Why is Hard Rock the actual Popular Music of the 20th Century?
Dec 2018
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Why is Hard Rock the actual Popular Music of the 20th Century?

by nitsan choen

During our class, we have had the chance to examine many songs and musical genres, as an attempt to understand what made this music popular.


One of the things that were easy to determine, is that the popular music changes each decade or so. Sometimes, the change is so massive that you cannot even see the connection between one decades’ popular music to the one follows, except the fact that it is popular.


But the one genre that kept on going throughout the 20th century, is Rock’n’Roll, and it’s famous descendants, Hard Rock and Heavy Metal.


Those genres were never considered Popular per say, but they are loved and well known since the 60’s until today, and probably for many years to come.


Rock’n’Roll is a musical genre that evolved during the 1940s-1950s, with the technological developments that allowed it such as microphones and guitar emps, electric guitars and so on. It was influenced by almost every musical genre former to it such as Blues, Gospel, Jazz, R’n’B, and Classical Music. ‘Till this day, even though evolving to a massive amount of subgenres, the Rock is still alive and kicking, stretching it’s limits further ahead, but always keeping that rough sounds that make it Rock.


The Rock’n’Roll flourished during the 50s and the 60s with legends such as Johnny Cash, Elvis and The Beatles. The hard rock was not so later on evolved with the important inputs of Led Zeppelin in the late 60s, Pink Floyd, Queen and the first big Heavy Metal band – Black Sabbath.


I am going to cheat a little in this book and not limit myself with music up to 1980, because of two main reasons.


The first one is that the Hard Rock bloomed in the 1980s, so a lot of my study cases would have to be up to 1990.


The second reason is that I would like to show you some new songs that I like, so you might get to like them as well, and see a lot has changed during the past 40-50 years, but the music stayed the same.


In the next page, there is a video with 10 seconds of 10 Hard Rock songs. I would like you to listen to them and try to think about these questions:


  1. Do I know this song? Have I heard it before?
  2. Am I familiar with it? can I name the song or the artist? Can I sing along?
  3. Do I like this song? If this song would come up in the radio or when I’m sitting in a bar, would I be happy or uncomfortable?


If you answered Yes to one or more of those questions regarding at least a few of these songs, I think you get the point I am trying to make.




So, let’s see if my claim matches the criteria we learned in class. In the book, I will go through all the criteria we’ve had the chance to examine during the course, and try to to show the ways they are presented in Hard Rock and Heavy Metal music.


We’ll start with the first, and probably most important one:




It is true, it’s hard to swing or twist to Hard Rock, but it certainly has a special type of dance for itself. the first example for it is visible in the combination a smart someone made between the movies Bohemian Rhapsody and a Wayne’s World:



This are some of the dances as presented in the world’s biggest Heavy Metal festival, now 30 years running, Wacken Open Air:






Now would be a good time for discussing the stories. If you’ll look close enough, in Rock history you can find songs about almost every story there is.


This classic tells the heartbreaking story of a guy falling in love with a close friends’ wife.


(BTW, you probably mostly know the acoustic version of this song, because the rites to it are reserved to Eric Claptons’ band, Derek and the Dominoes, and only the rights to the acoustic version remained his. But you all know the amazing hook!)

This one is a lot newer, and is a very personal story, and yet somehow many people relate to it.

That might be because Bruce Dickinson, who is probably the greatest vocalist in Heavy Metal history, is actually a pilot.


another great story by them is Paschendale – Iron Maiden




And this one is my own personal favorite universal song, anyone can relate to.

In the video, you can see what happens when a Heavy Metal band is asked to lip sync.



Similar to other songs we know but different


When talking about an entire genre, it’s hard to explain why are songs similar to each other, but you can all hear the similarity between the songs we’ll listen to throughout this book, and trace it back all the way to the Beatles (and even before that).


All we can talk about are the influences inside the genre, and they are very much visible in the next video. There are seven of this specific one, and a ton others.



