Styles & Forms | Arena Rock

The rise of arena rock began in North America during the mid-1970s with a surge in the popularity of bands like Journey, Foreigner, Boston and Styx. Embraced by a network of FM radio stations, these bands and others like them became so profitable to their record companies that they almost represented a licence to print money.

The formula was deliciously simple: slick, commercial material, underpinned by memorable hard rock riffs and a glossy production. Radio-friendly ballads also encouraged a wider audience, although these were used in moderation.

A Stylistic Journey

The arena rock sound resembled an aural marshmallow; encased in an apparently tough outer casing, but sticky and sweet on the inside. In fact, many of its original bands had gravitated towards the genre from other styles of music. Formed in 1973 by the ex-Santana guitarist Neal Schon, and joined later that year by keyboard player Gregg Rolie, Journey had made three poor-selling jazz rock albums before the simplified strains of Infinity enabled them to top a million sales in 1978.

Two years earlier, in 1976, a New York-based English guitarist/songwriter called Mick Jones had almost turned his back on the music business after the dissolution of The Leslie West Band, but fuelled by the success of the singles ‘Cold As Ice’ and ‘Feels Like The First Time’, Jones achieved out-of-the-box success with Foreigner’s, five-million-selling, self-titled debut.

The rags to riches story of Boston was more unlikely still. Essentially a vehicle for guitarist/songwriter/producer Tom Scholz, the band’s 1976 Boston album – a glorified collection of basement demos – shot to the top of the US chart and became the best-selling pop debut effort in history until dislodged by Whitney Houston in 1986. By 1995, Boston had sold over 15 million copies in America alone, though the perfectionist streak of the reclusive Scholz has created just four more albums in the ensuing quarter of a century.

MTV And Mass Appeal

In the 1980s, Aerosmith, Heart and Whitesnake – all acts with uniquely different roots – moved in to stake their claims in the arena rock market. With their leaner, more blues-based heritage, Aerosmith had already tasted considerable success during the 1970s and brought their sound into a new decade with the help of songwriters Desmond Child and Holly Knight and producer Bruce Fairbairn. Heart, too, already had a proven track record for folk-based acoustic melancholy, but the Heart album gave them their most popular release in 1985. Likewise, former blues-rockers Whitesnake, lead by former Deep Purple vocalist David Coverdale, cunningly engineered a re-birth to capitalize upon the MTV boom in 1987.

Rush, too, began to court mass appeal. Their prog roots were homogenized via such synth-friendly albums as Power Windows (1985) and Hold Your Fire (1987), although the Canadian trio were to become increasingly reclusive.

The grunge-rock revolution would render arena rock deeply unfashionable during the next decade. However, many of its big hitters live on, and continue to play live. Bands like...

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


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