TW – drugs
In the late 1960s, the British industrial city of Birmingham was solidified as a blue-collar factory town with very few options for the younger population. The economic growth that Britain experienced after World War II began to decline early in the next decade and continued into the early 80s, marked by the rise of unemployment, inflation, and labor strikes.
Like the many sounds and forms of rock-and-roll, the next genres, hard rock and heavy metal, reflected the attitude of the disenfranchised in society. First characterized as anti-establishment and protest music, it progressed into a movement of escapism, fantasy, and power by replicating the emphasis on intensity, distortion, and skillful instrumentation of late 1960s-early 70s blues and rock-and-roll. Prominent influences included The Who and The Kinks of the British Invasion era and the 1966 rock trio Cream.
The band became known as the first “supergroup,” being made up of musicians who had independent fame before becoming a band. Eric Clapton was originally the lead guitarist of the Yardbirds and was the then-current lead guitarist of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Bassist/singer Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker had both been a part of the rhythm-and-blues/jazz band the Graham Bond Organisation.
Their first album, Fresh Cream (1966), was blues-centered but contained hard-hitting arrangements. Their sophomore effort, Disraeli Gears (1967), expanded into a fusion of blues, rock, jazz, and pop. The bass was often played as a lead instrument and the drums incorporated jazz tempos, both of which were not prominent in rock music at the time. Their sound also included psychedelic touches in the form of mystical lyrics, droning distortion, and wailing riff guitar techniques, with the song “Sunshine of Your Love” demonstrating the transition from blues to psychedelic attributes. Their third and best-selling album, Wheels of Fire (1968), was a combination of studio and live recordings and produced the worldwide hit “White Room.”
Members of Cream later went on to establish other supergroups such as Blind Faith and their sound influenced bands of the future, but most prominently, those within the hard rock and heavy metal genres.
Although their music influences and repertoire ranged from folk, blues, rock-and-roll, psychedelic, and even Celtic, the raw, loud, and powerful style of the band Led Zeppelin made them stand out as leaders very early in the era, being touted as predecessors of heavy metal.
Initially named the New Yardbirds, the group was formed in 1968 by Jimmy Page, the last lead guitarist for the British blues band the Yardbirds. Rounding out the group were vocalist Robert Plant, bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones, and drummer John Bonham.
Page and Jones were key contributors to the arrangement of songs. Page’s guitar solos were based on blues melodies and he became known for his “guitar orchestra,” where he created multiple simultaneous parts for the guitar. He was also interested in the combination of both acoustic and electric sections, which became a standard of their sound: the juxtaposition of what he called “light and shade.” Conversely, his riffs were edgy.
Bonham’s sound was thunderous as songs emphasized drums and bass. Plant’s vocals were flashy and his expressive techniques were characteristic of blues singers, but these came together to define his style: high-pitched, emotional, distorted, and loud.
Released in 1969, Led Zeppelin was a mix of original work (with “Dazed and Confused” being a popular dark and heavy track) plus covers of blues/folk songs. Although they began to tour extensively, they recorded Led Zeppelin II during their short breaks, and it was released less than a year later. Considered founders of “album rock” because they often did not release singles, the riff-filled, high-pitched, and emotional “Whole Lotta Love” still reached number four on the singles chart.
Led Zeppelin III (1970) was released after the band took a break from touring. The music surprised both fans and critics alike, as it broke away from the band’s usual intensity and replaced it with acoustic Celtic/folk sounds and lyrics that brought to light their interest in mythology, fantasy, and mysticism.
Their fourth album was released the following year and became one of the best-selling records of all time. Although it was untitled, it predictably came to be referred to as Led Zeppelin IV. Popular tracks included “Black Dog” and “Rock and Roll,” but none more than the eight-minute classic that would become the band’s best-known song: “Stairway to Heaven.” Houses of the Holy (1973) and the double album Physical Graffiti (1975) garnered huge sales and FM radio airplay.
