Hard rock is a variation of rock music which has its earliest roots in mid-1960s garage and psychedelic rock. It is typified by a heavy use of distorted electric guitars, bass guitar, keyboards and drums. The term "hard rock" is often used as an umbrella term for genres such as Alternative, Grunge, heavy metal and Punk in order to distinguish them from pop rock.


Hard rock is strongly influenced by blues music;[citation needed] the most frequently used scale in hard rock is the pentatonic, which is a typical blues scale. Unlike traditional rock and roll (which takes elements of the "old" blues), hard rock incorporates elements of "British blues", a style of blues played with more modern instruments such as electric guitars, drums, keyboards and electric bass. A notable departure from traditional blues forms is that hard rock is seldom restricted to the I, IV, and V chords prevalent in twelve or sixteen bar blues, but includes other chords, typically major chords rooted on tones of the minor scale.

The term "hard rock" is often applied to many styles of rock music, their only common feature being that they deviate from pop rock, though this is generally incorrect. Two such examples are punk rock and grunge. Punk rock uses a faster tempo, less melody, fewer riffs (often using power chords), more aggression and anti-establishment lyrics.


The predominant instruments in hard rock are the electric guitar, bass guitar, and drums. The role of the guitarist is very prevalent in hard rock. Most hard rock bands comprise two different types of guitarist: lead guitarist and rhythm guitarist. The lead guitarist plays the solos, riffs and fills. Speed-enhancing techniques such as alternate picking, sweep picking and tapping, are used by hard rock lead guitarists to maximize the speed of their solos and riffs. The role of the rhythm guitarist is to complement the lead guitarist and provide rhythmic and harmonic accompaniment to the other instruments in the band. The bass guitarist and drummer's role are important to the structure of hard rock music; the bassline outlines the melody of the music while the drums sustain the rhythm of the music.

Differentiation from heavy metal

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During the 1970s, hard rock inspired a new genre of music known as "heavy metal." The emergence of this style has led to confusion between hard rock and heavy metal bands, as the distinctions between the two are usually subtle, and the distinction often comes down to a band's image, rather than its songs. The two genres have some crossovers, for example; heavy metal pioneers - such as Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple - are often considered both heavy metal and hard rock, whereas bands such as AC/DC, The Who and Van Halen are normally referred to strictly as hard rock.

To further the confusion, the most popular heavy metal subgenre of the 1980s, glam metal, was known to take influence from hard rock acts such as David Bowie, Queen, Aerosmith and Kiss.

From a musical point of view, heavy metal tends to interpret the basic syncopated jazz rhythm of an eight and two sixteenth carried on a ride cymbal with a swing feel down to the bass line with a literal "straight up" feel. Thus the "galloping' bass line is a standard basis for the heavy metal sound as heard, for example, in Black Sabbath's song "Heaven and Hell" during the verses, or in Iron Maiden's song "Flight of Icarus", or also Dio's "Holy Diver". Another good example is to listen to the difference between how the song "Helter Skelter" is played by the original writers, The Beatles, and the interpretation as played by Mötley Crüe.

The primary difference between glam metal and heavy metal is in lyrics, image and melody. Heavy metal lyrical content extends from "reality lament" tone of blues, discussing serious, provocative or philosophical ideas. Heavy metal image usually sports "macho" black leather, dark clothing or punk-influenced dressing with leather jackets and jeans. Melodies are usually minor key and the whole music in general are generally not "catchy" and pop-influenced as glam metal. Glam metal (in some cases referred to as "hair metal"), on the other hand, extends from its more "fantasy escapist" tones of pop music, and the lyrics tends to focus more on parties, having a good time, and relationships. The image of these bands are huge, teased hairstyles, outrageous outfits and a lot of make up. (Note: do not confuse with power metal, which is "fantasy escapist" in the sense that the lyrics deal with such fantastical subjects as magic and classical myth).


Early years (1960s)

As stated, one of the major influences of hard rock is blues music, especially British blues. British rock bands, such as Cream, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Yardbirds, The Who and The Kinks modified rock and roll, adding to the standard genre harder sounds, heavier guitar riffs, bombastic drumming and louder vocals. This sound created the basis for hard rock. Early forms of hard rock can be heard in the songs "You Really Got Me" by The Kinks, "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" by The Yardbirds, "I Can See for Miles" by The Who, and "Revolution" and "Helter Skelter" by The Beatles.

