Rock: the origins of the myth in the United States

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Joel Fulleda

Author and references


  • The characterizing elements of rock music
  • Rock music and the legacy of rock & roll
  • The boom in the XNUMXs
  • The most important subgenres of rock

La rock music is one of the most loved and appreciated musical genres in the world and like many others it has developed from the United States to become an international phenomenon. popular music which took its first steps in the early XNUMXs.  

Today the term rock has taken on a summary connotation and is used to refer generically to a huge amount of subgenres which have ended up branching out and overlapping more and more.  

Mainly it draws inspiration from rock and roll but within it, various styles such as country, R&B and folk music converge. Later rock also underwent the influence of blues, jazz, funk and soul.

It appears evident how the world of rock music is extremely varied and is very complicated to frame in a linear path, so let's try to better understand how rock was born, what its distinctive features are and what currents it has given life to over the years.

The characterizing elements of rock music

Rock music is essentially based on the use of some specific instruments that make its sounds unmistakable, such as electric guitar. It is generally accompanied by the battery and from electric bass which are used to compose the rhythm section.

Very often different types of electric organ, while the first appeared in the XNUMXs synthesizers.

Other more marginal instruments are used in rock bands, including harmonica and saxophone, generally used for small solo parts. Only the more elaborate pieces include brass and strings such as violins and double basses.

As for instead the composition of rock bands, these are almost always made up of 4 components, namely the drummer, the bassist, the guitarist and the singer. In some cases the bands can be 5-6 elements or only 2-3 people. There is usually no precise schematization of roles as a musician can fill several roles.

Rock music is structured on 4/4 rhythms not syncopated, in which the musical accent is shifted to the second and fourth movements. The melody is often picked up from previous musical examples but sometimes pushes towards divergent progressions which then led to the formation of new currents.

From a point of view of lyrics and content, rock has contributed to the spread of many social and cultural movements, especially between the XNUMXs and XNUMXs.

In the United States it played a central role in the spread of hippie culture and became the voice of the songs of protest and youth riots against war, conformity and consumerism.

Rock music and the legacy of rock & roll

Music critics tend to see rock as an extension of rock and roll but the two must not be confused as they are distant from each other in various aspects.

Rock & roll has conquered the peak of the hit-parades in the XNUMXs, to then spread all over the world and become a real phenomenon of costume. Akin to country music and R&B, it was characterized by a fast-paced rhythm made up of counter-tempos and frenetic rhythms.

From 1955 the legend of the great singers such as Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis who launch unforgettable masterpieces quali Love me tender, Can’t help falling in love, Tutti frutti, Rock around the clock e Johnny B. Goode.

From a purely musical point of view, rock takes the instrumental composition from rock & roll but favors the use of electronic keyboards and powered guitars. Rock & roll lyrics are very simple and innocent while rockers want to talk about social and current issues.

The decline of rock & roll begins around 1960 and the abbreviation 'rock' was soon used to indicate this new genre which was now emancipating itself and turning towards new influences.

The boom in the XNUMXs

The beginning of the rock myth finds the first traces in the surf music, born on the beaches of California as music for surfers. This first form of rock was always inspired by rock & roll and will reach its peak with the band of Beach Boys which gave us hits such as Surfin 'USA, I get around e Barbara ann.

Only from 1965 we can talk about rock in the strictest sense and from the soloists of the Fifties we move on to bands with collective names. These range more and more towards electronics and show a more accurate stage presence.

Topics covered include politics, pacifism and awareness of the surrounding world and the future. At the same time, topics such as drug use, the family sphere and the sexual revolution.

In the United States, local music scenes end up taking on specific connotations. For example, Texas and California develop psychedelic solutions while Seattle it is more devoted to the aggressive and dirty sound. Detroitinstead, it has a more punk mood thanks to MC5 and The Stooges e New York proposes a politically committed folk rock.

However, it is in California, and above all in San Francisco, that the various strands of rock find a point of contact. This happens thanks to the counterculture, a social and anti-system ideology carried on by the hippie who believed in a community way of life in which young people take music as an existential reference model.

The most emblematic moment of the golden age of rock is in the famous Woodstock Festival which took place from 15 to 18 August of 1969.

In these 3 days the best known American rock artists of those years perform, including Carlos Santana, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, Ten Years After, Jimi Hendrix and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

With Woodstock it is thus closed definitively the magic period of the stars and stripes rock of the Sixties. Meanwhile, some major performers, above all Hendrix, Morrison and Janis Joplin, have been crushed by drugs but their memory is still alive and strong all over the world.

The most important subgenres of rock

When it comes to rock music it is rather difficult to trace its peculiar aspects in broad terms, because over the decades it has fragmented and stratified an infinite number of subclasses which stand out for their sonority and content.

