Rock music as we know and understand it to be today grew out of Rock and roll, a genre of popular music that originated and evolved in the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s from musical styles such as gospel, jump blues, jazz, boogie woogie, rhythm and blues, and country music.
While elements of what was to become rock and roll can be heard in blues records from the 1920s and in country records of the 1930s, the genre did not acquire its name until 1954.
According to journalist Greg Kot, "rock and roll" is a style of popular music originating in the U.S. in the 1950s. It is distinguished here from "the more encompassing international style known as "rock music" that developed by the mid-1960s, though the latter also continued to be known as rock and roll."
In the earliest rock and roll styles, either the piano or saxophone was typically the lead instrument, but these instruments were generally replaced or supplemented by guitar in the middle to late 1950s. The beat is essentially a dance rhythm with an accentuated backbeat, which is almost always provided by a snare drum. Classic rock and roll is usually played with one or two electric guitars (one lead, one rhythm), a double bass (string bass) or after the mid-1950s an electric bass guitar, and a drum kit.
Beyond just a musical style, rock and roll, as depicted in movies, in fan magazines, and on television, influenced lifestyles, fashion, attitudes, and language. Rock and roll may have contributed to the civil rights movement because both African American and White American teenagers enjoyed the music.
Rock music, which developed out of Rock and Roll, also drew strongly from a number of other genres such as electric blues and folk, and incorporated influences from jazz, classical and other musical styles. Musically, rock has centered on the electric guitar, usually as part of a rock group with electric bass, drums, and one or more singers. Usually, rock is song-based music with a 4/4 time signature using a verse–chorus form, but the genre has become extremely diverse. Like pop music, lyrics often stress romantic love but also address a wide variety of other themes that are frequently social or political.
By the late 1960s "classic rock" period, a number of distinct rock music subgenres had emerged, including hybrids like blues rock, folk rock, country rock, southern rock, raga rock, and jazz rock, many of which contributed to the development of psychedelic rock, which was influenced by the countercultural psychedelic and hippie scene. New genres that emerged included progressive rock, which extended the artistic elements, glam rock, which highlighted showmanship and visual style, and the diverse and enduring subgenre of heavy metal, which emphasized volume, power, and speed. In the second half of the 1970s, punk rock reacted by producing stripped-down, energetic social and political critiques. Punk was an influence in the 1980s on new wave, post-punk and eventually alternative rock.
From the 1990s alternative rock began to dominate rock music and break into the mainstream in the form of grunge, Britpop, and indie rock. Further fusion subgenres have since emerged, including pop punk, electronic rock, rap rock, and rap metal, as well as conscious attempts to revisit rock's history, including the garage rock/post-punk and techno-pop revivals at the beginning of the 2000s. The 2010s saw a slow decline in the cultural relevancy of the genre, being usurped by hip-hop as the most popular genre in the United States in 2017.
Rock music has also embodied and served as the vehicle for cultural and social movements, leading to major subcultures including mods and rockers in the UK and the hippie counterculture that spread out from San Francisco in the US in the 1960s. Similarly, 1970s punk culture spawned the goth, punk, and emo subcultures. Inheriting the folk tradition of the protest song, rock music has been associated with political activism as well as changes in social attitudes to race, sex and drug use, and is often seen as an expression of youth revolt against adult consumerism and conformity.
Three Decades of Popular Music
This series of articles focuses on three decades of popular music, from the early days of Rock and Roll in the 1950s, through the classic rock period of the late sixties/seventies, to 1985, a year when new genres had begun to emerge and rock music became less defined, and in fact was seen by many to be disappearring altogether as a single genre as it fragmented.