At the same time, Jimi Hendrix, produced a form of blues-influenced psychedelic rock, which combined elements of jazz, blues and rock and roll, creating a unique genre. He was one of the first guitarists to experiment with new guitar effect like phasing, feedback and distortion, along with Dave Davies of the Kinks, Pete Townshend of The Who, Eric Clapton of Cream, and Jeff Beck of the Yardbirds.

Hard rock emerged with British groups of the late-1960s, such as Led Zeppelin, who mixed the music of early British rock bands with a more hard-edged form of blues rock and acid rock. Deep Purple helped pioneer the hard rock genre with the albums Shades of Deep Purple (1968), The Book of Taliesyn (1968), and Deep Purple (1969), but they made their big break with their fourth album, Deep Purple in Rock (1970). Led Zeppelin's eponymous first album, Led Zeppelin I (1969), and The Who's Live at Leeds (1970), are examples of music from the beginning of the hard rock genre. The blues origins of the albums are clear, and a few songs by well-known blues artists are adapted or covered within them.

First era (1970s)

Led Zeppelin's third album, Led Zeppelin III was more Folk rock-oriented than their second, but the heavy aspects of their music remained.

Deep Purple's transformation of hard rock continued with their album, Machine Head, considered as one of the first heavy metal albums. Two songs in Machine Head had great success: "Highway Star" and "Smoke On The Water", whose main riff made it become the signature Deep Purple song. Another band, Nazareth, provided a blend of hard rock which commercialised the genre further with their best selling album, Hair of the Dog, which in turn, influenced numerous other bands.

During the 1970s, hard rock developed a variety of sub-genres. In 1972, heavy metal pioneer Alice Cooper put heavy metal into the mainstream with the top ten album School's Out. The following year, Aerosmith, Queen and Montrose released their eponymous debut albums, demonstrating the broadening directions of hard rock. In 1974, Bad Company released its debut album, Rush released their first, self entitled album and Queen released its third album, Sheer Heart Attack, with the track Stone Cold Crazy influencing later thrash metal artists, such as Metallica and Megadeth.[1][2] Queen used layered vocals and guitars and mixed hard rock with glam rock, heavy metal, progressive rock, and even opera. KISS released their first three albums Kiss, Hotter Than Hell and Dressed To Kill, in a little over a year, achieving their commercial breakthrough with double live album Alive!. In the mid-1970s, Aerosmith released the ground-breaking Toys in the Attic and Rocks which incorporated elements of blues and hard rock and would later influence rock artists as diverse as Metallica, Guns N' Roses, and Mötley Crüe.[3][4]

With the death of Tommy Bolin in 1976, Deep Purple disbanded. In 1976, Boston released a highly successful debut album. Heart paved the way for women in the genre with the release of their debut album. In 1978, The Who's drummer, Keith Moon died in his sleep via an overdose. With the rise of disco in the U.S. and punk rock in the UK, hard rock began to lose popularity. Disco appealed to a more diverse group of people and punk seemed to take over the rebellious role that hard rock once held. Meanwhile, Black Sabbath moved away from the darkness of their early work with albums such as Technical Ecstasy.

Van Halen, another important group in hard rock, emerged in 1978. Their music was based mostly on the guitar skills of Eddie Van Halen, the lead guitarist, who introduced a smart technique called tapping in guitar playing. The song "Eruption" from the album Van Halen, demonstrated Eddie Van Halen's technique and was very influential.

In 1979, the differences between the hard rock movement and the rising heavy metal movement were highlighted when the Australian hard rock band, AC/DC, released its second-biggest album, Highway to Hell. AC/DC's music was based mostly on rhythm & blues and early-1970s hard rock, with the group explicitly repudiating the "heavy metal" tag.

Second era (1980s)

In 1980, Led Zeppelin disbanded after the sudden death of drummer John Bonham. Bon Scott, the lead singer of AC/DC, also died in 1980. With these deaths, the first wave of "classic" hard rock bands ended. Some bands, such as Queen, moved away from their hard rock roots and more towards pop rock. AC/DC recorded the album Back in Black, with their new lead singer, Brian Johnson. Back in Black is the fifth highest-selling album of all time in the U.S[5] and the second largest selling album in the world. Ozzy Osbourne released his first solo album, Blizzard of Ozz which featured American guitarist Randy Rhoads.

In 1981, the U.S. band, Mötley Crüe, released Too Fast for Love, which started an interest in the glam metal style. A year later, the style grew, led by bands such as Twisted Sister and Quiet Riot.

