Is Rock Just “Rock”? Dissecting the Genres of Rock n’ Roll

As a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, this site may earn from qualifying purchases.
We may also earn commissions on purchases from other retail websites.

There’s something about rock ‘n roll that gets most of us fired up. We love the sound of it and cannot get enough of it. 

Nothing beats going to a concert to watch your artist play their guitar like it’s going out of fashion and jump around the stage with enthusiasm. Their energy is contagious and makes us want to do the same.




Rock ‘n Roll has a way of bringing out the kid in us and make us reminisce about the good old days when we didn’t have a worry in the world. It has the power to unite us and help us to forget our troubles, even if it’s just for a few moments.

Conversely, rock has the power to sum up the heartache, despair, and turbulence of life in beautiful, almost dreamy ways. 

We’re looking at you, Hendrix.

Many people are familiar with the words rock ‘n roll, but how many really know what it’s about?

Sure, most people know that it’s a music genre that bands such as Metallica and Elvis Presley have identified themselves with, but how did it all begin?

How did rock ‘n roll spread globally and evolve throughout the decades?

That’s something that most people haven’t explored, yet they wonder about it every now and again.

Being hardcore rock ‘n roll fanatics, we wanted to delve into the history of this magnificent music genre and find out how it started, who helped to shape it, how it became so popular and what the future of rock might look like.




Origins: A Single String is Plucked

Rock ‘n roll is a music genre that originated and evolved in the United States in the late 1940s. 

Like most genres of music, it evolved from other genres. 

After taking elements from gospel, jazz, jump blues and rhythm and blues, the pioneers of rock ‘n roll had stumbled upon a recipe for success.

The early sounds of rock ‘n roll contained the piano or saxophone as the lead instrument, but that was replaced or supplemented by the guitar in the middle 1950s. Usually, classic rock consists of one or two electric guitars, a double bass or a string base, as well as an electric bass guitar, and a drum kit.




Due to this genre’s popularity, it naturally evolved into other music genres and created a movement. It’s responsible for spawning what many people refer to as “rock music.” Since African-American and white-American teenagers enjoyed it in the early days, it contributed to a civil rights movement.

Historians have debated the origin of rock ‘n roll, but most people generally agree that it gained prominence in the Southern United States, an area that produced most of the early, major rock ‘n roll acts.

The most prominent figures in music, who are affiliated with that era, have stated that rock ‘n roll is a continuation of pre-1955 rhythm and blues. 


Who Shaped Rock ‘n Roll?

Groups such as Dominoes and Spaniels combined gospel-style harmonies with call-and-response singing and infused it with rhythm and blues.

Although those groups played that style, somebody had to transmit the message to the people.

Disc jockeys such as Alan Freed, Dewey Phillips and William Allen created rock ‘n roll radio by playing hard-driving rhythm and blues and raunchy blues.

Then, a singer came onto the scene who would change the name of the game and take rock ‘n roll to new heights. His name was Elvis Presley. 




One of the things that made Presley appealing to people was that his sound transcended borders. People of all races and nationalities listened to this artist, who infused hillbilly rave-ups and blues wails with pop-crooner ballads.

Artists such as Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley, considered as mostly rhythm and blues artists, fit alongside the rockabilly tunes of performers such as Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis. 

One of the main reasons that happened is because they all addressed the same audience: Teenagers.




The thing that appealed to teenagers about rock ‘n roll is that they saw it as a soundtrack for rebellion.

Teenagers love rock ‘n roll because it allowed them to express themselves. 

By the time the 1960s rolled around, rock ‘n roll had expanded into the general genre that we know today as rock. It was the explosion of rock in America that led to the rock movement spreading across the world.

Although many countries had dabbled in rock, it was Britain that produced some of the biggest acts in the world after America. If you want proof of that, all you have to do is look up a band called The Beatles.

One of the reasons The Beatles became so famous was that they took Elvis Presley’s sound from the 1950s, as well as other popular artists from the genre, and created a different movement. 

They gave birth to the new age of rock.

What followed the Beatles were musicians such as Pink Floyd, Jimmy Hendrix, and The Rolling Stones.




Then came the 1970s. 

The ending of the Vietnam war helped to stabilize economic and social issues, so bands such as Queen, Led Zeppelin, and The Eagles were influential around that time. 


Introduction Of Sub-Genres

As mentioned before, one genre evolves into another. With the growing popularity of rock, some musicians decided to experiment with it and create extensions.

Punk Rock

Bands like the Sex Pistols and The Clash helped to popularize a genre called punk rock. The founding fathers of punk rock, however, was a band called The Ramones.

They successfully created punk rock by combining the anarchism that teenagers associated with rock ‘n roll and infused it with their rage to create what would become known as punk rock. 

Although it was in the 1970s that punk rock emerged, it carried on for decades, as bands such as Blink 182 and Green Day helped make it mainstream in the 1990s and 2000s. 




Funny enough, it seemed that not much had changed since the 1970s. Thirty years later, punk rock still appealed to teenagers and contained lyrics of rebellion and rage.

It was in the 1970s that rock also veered into other directions besides punk. 


