Rock Music

Having already started with a tour of the development of metal styles, we will be continuing our deep dive of music genres with rock music. Today we’ll explore some of the biggest and most influential examples from the rich plethora of subgenres rock has to offer…

Blues Rock

Taking influence from the popular style of 40s and 50s rock & roll, as well as electric blues, blues rock adopted a heavier sound. By the mid-60s, bands like Cream and The Yardbirds had incorporated blues fundamentals, such as the common 12-bar blues chord progression and extended improvised guitar solos, into their more riff-based song structures. Following rock tradition, bands were comprised of loud, amplified guitars and bass, as well as drums. An important progenitor of the style is John Mayall who significantly developed the sound of blues guitar and, in 1966, released the album Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton which defined the previously ambiguous genre. The guitar playing of Jimi Hendrix and his utilisation of blues and pentatonic scales was extremely influential on blues rock guitarists. Moving into the 70s, blues rock became more closely aligned with hard rock as the sound became heavier, songs became more riff orientated, and the guitars were more overdriven. This was reverted however, when artists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan took blues rock back to its roots. Blues rock is characterised by traditional blues 12 and 16-bar structures being integrated with riff-based song structures. Guitars are loud, overdriven, and play extended bluesy solos.

Notable artists:

Eric Clapton

Stevie Ray Vaughan


Jeff Beck

The Rolling Stones

The Yardbirds

The Animals

ZZ Top

The Allman Brothers Band

Psychedelic Rock

Emerging in the mid-to-late 1960s, psychedelic rock was spawned by the expanding hippie counterculture that originated on the West Coast of America. Bands such as the Grateful DeadThe ByrdsThe Doors and Jefferson Airplane played pioneering loud, rock music that reflected psychedelic, drug-induced states. The Byrds were particularly influential, with their implementation of electric instruments in the mid-60s. Around the same time in Europe, similar ideas were being explored, especially in the now landmark album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. The Yardbirds, and especially Jeff Beck, were instrumental in popularising psychedelic elements in rock music with hit singles such as Shapes of Things which demonstrates guitar work using a fuzz tone and ‘exotic’ sounding scales. Psychedelic rock is often recognisable by the use of inventive sound effects such as phasing, reverb, feedback, and wah-wah pedals. Non-traditional western rock instruments were also introduced — Indian instruments, the Mellotron and the organ. The lyrical themes of songs are often ambiguous or abstract and lengthy improvised guitar solos are regular features.

Notable artists:

The Jimi Hendrix Experience


The Doors

The Beatles

Jefferson Airplane

Grateful Dead

Pink Floyd

Folk Rock

Folk rock came from the American folk music revival that started  in the 1940s and peaked in the 60s. By this time folk artists were introducing electronic instruments and incorporating rock sounds into their songs and performances. Most notable is The Byrds’ cover of Dylan’s Mr. Tambourine Man, from their album of the same name (released June 1965), which earned them the label of ‘folk rock’ in the press for the first time. This inspired other (especially British) folk rock bands in the late-60s through its combination of folk roots with elements of psychedelic rock. Another highly influential moment was Bob Dylan’s use of an electric band at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1965. These two moments, just over a month apart, cemented the fusion of folk and rock music. From this point folk rock became increasingly mainstream, but it didn’t sell its soul, as bands maintained the social critique that typifies traditional folk music. Simon & GarfunkelBuffalo Springfield and the Mamas & the Papas often covered social injustice and their music points towards rebellion and protest. The music is characterised by a direct song writing style with clear harmonies, accompanied by guitar riffs or melodic keyboard accompaniment. Other traditional folk instruments are also commonly used. The rhythmic energy and drum writing is commonly more rock-based.

Notable artists:

Neil Young

Simon & Garfunkel

Paul Simon

Buffalo Springfield

Cat Stevens

The Byrds

The Mamas & the Papas

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Progressive Rock

Starting in the late 1960s in England, progressive rock, or prog rock, is an extremely diverse and creative sub-genre of rock. Bands aimed to stretch the boundaries of conventional genre traditions by employing compositional techniques and varied instrumentation more commonly found in classical, jazz, funk and folk styles. Important progenitors were The Beatles and the Beach Boys with their innovation in concept albums and unconventional instrumentation. 70s prog bands such as YesKing Crimson and Genesis pioneered the use of synths and keyboards, now a distinctive characteristic of the progressive style. These bands also catapulted prog into the mainstream with hits like 21st Century Schizoid Man which fused jazz and hard rock influences, and Genesis infused catchy pop melodies with longer song structures and unconventional time signatures on records such as Selling England By The PoundPink Floyd massively popularised progressive concept albums and longer instrumental compositions with The Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here. Whilst drawing on many influences and being a particularly diverse subgenre, there are a few common characteristics which identify progressive rock. Advanced compositional techniques such as complex harmonies, unusual and alternating time signatures, and extended, unconventional song structures are common across all prog music. Synthesisers and orchestral instruments can also often be heard, as well as close links to classical music, especially in bands such as Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Notable artists:

