An incomplete history of hard rock, heavy metal, and punk rock music, Part 1 of ???
The subtitle of this blog promises “classic rock”, a promise I have until now failed to make good on.
This post is mainly a series of links to youtube videos illustrating the music genres in question. This is not meant to teach you, the reader, anything you didn’t already know, but may be helpful in explaining these genres to your kids or something. I started making it for that purpose myself, but it has grown way longer than I expected it to.
Band names are links to Wikipedia, song titles are links to music videos.
Keeping the links alive is already turning out to be a constant battle – at least one song was removed from youtube for copyright reasons between when I started writing this post, and when I published it.
Blues, Jazz, early Rock-n-Roll
We begin with a very brief selection of early songs that “look forward” to fuzztone, distortion, and fast guitar pickin’.
- Django Reinhardt – the first guitar hero in the history of recorded music
- Charlie Christian – largely credited with popularizing the electric guitar
- T-Bone Walker – the first prominent bluesman to take up the electric guitar
- Jackie Brenston and this Delta Cats (aka Ike Turner band)
- Rocket 88 (1951) – usually cited as the first “Rock and Roll” song, it predates the first wave of “rock” by several years; also one of several early songs where the overdriven guitar sound is said to have been produced by the amp having been damaged prior to recording
- Howlin’ Wolf
- James Cotton
- Chuck Berry – one of the founders of Rock n Roll, influenced basically every later rock guitarist
- Maybellene (1955) – more overdriven than Berry’s later hits, due to use of smaller amp
- Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio
- Train Kept a Rollin’ (1956) – this is the version that inspired the Yardbirds; the highlight here is probably the screaming vocals, but the guitar is pretty overdriven for 1956; officially credited to Paul Burlison but some authorities suggest it may have actually been played by Grady Martin (see below)
- Link Wray – important precursor of surf-rock, garage-rock, and instrumental rock in general. He had lost a lung in the Korean War, explaining both the rarity of singing and sound when he did
- Grady Martin – first guitarist known to use a “fuzz” effect, initially caused by plugging the guitar into the wrong channel of the mixing console (or something), then repeated on purpose
- Dick Dale – king of surf-rock
- Misirlou (1962) – the fast tremolo picking and “exotic” music mode set the standard for instrumental surf rock
- The Ventures – the quintessential early-60s instrumental rock group
British Invasion, British Blues, Freakbeat
The standard narrative of the early 60s musical invasion of the US by British bands is that the Brits, being less racist (or at least racist against different races than Americans were), “got” the Blues in a way that most white Americans didn’t. This is almost certainly bullshit.
However, many of these bands did (re)introduce some of the rawer, grittier elements of the music back to American audiences.
- The Rolling Stones
- The Kinks
- You Really Got Me (1964) – power chords! Like Link Wray, the fuzzed guitar tone was allegedly created by poking holes in the amplifier’s speaker. There is a persistent urban legend that Jimmy Page (later of Led Zeppelin) played on this track, which he has always denied.
- All Day and All of the Night (1964) – more of the same
- The Who
- My Generation (1965) – in the 60s these lyrics and attitude were seen as the opening blast of generational war between the baby-boomers and their elders, but in long hindsight it seems more like a harbinger of punk rock 10 years early
- Boris the Spider (1966) – the low, growly vocals here have been cited as influential on death metal. that’s probably bullshit, but it’s still a cool song.
