Hard rock (also called 'heavy rock') is a sub-genre of rock music that is very widely defined as rock music which that has its roots in mid-1960s garage, blues and psychedelic rock. It is identified by a use of aggressive vocals, distorted electric guitars, bass guitar, drums, and often featuring pianos and/or electronic keyboards.
Hard rock developed into a major form of popular music in the 1970s, with bands like Led Zeppelin, The Who, Deep Purple, Aerosmith and AC/DC. Hard rock met its commercial peak in the 1980s aided in part by bands practicing glam metal, like Van Halen, Bon Jovi and NWOBHM act Def Leppard, as well as the harder sounds of Guns N' Roses, before its popularity shifted with the rise of grunge in the 1990s. Despite this, many post-grunge bands adopted a hard rock sound and by the early 2000s there came a renewed interest in established bands and even attempts at revivals. There were also new hard rock bands that emerged from the garage rock and post-punk revival scenes.
It began in the mid-1960s when American and British bands started to modify rock and roll by adding harder sounds, heavier guitar riffs, wild drumming, and louder vocals. Early forms of hard rock can be heard in The Kingsmen's version of Louie, Louie (1963), at one point being banned in parts of America because the lyrics could not be easily heard and they thought they were dirty (they were not), and the songs of rhythm and blues influenced British Invasion acts, including: You Really Got Me by The Kinks (1964), My Generation by The Who (1965), Shapes of Things (1966) by The Yardbirds and (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction (1965) by The Rolling Stones.
By the late 1960s it became the standard practice to sort rock music that emerged from psychedelia into 'soft' and 'hard' rock. 'Soft rock' was often derived from folk rock, using acoustic instruments and putting more emphasis on melody and harmonies, while 'hard rock' was most often derived from blues-rock just played louder and with more intensity.
In the case of blues based rock, the pioneers included Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Jeff Beck Group. Jimi Hendrix produced a form of blues-influenced psychedelic rock, which combined elements of jazz, blues and rock and roll. In 1967 Jeff Beck brought lead guitar to new heights of technical virtuosity and moved blues-rock in the direction of heavy rock with his band, The Jeff Beck Group. Dave Davies of The Kinks, Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, Pete Townshend of The Who, Hendrix, Clapton and Beck all pioneered the use of new guitar effects like phasing, feedback and distortion.
In the late 1960s the term 'heavy metal' was used interchangeably with 'hard rock,' but gradually began to be used to describe music played with even more volume and intensity with those bands eventually being re-classified under the new name; in 1977 the name became official and therefore separated the two genres. While hard rock maintained a bluesy rock and roll identity, including some swing in the back beat and riffs that tended to outline chord progressions in their hooks, heavy metal's riffs functioned as stand-alone melodies and had little-to-no 'swing' in them. Heavy metal took on "darker" characteristics after Black Sabbath's breakthrough at the beginning of the 1970s and then again with Venom in the very early 1980s, subsiquently sub-dividing into the sub-genres of thrash, death, black metal and so on (collectively called 'extreme metal'), some of which were influenced by hardcore punk, which furthered separated the two styles. Despite this differentiation, hard rock and heavy metal have existed side by side, with bands frequently standing on or crossing the boundary of the genres.
During the 1970s, Alice Cooper introduced the macabre, Led Zeppelin, Nazareth, Rush, Free, Uriah Heep, AC/DC, and others introduced unique instrumental and vocal elements, further pushing the genre into popularity and diversification through to the most popular period of heavy metal in the 1980s, specifically via glam metal through the form of hard rock known as glam rock.
In the 1990s hard rock entered as the dominant commercial music. This success was probably best expressed in the releases of AC/DC's The Razors Edge (1990), Guns N' Roses' Use Your Illusion I & II, Ozzy Osbourne's No More Tears (1991), and Van Halen's For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991) showcased this popularity, as did the Black Crowes debut album Shake Your Money Maker (1990) and Def Leppard's Adrenalize (1992); notice how many of these bands easily crossed the boundary between basic hard rock and heavy metal as well.
More recently, a few hard rock bands from the 1970s and 1980s managed to sustain highly successful recording careers. Bon Jovi were still able to achieve a commercial hit with It's My Life from their double platinum-certified album Crush (2000), while AC/DC released the platinum-certified Stiff Upper Lip (2000) and Aerosmith released a number two platinum album Just Push Play (2001).
'Hard Rock' as a genre is currently healthy and well as with each generation new material is generated; sadly it suffers from being merely a 'territory' of rock music and when these new forms arrive they are divided into their own autonomous regions (like 'heavy metal'), leaving it's name as more of a 'cover all' title encompassing everything from the less extreme forms of heavy metal down to '60s psychedelia and blues rock.
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