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What is Rock Music?

By Kathy Hawkins
Updated May 23, 2024
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Rock music, sometimes also known as "rock and roll," is a style of music that became popular in the 1950s in America and Europe. It is primarily based on older musical styles, such as the rhythm and blues music originated by African American performers such as Chuck Berry and Little Richard, with a heavy focus on guitar, drums, and powerful vocals.

One of the earliest and most famous performers in the early days of rock was Elvis Presley, who shocked the world with his suggestive dancing and powerful music. He became an instant phenomenon, and led the way for many other performers over the decades to come. In the 1960s, the Beatles were another hugely successful and popular rock music group, also inspired by rhythm and blues songs and by the work of other early British rock performers, such as Cliff Richard.

Over the years, rock music has branched out into a wide variety of styles. Folk rock, such as that made popular by Bob Dylan in the 1960s, often featured acoustic guitars and socially conscious lyrics, many with anti-war sentiments. Psychedelic rock, such as that played by the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, and the Doors, featured often dissonant music that was heavily influenced by the use of drugs such as LSD. Progressive rock bands, such as the Moody Blues, Rush, and Yes, experimented with a wide range of instruments, and often included improvisational musical solos that could last for 10 or even 20 minutes.

Rock has also led the way for other music forms, such as heavy metal, which features extreme guitar sound and heavy distortion. Some of the earliest bands that could be classified as heavy metal are Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Both bands started out in the mid-1970s. Their heavy form of music has paved the way for other heavy metal bands, including Metallica and Megadeth.

Today, the term "rock music" is used to refer to a wide range of musical forms, including anything from soft pop to heavy metal. The name has essentially become a default term for any style of music that does not automatically fit into another category, such as R&B, country, or classical. The form has changed significantly since the days of Elvis Presley, but the term can still refer to his songs as easily as they can refer to more recent bands like Nirvana or Pearl Jam.

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Discussion Comments
By anon331954 — On Apr 25, 2013

I am 12 years old and have had the enormous benefit of being born into a blues and rock family, so I grew up listening to Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana during the day,

and B.B King and Muddy Waters to go to bed. I just love the energy and the feeling you get from these genres.

By ZsaZsa56 — On Nov 05, 2012
I have a 12 year old son and I have been trying to introduce him to some of the music that I loved in the 60s and 70s. He is pretty resistant and seems to like nothing but metal and dubstep.

I think for him the music of my time sounds soft. What I have been trying to explain to him is that it was new, and for us it seemed impossibly tough and heavy. He doesn't get the context. But I guess I can't blame him much, the stuff he likes sounds pretty bad to me too.

By jonrss — On Nov 05, 2012
I have a friend that has a very elaborate and complex theory that punk rock is a direct descendant of the blues.

We work together and he talks about it constantly. he makes a pretty good case though. I am always urging him to write something up, or to at least put together a mix that he thinks illustrates the progression.

By shell4life — On Sep 03, 2012
I like pop songs that include rock elements. I love the sound of electric guitar, and I think it really adds an edge to a pop song.

When an artist who normally sings to dance music invites a rock musician to play one of her songs, the result is something powerful. Quite often, songs like these become big hits.

By healthy4life — On Sep 02, 2012
I find it amusing that the world was so shocked by Elvis when he first started. If those very same people could see what rock musicians today do on stage, they would faint from embarrassment!

The way that Elvis danced and sang is actually very mild when compared to the suggestive dances and lyrics of modern bands. People say that it all started with Elvis, but I don't think it's fair to blame him for the perverse behavior of artists decades down the road.

By lighth0se33 — On Sep 02, 2012
@Perdido – It seems that the decade when you are growing up is usually the decade from which your favorite music comes. See, I grew up in the nineties, so I hated eighties music.

I loved grunge, because it was all I knew, other than a scattering of pop songs that got radio airplay in with the grunge. When we're young, we tend to listen to what is current, unless we have an older music aficionado around to introduce us to other stuff.

By Perdido — On Sep 01, 2012
I'm not a big fan of 70s rock music. I think that's because I was born in 1978, so I can't associate any memories with the songs of the 70s.

However, I am crazy about 80s rock music. I get aggravated when critics refer to rock bands from this era as “hair bands.” Yes, they teased and permed their hair and wore lots of makeup, but that had no bearing on their sound, which was excellent.

I think that 80s rock was the pinnacle of rock music. Once the 90s arrived and brought depressing grunge bands, rock music suffered greatly. Some say that grunge gave music a much needed change, but I say it was the death of rock music.

By anon216025 — On Sep 20, 2011

I've been asking the same question myself, and have decided it's pretty subjective really. I had a really good look through the archives of Classic Rock Magazine and they talked about every one from AC/DC (obviously rock) to Phil Collins - not very rock and roll in my opinion!

By anon153668 — On Feb 17, 2011

is rock music better than country music? if so how? please help.

By anon119310 — On Oct 17, 2010

what do people think about how rock music has changed? help please.

By StreamFinder — On Sep 11, 2010

Where can I find free 70s rock music? That is the total peak of rock for me, the late 1970s, and I wish that I could find more of it.

My local library doesn't really have anything besides 90s pop/rock music, and I really want to listen to some classic rock.

Besides youtube, are there any site that stream it for free?

By gregg1956 — On Sep 11, 2010

For me, most of the so-called "rock" music today is just a rock/pop hybrid. Music has come such a long way since Elvis, through the Beatles, Stones, and everyone else that it's natural for the feel of the genre to have changed, but I really think that most of the old rockers would be ashamed to go to some of the "rock" music concerts today.

Luckily we can still catch the good, classic rock music performances online, thanks to youtube and things like that -- otherwise we'd be pretty stuck for genuine, down to earth rock'n'roll.

By galen84basc — On Sep 11, 2010

What a great summary for such a huge genre. I mean, you included everything from pop/rock music to 80s hard rock music, which is quite the span of genres.

Good for you for not getting caught up in one aspect -- this is an enormous topic, I mean, there are whole books written on really narrow aspects of rock music alone. I once saw a 500 page book on 1970s female rock music, for crying out loud!

I think that for the space you had, you did an awesome job with this topic.

By anon16483 — On Aug 07, 2008

How does 'Emo Rock' come into the picture?

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