Pink Floyd




Emerson, Lake and Palmer

King Crimson

Jethro Tull

Glam Rock

Glam rock originated in Britain in the 70s. It was a theatrical movement and many of the artists adopted personas — adopting dramatic props such as garish costumes, makeup and glitter. The movement was particularly popular in the mainstream in the early-to-mid 70s. Marc Bolan’s vibrant appearance with T. Rex on Top of the Pops in 1971 is often seen as the definitive beginning of glam rock and the trends that followed. Glam rock artists presented an androgynous visual appearance that subverted traditional gender-roles. David Bowie was particularly influential in this regard, but his musical output, especially records such as The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972), was widely acclaimed and successful in combining elements of hard rock, art rock and pop. The androgynous caricature of Ziggy Stardust effectively resembled the times and placed the work within the bounds of glam rock; however, the cohesive amalgam of rock-style riffs and pop styles meant the music appealed to a wider audience. As much a fashion movement as it was a musical one, the visual aesthetic is extremely distinctive whilst musical characteristics are far more diverse. Songs generally took influence from tock & roll, hard rock and ‘bubblegum’ pop. Typically, however, the songs are loud and simple with catchy guitar riffs and memorable choruses. Vocal lines can also be ambiguous with regards to gender distinctions, a primary example of which is Sweet’s massive hit, Ballroom Blitz.

Notable artists:

Alice Cooper

David Bowie




T. Rex

Roxy Music

Mott The Hoople

Punk Rock

Punk is a more aggressive movement that arose in the 70s. Based in 60s garage music, punk was a rejection of the excesses of 70s mainstream rock; it emphasised inclusivity and a DIY aesthetic that didn’t require technical ability, or even, in some extreme cases, much musical ability. One of the main founders of the punk movement, The Ramones formed in 1974 in New York. They played their first show in August of that year and by the end of the year they had performed seventy-four times. Over in the UK, Johnny Rotten became the new lead singer of a band called The Strand. In 1975 they played their first show as the Sex Pistols. The band’s hardcore, chaotic persona made their live shows incredibly popular with an anarchic younger generation of fans, and they soon acquired a dedicated following. They quickly rose to success and exploded into the mainstream following am explosive TV interview on the Bill Grundy Show in December, 1976. The following year — 1977 — marked the emergence of The Clash and The Buzzcocks, two highly prominent punk bands. Over in America, both on the east and west coasts, punk had also formed its own identity and had developed into more than just a style of music; it had now become a prominent counter-culture. Going into the 80s, the idea of punk as an identity was solidified as it had become a musical, fashion, and even political movement. Punk music is fast and aggressive, based on simple but loud and distorted guitar parts. The drums are typically very fast and the vocals are shouted, often associating with socialist ideologies. For example, in London at the time, punk was heavily critical of the right-winged government and Thatcherism. Overall, punk was anarchy embodied in music and fashion — if there was a central theme to the movement it was one of rejection of a powerful, controlling government and all the state apparatus that supported it, especially the police.

Notable artists:

Dead Kennedys

The Clash


Sex Pistols


Black Flag

The Damned

The Stooges


Hard Rock

Building on the innovations of psychedelic rock and blues rock in the 60s, hard rock developed in the late-60s into the 70s with bands such as Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple expanding the harder, riff-oriented sound. These bands continued to define the sound of hard rock with the records Led Zeppelin IV in 1971 and Machine Head in 1972. Around this time bands such as the Rolling Stones and The Who were fusing more hard rock elements into their writing with albums such as Exile on Main St. Hard rock became extremely popular and bands started to fuse hard rock elements with other genres, giving rise to a plethora of now iconic rock groups. AC/DC took blues roots and added extremely loud, distorted guitars playing thunderous power chord-based riffs, leading to hits such as Back in Black. Elsewhere Guns N’ Roses borrowed more from the so called ‘hair metal’ scene with Axl Rose’s wailing vocals and Slash’s ‘shreddy’ guitar solos, landing them iconic hits with Sweet Child O’ Mine and Welcome To The JungleAround this time hard rock was dominating the mainstream with bands filling arenas around the world. Hard rock is often conflated with various forms of metal and punk, however there are a few notable characteristics which separate it. The guitars often play hooky, power chord riffs that have a strong sense of rhythm or even can be considered to swing. Simply, the guitar parts contain a sense of ‘mojo’ and swagger. The lyrical content is also not as dark, violent or intense and the vocal melodies are catchy and memorable.

Notable artists:

The Who

Led Zeppelin

Deep Purple


Guns N’ Roses


Blue Öyster Cult


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