Back in My Day- A Look at the Rise and Fall of Generational Rock (Part Two)

Image by Vince Shuley

The 70’s generation marveled at the core ideology of the 60’s youth, and the torch of peace, love, and rebellion was passed on to them by their older brothers and sisters. Their social consciousness, desire for world peace, and opposition to the military industrial complex and big business continued to inspire their music, but the new decade brought innovations in sound recording technology. This made recording more than four tracks easier, giving artists the freedom to create even more experimental music that continued to push the boundaries of what rock could be.

Led Zeppelin and their now-classic image became the archetype for four-piece rock bands

Progressive rockers like Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, and Rush repurposed psychedelic rock, using the emptiness of space and the perpetuity of the cosmos to paint a grander picture of life and love. Meanwhile, blues-based rock was selling out stadiums and concert halls across the globe. Established rock bands like The Rolling Stones continued to find great success, but new, brash young bands like Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, AC/DC, and KISS began pushing the envelope of what could be said and done in public. KISS went on to almost single-handedly define 70’s rock culture, and their costumes and makeup created a look that is still instantly recognizable. Alice Cooper, first a bluesy rock band and then a theatrical solo artist, slowly and carefully crafted the genre of shock rock, which used the macabre and the taboo to hook the young audience it attracted.

Seth Kahaian, of Seth’s Rock Report, describes the impact of showmanship during the 70’s. “Artists like David Bowie, Alice Cooper and Kiss all put on a show for the ages. They made it so a band couldn’t just show up and play; They had to entertain their audience as well!”

Alice Cooper, first a band, and then an artist, pioneered what we now call “shock rock”

The inauguration of heavy metal, which really began in the late 60’s, caught fire in the very early 70’s. Black Sabbath, widely viewed as the fathers of heavy metal, turned heavy blues into a harder, edgier form of rock music, an evolution that was hurried along with help from bands like Deep Purple and, later in the decade, Judas Priest. The rise of punk rock would also give a voice to the frustrated and sometimes belligerent youth of the generation, who relished in the irreverence and brutal honesty of artists like Television, the Ramones, and Patti Smith. As punk and heavy metal got grittier, heavier, and faster, they would inspire the leather-clad, boot-wearing misfits of the 70’s and 80’s to form a new form of metal called thrash. Disco music, with its shiny gold necklaces, bright shimmering lights, and white three-piece suits, repulsed most of the 70’s rockers, who viewed the music and the fans as artificial and shallow. By creating some of the most iconic music of all time, rock musicians of the 70’s gave many adolescents an emotional home, a style to call their own, and brought together hordes of people who felt alienated, giving them a sense of belonging. A generation and its music have never been closer. 

Iron Maiden, one of the most important “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” bands to come out of the 80’s, is famous for their high-energy, theatrics-laden shows!

By the start of the 80’s, two things were clear to most Americans- disco was dead, and Russia was the enemy. But where disco left off, new wave and synth pop took off. MTV made music videos a pop culture icon, changing the way a lot of young people accessed their music. Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, and Duran Duran, pop idols of the 80’s that were influenced by both disco and rock, weren’t exactly warmly received by heavy metal fans. By going underground, heavy metal was able to create a tight-knit community, and it emerged to become one of the best-selling genres of the decade. The loners and wallflowers who didn’t “fit in” with the rest of their peers gravitated towards the imaginative, unapologetically creative, and sometimes hostile sounds of hard rock and heavy metal. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica, Slayer, and Ozzy Osbourne became some of the biggest bands of the decade, and they influenced many younger musicians to pick up an instrument and join the party, which kept the genre growing over the course of the decade. The frustrations of Reaganomics had many parents worried, while the bitterness and real danger of the Cold War froze the nation stiff with an uneasy tension. While they couldn’t fix the world overnight, the 80’s generation found their own way to deal with their feelings towards the social problems of their day- they wrote songs about them. From protest anthems to ballads filled with hope, music once again provided an outlet through which a young person could voice their opinions and emotions.

At the same time, hard rock bands like Guns N’Roses, the Scorpions, Motley Crüe, Bon Jovi, and Def Leppard were dragging young, wild teens out of their bedrooms and into the streets, all in search of a good time. The hot-blooded groove of 80’s rock didn’t care about manners, ignored social taboo, and was, for all intents and purposes, the “cool” music for a rocker to listen to. Metallica might not get you chicks, but Van Halen would. These were also the days when a band wrote a new album and toured incessantly for about a year or so, only to return to the studio and put out another album as quickly as possible. This never-ending cycle, coupled with the years of alcohol and drug abuse, caused a major decline in quality and craftsmanship by the end of the decade. The void in rock music would soon be filled by a sort of musical renaissance… a group of young bands that drew heavily on 60’s and 70’s rock and punk music. When “heavy metal” became a bad word, grunge swooped in and helped change a stagnant rock culture, providing inspiration and excitement. While the music certainly flipped “traditional” rock sub-genres on their head, it was the technological revolution of the 90’s that would ultimately change the way younger generations understood and appreciated music.


Guns N’ Roses resurrected the image of the “dangerous” rock band, reveling in the “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” attitude that made so many bands before them famous


Thanks for reading! We hope you’re enjoying the discussions, and please feel free to comment below, share on social media, and tell your friends all about South Texas Sound Project! The third and final addition to this series will be released on Friday Nov. 23rd, so we hope you’ll visit us again soon and check it out! If you haven’t read Part One, click here

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