Genre Glossary

The purpose of this page is to define certain terms I use on this page regarding specific musical genres. Most of these genre terms are frequently used by every rock critic, but usually in ever-so-slightly different ways, so I figure I'd better get it out in the open exactly what my terms mean when I use them. This little page also doubles as a mini-history of rock'n'roll, if you piece it all together right. Another thing: I'm not trying to cover every genre category there is, just the ones I'm the most familiar with and that you might find reviews of selected acts of at Creative Noise.

British Invasion

After the Beatles wowed America on Ed Sullivan in 1964, the floodgates opened for a lot of great bands from England, and also quite a few mediocrities. Essentially, the Brits saved rock from its early '60s slump and drew the line between early rock'n'roll and the more sophisticated, varied '60s styles that created modern pop as we know it. The importance of this movement cannot be overstated: what are arguably the four greatest bands of all time emerged from this era - the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and the Kinks. While most British Invasion pop and rock can be characterized as upbeat and zesty (undoubtedly fueled by cheap speed), its prime importance is that it introduced many new elements to rock that have yet to be exhausted - primarily, greater artistic ambition than most '50s rock.

Leading Acts: The Beatles, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones, the Who. Several second raters would have been first raters in other eras: the Yardbirds, the Animals, the Small Faces, the Zombies, the Spencer Davis Group, etc.

Roots: Buddy Holly for the pop groups, the blues for the more rock-oriented, '50s rock and roll in general spiced with a healthy dose of music hall and Brill Building pop.

Key Album: You know as well as I that it's futile to pick only one.
The Beatles: Revolver
The Kinks: Face To Face
The Rolling Stones: Aftermath
The Small Faces: There Are But Four Small Faces
The Who: Sell Out
The Zombies: Odysey and Oracle
Garage Rock

The British Invasion directly inspired thousands of teenagers in the U.S. of A. to form their own bands, which created a weird double refraction: Americans imitating Brits imitating American sounds such as the blues. Virtually none of these hormone-addled teenage bands were as inventive or (gad) professional as their British idols, but most of them made records, and some of them were hits, if only locally (this was back in the good old days when you really could have a local hit that didn't go national). The material these bands covered was quite diverse, ranging from the blues to sappy pop to nascent heavy metal, but it was held together by one quality: amateurishness overcome by spirit and good songwriting. The mid-'60s garage rock heyday has been plundered to death by multitudes of collector compilations (the Pebblesseries has over 100 volumes). After the mid-'60s, certain new bands took these derivative Nuggets bands as a stylistic starting point, creating another refraction. There weren't a whole lot of bands playing this style of music in the '70s (notably the near-great Flamin' Groovies) but the '80s saw a huge garage rock revival. Unfortunately, bands like the Cramps, the Fleshtones, and the Lyres had the style down cold, but lacked much of the spirit. In an odd twist, this always uncommercial style has achieved some recognition in the '90s thanks to its leading current practitioner, a semiotics major by the name of Jon Spencer, whose weird blues refraction is as classic garage rock as it gets.

Leading Acts: The Flamin' Groovies, the Sonics, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Most of the great garage bands were one-hit wonders so "leading acts" is something of a contradiction.

Roots: The British Invasion, the blues, psychoactive chemicals and not getting none from your girlfriend.

Key Album: Nuggets, compiled by Lenny Kaye in 1972 and recently turned into a box set.

Suggestions for further reading/view: Psychotic Reactions & Carboratuer Dung by Lester Bangs; That Thing You Do! (director Tom Hanks)

Hardcore Punk

The punk rockers of '77 flew in a hundred directions, with most moving on to music that was considerably more complex and musically adventurous than three chords and safety pins. However, some kids - and this genre consisted almost exclusively of highschoolers (junior high would actually be more accurate half the time) - kept the flag of punk flying long after anyone else still cared. The punks in California lagged behind the punks in New York and the U.K. by several years, and by the time punk rock reached Los Angeles it had already become a strictly stylized form: a couple of barre chords thrashing along to a superficially artless singer brat whining about being young, bored, and pissed. Punk rock had already, at this early date, shown signs of devolving into pure pose, black leather jacket and short hair required. West Coast magazines such as Flipside and Maximum Rock'n'Roll enforced the suspiciously fascistic dictates of hardcore punk - play it louder, harder, faster, meaner, and monochrome (no hooks or melody, please, that's a pop sellout). As opposed to the original punks' do-anything-you-wanna-do attitude, the hardcore punks created an exclusionary boys' club that insisted on a strictly formalized style of music that unsurprisingly grew very stale within short time. On the plus side, musically hardcore punk took standard punk and made it that much faster, louder, and intense; however, this came at the expense of any substantial variety. In short, hardcore punk was a step in the devolution of punk, which led to punk's total irrelevance by the '90s (the decade of punk's commercial peak, ironically). Unfortunately, hardcore punk spread from California to the rest of the nation to become the dominant style of punk played throughout the its '80s heyday; it helped, also, that any eighth grader learning to play his instrument could easily master the 1-2-3-4 "dynamics" of hardcore that made the Ramones seem like virtuosos in comparison. However, the genre wasn't entirely worthless; a handful of performers released a handful of great albums, and many indie and grunge bands - the Meat Puppets, Replacements, Nirvana, etc. - had their roots in the movement (even if they moved on to bigger and better things).

