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Art rock

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Title: Art rock  
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Subject: Rock music, Experimental rock, Progressive rock, Symphonic rock, Rock violin
Collection: Art Rock, British Styles of Music, Experimental Music Genres, Rock Music Genres
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Art rock

Roxy Music performing in Toronto in 1974

Art rock is a subgenre of rock music that originated in the 1960s with influences from art (avant-garde and classical) music.[2] The first usage of the term, according to Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, was in 1968.[2] Art rock was a form of music which wanted to "extend the limits of rock & roll", and opted for a more experimental and conceptual outlook on music.[1] Art rock took influences from several genres, notably classical music, as well as experimental rock, psychedelia, avant garde, folk, baroque pop, and in later compositions, jazz.[3]

Due to its classical influences and experimental nature, art rock has often been used synonymously with progressive rock;[1][4] nevertheless, there are differences between the genres, with progressive putting a greater emphasis on symphony and melody, whilst the former tends to focus on avant-garde and "novel sonic structure".[4] Art rock, as a term, can also be used to refer to either classically driven rock, or a progressive rock-folk fusion,[1] making it an eclectic genre. Common characteristics of art rock include album-oriented music divided into compositions rather than songs, with usually complicated and long instrumental sections, symphonic orchestration,[1] and an experimental style. Art rock music was traditionally used within the context of concept records,[1] and its lyrical themes tended to be "imaginative",[1] philosophical,[5] and politically oriented.[1]

Whilst art rock developed towards the end of the 1960s, it enjoyed its greatest level of popularity in the early 1970s through groups such as Jethro Tull, Electric Light Orchestra, 10cc, the Moody Blues, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Procol Harum.[1] Several other more experimental-based rock singers and bands of the time were also regarded as art rock artists.[1] Art rock's success continued to the 1990s. Several pop and rock exponents of the period, including Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, incorporated elements of art rock within their work.[1] Art rock, as well as the theatrical nature of performances associated with the genre, was able to appeal to "artistically inclined" adolescents and younger adults,[1] especially due to its "virtuosity" and musical "complexity".[1]


  • Relationship with progressive and experimental rock 1
  • History 2
    • 1960s–1970s 2.1
    • 1980s–1990s 2.2
    • 2000s–2010s 2.3
  • Art pop 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6

Relationship with progressive and experimental rock

The concept of art rock has also sometimes been used to refer to the progressive rock bands which became popular in the 1970s. Allmusic states that "Progressive rock and art rock are two almost interchangeable terms describing a mostly British attempt to elevate rock music to new levels of artistic credibility."[4] Additionally, art rock shared much in common with experimental rock, especially with regard to experimental themes, while the latter has been described by Allmusic as "more challenging, noisy and unconventional", and also less classically influenced than the former, with more of an emphasis on avant-garde music.[3]

Larry Starr and Christopher Waterman's American Popular Music defines it as a "Form of rock music that blended elements of rock and European classical music. It included bands such as King Crimson; Emerson, Lake & Palmer; and Pink Floyd."[6] Bruce Eder's essay The Early History of Art-Rock/Prog Rock states that "'progressive rock,' also sometimes known as 'art rock,' or 'classical rock'" is music in which the "bands [are] playing suites, not songs; borrowing riffs from Bach, Beethoven, and Wagner instead of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley; and using language closer to William Blake or T. S. Eliot than to Carl Perkins or Willie Dixon."[7]

David Bowie performing in 1978

The Guide to the Progressive Rock Genres lists "art rock" under the subheading "Forms Tangential and Peripheral to Symphonic Rock/Progressive Rock." The guide states that "art rock" is "another term often used interchangeably with progressive rock, [which] implies rock with an exploratory tendency." The guide also gives another definition of "art rock", which "describes music of a more mainstream compositional nature, tending to experimentation within this framework", such as "Early" Roxy Music, David Bowie, Brian Eno's 70s rock music, and Be-Bop Deluxe.[8]

Connolly and Company argue that the "creation of the 'art rock' sub-genre, whose members were identified by music played with artistic ideals (e.g., Roxy Music, 10cc)... was in many ways a response to prog rock's long-winded concepts, an attempt to condense progressive rock's ideas into shorter, self-standing songs." He argues that "Art rock's lifespan was brief, generally contained to the '70s."[9]

Art rock may be considered "arty" through incorporating some elements of classical "art" music or literature, or simply through eclecticism. Examples of the former include Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, The Moody Blues, The Who,[10][11] The Nice, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, David Bowie, The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, Kate Bush, The Verve, The Beatles, Peter Gabriel, and Love (Forever Changes) and examples of the latter include Peter Hammill, Roxy Music, Genesis, and early Queen.[12]



The first figure of art rock has been assumed to be record producer and songwriter Sgt. Peppers (1967) period" and states that the "style had its heyday in the 1970s with huge commercial success by Yes, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and later Genesis."