- I Can See For Miles (1967) – noisy, feedback, crashing guitar
- The Yardbirds – predecessor band of Cream and Led Zeppelin. All of these tracks feature Jeff Beck on lead guitar
- I’m a Man (1965) – speed-freak blues with a harmonica vs fuzz-guitar duel in the “raveup” section; widely influential in the garage-rock world; what I really love is the moment when you can actually hear guitarist Jeff Beck switch the fuzz pedal on
- I’m Not Talking (1965) – 12-bar blues dominated by guitar fuzz riffs throughout, one of the first songs to be nothing but fuzz
- Train Kept a Rollin’ (1965) – blues/rockabilly standard updated for the mid-60s fuzz sound; an epoch-making step towards hard rock
- Shapes of Things (1966) – early example of “psychedelic” fuzz-rock
- Stroll On (1966) – re-recorded version of “Train Kept a Rollin'” recorded for the film Blowup; this was one of the only songs recorded by the Yardbirds with both Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck on guitar; already nearly sounds as overdriven as anything Page would ever do with Zeppelin
- Happenings Ten Years Time Ago (1966) – another Beck/Page collaboration; a dissonant psychedelic freakout that sounds almost like prog rock
- John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers
- Hideaway (1966) – where Eric Clapton really established himself; also the reason the Les Paul and Marshall amp became the standard equipment for rock guitarists.
- The Troggs
- Wild Thing (1966) – amazingly primitive recording.. are there even drums or just somebody kicking a crate?!
- Small Faces
- The Voice
- The Creation
- Making Time (1966) – noted for using a violin bow on electric guitar, famously later popularized by Led Zeppelin
Garage rock can be seen as one of America’s first two punches back against the British Invasion (the other, more successful punch, was Motown).
Garage Rock was dismissed as teeny-bopper stuff at the time, merely a derivative of both British bands and of 50s rock and roll.
The retroactive re-appraisal of Garage Rock started with the Nuggets series. In the 70s it came to be seen as the direct ancestor of punk rock, also recognized for having pushed the envelope towards psychedelic or “acid” rock later in the 60s.
This section could use expansion.. or you could just go find more yourself.
Psychedelic Rock, Blues Rock, Acid Rock, Proto-Metal (1967-1969)
This was the point when Rock (with a capital “R”) really split off from the pop mainstream. This is a selection of some of “heavier” songs; this period also featured a lot of wispy psychedelia, folk rock, and semi-classical chamber-rock that eventually became Progressive Rock.
This music is obviously directly ancestral to 70s hard rock and heavy metal, but most reckon punk rock’s ancestry to have already split off (see Proto-Punk).
- Cream – the original “power trio” of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker set the template followed by many rock bands of the late 60s and early 70s
- Jimi Hendrix – near-universally acclaimed as the greatest guitarist in the history of Rock, and one of the most distinctive performers in any 20th-century genre; blazed new trails of fuzz-tone, feedback, whammy bar usage; even most of his imitators never really bothered trying to sound like him
- Jeff Beck Group
- Vanilla Fudge
- You Keep Me Hanging On (1967) – early prog rock
- The Doors – most of their output is too eclectic to be on a hard-rock list
- Pink Floyd – much more famous for spacy proto-prog-rock (and in the 70s, full-blown prog), they very occasionally could rock pretty hard
- Jefferson Airplane – “…which cleared the way for Jefferson Starship. The stage was now set for the Alan Parsons Project, which I believe was some sort of hovercraft..”
- The Beatles – the biggest rock band of the 60s, and one of the biggest of all times, only enters into this list late in their career
- Helter Skelter (1968) – unavailable due to copyright stuff; often cited as a “heavy metal” song, it’s arguably not even the hardest rockin thing on the White Album..
- Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey (1968) – the cowbell on this makes it more metal than “Helter Skelter” if you ask me (nobody does)
- Revolution (1968)
- Born to Be Wild (1968) – “Heavy Metal Thunder!” line is one of the earliest uses of the words “heavy metal” in song lyrics
- Blue Cheer – often considered both the most important proto-metal band and a proto-punk band of sorts, due to their extravagantly fuzzed out sound and raw energy
- Iron Butterfly
- In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (1968) – one of the first songs considered “heavy” at the time; “remember when we used to make out to this hymn?”
- The Pretty Things
- The Crazy World of Arthur Brown – not much about the band’s sound is hard rock, but Brown’s theatrics and (later in the song) screaming falsetto are pretty metal.