Leading Acts: The Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Minor Threat, the Germs. At one point every highschool in America had at least one hardcore punk band with a record released (the '60s garage band tradition lives!). Actually, every highschool in America still does.

Roots: Punk Rock. 1977 was Year Zero - music didn't exist before then.

Key Album: Hardcore punk was a 7 inch singles medium, and one fit for compilations: the style grew wearying over an entire album. However:
Black Flag: Damaged - The definition of American Hardcore.
The Angry Samoans: Back From Samoa - The definitive Punk Rock album: it offends everybody, and is too impossibly catchy and anthemic to resist. In their own way, the greatest Punk Rock band of all time: vitriolic misanthropy doesn't get any better than this.

Suggestions for further viewing: The Decline of Western Civilization, Pt. 1. Also, check out Mark Prindle's website; he has a real thirst for this stuff (as you can tell, I don't. The Meatmen still suck!).

New Wave

In Penelope Spheeris' documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, one of the poseurs on the L.A. scene spits out, "New Wave doesn't exist. There's punk, there's ska, power-pop, rockabilly, but New Wave? New Wave doesn't mean shit." The guy had a point. Everything from anthemic arena band the Police to kitschy beatniks the B-52s to '50s revivalists the Stray Cats to dour, gloomy goths the Cure to bubblegum one-hit wonders Flock of Seagulls got lumped in as "New Wave". They all had next to nothing in common of course, except for chronological association. Since New Wave wasn't exactly a coherent style, in essence it means pop/rock music that was at least a little bit cutting edge and new (or, more often than not, pretended to be - tons, I mean tons, of New Wave was gloriously trashy and meaningless bubblegum) around the late '70s and early '80s. MTV played a huge role in dissemenating the New Wave to the general public when it took the airwaves in 1981, and soon the world was taken over by a gaggle of new faces proferring cool haircuts and cheesy synthpop. However, that's only the commercial face of New Wave; at the same time, and also long before MTV, New Wave was both inspired by and a reaction to punk. Like the punk rockers, the New Wave bands were sick of art-rock and bland corporate sludge a la Foriegner and Meat Loaf; but unlike the punks, the New Wavers weren't interested in buzzsaw guitars and anarchy. New Wave, you see, was POP! with all caps, and generally was bright, shiny, catchy, bouncy, and n-n-n-nervous. Some New Wave bands were synthesizer bands, but surprisingly, the majority were not; what they all had in common was a fresh-faced enthusiasm, creating the zestiest and most gleeful pop mankind has ever known - makes the British Invasion sound tepid by comparison. For sheer volume, the New Wave era produced more great singles and great albums than any other period in pop music; oddly, though, only a handful of New Wave stars ever turned out to be major career figures (Elvis Costello is a huge exception). Most of the New Wave bands released a few great albums, or even only one great album, or even only great single, before zipping out into the sunset. New Wave began in New York in the mid-70s when CBGB's punk bands like Blondie, the Talking Heads, and Television were considered either too pop or too arty to be considered punk, so the term "New Wave" was invented to cover them. The New Wave era ended sometime in the mid-'80s when, for some unexplained reason, the term "alternative" began being bandied about (it was used as late as 1988 in the remote hinterlands of Arkansas, I can tell you that - since I liked R.E.M. my tastes were considered "New Wave", fancy that). As I see it, the "new" music of the late '70s and early '80s split into three distinct camps: first, Punk rock proper, out of which evolved Post-Punk (the artier side) and New Wave (the poppier side) - and it goes without saying that both New Wave and Post-Punk were far more interesting than the Punk those genres evolved from.

Leading Acts: Way too many for me to even begin to cover. The Police, Blondie, the Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, the Jam, the Cars, Devo, the Pretenders - those are a few.

Roots: Depends on which band you're talking about. The Go-Go's roots are hardly the same as the Blasters'. Obviously a lot of New Wave took the best parts of disco and the best parts of punk to create music that was better than either, but there's also the essential Motown/British Invasion/bubblegum AM radio '60s pop ingredient, too (perhaps the most crucial). Also, let's just mention David Bowie. If there's any one band that influenced the New Wave style more than any other, that would indisputably be Roxy Music - about half the New Wave bands played on MTV in the early '80s seemed like blatant homages to that highly influential '70s band.