Heavy Metal

With the advent of punk rock, many musicians saw that they could take elements of rock and incorporate their sound. Some bands wanted to bring a thunderous sound, literally, to rock. 

That’s when heavy metal gained the most prominence.

Bands such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath started the heavy metal revolution in Britain in the late 60s, but it was in the 70s that American bands began to spread the sound in the north. 

Heavy metal took off with outrageous stage performances by Alice Cooper, Kiss and Van Halen. During the mid-70s, it was Judas Priest that helped to spur the revolution of rock.

In the 1980s, bands such as Metallica, Slayer, Guns ‘n Roses, and AC/DC helped to bring heavy metal to the mainstream. That era was known for hair bands.




Why is that?

Well, many people who were in heavy metal bands or listened to the genre wore tight, leather pants and had long hair. Heavy metal was about the guitar solos and power ballads. 

Would you believe me if I told you that another genre of rock evolved from heavy metal?


Indie & Alternative Rock

It was in the late 1980s that artists began experimenting with a lighter side of heavy metal. They enjoyed the guitar solos and the drums but didn’t want to be too hardcore, so they settled for a more conservative side of rock. 

They called it Indie/Alternative rock. Artists such as U2, R.E.M and The Cure helped to take this genre to another level. These bands managed to become very popular amongst college students. 

The era was the early 1990s. That’s when alternative and grunge rock began to take shape. It was born in the mid-1980s but only gained prominence in the ‘90s. We’ve mentioned alternative rock, but what’s grunge rock?



It’s similar to alternative rock. Some say that they’re one and the same. 

This music genre originated in Seattle, Washington. Grunge infuses elements of punk rock and heavy metal but uses a distorted electric guitar sound. Bands that took grunge to higher stations were Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

Another genre that developed from infusing rock and other elements was Emo. 


This is a genre that emphasized emotional expression that happened sometimes through confessional lyrics. Although Emo is rooted in punk rock and stems to the 1980s, it was only in the early 2000s that it gained mainstream coverage.

Bands such as Jimmy Eat World and Weezer that received the most credit for popularising this genre. 




Rock Culture

The more bands and genres of rock emerged, the more word got out about it. Rock led to an entire industry of magazines, television and festivals emerging.

The first song that MTV, a popular music channel, played was from the rock genre. They played The Buggles’ song Video Killed The Radio Star.

Since millions of people wanted to hear and read about rock, magazines such as Rolling Stone and video channels such as VH1 gained popularity.

Music festivals such as Woodstock and Summerfest attracted millions of hardcore rock lovers. 

Throughout the decades since rock ‘n roll emerged, the culture also explored the lifestyles of hippies, hipsters and metalheads. Each culture wore certain attire and had specific hairstyles, not to mention behavior traits and beliefs. 

Rock music has united people across the world and brought tremendous joy. It is responsible for a multi-billion dollar industry and a movement that has lasted for decades. 




Most people will admit that rock has had a tremendous impact on social and cultural issues. 


Future Of Rock

We’ve explored where rock originated and how it evolved into the different sub-genres, but where is it going?

That’s an interesting question.

Some people believe that rock is dead, while others believe that it is still going strong. Several rock musicians have come out and said that they believe rock needs an injection of some new blood to knock everybody dead.

They are saying that artists such as Great Van Fleet and Frankenmuth are the rising stars and the future. 

One thing that’s really interesting to note about rock is that no matter how much it’s evolved and forked off into other sub-genres, it still remains popular. 

Here is a good example.




Elvis Presley gained fame in the ‘50s while The Beatles became popular in the ‘70s. Despite the fact that it’s been more than 50 years that some rock ‘n roll artists emerged, we still listen to them today. 

Heavy metal might have peaked more than 20 years ago, yet bands such as Metallica and Megadeth are still touring the world and making a tremendous amount of money from tours and radio play.

It seems that the more rock evolves and ages, the stronger it becomes. 

There’s no doubt that rock has a lot of challenges and competition. With many youngsters finding hip-hop and electronic dance music appealing, rock will have to continue producing big stars to keep the genre relevant.

Until new stars emerge, many rock fans will dig into their vinyl and CD collection to blow the dust off and play Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” and Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters.” 




Many famous rock musicians from the early days believe that rock needs more talent to emerge so that it stays afloat. Although bands such as Greta Van Fleet and Dorothy are making airways, that’s not enough to keep the genre going.

Despite rock’s strong roots and emerging victorious for many decades, some people remain pessimistic and say that rock is dead. 

How do you determine if a music genre is alive or dead?

Could it be the record sales, radio airplay or recognition from pundits? There are numerous factors, but many people agree that as long as they love it and seek the music, then the genre has a pulse. 

Considering that people are still going to Eagles and Sum41 concerts, then it’s safe to say that rock music is still alive and kicking. Having said that, an injection into rock wouldn’t hurt. 

Nobody can be certain what the future holds for rock music, but one thing is for sure – rock has been at the forefront of music for many decades and has spawned some of the best musical acts in history.

Rock has paved the way for the establishment of many companies and industries. If anything, rock music will be remembered for being the forerunner for many music genres.







Reader Interactions

Speak Your Mind

Your email address will not be published.