by Alex Cosper (12/01/13)
British rock music implies the development of The Beatles onward, since they inspired a high percentage of rock bands that followed, whereas earlier guitar-based rock is usually considered a different era. While many British rock bands were heavily influenced by American rock and roll of the 1950s, many of the sixties bands fused this inspiration with their own blues-based sound. The most obvious leader of this new development besides The Beatles and The Rolling Stones was Led Zeppelin, who were a spinoff of The Yardbirds in the late sixties. But there were also many British rock bands of the mid-sixties that grew into legendary influences as well, such as The Who, The Animals and The Kinks.
Many bands that the American press labeled as "British invasion bands" of the sixties were closer to the pop/rock realm than the album rock sound that became a staple of rock culture. Bands such as Gerry and The Pacemakers, The Dave Clark Five, Manfred Mann and The Searchers came on the scene as hit singles artists and disappeared after their run of hit singles ended. But the bands that offered more developed songwriting beyond the commercial singles format were the ones that endured. The Who, for example, started with fun frat rock songs such as "My Generation" and "I Can't Explain" then gravitated toward more serious themes.
The Moody Blues, Pink Floyd and Yes were pioneers of a completely different sound that mixed symphonic arrangements with rock and were eventually tagged as "progressive rock," which was a respectable label until it started being applied to every rock band that recorded long album cuts. Pop artists such as Donovan, Van Morrison and The Hollies were able to stay connected with rock culture by offering unique songwriting that blended with psychedelia and folk. Garage bands such as The Troggs also balanced between both the mainstream and the underground by crafting simplistic melodic rock with a raw garage feel. Meanwhile, harder edged artists such as Jimi Hendrix, who migrated from Seattle to London, paved the way for the emerging genre of hard rock.
By the early seventies rock bands from the UK that were redefining rock around the world were Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. At the same time what was considered "art rock" was also helping widen the rock umbrella at underground FM radio stations. Jethro Tull was one of the key developers of this wing of creativity, which incorporated the flute. Elton John, David Bowie and T. Rex helped usher in glam rock, which would later influence many other styles of modern rock. By the mid-seventies Bad Company and Supertramp became staples of British rock. The British-American band Fleetwood Mac provided a softer sound that influenced many other rock artists to take the softer path.
Electric Light Orchestra picked up more where The Beatles left off, creating elaborate productions of catchy pop melodies that still fit in with rock. Another unique band that bordered on a rocked up version of classical music was Queen, who like The Beatles, made every song and album sound different.
By the late seventies another British-American band, Foreigner, became very popular, but at the expense of being labeled "corporate rock." Many bands moved in their direction of crafting formulas built on a slick band sound rather than party rock melodies in order to get radio airplay in America. The corporate sound was predictable and not as vibrant as previous rock, although much of it still used heavy guitars watered down by slick expensive sounding studio effects. It became the era of the multi-track recording and almost no one became more polished at it than Genesis, which became a hit producing machine in the eighties.
The next wave of rock music was a collection of new wave, punk, metal and arena rock. But every now and then a band with talent beyond echoing music industry trends would emerge. The Police were one of the most talented British bands ever in terms of musicianship and songwriting. Dire Straits also offered a refreshing sound that broke away from trends while mixing blues roots with creative twists in rock. Many rock critics are in agreement that two of the best albums of the eighties, and perhaps of all time, were Synchonicity by The Police and Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits.
The arena rock sound was elevated by Def Leppard, who mixed electronics with rock in a way that fit the growing top 40 trend toward electronic music. Their album Hysteria was another landmark album of the eighties that stood up for many years. Other British hard rockers included Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Motorhead.
Many of the British rock bands of the era were more aligned with "modern rock" or what came to be known as "alternative rock," which included The Clash, The Psychedelic Furs, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Cure, Tears For Fears, Stone Roses, Jesus & Mary Chain and XTC. The electronic influence of digital synthesizers was more pronounced in British pop. By the 1990s many bands had gone the direction of more keyboards or more guitars. Some of the bands that remained true to the development of creative pop/rock included Jesus Jones, The The, The Charlatans, Primal Scream, New Fast Automatic Daffodils, Inspiral Carpets, Catherine Wheel and Happy Mondays.
There is no doubt that British rock music is among the most influential music the world has ever known, especially music made by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Queen and Pink Floyd. While many bands come and go, they've each proven to be timeless beyond trends. The UK has been responsible for about five major revolutions in music history, which in many ways overshadows the impact of any other nation.
Check out information on the following British music scenes: