance stickers actually made kids want to buy the albums more. What was found out during the court case was that a lot of songs were interpreted differently from how the artists had intended, due to overbearing Adults, with more traditional values. Even though there was little new growth genre wise for rock music it was still a very important decade, because many big bands came out of the American rock scene, who just continued to lay down the foundation for rock/metal music. This along with the court case over censorship allowed rock's continued growth and evolution in future generations.

The 1990s was a decade full of musical growth, although this growth also temporarily overshadowed many older rock bands. During the 1990s the Seattle grunge scene overshadowed the Los Angeles music scene. Seattle, Washington was the origin of a sub-genre of rock known as grunge. Grunge music was fairly underground until the band Nirvana released the album Nevermind, which went 26 times platinum and brought grunge into the mainstream. Along with Nirvana the bands Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam all came out of the Seattle grunge scene. Nirvana's song "Smells Like Teen Spirit" connected with the so-called outcasts and so the song became the icon of grunge music. During the early 1990s until grunge's fade out towards the end of the decade, the genre overshadowed many classic rock bands from the 1970s and 1980s. Grunge had mainstream success for much of the 1990s, though it slowly started to fade out after Nirvana's singer Kurt Cobain committed suicide in 1994. After the disbanding of Nirvana the band's drummer Dave Grohl released an album under the moniker Foo Fighters. Dave Grohl performed the album entirely on his own, though he got other musicians to join the band after the album-achieved success. The Foo Fighters was one of the few successful hard rock bands to come out of the 1990s. The music that was coming out of the Los Angeles music scene was a step away from hard rock; it incorporated elements of fuck, rap, and alternative music. Rage Against the Machine and L.A. veterans the Red Hot Chili Peppers helped created the genres of rap rock, alternative rock, and funk rock. These bands were some of the first to successfully mix rap and rock music together. Another band that came out of Los Angeles during the late 1990s when grunge was starting to fade out was System of a Down. System of a Down was very unique band in that they wrote songs deploring war, violence, governmental dishonesty, and conformity. Their music as well as that of the other L.A. bands was classified as experimental, because it was unpredictable and had very little guidelines if any. The 1990s was a decade of musical expansion, rock music was becoming a much more general term, because the genre was expanding so greatly into other sub-genres.

The new millennium was a stressful time for rock music as electronic music steadily became more popular, though in the end rock music has kept going. Since the new millennium many super groups, which are bands of previously famous musicians have formed in an attempt to keep rock music alive. These super groups include Chickenfoot, Them Crooked Vultures, Black Country Communion, Audioslave, and Velvet Revolver. These super groups have musicians whose main bands existed any where from the 1960s into the 2000s and the music of these group is mostly more traditional hard rock and some alternative rock. The 2000s is a decade full of classic rock and metal, because along with the formation of all the super groups, many older bands have also reunited, such as Van Halen and Heaven Hell. Heaven and Hell is Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio on vocals. The band wanted to distinguish between the Ozzy Osbourne fronted group and the Ronnie James Dio fronted group, so they changed the name when they reunited with Dio. Heaven and Hell performed from 2007-2010 and released an album "The Devil You Know" in 2009. The band split up after Ronnie James Dio's death in May of 2010. Dio's death was a major event in the history of rock and metal music. He redefined the hard rock and heavy metal genres with his signature singing style as well as his very unique lyrical content. Van Halen finally reunited with their original singer David Lee Roth in 2007 after over a decade apart. As of currently they are working on material for a new album. This 2000s was a decade that brought back the roots of rock through the reuniting of bands and the creation of new genres based on older rock music. One of these styles is desert rock, which originated in the Palm Desert in Southern California. This genre is strongly based on psychedelic rock both musically and drug-wise, which is why the music is often referred to as stoner rock.

Bands such as The Desert Sessions, the Eagles of Death Metal, Kyuss, and the Queens of the Stone Age are pioneers of the genre. As time goes on technology advances and the music changes too due to the greater amount of possibilities musically. Modern rock/metal bands such as Dethklok and The Killers have taken advantage of this technology by incorporating it into their music. They have done this by enhancing or manipulating the vocals or other instruments. The 2000s saw a surge of classic rock as well as a wave of modern rock. This great variety is what has kept people true to rock music.

Rock music has only been around for 60 years yet it has changed so greatly. Environmental and technological factors are just two things, which can greatly change music. Entire genres of music have been created in relatively small areas. This is changed though since nowadays music is incredibly easy to access. Music is a cycle, whatever is put into it always comes out in some way, shape, or form although it may not be extremely clear. The blues and jazz musicians who came before rock existed still influence it. What they did will always have an affect on music. Music is cyclical, so not matter how much it changes music can never be truly lost.



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[1] Christgau, Robert. Grown Up All Wrong: 75 great rock and pop artists from vaudeville to techno. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1998. 42 - 50. Print.

[2] Gross, Robert L. "Heavy Metal Music: A New Subculture in American Society." Journal of Popular Culture. 24.1 (1990): 120. Print.

[3] Molotsky, Irvin. "Hearing on Rock Lyrics." New York Times 20 Sep. 1985: C8. Print.

"Should Lyrics Of Rock Songs Be Sanitized?." New York Times 13 Oct. 1985: H5. Print.

By Daniel Jay Crotty - About the Author: Daniel Jay Crotty is a drummer and music reviewer dividing his time between New York and Vermont.  

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