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Hard rock or heavy rock is a sub-genre of rock music which has its earliest roots in mid-1960s garage, blues rock and psychedelic rock and is considerably harder than conventional rock music. It is typified by a heavy use of distorted electric guitars, bass guitar, drums, pianos, and keyboard.


Hard rock is strongly influenced by blues music; the most frequently used scale in hard rock is the pentatonic, which is a typical blues scale. Departing from earlier acoustic based blues, hard rock makes use of more modern instruments such as electric guitars, drums and electric bass. A notable departure from traditional blues forms is that hard rock is seldom restricted to the I, IV, and V chords prevalent in twelve or sixteen bar blues, but includes other chords, typically major chords rooted on tones of the minor scale.

Beginnings (1960s)

One of the major influences of hard rock is blues music. American and British rock bands began to modify rock and roll, adding to the standard genre harder sounds, heavier guitar riffs, bombastic drumming and louder vocals. This sound created the basis for hard rock. Early forms of hard rock can be heard in the songs "You Really Got Me" by The Kinks, "Paperback Writer" by The Beatles, "My Generation" by The Who, "See See Rider" by The Animals and "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" by The Yardbirds.

Later, Jimi Hendrix, produced a form of blues-influenced psychedelic rock, which combined elements of jazz, blues and rock and roll. He was one of the first guitarists to experiment with new guitar effects like phasing, feedback and distortion, along with Dave Davies of the Kinks, Hilton Valentine of the Animals, Pete Townshend of The Who, Eric Clapton of Cream and Jeff Beck of the Yardbirds.

Hard rock emerged with groups of the late-1960s, such as The Who, Deep Purple, Iron Butterfly, Blue Cheer and Led Zeppelin who mixed the music of early rock bands with a more hard-edged form of blues rock and acid rock. Deep Purple helped pioneer the hard rock genre with the albums Shades of Deep Purple (1968), The Book of Taliesyn (1968), and Deep Purple (1969), but they made their big break with their fourth and distinctively heavier album, In Rock (1970). Led Zeppelin's eponymous first album, Led Zeppelin (1969), and The Who's Live at Leeds (1970), are examples of music from the beginning of the hard rock genre. The blues origins of the albums are clear, and a few songs by well-known blues artists are adapted or covered within them.

First era (1970s)

Led Zeppelin's third album, Led Zeppelin III (1970) was more folk rock-oriented than their second, but the heavy aspects of their music remained. 1971 saw The Who release their highly-acclaimed album Who's Next.

Deep Purple's transformation of hard rock continued in 1972 with their album Machine Head, considered one of the first heavy metal albums, although some band members shunned that label. Two songs from Machine Head had great success: "Highway Star" and "Smoke on the Water." The latter song's main riff of four power-chords made it, for many, the "signature" Deep Purple song. Nazareth, a band out of Scotlandmarker, provided a blend of hard rock which commercialised the genre further with their best selling album, Hair of the Dog, which in turn, influenced numerous other bands.

During the 1970s, hard rock developed a variety of sub-genres. In 1972, macabre-rock pioneer Alice Cooper put hard rock into the mainstream with the top ten album School's Out. The following year, Aerosmith, Queen and Montrose released their eponymous debut albums, demonstrating the broadening directions of hard rock. In 1974, Bad Company released its debut album and Queen released its third album, Sheer Heart Attack, with the track "Stone Cold Crazy" influencing later thrash metal artists, such as Metallica and Megadeth. Queen used layered vocals and guitars and mixed hard rock with glam rock, heavy metal, progressive rock, and even opera. Kiss released their first three albums Kiss, Hotter Than Hell and Dressed to Kill, in a little over a year, achieving their commercial breakthrough with the double live album Alive! in 1975. The Canadian trio Rush released three distinctively hard rock albums in 1974-75 (Rush, Fly by Night, and Caress of Steel) before moving toward a more progressive sound.

In the mid-1970s, Aerosmith released the ground-breaking Toys in the Attic and Rocks which incorporated elements of blues and hard rock and would later influence rock artists such as Metallica, Guns N' Roses and Mötley Crüe. In 1976, Boston released their highly successful debut album while Heart paved the way for women in the genre with the release of their debut.

The Irishmarker band Thin Lizzy, which had been around since the late 1960s, made their most substantial commercial breakthrough in 1976 with the hard rock album Jailbreak and its top single, "The Boys Are Back in Town."

The 1975 departure of Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore (who went on to form Rainbow the same year) was followed by the sudden death of his replacement Tommy Bolin in 1976, but by that time the group had already disbanded. In 1978, The Who's drummer, Keith Moon, died in his sleep via an overdose. With the rise of disco in the U.S. and punk rock in the UK, hard rock's mainstream dominance was rivaled and began to decline. Disco appealed to a more diverse group of people and punk seemed to take over the rebellious role that hard rock once held. Meanwhile, Black Sabbath moved away from the darkness of their early work with albums such as Technical Ecstasy.