List them all is almost impossible but some of them macrocategorie they made from thread, forever marking the history of the musical genre up to the present day.

Folk rock

This expression identifies a type of popular music that combines rock and folk music and its rise is closely linked to Greenwich Village in Manhattan, the neighborhood of the intellectuals of the Beat Generation.

The sound is based on very sparse vocal harmonies and limited use of electric guitars and distortions. At the same time, elements taken from more traditional country and folk music are added, trying to convey deeper messages.

Its best known exponent is undoubtedly Bob Dylan. By convention the July 26 1965 marks the origin of folk rock, the day in which the young Dylan sings al Newport Folk Festival. In the same year, the American singer released hits such as Like a Rolling Stone and Mr. Tambourine Man but we can also mention Blowin 'in the wind and Knockin' on heaven's door.

In the meantime, the famous duo was born in New York Simon & Garfunkel, which rose to prominence in 1964 with the song The sound of silence. Among the other artists who have left their mark in the world of folk rock we can remember the singers Joni Mitchell e Joan Baez.

Psychedelic rock

Il psychedelic rock it developed in the United States between the mid-XNUMXs and early XNUMXs. The name refers to the altered state of human consciousness induced by psychedelics such as hallucinogenic mushrooms, LSD and cannabis.

Il philosophical subtext of this current of rock is that music must be interpreted under the influence of these drugs and must be listened to by fans in the same condition. This was to create a deeper communication between listener and musician, difficult to obtain in situations of mental clarity.

Among the forerunners of the genre there are undoubtedly the Grateful Dead, characterized by hypnotic sounds brought to the stage under the influence of LSD.

Another noteworthy artist is Janis Joplin, able to capture the attention of the public thanks to his rough voice. Former leader of the band Big Brother and the Holding Company, she established herself as a solo artist in 1968 thanks to the song Piece of my heart, now a timeless cult.

Another cornerstone of psychedelic rock is Jimi Hendrix, guitarist and innovator in the way of playing the electric guitar.

In his music he managed to blend R&B, blues and soul with rock and went down in history for the performance of 1967 in Monterey where he sets fire to his guitar on stage and for the closing of the Woodstock Festival where he performs an irreverent reinterpretation of the American anthem.

The emblem of psychedelic rock was also the Doors, one of the most controversial and beloved groups in the history of music.

Marked by the singer's early death Jim Morrison in 1971, they knew how to build a perfect fusion of rock, blues and jazz and some songs like Light my fire, The end, Hello I love you, Riders on the storm and Roadhouse Blues have become timeless classics for many generations.

The punk rock

Punk rock, often known only by the name of from punk, is a type of rock music that has spread between the 1976 and 1979. It was distinguished by fast rhythm, an aggressive sound, few provocative instruments and themes and with strong political contents.

The forerunners had already thought about it Velvet Underground of Lou Reed, which in the first phase of his career strongly inspired the whole movement and then moved towards other sounds.

The genesis is also glimpsed in Detroit, when the young Iggy Pop founds the band of The Stooges, which were characterized by the intensity of the performances, the distorted guitars and a massive use of drums.

The first real punk rock group, however, are the Ramones, precursors to the British Sex Pistols and Clash. Active mainly in New York, in 1976 they launch the debut album of the same name and during their twenty-year career they have given away songs such as Blitzkrieg Bop, I wanna be your boyfriend and I wanna be sedated.

Following the success of the Ramones, American puck rock began to change its connotations at the end of the Seventies to split into other sub-genres such as post-punk e new wave.

Alternative rock and grunge

In The eighties, alternative rock makes its first appearance but its influences will be felt throughout the nineties. The alternative adjective expresses a rejection of commercial and mainstream music, which was based on aggressive lyrics, rebellion and electric guitars with distortion effects.

Among the first alternative rock bands we have the The Feelies, the Violent Women, the Hüsker Dü and REM The latter released in 1983 their first album, Murmur, considered a real milestone in alternative music.

In this same period in the suburbs of Seattle a new evolution of alternative rock was taking shape, the so-called grunge, which draws on both punk rock and heavy metal.

The word in English means dirty, wrinkled and it was a reference to the neglected aspect of the singers who focused on the immediacy of the pieces and not on the aesthetics. The lyrics mostly talk about anger, depression and rebellion towards a passive existence.

The first pioneering groups of the genre are the Skin Yard, the Green River and the Soundgarden but the great success on a planetary level comes only in 1991, when i Nirvana by Kurt Cobain release Smells like teen spirit, extracted from the Nevermind album.

The sound of Nirvana is slightly more melodic than its predecessors but still manages to give an unmistakable touch to the grunge style. In the same vein other groups of enormous fame will be formed such as the Pearl Jam, the Stone Temple Pilots, the Smashing Pumpkins and Red Hot Chili Peppers.  


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