Introduction | Rock

During the mid-1960s, America’s military action in Vietnam was escalating out of control; students around the world were becoming more politically involved, civil rights and feminism were hot issues and the burgeoning youth movement was turning onto the effects of mind-bending drugs.

Accordingly, certain strains of popular music melded attitude, experimentation and a social conscience, and the newly defined rock genre was the all-encompassing result. By the second half of the decade, many record buyers regarded pop as a tame and dated form of escapism for oldies and prepubescent teens. Rock, by comparison, diverted some of its listeners through psychedelic, acid-drenched terrain, yet it also provided a heavy dose of realism, serving as an introspective outlet for a growing number of composer-performers, while expressing the concerns of those who were no longer prepared to look at the world through rose-tinted spectacles; Lennon-style granny glasses, perhaps, but ones whose lenses focussed on hard-hitting and sometimes controversial topics rather than the innocent themes of boy-loves-girl, boy-loses-girl.

Indeed, John Lennon and his fellow Beatles led the way among the handful of artists who made a successful transition from pop to rock. These included The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds and The Who, who had already started out with a more aggressive rock sensibility. Add to them former folkies such as Bob Dylan and The Byrds, as well as emerging west coast acts like The Doors, Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead, and it was clear that, echoing the musical revolution that had exploded on both sides of the Atlantic a decade earlier, rock was the new voice of youth.

As the optimism of the Summer of Love gave way to late-1960s cynicism fueled by civil unrest, bloody anti-war riots and the hippy counterculture, so psychedelic and Eastern-tinged music were superseded by the vocal histrionics of Janis Joplin and Joe Cocker, as well as the blues-based hard rock of bands like Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Breaking with the pop tradition of producing catchy, radio- and jukebox-friendly three-minute songs, these acts indulged themselves and their followers with far lengthier numbers that were often distinguished by extended instrumental solos. In so doing, they paved the way for subsequent decades’ purveyors of heavy metal, progressive, jam and arena rock. Yet even though this was largely touted as music for the mind rather than for the body, it wasn’t long before the record companies tried to match the popularity of so-called supergroups like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. This was attempted with what many among the press and public perceived as the formulaic, watered-down product of ‘corporate’ acts such as Boston, Kansas and Foreigner.

In a world where Alice Cooper and David Bowie were displaying a thespian-like theatricality, innovative psychedelia transmogrified into razzle-dazzle glam rock, people were pushing for bigger sounds onstage and in the studio and concerts were being produced on an increasingly grand scale. It was as if excess...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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