How can you define rock music? It is vintage and contemporary, melodic and discordant, angry and beautiful. Among these musical oxymorons is a genre that continues to defy explanation; a genre that refuses to be pigeon-holed into either this or that. What exactly defines a rock song? Does it have to be an adrenaline fuelled, angst-ridden-two-minute-assault on the ears like Blur’s anthemic Song 2 or a slow, mercury-rising crescendo such as the seventies epic Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin.
Spawned from a mixture of blues, folk, country and jazz in the 1950s, the pioneers of rock music created the blue print of how rock music would develop. Electric guitars turned up to “eleven”, bass guitars that were an instrument of their own rather than a mere accompaniment and a drum kit that combined cymbals and drums. However, the genesis of rock music was more than just an emphasis on the instruments. Rock music stressed the importance of the live performance and musical virtuosity. Crucially, rock music was played by those who had written it. This gave singers and musicians a degree of authenticity and an ideology that rock was limitless and free from the shackles of conventional pop music.
The swinging sixties were dominated by the Rolling Stones and The Beatles and saw the emergence of various sub-genres of rock music. The developing psychedelic scene was embodied by Jefferson Airplane and The Doors whilst Jimi Hendrix and Santana contributed to the growth of progressive rock, where the line between music and art became blurred.
Clad in make-up and ripped jeans, rock music was characterised in the 1970s by glam rock and the enduring punk rock and heavy metal genres. The hair, along with the size of the venues, got bigger in the eighties and bands like Guns & Roses and U2 typified the unadulterated power of rock music yet in totally disparate ways. The 1990s saw rock music began to enter mainstream culture via its proliferation through MTV and other television enterprises. Alternative bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Oasis and Blur dominated the music charts and the genres Grunge, Britpop and Indie Rock embodied the diversity of rock music.
Rock music is intrinsically entwined with the major sub-cultures of the twentieth century, from mods and rockers to hippies and goths to emos and punk rockers. Rock music has documented the changes in social attitudes to politics, race and sex and is often associated as an expression of teenage revolt, apathy and rebellion. Rock music has lent itself as a vehicle for generations to express themselves, where transcendence and revolution is favoured over tradition and conformity; “sex, drugs and rock‘n’roll”.