Chapter 10: Mainstream Rock, Punk, and New Wave Introduction
Variants of hippie rock were mainstream in the 1970s; some critics of mainstream rock thought that musicians were creating music for popular appeal and not for artistic expression.
Punk and new wave musicians positioned themselves in opposition to mainstream rock and emphasized simplicity.
Mainstream Rock: 1975–1980
FM Radio Goes from Late 1960s Free Form to AOR
The radio industry saw an increase in “album-oriented rock” (AOR) stations in the 1970s and a decrease in the independence of individual DJs; there was a move away from broadcasting extended tracks.
The profitability of rock radio encouraged the participation of major corporations.
Show Me the Way: The Advent of the “Big Album”
The record business became increasingly corporate in the 1970s as it became clear there was money to be made on rock music.
“Big albums”—or albums selling a million or more copies—became an increasingly common phenomenon in the late 1970s.
Big albums made the record business attractive to investors; the scope of concert tours and the size of venues for rock concerts also increased during this time.
Life’s Been Good to Me So Far: More Big Albums
The Eagles’ Hotel California followed Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive! as a successful “big album.”
Fleetwood Mac had several successful mainstream rock albums, including Rumours, which spent 31 weeks at number one on the Billboard charts.
As the recording industry strove for large numbers of album sales, it also became more musically conservative.
It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me
The many distinct varieties of rock from the early 1970s began to blend together in the second half of the decade into a more uniform style.
Some artists established in the 1960s gained in popularity in the 1970s; the Rolling Stones remained active, Paul McCartney formed a new band, and the Steve Miller group had even more success.
Groups established in the early 1970s such as the Doobie Brothers and KISS also built on earlier success in the late 1970s.
Rethinking Previous Approaches: New Arrivals in the Late 1970s
Many bands formed in the late 1970s, such as Boston, blended features of earlier styles to create radio-friendly tracks.
The band Foreigner blended rhythm and blues vocals, blues-rock guitar, and prominent keyboards influenced by progressive rock.
Bands including Foreigner and Journey were formed by musicians who were active in other groups in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Van Halen blended elements of hard rock with blues-based vocals and futuristic guitar sounds.
Progressive Rock Revamped
The bands Kansas and Styx revamped the progressive rock style in the late 1970s.
The Canadian trio Rush produced several ambitious concept albums and remains commercially successful to the present day.
British bands such as Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) also reworked the progressive rock style.
Queen, led by Freddie Mercury and Brian May, was influenced by the late Beatles, glam, and progressive rock; Mercury’s death of AIDS in 1991 raised awareness of the disease and of sexual stereotypes in rock.
Singers, Songwriters, and Bands
By the mid-1970s, singer-songwriters commonly fronted bands; Bob Dylan toured with the Band and a group he called the Rolling Thunder Revue.
Elton John continued to use elements of rock and roll; Paul Simon’s music reflected his influences in jazz, gospel, and rhythm and blues.
Billy Joel was another singer-songwriter who performed with a band; he had a series of successful albums from the late 1970s into the 1980s.
Jackson Browne’s music featured rock band accompaniment; singer-songwriter Bob Seger led a rock group called the Silver Bullet Band.
Bruce Springsteen was backed by the E Street Band and also wrote autobiographical, confessional lyrics like many singer-songwriters.
Form or Formula?
Several songs mentioned in this chapter use a compound AABA form, compressing the large-scale forms of progressive rock into more radio-friendly lengths.
The instrumentation in both Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time” and Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” blend distorted guitar with progressive rock influences; this could be viewed as refining earlier musical practices or as homogenizing them.
The Roots of Punk in the United States, 1967–1975
Safety Pins and Leather
By 1977, American listeners began to hear about a new, UK-based movement called punk, which initially failed to catch on in the United States due to its aggressive image.
Punk Roots: The Velvet Underground, the Stooges, and the MC5
Punk began as an underground style; the Velvet Underground, which was associated with artist Andy Warhol for a time in the 1960s, was among the most important early influences on the punk movement.