However, Graham notes that art rock "quickly faded when punk rock and then so-called alternative rock arose at the end of that decade, exactly as a reaction to the sophistication, and in many cases, pretense of big, elaborate rock productions, be they art rock or slickly-produced pop singers." Graham claims that since the late 1970s, "art rock has remained at the fringes and become one of many venerable styles...that attracts small numbers of avid fans, and continues to be perpetuated by a combination of some of the original artists and new generations of players."[19]

Guitarist John Cipollina from Quicksilver Messenger Service

In the UK in 1966, the Scottish band 1-2-3, later renamed Clouds, began experimenting with song structures, improvisation, and multi-layered arrangements which led directly to later bands like Yes, King Crimson, and The Nice.[20]

In the US, a number of late-1960s bands experimented with "long compositions", with each band "trying to out-psychedelic the other" with unusual sonic experiments. "The Golden Age of Art Rock" lectures state that the "piece that caused the explosion of Art Rock more than any other, starting in 1968" was Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida". In response, many other bands sought to emulate this art rock style, such as "Jefferson Airplane, The Steve Miller Band, The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, H.P. Lovecraft and It's A Beautiful Day." The Steve Miller Band "had quite a lot of Art Rock in the early albums." The lecture argues that the "two main long pieces" by The Doors ("The End" and "When The Music's Over") are "good examples of Art Rock."[5]

However, in the 1970s, US rock music "moved away from Art Rock", as southern rock bands became popular in America. Art rock reached its commercial height with the popularity of the aforementioned progressive rock bands, such as King Crimson, Yes, Rush, Genesis, and Pink Floyd. After punk rock put DIY simplicity back in style, and as openly progressive bands drifted toward the mainstream with hit singles and more commercial productions, their art rock designation fell away. Brian Eno has been called the "experimental end of the [art rock] spectrum" for his early 1970s recordings.[5] Bands such as 10cc also reached commercial success with their own brand of art rock.

Band such as Wire pioneered art punk on their 1977 debut Pink Flag, whilst post-punk went underway in 1978 with bands such as Public Image Ltd who incorporated noise rock and dub to the punk sound onto albums First Issue and Metal Box. In New York, an underground scene, no wave, went underway around 1978 which incorporated the punk sound into styles such as funk, jazz, blues, avant-garde, and experimental. Brian Eno's compilation No New York was released in 1978 and is often considered a good document on the scene.


Kate Bush and Laurie Anderson were described as art rockers as well as described and marketed as other genres in the United States during this period.[5][21][22][23] Acts from the burgeoning "gothic" scene in the 1980s were likewise termed as playing a dark form of art rock by certain journalists. The "Guinness Who's Who of Indie and New Wave Music" uses the moniker to refer to both the Virgin Prunes and Christian Death. Indeed, the latter are labelled therein as an American "art rock group" who found that they fitted in "perfectly with the Gothic style and fashion" upon their relocation to Europe.[24]


In 2000s, British rock group members Radiohead abandoned their traditional alternative rock sound to release experimental material fused with electronic music, classical music and many more. Their latest album that polarised both critics and fans was Kid A. Due to Tool's incorporation of visual arts and very long and complex releases, the band is generally described as a style-transcending act and part of progressive rock, psychedelic rock and art rock.

In 2004, the phrase "art rock" was used by British writers from music publications such as NME to describe a group of new, mostly "indie" bands influenced by the 1970s/1980s work of artists including David Bowie, David Byrne, Tom Verlaine, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, and Brian Eno. While other art rock bands such as Deerhoof[25] generally eschew self-conscious descriptions as "art rock", there is also a continuing subcultural movement of underground, sometimes highly uncommercial music with original roots in punk rock, post-punk or the radical avant-garde whose style or philosophy would fall under common definitions of "art rock". Some of these bands may also be described as experimental rock, while the even more abrasive and abstract acts such as Wolf Eyes and Merzbow may be described as noise music.