Also in 1983, Def Leppard, an English hard rock band, released the album Pyromania, which reached #2 on the American charts. Their music was a mix of glam rock and heavy metal which influenced many 1980s hard rock and glam rock bands.

That same year, Mötley Crüe released the album, Shout at the Devil, which became a huge hit. Van Halen's album 1984 became a huge success as well, hitting #2 on the Billboard album charts. In particular, the song "Jump" reached #1 on the singles chart (where it remained for several weeks) and is considered one of the most popular rock songs ever written.[citation needed]

The late 1980s saw the most commercially successful time period for hard rock.[6] Numerous hard rock acts achieved hits in the mainstream charts. One of those hits was the album Slippery When Wet (1986) by Bon Jovi, which spent a total of 8 weeks at the top of the Billboard 200 album chart and became the first hard rock album to spawn three Top 10 singles, two of which reached #1. In addition, the anthem rock The Final Countdown by Swedish group Europe was released in 1986 and reached #1 on 26 countries' charts.

In 1987, the most notable successes in the charts were, Appetite for Destruction by Guns N' Roses, and Hysteria by Def Leppard (both of which reached #1 on Billboard's album chart), Mötley Crüe's Girls, Girls, Girls and Whitesnake's self-titled album. In 1988 and 1989, the most notable successes were New Jersey by Bon Jovi, Pump by Aerosmith, and Dr. Feelgood by Mötley Crüe. New Jersey spawned five Top 10 singles, the most ever for a hard rock album. Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth achieved underground success in the U.S., and would later reach the mainstream in the 1990s. In 1988, Skid Row formed. Their first album, Skid Row, was released in 1989, reaching number 6 in the Billboard 200.

Third era (1990s-present)

The early 1990s were at first dominated by Guns N' Roses, Metallica and Van Halen. The multi-platinum releases of Metallica's "Metallica" (often referred to as "The Black Album"), Guns N' Roses' Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II and Van Halen's For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge in 1991 showcased this popularity. But the popularity of such bands waned, as their music and attitudes became more decadent and self-indulgent. In 1991 a new form of hard rock broke into the mainstream.

Grunge combined elements of hardcore punk and heavy metal into a dirty sound that made use of heavy guitar distortion, fuzz and feedback. Although most grunge bands had a sound that sharply contrasted mainstream hard rock (for example Nirvana, Mudhoney and L7), a minority (for example Alice in Chains, Mother Love Bone, Pearl Jam and even Soundgarden) were more strongly influenced by much 1970s and 1980s rock and metal. However, all grunge bands shunned the macho, anthemic and fashion-focused style of hard rock at that time.

In the UK, bands like Swervedriver, Catherine Wheel and Ride demonstrated that guitar heroics could be incorporated into songs that lacked the often-misogynistic content of 1970s and 1980s hard rock bands. As the popularity of artists such as Metallica and Van Halen continued from the 1980s into the 1990s, some other bands had begun to fuse metal with a range of eclectic influences. These bands came to be known as alternative metal artists, a subset of alternative rock. Some, such as Primus, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, Living Colour and White Zombie fused funk with metal styles, though most of these bands actually formed in the '80s. Faith No More/Mr. Bungle fused many genres with hard rock, ranging from rap music to soul. Helmet and The Afghan Whigs were also successful experimental hard rock bands. The Darkness's retro glam-metal influences helped propel them to the upper realms of the charts in the early 2000s, with the likes of Wolfmother. Towards the mid 2000s with new bands started to become mainstream, Jet, Wolfmother, White Stripes, The Answer, The Glitterati, The Datsuns, Nineteenth Century and Punk influence Towers of London are some of the new rock bands which followed up from the Garage rock revival.

The biggest major hard rock bands of recent years however, have been supergroups Velvet Revolver and Audioslave. Audioslave consisted of Rage Against the Machine instrumentalists and former Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell and was disbanded in 2007. Velvet Revolver is made up of ex-members of Guns N' Roses primarily, with vocalist Scott Weiland formerly of the Stone Temple Pilots, and the musicians have updated the sound of hard rock.[citation needed] This has helped revive the glam metal scene (e.g. bands like Buckcherry, which Guns N' Roses Appetite for Destruction album is often credited with influencing). The 00's even saw reunions and subsequent tours from Rage Against the Machine, Stone Temple Pilots, and Living Colour, in addition to Van Halen and Black Sabbath and even a one off performance by the legendary Led Zeppelin renewing the interest in the seemingly bygone previous eras.

See also