Iggy Pop was known for his outrageous performances, while the MC5 cultivated an aggressive sound; the confrontational styles of the Velvets, Iggy Pop, and the MC5 were also influential on New York punk rock.
The Beginnings of the New York Scene
The New York Dolls connected the New York scene of the late 1960s with the growing punk movement of the mid-1970s; the Dolls coupled makeup and costumes with a tough and reckless image.
Poet Patti Smith and guitarist Lenny Kaye formed the Patti Smith Group and began releasing records.
The band Television had a regular spot performing at a bar in lower Manhattan called CBGB, which became the home of the New York punk scene.
The Ramones and Blondie
The Ramones also performed at CBGB; they had a stripped-down, high-energy style, but made little commercial impact in the United States.
Blondie was influenced by 1960s girl groups and went on to become one of the most commercially successful CBGB bands.
New York was the national center of punk, though other cities had punk scenes; in the late 1970s, punk became a national subculture, united by a DIY (“Do It Yourself”) aesthetic in fashion and music.
The Rise of Punk in the United Kingdom, 1974–1977
No Hope: Malcolm McLaren, British Punk, and the Sex Pistols
The rise of punk in the United Kingdom reflects the circumstances resulting from an economic recession; Malcolm McLaren helped this socioeconomic frustration find a voice in the punk movement.
McLaren managed the Sex Pistols, which developed a reputation for bad behavior, but had seven singles in the UK Top 40.
The Clash, the Buzzcocks, the Jam, and Siouxsie and the Banshees
The popularity of the Sex Pistols encouraged other British punk bands; the Clash often took a political stance in their music and had a variety of musical influences.
The Buzzcocks had a pop-influenced approach, while the Jam drew on the styles of the Mod subculture and the 1960s sounds of bands like the Kinks and the Who.
Siouxsie and the Banshees was fronted by singer Siouxsie Sioux; several British punk bands, including X-Ray Spex and the Slits, included women.
Except for the Clash, British punk bands did not enjoy American success until they were recategorized as “new wave.”
Punk Poetics—Organization or Anarchy?
Despite the rebellious attitudes projected by punk music, its structures are often conventional; the Sex Pistol’s “Anarchy in the UK” is in a modified simple verse form.
The Rise of New Wave, 1977–1980
The Next Big Thing
A tour of the United States by the Sex Pistols, Elvis Costello’s appearance on Saturday Night Live, and increasing coverage in music magazines helped bring punk into the American mainstream; the music business tamed punk’s bad reputation by remaking it as “new wave.”
CBGB Goes New Wave
Blondie’s song “Heart of Glass” was the first of several hit singles for the group in both the United States and the United Kingdom; Blondie’s style did not resemble American stereotypes of punk.
The Talking Heads debuted at CBGB in 1975 and became one of new wave’s leading bands.
New Wave in the American Mainstream
The Cars were among the first new wave bands to be played on FM rock radio; their music was characterized by references to earlier rock styles.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers adapted the folk-rock style of Bob Dylan or the Byrds, but they were considered to be and marketed as a new wave group in the late 1970s.
Devo used costumes and space-age sounds to adopt the image of futuristic beings from 1950s science fiction films; the B-52s achieved their greatest success in the 1980s with music that contained references to the pre-psychedelic era.
The Knack also drew on earlier rock music, recalling the Beatles with their attire and album art.
British New Wavers in America
Few British punk rockers became popular in the United States, but some British new wave artists did enjoy American success; Elvis Costello is an example.
The Police were another British new wave group who had commercially successful releases in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
Pangs of Rock History?
New wave bands had a clear fascination with both the sounds and visual images of earlier musical styles.
New wave musicians moved away from and critiqued the principles of mainstream rock through ironic references to earlier music.
Mainstream versus New Wave
A comparison between Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver” and Gary Numan’s “Cars” shows similarities and differences between the mainstream rock and new wave approaches; Wright’s approach can be considered mainstream and Numan’s new wave.
A similar comparison can be made between the music of Heart and Blondie; Heart’s “Straight On” demonstrates a mainstream rock approach, while Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” is an example of new wave.
When mainstream rock and new wave came together in the 1980s, the era of hippie rock essentially came to an end.