- The Amboy Dukes – the launchpad of Ted Nugent’s career
- Open Mind
- Coven – an openly, and seriously, Satan-worshipping band, with a female singer, in 1969?! That description sounds way more ahead of their time than their sound actually was.. but still.
- Love – yes, the same band that was already listed under Garage Rock, this song is way too proggy to be put in that section
- The Who – the end of the 60s saw the Who moving from “Mod” psychedelia into a long-form hard rock sound
The Big Three
These are the three main hard rock bands of the early 1970s, which most other bands are compared to, for better or worse. None of these bands self-applied the label “Heavy Metal” during the period represented here. Like many rock genre names it was generally not a label that bands tended to voluntarily embrace, until much later on. They and their contemporaries were tagged with the “heavy” label by the music critic establishment, largely as an insult at first.
The only one of these bands that is universally considered (retroactively) to have been a true Heavy Metal band the entire time is Black Sabbath.
- Led Zeppelin – firmly rooted in blues, Jimmy Page’s post-Yardbirds supergroup dabbled in a little of everything: folk rock, middle-eastern music, almost-prog, fantastical lyrics, shameless plagiarism, teenage groupies and dead sharks. The topic of whether or not any of their music counts as “metal” is a minefield, pretty much the longest-running argument in rock fandom after “is Paul dead?”, though in the past 10 years or so the “No” side has pretty conclusively won and put the question to rest. This is a list some of their “heavier” songs.
- Black Sabbath – Combining slow, “lumbering” music and a downtuned, heavily distorted guitar sound with dark lyrics in the style that would retro-actively become known as Doom Metal and Stoner Metal, Sabbath is the gold standard of Heaviness. Most modern fans simply do not recognize anything not built on top of Black Sabbath’s musical legacy as being Heavy Metal at all.
- Deep Purple – Purple had been kicking around for several years before theyswitched to full-bore hard rock. They played faster than the other other two here, with more classical influences (especially in John Lord’s keyboards), serving as the prototype of Speed Metal and its ilk.
Early Hard Rock / Heavy Metal
At this point, “hard rock” and “heavy metal” were not defined as different genres, and indeed were not really even distinguished from progressive rock yet.
The standard sound was rooted in blues and early rock, usually mid-tempo, with a guitar sound that tended to be powered by fuzz pedals at first and gradually relying more on amplifier overdrive as that technology became more advanced, and a vocal style that bordered on screaming (but would of course be considered “clean” by extreme metal standards).
Songs consist mostly of guitar power chords, swinging/shuffling rhythms inherited from blues, riffs derived from the blues scale, and frequent guitar solos. The bluesy nature is a main thing that distinguishes this style from later styles of metal and rock.
- Grand Funk Railroad – as I wrote many years ago, Grand Funk is possibly the most characteristic rock band of the early 70s. They don’t sound like much before them, and they don’t sound much like anything after them, they are firmly of their era and damn proud of it.
- Humble Pie – though mainly remembered for former Small Faces frontman Steve Marriot, Humble Pie was also the launchpad for guitarist Peter Frampton
- King Crimson – definitely belongs on the prog rock list if I make one, at least one song is pretty heavy
- Jethro Tull – Tull started out as blues-rock and gradually went prog, but along the way they rocked pretty hard
- Spooky Tooth – believe it or not, the singer of this band is Gary Wright. That Gary Wright.
- Cactus – like Grand Funk, Cactus was one of those bands that was pretty popular at the time but didn’t leave much of a following behind, but they could grind out the blues covers with the best of ’em
- Wishbone Ash – often noted for their two-lead-guitar setup, usually associated with Southern Rock and common much later in the history of Metal
- Sir Lord Baltimore – this is one of the bands that you can use to tell if the person who are talking to is into all this stuff – if they’ve heard of Sir Lord Baltimore, you’ve found a friend! SLB is also one of the few examples of a rock band with a singing drummer who actually sang while drumming!