Van Halen, another important group in hard rock, emerged in 1978. Their music was based mostly on the guitar skills of Eddie Van Halen, the lead guitarist, who popularised a technique called tapping in guitar playing. The song "Eruption" from the album Van Halen, demonstrated his technique and was very influential.

In 1979, the differences between the hard rock movement and the rising heavy metal movement were highlighted when the Australian hard rock band, AC/DC, released its second-biggest album, Highway to Hell. AC/DC's music was based mostly on rhythm & blues and early-1970s hard rock, with the group explicitly repudiating the "heavy metal" tag.

Second era (1980s)

In 1980, Led Zeppelin disbanded after the sudden death of drummer John Bonham, who died of asphyxiation after consuming too much alcohol. Bon Scott, the lead singer of AC/DC, also died of alcohol poisoning in 1980. With these deaths, the first wave of "classic" hard rock bands ended. Some bands, such as Queen, moved away from their hard rock roots and more towards pop rock. AC/DC recorded the album Back in Black, with their new lead singer, Brian Johnson. Back in Black is the fifth highest-selling album of all time in the U.S. and the second largest selling album in the world. Ozzy Osbourne released his first solo album, Blizzard of Ozz which featured American guitarist Randy Rhoads.

In 1981, the British hard rock band Def Leppard released their second album High 'N' Dry, on which they categorized the sound of hard rock in the 1980s with songs like "Bringin' on the Heartbreak." The U.S. band Mötley Crüe followed suit with their release Too Fast for Love. A year later, the style grew, led by bands such as Twisted Sister and Quiet Riot.

In 1983, Def Leppard released the album Pyromania, which reached #2 on the American charts. With this release, they established their trademark style of mixing glam-rock and heavy metal. Pyromania undeniably started the pop influenced metal explosion that followed, with songs such as "Photograph" and "Rock of Ages," which reached the American top 20. This same album spawned the single "Foolin'" which was Top 40 hit. "Photograph" was also the most played video clip on MTV that same year, beating out even Michael Jackson's highly successful "Thriller" video.

That same year, Mötley Crüe released the album, Shout at the Devil, which became a huge hit. Van Halen's album 1984 became a huge success as well, hitting #2 on the Billboard album chart. In particular, the song "Jump" reached #1 on the singles chart, where it remained for several weeks.

After a number of lineup changes and an 8-year disbandment, Deep Purple's classic Machine Head formation made a successful comeback in late 1984 with the release of Perfect Strangers. The album reached #5 in the UKmarker and #17 on the Billboard 200 in the USmarker.

The late 1980s saw the most commercially successful time period for hard rock. At this time it was the most reliable form of commercial popular music in the United States. Numerous hard rock acts achieved hits in the mainstream charts. One of those hits was the album Slippery When Wet (1986) by Bon Jovi, which spent a total of 8 weeks at the top of the Billboard 200 album chart, sold 12 million copies, and became the first hard rock album to spawn three top 10 singles—two of which reached #1. In addition, the anthem rock album The Final Countdown by Swedishmarker group Europe was released in 1986 and reached #1 on 26 countries' charts and sold more than 6 million copies. This time period also saw more glam-infused American hard rock bands come to the forefront, with both Poison and Cinderella releasing their multi-platinum debut albums this year. Also in 1986, Van Halen released their first album with Sammy Hagar on lead vocals, 5150, which was #1 for three weeks and sold over 6 million copies in the U.S.

In 1987, the most notable success of the decade came in the form of Appetite for Destruction by Guns N' Roses, and Hysteria by Def Leppard (both of which reached #1 on Billboard's album chart). Both sold well over 10 million copies in America alone and more than 20 million around the world to date. Appetite produced three top 10 hits, including the #1 "Sweet Child o' Mine," and is still listed as the fastest-selling debut album by any artist in history as well as the biggest selling debut album in history, selling 18 million copies in the U.S. alone. Hysteria produced seven hit singles (more than any hard rock act before or since). Also of note that year was Mötley Crüe's Girls, Girls, Girls, Aerosmith's comeback album Permanent Vacation and Whitesnake's self-titled album.

In 1988 and 1989, the most notable successes were New Jersey by Bon Jovi, Pump by Aerosmith, OU812 by Van Halen, Dr. Feelgood by Mötley Crüe, and Open Up and Say... Ahh! by Poison. New Jersey spawned five top 10 singles, the most ever for a hard rock album. In 1988, Skid Row formed. Their first album, Skid Row, was released in 1989, reaching number 6 in the Billboard 200. Towards the end of the 1980s, numerous hard rock artists such as Mr. Big, Firehouse, Warrant, Winger, and Extreme broke into mainstream success, with many of these bands achieving their peak success in 1990 and 1991.

