Do a column on the most influential rock music artists, I thought. You did it on country music, why not rock? Yeah, that’s what I thought to myself.
And then you look at all the different flavors of rock music through the years and the thought kicks in, “I could be here all night. I could write a book.”
I’ll have to make things short and sweet.
Some of the roots of rock started around 1949, and Bill Haley and the Comets doing cover songs started kicking in around 1952.
But who had the biggest impact right from the start? Let’s discuss.
It was 1954, and Elvis’ cover of Arthur Crudup’s blues song “That’s All Right (Mama)” was his first single for Sun Records. The rock-and-roll baby that had been in infancy suddenly grew by leaps and bounds. Elvis put rock on a long-lasting roll.
Chuck brought the electric guitar to the forefront of rock music, and it would be awfully tough to even try to rein it in from then on.
Ray opened a few doors – bringing a tasteful combination of rhythm and blues and gospel which helped launch a soulful sound, turning into ... soul. And Ray even had the guts to take on country music a bit too.
When people think of surf music, many might think of the Beach Boys first. But Dick Dale laid the groundwork with his style. Dick passed away in mid-March, and serious rock-and-roll fans mourned his death like another king had just left.
A guy named Cliff Richard who regained some fame in later years was one of the first huge stars in Britain, before these guys from Liverpool made it big. But these guys took it to a higher level. They ushered in the British Invasion, which gave us bands like Herman’s Hermits, the Hollies, the Animals, the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, etc. Aside from the Stones, their music has had a bit more staying power through the years, won new fans long after they dissolved. And with albums like “Rubber Soul,” “Revolver,” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” — along with the American contribution of the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” — they ushered in another new, experimental, progressive sound that would be solidified a bit later.
Really, you say? The Kingsmen? Call it the birth of garage rock, with an unintelligible song like “Louie, Louie,” that time when so many young men dreamt of joining their friends in their garage and playing simple, catchy tunes on guitars and drums. Without garage rock, would we have had bands like Paul Revere and the Raiders?
The blues was a birthplace for rock-and-roll. The Stones and the Yardbirds touched on it quite a bit. Mayall brought it closer to its roots with his Bluesbreakers, which boasted a monster blues guitar player named Eric Clapton after he left the Yardbirds. Clapton has been a whole other story.
We saw folk music rise up with artists like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger before, but Dylan brought the rock to folk and many followed his lead. And if it wasn’t folk rock, Dylan was a big factor in bringing about roots rock later on. Bruce Springsteen could be called a modern-day Dylan, but there’s still only one Dylan.
Jimi didn’t start his career with psychedelic rock. It was his amplified, distorted sound when he broke out on his own with his left hand picking and strumming a Fender guitar that helped bring it to the masses.
Bands like the Moody Blues and Procol Harum were taking things in a more experimental, orchestral direction around the time The Beatles started getting more into experimental writing and recording techniques. Frank Zappa and his Mothers were doing some wild stuff. But when it came to blowing the doors wide open on the progressive rock movement, no one did it the way King Crimson did with their 1969 debut, “In The Court of the Crimson King.” They brought with them a style of music that would define a big part of 1970s progressive music.
Take one of the greatest jazz trumpet players who ever lived, put some amplified guitar and bass on a stage or a recording studio with him, with a touch more rock feel, and you had jazz rock, aka jazz fusion. It’s a style of music that’s had staying power through the years.
Following on the heels of progressive rock was glam rock. Bowie set the style, all the way, in both fashion and the sound of the music.
It’s hard to say any one artist brought about this style. It just happened, with people like Carole King, Jim Croce, and James Taylor writing major standards and names like John Denver, The Carpenters, and Bread dominating the airwaves.
One of the all-time guitar masters of any genre, whether it’s blues rock or fusion or even techno in the more modern days. When you look at Beck’s history on guitar, he played with some heavy hitters including replacing Clapton with the Yardbirds, and when Beck left the Yardbirds to go on his own, a guy named Jimmy Page took his place. All Beck did on his own with albums like 1968’s “Truth” was launch a sound that would later be seen as the birth of heavy metal ... yes, even before Led Zeppelin.
Again, not just one group or artist can be seen as launching the new sound. The Ramones, Patti Smith, the Sex Pistols, the Clash ... they all had a hand in it. Where progressive rock at the time was filled with art and a classical nod and flowing capes suggesting pretentiousness, punk rock was a statement in a completely opposite direction.
The Buggles may have been the first band to appear on the new cable channel MTV with the song “Video Killed The Radio Star,” helping to bring about a thing called new wave with tons of bands popping up. But when it came to a new wave style and longevity, David Byrne and Talking Heads left an indelible mark. It was a style just right for the new music video age.
The first band to make sure that alt rock wouldn’t be going away anytime soon, garnering massive appeal.
Grunge was a thing known just to the Seattle area until an album called “Nevermind” by a band called Nirvana came along, and a song called “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came thundering on the scene. And “thundering” is the right description. It was part hardcore punk, part heavy metal. It was the sound of a new generation.
With the death of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, grunge splintered a bit and so did the genres. We’ve had Britpop, post-grunge, pop punk, indie rock, alt metal, rap rock, post-Britpop, post-hardcore and emo, a revival of garage rock and post-punk, and digital electronic rock.
When you think about it, rock is a style of music that’s started with some seeds already planted in the blues and R&B and grown numerous branches. How many other styles of music can claim that?