- Warpig – in spite of what you’re probably thinking, this Canadian band was formed too early to have been named after the Black Sabbath song “War Pigs”. Like many of the lesser-known bands here, they produced only one album but it was quite a doozy
- Uriah Heep – the Heep meandered around in the uncanny valley between hard rock and prog-rock for most of the 70s
- Lucifer’s Friend
- Ride In The Sky (1970) – similarity to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” are supposedly coincidental; yes that’s a french horn doing the “ahahhhhhah!” part
- James Gang – face it, Joe Walsh just rocked a lot more before he got mixed up with them Eagles
- Leaf Hound – another shibboleth like Sir Lord Baltimore – name-dropping Leaf Hound will either demonstrate your early-70s cred, or totally baffle whoever you’re talking to
- Budgie – neither their little bird name nor their stupid album covers hint at the slow, bass-heavy, lumbering riffs to be found here
- Dust – Believe It Or Not! the drummer of this band later became Marky Ramone
- Alice Cooper – also considered Glam Rock, Proto-Punk, the name “Alice Cooper” in this period referred to the entire band
- Hawkwind – the most famous band of the “space rock” subgenre, Hawkwind is also notable for launching the career of Lemmy
- Captain Beyond – cult supergroup with alumni from Deep Purple and Iron Butterfly
- Buffalo – one of Australia’s first hard rock bands, Buffalo was as heavy as anything in their day
- Pentagram – the world just wasn’t ready for Pentagram, and their recorded material from the early 1970s remain unreleased for 20 years
- Montrose – the group that Sammy Hagar came from, for better or for worse
- Edgar Winter Group
Here we pause the progression of hard rock in the 1970s, and step back to the 60’s to explore the development of punk out of garage-rock roots.
Other than the Velvet Underground, who were too artsy-fartsy to be lumped into a “genre”, these bands were characterized as Hard Rock or Glam Rock by contemporary observers. Later (meaning after the Ramones and Sex Pistols) they were retroactively re-christened as punk forebears.
Even after the deluge of the 1977-style punk rock, there have been continual waves of new punk- or punk-related bands that still sound more like these ancestral bands.
- The Velvet Underground – while they dabbled in all kinds of musical indulgence, drugs, dark lyrics, and beatnick pretentiousness, some of their songs are sufficiently loud to serve as unmistakable milestones.
- The MC5
- (Iggy and the) Stooges – if you’re looking to draw a straight line between mid-1960s garage rock and late 1970s punk, this is the main vein right here
- The Modern Lovers
- The New York Dolls – the Dolls were on the scene immediately before New York punk, and represent its most direct musical antecedent; they sound like a fusion of the Glam tropes with a Stooges intensity
Glam Rock was closely related to hard rock, but had a glitzy hair-and-makeup image completely different from the “dirty hippie” look of most other contemporary rock. It was an almost exclusively British phenomenon except in the very late phases.
It should be noted the Glam Rock was more of a fashion movement than a musical one. Musically, if glam rock has a central tendency, it would be towards a sound firmly based in 1950’s Rock n Roll – including such trappings as I-VI-IV-V chord progressions, boogie-woogie rhythm guitar, pounding piano, vocal harmonies, saxophone as a main instrument – but updated for 70s production values and hard rock guitar sounds, with a certain pompous grandeur that’s harder to describe in words than it should be.
The same 50’s nostalgia can be heard in much other 70s rock, from Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” to about half of Bruce Springsteen’s career, not to mention the Rolling Stones and Faces – Glam was musically continuous with its contemporaries and hard to draw a box around. It’s not for nothing that this was also the decade of “American Graffiti” and “Happy Days”.
The musical elements of Glam – especially the pounding beats and “Chuck Berry turned up to 11” guitar – were important influences or inspirations to punk and post-punk, and even more obviously an influence on Glam Metal (especially the 2nd, less metallic wave of bands like Poison).