Here is an article in Hebrew about those stuff.


Does the music fit the lyrics


Yeah, it does. Check out this beautiful song released in 1974, in which the music changes all through the song to fit the lyrics perfectly.



This one is what happens when the sad song turns angry.

A super sad and relatable story by the way.






By now we have already had the chance to see some great hooks, such as in Layla and… well… all the songs that followed.


This one has an interesting hook, being, what experts claim, the first ever popular song using nothing but power chords (chords that include only the 1 and the 5, without the 3. That way, there’s no way of deciding whether the chord is a minor or a major, leaving it just being powerful)



This one might the most well known hook, in every “Get Psyched” Mix.



This hook, that we’ve heard in this book before, is so good you simply cannot ignore.



And this one must be every metalhead’s most well known hook.



Makes us feel a part of a special group of people


Did you ever had the chance to see a metalhead in the street, thinking or not thinking about how lonely this sad weirdo is?

Well, they really are (that’s a big lie, but let’s roll with it). Just until they see a fellow metalhead.


Let me refer you to a video one of our classmates shared in our Facebook group lately:



This is the way that this happens in the worlds’ biggest metal festival:


And this is another article in hebrew, about how a close friend of mine felt in his very first Wacken. I can relate, since it was my very first also.


Simple and easy to sing along


That’s right, we haven’t had a chance to listen to some Extreme Metal, that is hard to explain how is it possible to sing along (even though it is), but how about we’ll look at some anthems?


In this one, for example, the sing along part is so distinguished, that a lot of fans are surprised time and time again it is not really in the actual song:



This is simply cool. The fun part starts at 1:33:



And I dare not even speak of the Queen



Simple vs. Complicated


This song includes nothing more than the most basic blues riff.



And this one has no more than four simple chords (and just 2 notes in the verse)



But this extremely complicated side of the equation is loved by many people




And this one is just playing it weird:



And how about speechiness?


This is what Dave Mustaine of Megadeth thinks about singing



Here are a couple of songs that are, in my opinion, some of the greatest examples for authenticity


This one is by the legends Pantera:



And this is by the amazingly popular, Metallica:



Let’s talk a bit about quality of voice.


We’ve seen some amazing singers such as Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, and some terrible ones such as Dave Mustaine.


But how about the amazing Lemmy of Motorhead?



This band has not only a not-so-good singer, but  all of the band members (beside the drummer) are not the best musicians out there. They had actually attempted to make the music sound as harsh and disharmonic as possible.


And yet, they are one of the biggest and most important Metal bands there is, right after Metallica



But what about some beautiful singing?

This band is the biggest one today (and definitely not the only one) combining Heavy Metal with Bel Canto singing.



Try this one, as it is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard. It is also a great chance to notice the wonderful choir and arrangements, the touching story and the moving melody



Speaking of arrangements, let’s add some instruments and instrumentation

Here are some funky instruments in a song about us every time after class:



We also cannot ignore the amazing combination between the biggest Metal band in history and a symphonic orchestra in what is called the S&M



And this lovely song is by a band that simply has everything (even me, in the choir parts…)



Another Nightwish one for the bravests of you all, if you have half an hour to spare


(And if you don’t, I would recommend you skip to an excellent use of classical themes in Metal music at 14:16)



Hoping I didn’t exhaust you, I had attempted to show you how popular music reflects in one of the most unpopular (or a the very least, trying to be) genre that is the Hard Rock and Heavy Metal.


I did so almost without even discussing the bands that has made it all possible, the creators of this huge musical genre such as the Beatles, the Eagles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd or Black Sabbath (and so many more).


I hope you heard some songs that you haven’t heard before, and maybe even liked them. If not, I would be more than happy to suggest some more. I tend to say that if you don’t like Metal, it’s simply because you haven’t had the chance to listen to the right song.



And just to leave you wanting more, here is a great cover version to a song you all know:



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