Led Zeppelin was a band of many firsts: introducing new arrangements, becoming a founder of “album rock,” and even being among the original artists to hold large stadium shows and use sophisticated light/sound systems. Most importantly, they were leaders in the formation and continuation of the sound of heavy metal.
Formed in 1968, Deep Purple was characterized as both hard rock and heavy metal in their sound and style, mainly because its members were continuously developing and their music going through significant changes (particularly with the vocals and guitar). They also had similarities to progressive rock bands, including Yes. Even with an inconsistent lineup, Deep Purple created careers for vocalists Ian Gillan and David Coverdale, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, bassist Roger Glover, and organist/composer Jon Lord.
Their debut album, Shades of Deep Purple (1968), featured classical segments, pop-oriented sound, and confident psychedelic/hard rock attributes. It included an elaborate cover of The Beatles’ “Help” and Joe South’s “Hush.”
The Book of Taliesyn, also released in 1968, was more progressive rock in style and sound. It included another Beatles cover (“We Can Work It Out”) and a lengthy remake of Phil Spector’s “River Deep, Mountain High” with a segment of Richard Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” from Stanley Kubrick’s movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.
While going through member transitions, the band’s ambitions grew with their self-titled third album in 1969. Their songs reflected a new complexity and intensity as Lord’s classically influenced keyboards became a primary focus, with harpsichord embellishments and backward organ and drum sounds adding new elements to the album. It combined the virtuosity of both progressive rock’s complexity and heavy metal’s power and boldness. They also released Concerto for Group and Orchestra, a live album recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall, in 1969.
Deep Purple in Rock picked up the intensity and became a defining hard rock/heavy metal album for the band. Released in 1970, the chords and riffs of songs like “Speed King,” “Hard Lovin’ Man,” and “Child in Time” were loud, powerful, and intense. Fireball (1971) stepped back from the hard rock sound with songs like “The Mule” (blues) and “Fools” (progressive rock).
Machine Head (1972) came to be considered their best hard rock/heavy metal release. While recording the album in Montreaux, Switzerland, the Montreux Casino was burned to the ground during a Frank Zappa concert. This was the inspiration for the powerful and riff-heavy “Smoke on the Water,” their most iconic and timeless song. Other popular tracks included the versatile and intense “Space Truckin’” and “Highway Star.” A live album, Made in Japan, was released later in the year, with four more albums following: Who Do We Think We Are (1973), Burn (1974), Stormbringer (1974), and Come Taste the Band (1975).
While Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple had definite and distinct hard rock and heavy metal sounds and techniques, it was Black Sabbath that became the epitome of the era. Although their crude sound and musicianship were often rejected by critics and radio programmers, their music resonated with fans.
Following in the footsteps of other bands by initially playing blues rock (especially Led Zeppelin), this quartet of friends/schoolmates quickly found their own sound: their formation in Birmingham, England, in 1968 spawned dark and angry music that gave a voice to the unhappiness of the industrial factory life of the midlands.
Ozzy Osbourne’s haunting vocals, Geezer Butler’s deafening basslines, Bill Ward’s powerful drumming, and Tony Iommi’s grungy riffing came together to create music that was new to the world. Ironically, a factory accident contributed to Iommi’s unique tone. A machine sliced off the tip of two of the fingers on his right hand, so to compensate, he loosened the strings: the result was a darker sound. Some of the band’s melodies were jarring, making use of the tritone (“devil’s chord”), a combination of notes that produces an unsettling feeling in listeners. Also contributing to this “gloomy” sound was the use of facets of gothic and modal harmony. Rain, thunder, and tolling bells would later be added to their songs. Lyrics were also dark, often fixated on drugs and “black magic.”
The intensity and consistency of their live shows/tours grabbed the attention of record labels. Their first two albums, Black Sabbath and Paranoid, were both released in 1970 (only seven months apart). Paranoid proved to be superior, containing several of their biggest singles in the bold title track, politically charged “War Pigs,” doom laced “Planet Caravan, and “Iron Man” which, according to Osbourne, “sounded like a gigantic iron man walking” with rhythms that elicited the sounds of a metal factory floor.