This list only includes the harder-rocking songs by these artists.
- Mott the Hoople
- T. Rex – the major instigators (along with Bowie) of Glam as the hot trend of the early 70s
- David Bowie – one of the great musical chameleons of the rock era, Bowie’s true “Glam” period only lasted from about 1971 to 1974. But he is probably the name most associated with the style.
- Roxy Music – almost as difficult to pin down as Bowie, and influential across a wide range of genres, Roxy definitely made some contributions to Glam in their early period
- Slade – one of the hardest-rocking Glam bands, a definite precursor of Glam Metal
- The Sweet – managed to transition freely between top 40 bubblegum pop and pure hard rock, actually being pretty damn good at both
- Mud – you think a band named “Mud” would sound a lot, well, muddier..
- Lou Reed
- Into / Sweet Jane (1974) – owing more to Mott the Hoople’s cover than to Reed’s own Velvet Underground version of Sweet Jane, the intro (which is basically an independent composition by the band) is famous in its own right
- Rocky Horror Picture Show cast
- Meat Loaf
- Paradise By the Dashboard Light (1977) – almost a (self?) parody of the nostalgic tendencies of glam, recorded a time when punk was already kicking down the door, but damn did Meatloaf get the “pompous grandeur” part of it right
Pub Rock was a “back to basics” style of music based on early Rock and Roll that existed mainly in the mid 70s and almost exclusively in London. Most of the bands involved in Pub Rock were never well-known in the US, and never will be, though a few individuals later became big name as New Wave solo artists.
It is notable mainly for being the genre that Punk Rock directly replaced as the “hot new thing” on the British music scene.
Further Developments in Hard Rock
“Everyone knows Rock attained perfection in 1974”
Meanwhile, after about 1973, Hard Rock itself was developing towards a more “radio-friendly” sound increasingly divorced from the fuzzy sound of the 60s. This development eventually led to Arena Rock.
Gradually, Progressive Rock and Heavy Metal were allowed to go off into their own spaces and be their weird selves in secret, while Hard Rock went mainstream in outlook.
This is still a large chunk of the music played on “classic rock” stations, along with the later Arena Rock.
- Thin Lizzy
- Blue Öyster Cult
- ZZ Top
- Queen – Queen’s earliest material fused prog and glam elements with a solid hard-rock foundation. The overt prog tendencies were gradually muted as they became one of the biggest bands in the world. Freddie Mercury’s huge vocal range and the band’s harmonious, anthemic music was influential to later genres including NWOBHM and Glam Metal.
- Aerosmith – largely dismissed by contemporary critics as a derivative knockoff of Led Zeppelin and other earlier bands, Aerosmith proved to have staying power and wide influence on 80’s acts like Guns’N’Roses, Mötley Crüe, and others
- Lynyrd Skynyrd – you won’t find a lot of “Southern Rock” on this list, but a few of the southern bands belong here
- Ted Nugent – before Uncle Ted became mainly known for his right-wing politics he was one of the most popular hard rock guitarists of the 70s
- KISS – also could be (and sometimes are) filed under Glam Rock because of their heavily made-up look; along with Aerosmith, the main godfathers of 80’s American rock
- Rick Derringer
- Rush – mostly belongs on a separate prog-rock list; first-album, pre-Neil-Peart Rush, was a hard rock band with almost no prog elements; the story is that when the songs from the album first started to be played on the radio, the general public actually thought it was Led Zeppelin
- UFO – like Queen, UFO is often seen as a prototype of NWOBHM and Glam Metal; they are, however, much less well-known
- Scorpions – had to fit them in somewhere.. as a German band, don’t really fit these mostly Anglo-American genre distinctions; they evolved from an almost Prog or even Krautrock style emphasizing long, slowly developed jams (most of which is not covered here) into a tight, metallic outfit for the MTV age
- AC/DC – probably the first Australian band that any American can name, AC/DC’s style of hard rock was so deliberately primitive that people at the time were tempted to lump it in with punk rock rather than the mainstream
- The Runaways – could also be classified as punk rock
- Rose Tattoo
- Molly Hatchet – the other true Southern Rock band in this list
- Van Halen – could also go in Glam Metal, and definitely were a major influence on it, they predate it too much to really be put in there
Here I am following the definition of “Arena Rock” as laid out by TV Tropes: mainstream radio-oriented hard rock of the late 70s and early 80s. The lines around this category are pretty fuzzy, but you just sort of know it when you hear it. Most of the bands involved in this were not newcomers, but had been around in some form or other for years. This was the style that hard rock and prog-rock musicians seemed to naturally slide into as the 70s became the 80s. This is probably the first style someone unfamiliar with anything else on this page would identify if asked to name some “classic rock” songs.