Third era (1990s-present)

The early 1990s were at first dominated by Guns N' Roses, Metallica and Van Halen. The multi-platinum releases of Metallica's Metallica (often referred to as "The Black Album"), Guns N' Roses' Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II and Van Halen's For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge in 1991 showcased this popularity. In 1992, Def Leppard followed up 1987's Hysteria with Adrenalize, a multi-platinum smash that spawned four Top 40 singles and held the #1 spot on the U.S. album chart for 5 straight weeks, the only hard rock album to reach that position that year. While these few hard rock bands managed to maintain success and popularity in the early part of the decade, an alternative to hard rock simultaneously broke into the mainstream during this time period.

Grunge combined elements of hardcore punk and heavy metal into a dirty sound that made use of heavy guitar distortion, fuzz and feedback, along with darker lyrical themes than their "hair band" predecessors. Although most grunge bands had a sound that sharply contrasted mainstream hard rock (for example Nirvana, Pearl Jam and L7), a minority (for example Alice in Chains, Mother Love Bone, and Soundgarden) were more strongly influenced by much 1970s and 1980s rock and metal. However, all grunge bands shunned the macho, anthemic and fashion-focused style of hard rock at that time.

As the popularity of artists such as Metallica and Van Halen continued from the 1980s into the 1990s, some other bands had begun to fuse metal with a range of eclectic influences. These bands came to be known as alternative metal artists, a subset of alternative rock. Some, such as Primus, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, Living Colour and White Zombie fused funk with metal styles, though most of these bands actually formed in the '80s. Faith No More/Mr. Bungle fused many genres with hard rock, ranging from rap music to soul. The Darkness's retro glam-metal influences helped propel them to the upper realms of the charts in the early 2000s, with the likes of Wolfmother. Towards the mid 2000s with new bands started to become mainstream, Jet, Wolfmother, White Stripes, The Strokes, The Vines, Three Days Grace, The Answer, The Glitterati, The Datsuns, plus Nineteenth century and punk-influenced Towers of London, are some of the new rock bands which followed up from the Garage rock revival.

This has helped revive the glam metal scene (e.g. bands like Buckcherry, which Guns N' Roses Appetite for Destruction album is often credited with influencing). The 00's even saw reunions and subsequent tours from Rage Against the Machine, Stone Temple Pilots, Eric Burdon and Living Colour, in addition to Van Halen, AC/DC, The Who and Black Sabbath and even a one off performance by Led Zeppelin, renewing the interest in previous eras.

In addition, a few hard rock bands from the 1970s and 1980s managed to sustain highly successful recording careers throughout the 1990s and 2000s by constantly re-inventing themselves and exploring different musical styles, namely Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, AC/DC, and Metallica. Since 1989's Pump, Aerosmith has released two #1 multi-platinum albums: Get a Grip in 1993 and Nine Lives in 1997. Get a Grip produced four Top 40 singles and became the band's best-selling album worldwide, going on to sell over 20 million copies. In addition, Aerosmith released a #2 platinum album, Just Push Play (2001), which saw the band foray further into pop, and a blues cover album, Honkin' on Bobo, which reached #5 in 2004. Additionally, since the early 1990s, Aerosmith has achieved eight Top 40 singles (including the #1 hit "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" in 1998). Bon Jovi released five albums which achieved platinum status or better and also achieved eight Top 40 singles since 1988's New Jersey. In addition to remaining true to their hard rock roots with songs like "Keep the Faith" and "It's My Life", Bon Jovi achieved success in the adult contemporary genre, with the Top 10 ballads "Bed of Roses" (1993) and "Always" (1994) and also in country with "Who Says You Can't Go Home", which reached #1 on the Hot Country Singles chart in 2006 and the rock/country album Lost Highway which reached #1 in 2007. In 2009, Bon Jovi released another #1 album, The Circle. Since 1990's multi-platinum The Razors Edge, AC/DC, released two double platinum #1 albums, Ballbreaker (1995) and Black Ice (2008) and the platinum-certified Stiff Upper Lip (2000). Meanwhile, Metallica released four multi-platinum #1 albums since 1991's The Black Album - Load, ReLoad, St. Anger, and Death Magnetic. Load and ReLoad both sold in excess of 4 million copies in the U.S. and saw the band develop a more blues-rock sound, while Death Magnetic was a return to the band's 1980s heavy metal roots. All of these bands, with the exception of AC/DC, received Grammy awards for work during this time period and all bands have remained successful touring acts as well.

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