Master of Reality, released in 1971, included hits in “Children of the Grave” and semitone filled “Sweet Leaf” and “Into the Void.” Recorded in Los Angeles in 1972, Vol. 4 included the riff heavy “Supernaut” and is said to be the album where the band was most “chemically dependent” while writing their songs.
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973) found success in its title track and “Killing Yourself to Live.” The album contained progressive rock elements, with Rick Wakeman from Yes contributing keyboards to “Sabbra Cadabra.” Popular with fans and critics alike, the record earned them their first silver certification in the UK and became their fifth platinum album in the U.S.
Released in 1975, Sabotage returned to the heavy metal sound of their debut album and the studio and orchestral elements of their recent works were not as extensive. Angst-filled “Symptom of the Universe,” hard-hitting “Hole in the Sky,” and the lengthy classic “The Writ” are said to be examples that show that the band was both rejuvenated and destroyed as the music climate of the world had already changed.
Side Note: Even though the iconic heavy metal band Judas Priest was also formed in the late 1960s, they spent the next several years playing local shows and developing their blues-based sound, so they are steeped in the New Wave of Heavy Metal genre of later in the decade. You’ll read more about them in a future issue!
Fittingly, there was a connection between the music and appearance of the next genre that positioned itself as a backlash against the hard rock mainstream for fame and glamour: glam rock. It challenged norms and contributed to the focus on freedom, individuality, women’s liberation, and the sexual revolution.
A unique aspect of this genre, in more ways than one, is the fact that while many artists of that time are well-known and revered, it was not always obvious that they were glam unless you saw them with your own eyes. These musicians took the stage in makeup and flamboyant clothing while adopting cabaret/theatrical personas and creating musical productions with “space-age” effects. While some artists could be sexually ambiguous, many still maintained their masculinity despite their feminine look.
Songs were influenced by the pop sounds of the 1950s and early 1960s, also known as “bubblegum pop.” Although this bubblegum genre was not as popular in the UK as it was in the U.S. and was essentially a scene of “one-hit wonders,” groups emulated some of the pop elements of Beatles’ songs, including catchy melodies, sing-along/repetitive lyrics, and simple compositions. Early glam rock musicians combined bubblegum pop with elements of rhythm-and-blues, psychedelic rock, hard rock, and art rock. Because of this, some songs were experimented with and lengthened, thus going back to the characteristics of progressive rock and leading to the emergence of several crossover bands.
Glam rock’s origins are tied to Marc Bolan’s appearance on Top of the Pops with his band T-Rex in 1971. While performing the song “Hot Love,” Bolan wore a black satin top and glitter underneath his eyes. The song would become the band’s first number one single in the UK and remain at the top of the chart for six weeks. Most importantly, it introduced the concept of androgyny and inspired other artists to embrace an identity in glam rock.
After failing to achieve success in various musical endeavors, David Bowie created a glam rock persona/alter ego, Ziggy Stardust. Incorporating professional makeup and mime/performance into his acts, other groups decided to follow in his footsteps, including Roxy Music, Sweet, and Mud.
A heavier version of glam rock that emphasized guitar riffs, powerful rhythms, and audience participation at live shows were created by groups like Slade and Mott the Hoople.
In the UK, the term “glitter rock” was most often used to refer to the extreme version of glam pursued by Gary Glitter and the Glitter Band, complete with sparkly suits and platform shoes. Artists that also adopted glam styles included Rod Stewart and the iconic Elton John.
Throughout his career, John demonstrated a talent for understanding and blending pop and rock, modernizing a sound that was loud and energetic and standardizing songs with the instrumentation of electric guitar and acoustic piano. One of the prominent acts of the 1970s, he had many top-selling albums and popular hits, including “Your Song,” “Crocodile Rock,” “Bennie and the Jets,” “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Rocket Man,” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.”