Punk Rock and close relatives
The initial wave of Punk Rock took the Glam/Proto-Punk template a step further away from mainstream hard rock. Songs became shorter, faster, simpler, with fewer (or at least simpler) guitar solos, almost universal lack of any instruments beyond guitar/bass/drums, and deliberately unskilled vocals.
Punk Rock per se was short lived as a major commercial genre. Many of the more successful bands and/or their constituent musicians moved off, by the 80s, into the world of Post Punk, and the ones that didn’t change went back to a small niche market. Punk was largely replaced, in the public eye, by “New Wave“.
However, the stage had been set for descendants of punk rock to flourish underground, in local clubs and small independent record labels, in hand-written fanzines, out of sight and out of mind, to periodically burst back into the rock mainstream over the decades. (Seen this way, these bands here may actually count as the 3rd such eruption, after Garage Rock and Proto-Punk)
- Patti Smith Group – Patti Smith’s activities predated the main wave of Punk, and were significantly different in many respects, but still, she was part of the same scene, and an album out (Horses) out before any of the boys.
- The Dictators – the Dictators are hard to pin down, alternately sounding like hard rock, proto-punk, straight up punk, a precursor to the sleaziest kind of glam metal, or some ungodly combination of all those things
- The Ramones – The first Punk Rock band that most people can name, they practiced a minimalist version of rock, based around rock-steady beats and three (maybe, occasionally, four) power chords, with almost no lead guitar at all.
- The Saints – the first Australian punk band, and one of the first anywhere
- The Dogs – the Detroit-based Dogs held to a more proto-punk sound even as as the Ramones-influenced revolution was taking over
- The Sex Pistols – the first punk band to “make it big”, the Sex Pistols thrived on pure controversy as much (or more) as on the music itself – swearing on live TV, getting banned from the radio in the UK (but selling even more records as a result), bizarre hair and clothing.
- Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers – unrelated to Tom Petty’s band of the same name, these Heartbreakers were based around former New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders, and had already been kicking around for 2 years, pioneering punk rock before even the Ramones, before they recorded their first album.
- Richard Hell and Voidoids – Richard Hell was a veteran of the proto-punk scene by the time he put this band together, having been a member of Television and the Heartbreakers (before any of those bands recorded anything)
- Marquee Moon (1977) – Television was either a throwback to the Velvet Underground style of proto-punk art rock, or the first fully post-punk band, or possibly both at the same time. Either way they didn’t really fit with Punk Rock. Here they are anyway.
- The Clash – their period as a true punk band was very short lived; by 1979 they’d moved out of the punk ghetto, but their brief period was influential out of all proportion on later waves and revivals of punk
- The Damned – like the Clash, the Damned had a long career only the very first part of which was really punk.
- The Jam
- Elton Motello
- Sham 69
- The Misfits – influential “horror punk” Misfits was the launching point of Glenn Danzig
- Generation X
- Joan Jett
- Jim Carroll Band
We’ll stop there for now. Next installment: The 80s, with everything from “Don’t Stop Believing” to “Angel of Death”!