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The History and Features of Rock
Rock is a musical style that started around the 50's. As with a lot of musical styles it emerged from blues and rhythm and blues and rock and roll of course had a huge influence on it. Chuck Berry, Little Richard were two of the prominent figures playing rock and roll at the time, but it was when international superstars like Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and such emerged that rock and roll really started moving forward. From then on so many styles and genres started popping up it is quite hard to document and sort. British rock, Surf music, Folk rock, Psychedelic rock, Progressive are all styles that came about until the mid 1960's. A second wave of diversity came with the eventual evolution of hard rock, heavy metal, punk, punk-rock, grunge and all their sub-genres.
Today the retro fad has reached the music industry and many bands are either reviving old traditions or taking the good old practices and coupling it with their own music either making a different style, but at least creating a different profile from other bands. The effect of 1950's - 1960's sounds can be heard very well in recordings, look for raw sounds and familiar beats. There are also some bands that never really lost their retro touch. AC/DC for example use very classical blues and rock and roll riffs and chord progressions, Agnus Young, their guitarist could easily be considered a blues guitarist.
The musical qualities of rock are as varied as the styles that exist, but there are some commonalities between them. The configuration of a band is usually a drummer, two guitarists (one is lead singer) and a bassist. This is the frequent 4-man configuration, but as bands mature or play different styles they may expand and facilitate a keyboard and maybe some wind instruments. Green Day is a great example of a maturing band. They started with the mentioned configuration but now play much more complex music involving wind instruments and much more vocals.
It is common in rock to use power chords, which consist of a base note, a fifth and an octave. This gives both those great hanging sounds and also the shredding, palm muted chords you hear. They are called so because they do convey power and tension through the song. A classic example is the intro to Knocking on Heavens door by Guns and Roses. They play the intro twice clean and then with distortion. During the distortion measures power chords are used, that's why it has such a strong, powerful sound.
Visual styles of rock also convey meaning and point to the bands genre. When looking at a glam rock band you immediately know what type of music they are playing, just because of there sparkly, over-done clothes. All black, face painted men with axes and huge swords could mean fantasy rock, and so on. Punk and grunge can also be distinguished by clothes. The instruments also point to a specific musical place, take a look at Dire Straits frontman Mike Knopfler who plays Fender Stratocasters and such and look at Metallica frontman James Hetfield who plays a lot on ESP explorers. The visual difference is very obvious.