Circling back to the style of glam, John became equally famous for his showmanship and live performances, dressing in extravagant costumes and glasses. In an interview with W Magazine, John explained, “I wasn’t a sex symbol like Bowie, Marc Bolan or Freddie Mercury, so I dressed more on the humorous side, because if I was going to be stuck at the piano for two hours, I was going to make people look at me.”
Now…what do you get when you combine hard rock/heavy metal, glam rock, and a dash of progressive rock? No, this isn’t one of Harry’s jokes. You get one of the most dynamic and successful groups of the 1970s, with their music and influence spanning multiple genres and decades. You get lively and flashy performances, layered guitar riffs, and overdubbed vocals. You get Queen.
The group was formed in 1971 with guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor of the rock group Smile teaming up with the former lead vocalist of Wreckage, Freddie Mercury. Bassist John Deacon joined several months later. By 1973 they started touring and released their debut album Queen, with their predominantly metal sound being compared to that of Led Zeppelin.
Before the release of their second album, Queen II (1974), they performed “Seven Seas of Rhye” on Top of the Pops. The song and their performance garnered instant success. By the end of the year they released their third album, Sheer Heart Attack, with the song “Killer Queen” making it to number two on the U.K. charts. It was also this year that, after seeing Marc Bolan’s outfits, Mercury had the same designer (Zandra Rhodes) create the band’s costumes for their tour. Mercury was known for his flamboyant and wild persona and performances that led him to become both an icon of glam/glitter rock and hard rock.
A Night at the Opera (1975) is reported to be one of the most expensive rock albums ever created at the time of its release. The first single, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” became of one Queen’s signature and most popular songs, appropriately described as “mock-operatic.” Their hit song “Somebody to Love” came out in 1976, with their next album A Day at the Races being released at the end of the same year. The band continued to create top singles (the most popular being “We Are the Champions”/”We Will Rock You”) and albums over the next five years.
Even though hard rock/heavy metal and glam rock began to decline after the mid-1970s, the style and sound influenced countless other musical genres, but none more than the one for the rebels. First…lets make a quick stop at the pub.
There was a rhythm-and-blues boom in the late 1960s that came from the pubs and clubs that were all over Britain. These same venues played host to the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, and the Who, not only leading to the creation of rock music, but also the start of pub rock.
In the spring of 1971, American group Eggs Over Easy was recording in London and convinced a local pub, the Tally Ho, to let them play there on a regular basis. Their performances gave rise to the popularity of this genre of music and pubs as music venues. The scene was thriving by 1973.
Pub rock in the early 1970s was called “roots rock” since the music performed by bands consisted mostly of rock-and-roll, rhythm-and-blues, folk, and country rock, which matched the diverse backgrounds of the artists. The venues, lively atmospheres, and back-to-basic music/attire/performances became a “rallying cry” for pub rockers, as this genre stood in contrast to the rock music that had a hold on British charts.
Well-known pub rock groups included Brinsley Schwarz, Ducks Deluxe, Ace, Dr. Feelgood, and Bees Make Honey. While none ever really achieved widespread popularity, the genre helped spread the names of several celebrated performers, songwriters, and producers (often in the same person). These included Elvis Costello, Joe Strummer of the Clash, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Dire Straits, and Squeeze.
Pub rock was also seen as a “reaction” against the recorded and produced progressive rock and glam rock albums. By 1975, the standard for mainstream rock recordings was expensive, meticulous, and controlled by highly paid producers, with the end goal of creating perfect albums filled with studio effects. Pub rockers were against this type of recording process; they just wanted to capture their “live” sound/feel in the studio without the high costs and complexities. Because of this, they chose independent record labels.
You can see why we needed to step into the pub for a bit: music took a step back, took a stand, and paved the way to let others step in…and also because the next genre is going to get loud.
Look for Part 3 of “Go Back to Where I(t) Started” in the April issue. Music goes back to mirroring the attitude of society because it doesn’t like what it sees.