Art pop

Art pop, a related genre inspired by pop art, was developed as certain pop musicians drew inspiration from their 1950s and 1960s art school studies, including John Lennon, Bryan Ferry, Syd Barrett, and Brian Eno.[26] The loosely defined term includes music by Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, Laurie Anderson, Beck, Pavement, and Duncan Sheik. Art pop often refers to any pop style whose artist deliberately aspires to the conventions of classical music and poetry. According to Stephen Holden, many sources date art pop's origins to the mid 1960s when producers such as Phil Spector and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys incorporated pseudo-symphonic textures to their pop recordings, and when the Beatles first recorded with a string quartet. In North America, art pop was influenced more by Bob Dylan and the Beat Generation, and became more literary through folk music's singer-songwriter movement.[27] British sociomusicologist Simon Frith cited the English group Roxy Music as the "archetypical art pop band".[28] According to Jason Heller of The A.V. Club, Eno was a pioneer of art pop and explored the genre on the experimental solo albums he recorded after having left Roxy Music.[29]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Art Rock". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 15 December 2011.
  2. ^ a b "Art-Rock". Merriam Webster. Retrieved 15 December 2011.
  3. ^ a b c "Explore: Art-Rock/Experimental".  
  4. ^ a b c "Prog-Rock". Allmusic. Archived from the original on 9 December 2010. Retrieved 15 December 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d The Golden Age Of Art Rock: Part One: Making It Last 2. "Cosmik Debris Magazine Presents The Golden Age of Rock, January 2002". Archived from the original on 12 January 2009. Retrieved 15 December 2011.
  6. ^ "Key Terms and Definitions". Retrieved 16 March 2008. 
  7. ^ Eder, Bruce, "The Early History of Art-Rock/Prog Rock", All-Music Guide Essay, Vanguar Church .
  8. ^ A Guide to the Progressive Rock Genres, GEPR .
  9. ^ What is prog?, Connoly Co .
  10. ^ Stuessy, Joe. Rock and Roll: Its History and Stylistic Development, 5th ed., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2003. ISBN 0-13-099370-0
  11. ^ "Art & Progressive Rock". Archived from the original on 6 May 2010. Retrieved 15 December 2011.
  12. ^ "Art Rock and the Bohemian Rhapsody". Retrieved 14 July 2011. 
  13. ^ Bannister 2007, p. 48.
  14. ^ Williams 2003, pp. 15–16.
  15. ^ Williams 2003, p. 38.
  16. ^ Carys Wyn Jones, The rock canon: canonical values in the reception of rock albums", ISBN 0-7546-6244-6 , p. 49.
  17. ^ David Leaf, The Beach Boys, (Courage Books, 1985), ISBN 0-89471-412-0
  18. ^ Theodore Gracy, Listening to popular music, or, How I learned to stop worrying and love Led Zeppelin, (University of Michigan Press, 2007), ISBN 0472069837, p.15.
  19. ^ George Graham Reviews Tom Taylor's "The Crossing"
  20. ^ Brian Hogg, The History of Scottish Rock and Pop. (BBC/Guinness Publishing); '1-2-3 and the Birth of Prog' Mojo, Nov. 1994
  21. ^ Kate Bush Allmusic bio
  22. ^ Laurie Anderson Album review of Mister Heartbreak by Robert Christgau
  23. ^ "Big Science | Laurie Anderson Album". Yahoo! Music. Archived from the original on 24 May 2011. Retrieved 15 December 2011.
  24. ^ Colin Larkin et. al. (eds.) The Guinness Who's Who of Indie and New Wave Music (Guiness World Records Ltd., 1995), see entries on The Virgin Prunes and Christian Death respectively
  25. ^ "Deerhoof Make Magical Art Rock". Retrieved 16 March 2008. 
  26. ^ Buckley, David (2012). Strange Fascination: David Bowie: The Definitive Story.  
  27. ^  
  28. ^  
  29. ^ Heller, Jason (14 June 2012). "Getting started with Brian Eno, glam icon and art-pop pioneer".  


  • Bannister, Matthew (2007). White Boys, White Noise: Masculinities and 1980s Indie Guitar Rock. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.  
  • Rockwell, John. "Art Rock" in Henke, James et al. (Eds.) (1992). The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll: The Definitive History of the Most Important Artists and Their Music. ISBN 0-679-73728-6.
  • Stuessy, Joe. Rock and Roll: Its History and Stylistic Development, 5th ed., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2003. ISBN 0-13-099370-0
  • Williams, Richard (2003). Phil Spector: Out of His Head. Music Sales Group.  
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