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Rock Facts
Genres > Rock
 Rock Analysis

About  Rock
Rock 'n' Roll is often described as the energetic lovechild of black rhythm and blues and white country music.

As the blues became electrified, artists such as Joe Turner and Louis Jordan began to add a backbeat. This electric blues headed south from northern cities such as Chicago, picking up a variety of different influences – country, bluegrass, boogie-woogie and gospel. Rock 'n' Roll was an amalgam of all of these styles – raw and energetic, but slick enough that you could dance to it or hold the tune easily in your head.

Rock 'n' Roll began in the 1950s, with the word rock starting to appear in early rhythm and blues hits such as Roy Brown's "Good Rockin' Tonight" and Jerry Lee Lewis's "We're Gonna Rock". These records were referred to as jump tunes. But, of course, it was a former country performer, Bill Haley, who made the new sound a phenomenon with "Rock Around The Clock."

The bands supporting these brash young new artists – including the undisputed superstar of the new rock 'n' roll, Elvis Presley – were made up of skilled session musicians, often trained in jazz, hence the swing feel to many of those early songs.

By the 60s, of course, bands like The Beatles and The Who were formed by self-taught guys off the street who had fallen in love with this new sound – the beat was performed straight rather than swung. Rock put the emphasis on the offbeats – two and four – but it also gave beats one and three a heavy bass drum kick, giving the musical punch more weight.

The invention of the electric guitar gave rock its signature sound. The power of this instrument was only realised some years later by, among others, Chuck Berry. Berry's over-driven sound was made even fuller by the unorthodox way he played it – rather than single-note licks he would pin down two notes at a time on his fret board, giving the instrument a bigger sound.

There's a basic rule which runs through all kinds of music, kind of an unwritten rule. I don't know what it is. But I've got it.
Ronnie Wood

The wild screams and raucous vocals of this new sound, as typified by Little Richard, were probably derived from gospel, and were picked up by a succession of rock acts, from The Beatles to The Doors and AC-DC.

As the 1960s progressed rock lost its roll, the beat slowed down, perhaps influenced by the prevailing rock drugs-culture. The frantic immediacy of the three-minute single gave way to slower, looser rhythms and longer musical forms – sometimes the length of an album. Harmonic changes slowed down and the music became noisier, designed to be amplified for stadium performances.

Rock became a sensory experience – music for the mind and body. The drums and guitar dominated. Artists like Jimi Hendrix began to play with this energy release, using volume to extremes and turning his guitar into something akin to a wailing banshee.

While glam rock pushed the fashion envelope, progressive rock bands such as Yes, Pink Floyd and Genesis went on to experiment with more classical-based musical sources, expanding beyond the blues which had dominated rock until then.

On the other side of the Atlantic, southern rock bands such as Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top doggedly ploughed the blues furrow, but heavy metal rock turned up the volume. Guitars were more driven and drummers pounded harder than ever. Guitar techniques included finger-tapping and harmonics, plus the reinvention of the whammy bar – a lever which slackens the strings for pitch effect. The punk rock explosion of the late 70s was a self-conscious backlash against this type of perceived self-indulgency.

By the time thrash metal groups like Metallica came along an extra, lower string was added to the guitar so that deeper, more guttural-sounding power chords could be reached. Odd time signatures and cross-rhythms, once the domain of prog rock, had once again become permissible.

Rock music is about energy – it is physical music. Volume and intensity go hand in hand with the hedonism and absurdity of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle.

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