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definitions - Art_rock

art rock (n.)

1.a style of rock music that emerged in the 1970s; associated with attempts to combine rock with jazz and other forms; intended for listening and not dancing

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synonyms - Art_rock

art rock (n.)

progressive rock

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Art rock

Art rock
Stylistic origins Art music, avant-garde, classical, experimental rock, psychedelic rock, folk, jazz
Cultural origins Late 1960s,[1] United Kingdom
Typical instruments Keyboards, guitar, bass, drums
Mainstream popularity Some bands had mainstream success in 1970s; since then, it has a relatively small fan base.
Derivative forms Progressive rock, glam rock, post-punk, new wave, post-rock
Regional scenes
Largely global, EnglandScotlandWalesIrelandUSACanadaSwedenJapanCzech Republic
Other topics
Sunshine popProgressive rockBaroque popExperimental rock
  Roxy Music performing in Toronto in 1974

Art rock is a subgenre of rock music that originated in the United Kingdom 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] Influenced by the work of The Beatles, most notably their album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,[3] 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, yet also jazz in later compositions.[3] Art rock, due to its classical influences and experimental nature, 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 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, The Moody Blues 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 also continued throughout the 1970s into the 1980s and 90s, and several pop and rock artists and bands 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 shows and 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

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 and experimental rock shared much in common, especially with regards to their experimental themes, yet, 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, The Moody Blues, The Who,[10][11] The Nice, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, David Bowie, The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, Kate Bush, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Peter Gabriel, and Love (Forever Changes) and examples of the latter include Peter Hammill, Roxy Music, Genesis, early Queen,[12] Doctors of Madness, Fugazi, King Crimson, Tool, and Yes.



Music critic George Graham argues that "... the so-called Art Rock scene arose" in the 1960s, "when many artists were attempting to broaden the boundaries of rock." He claims that art rock "was inspired by the classically-influenced arrangements and the elaborate production of The Beatles 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." Along with Sgt. Peppers, The Beach Boys concept album Pet Sounds (1966) has also been stated as pioneering the genre with its artistic ambitions.[13][14][15]

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."[16]

  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.[17]

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. 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]


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][18][19][20]

In the 1980s, bands like Talk Talk became prominent in which they inspired the post-rock genre with their albums Spirit of Eden in 1988 and Laughing Stock in 1991, and into the band's incarnation as .O.rang in the 1994-1997. Blur's experimental 13 album in 1999 was seen as an art rock album on occasion, in which they departed further from britpop as they had since 1996 and incorporated noise rock and electronic music.


In 2000, British rock group Radiohead abandoned their traditional alternative rock sound and instead made an electronic experimental album, Kid A. 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[21] 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.

  See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Art Rock". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2011-12-15.
  2. ^ a b "Art-Rock". Merriam Webster. Retrieved 2011-12-15.
  3. ^ a b c "Art-Rock/Experimental". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-12-15.
  4. ^ a b c "Prog-Rock". Allmusic. Archived from the original on 2010-12-09. Retrieved 2011-12-15.
  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 2009-01-12. Retrieved 2011-12-15.
  6. ^ "Key Terms and Definitions". http://www.us.oup.com/us/companion.websites/019530053X/studentresources/chapter11/key_terms/. Retrieved 2008-03-16. 
  7. ^ Eder, Bruce, "The Early History of Art-Rock/Prog Rock", All-Music Guide Essay, Vanguar Church, http://www.vanguardchurch.com/the_history_of_art_rock.htm .
  8. ^ A Guide to the Progressive Rock Genres, GEPR, http://www.gepr.net/genre2.html .
  9. ^ What is prog?, Connoly Co, http://www.connollyco.com/discography/whatis.html .
  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". Real.com. Archived from the original on 2010-05-06. Retrieved 2011-12-15.
  12. ^ "Art Rock and the Bohemian Rhapsody". http://www.lessonplanspage.com/MusicLAArtRockAppreciationAndQueensBohemianRhapsodyAnalyticalActivity912.htm. Retrieved 2011-07-14. 
  13. ^ Carys Wyn Jones, The rock canon: canonical values in the reception of rock albums", ISBN 0-7546-6244-6 , p. 49.
  14. ^ David Leaf, The Beach Boys, (Courage Books, 1985), ISBN 0-89471-412-0
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ George Graham Reviews Tom Taylor's "The Crossing"
  17. ^ Brian Hogg, The History of Scottish Rock and Pop. (BBC/Guinness Publishing); '1-2-3 and the Birth of Prog' Mojo, Nov. 1994
  18. ^ Kate Bush Allmusic bio
  19. ^ Laurie Anderson Album review of Mister Heartbreak by Robert Christgau
  20. ^ "Big Science | Laurie Anderson Album". Yahoo! Music. Archived from the original on 2011-05-24. Retrieved 2011-12-15.
  21. ^ "Deerhoof Make Magical Art Rock". http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/9182191/deerhoof_make_magical_art_rock. Retrieved 2008-03-16. 


  • 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


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