Key Album: Um, you seriously expect me to pick only one? Guess I have to settle on this, then:

Blondie: Parallel Lines

Suggestions for further viewing: Go rent Valley Girl sometime - it's a Cheese Movie Classic.

Pre-Punk Punk or Proto-Punk

As the name indicates, only a major movement in retrospect. Several bands from various locales (often barely aware of each other) performed a style of crude, agressive rock that overlaps substantially with early heavy metal. What generally marks the pre-punk bands from most early metal bands is a preference for a stripped-down stance as opposed to pomposity, a lyrical obsession with the alienated teenage blues as opposed to sci-fi/fantasy, musical ineptitude, and lack of commercial success. What distinguishes the pre-punk bands from their later punk progeny is a distinctively African-American influence that has oddly been bleached out by the Alternative Nation. The original Spinal Tap, the Troggs, are perhaps the first band that one can distinctly identify as proto-punk. Things really took off, however, in 1968 Detroit when two great bands, the Stooges and the MC5, scored record contracts. In the early '70s, a glam band called the New York Dolls recorded two albums that more directly inspired the insurgents of '77. While most of the 1977-era punk bands claimed obscure referents such as the aforementioned Dolls, Stooges, and the Velvet Underground as their main influences, everybody knew this truth which can now be admitted: those British punks were really inspired by more mainstream hard-rock acts such as Thin Lizzy, Sweet, Slade, the Faces, and - especially - Mott the Hoople, who proferred in-your-face laddish guitar rock as an antidote to the bland musical landscape of the first half of the '70s. In fact, if one stretches the genre definition far enough (and genres are just artificial categories anyway, simply a convenient filing system) the real proto-punkers were the Who and the pre-'66 Kinks. Don't tell me that "My Generation," and Pete Townshend smashing his guitar isn't punk.

Leading Acts: The Stooges, the New York Dolls, Mott the Hoople, the MC5.

Roots: Garage Rock, distortion, the same places early heavy metal came from.

Key Album: The New York Dolls - The New York Dolls

Suggestions for further reading: Stairway to Hell: the 500 Greatest Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe by Chuck Eddy


Someone once said that how you define punk says more about you and your view of music more than what punk actually is, and it's true that many people basically make punk fit any square peg they feel is convenient. It has been not unreasonably argued that Arnold Schoenberg was the first punk because his 12-tone system introduced atonality to modern Western music. However, you have to draw the line somewhere, and for the purposes of this page I am going to define punk rather narrowly. It was a specific movement that occurred separately in the mid to late '70s in New York and London, coming to a head in 1977, otherwise known in the history books as the Summer of Punk. Too much has been written about the most overanalyzed period of rock history, but I'll try to condense the basics as best as possible. The '77 punk groups generally offered intense hostility and nihilism as their pose (and it indeed was a pose), dressed funny to offend straights, played basic three-chord hard rock completely devoid of the blues (their motto was, "Anybody can do it!", and the Adverts boasted that they were "One Chord Wonders"), ranted psuedo-politically about alienation, and kept all their songs short sans wank-off solos so you wouldn't confuse them with ELP. Punk was a much-needed alarm clock to the bloated corpse of rock'n'roll, but in the end it too became just another tired genre, as demonstrated by the generally abysmal '90s punk bands. It's no accident that the vast majority of the original '77 punk bands all recorded only one (or maybe two) albums of pure punk and then moved on with their lives. For example, look at what happened to the three arguably greatest British punk bands: the Clash became an immortal classic rock band; the Buzzcocks refined their psychedelic power-pop style; and the Jam took their place as the reincarnation of everything great about the '60s British Invasion, modernized for jaded youth. Few of the early CBGB's/Max's Kansas City bands from New York would be called punk today, except for the Ramones - Blondie, Television, Patti Smith, and the Talking Heads are why the term New Wave was coined, even though they started out as "punk". By the end of the '70s, punk rock had splintered off into several dozen directions, most of them interesting, directly inspiring nearly all of the great rock music of the next two decades.

Leading Acts: The Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Ramones, the Jam, Generation X, the Damned, Richard Hell & the Voidoids, the Buzzcocks, Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers, Wire.

Roots: Garage Rock, Proto-Punk, Glam Rock, Heavy Metal, badly misunderstood sociology of the Situationist variety, disgust with the disco, soft rock, and bloated corporate rock that polluted the '70s

Key Album: The Sex Pistols - Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. It's not the best punk album, but this is the band around which the punk movement generally revolved (even if they certainly weren't the best).

Suggestions for further reading/viewing: Geez, where to begin. Every pushing-40 hipster in the U.K. has their own book detailing the punk movement - just browse through your local bookstore. Start with England's Dreaming by Jon Savage.

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