A friend posted this on Facebook last night:
“So I been thinking about this for a long time and I can’t come to a decent conclusion. So I figured I’d ask my question here.
What is Rock and Roll? If you had to pick a band that personifies rock and roll who would you choose? Some people say that AC/DC are what rock and roll is. Others say Led Zeppelin is the one.
So who would you choose? Think on this. I want a real answer.”
Not being committed to any other engagement, and being profoundly passionate about music and especially R&R, I had to write a response. Though a little longer than I expected, I ended up with an answer worth saving.
Led Zeppelin does personify Rock & Roll pretty well. Of course I say that with them being one of my favorite bands of all time, but Rock & Roll cannot be totally embodied in one band of musicians. Rock & Roll as we know it is the result of a generation, grandfathered by that of Elvis. Though he is called the king of rock and roll, his style music is now known as rockabilly.
The 70’s really defined the heart of Rock & Roll. The 80’s brought the core sound of “metal” into the mix, the 90’s introduced ska, shoegaze, and the ubiquity of “indie” artists. We now have an infinite spectrum of sound that transcends genre, but much of which owes its roots to the Rock & Roll of the 70’s. Live, loud, inventive performances on stage, using a core ensemble of electric guitar, drums, bass, and voice are what drove the spirit of the genre. Rock & Roll also stood for a specific lifestyle which has since been largely separated from the music.
However, I have to look at Rock & Roll as an evolution rather than an entity. It began as a departure from rigid hymn style melodies, relaxed jazz, and big band dance groups. The electric guitar in itself was a catalyst to the evolution of music, with an entirely new breed of virtuoso players making their mark in the world. Electric guitars and synthesizers, coupled with experimentation in psychedlics in the 60’s, gave rise to a wave of new sounds. A culture of new sounds, ideas, and technology all paved the way for the pinnacle of Rock & Roll to be reached.
There were several other stepping stones, however. Duane Allman is a good example of one who bridged the gap between bluegrass, blues, and rock & roll. The Grateful Dead provided another radical mesh: that of gospel-rooted blues and psychedelic rock. Eric Clapton & BB King showed the 70’s just how alive and soulful the music of a guitar can be. Pink Floyd, after decades of experimentation, created progressive-rock masterpieces like “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” with a decided sound and sweeping scenery that never gets boring. Led Zeppelin’s ability to turn “Dazed & Confused” into more than a 20 minute all-out jam session of a performance as recorded on BBC sessions is an example of Rock’s intimately expressive nature. Rock and Roll performance takes on the spirit of the performers, engulfing the musician in a sort of reverse-birth. In the most spectacular examples of true Rock & Roll, the artist rediscovers and is transformed by the music created by his own hand, every time he plays it.
Seas of devoted, undulating fans also became symbolic of Rock & Roll. The fans were just as much a part of Rock & Roll as music itself, which points back to the fact of Rock & Roll being a very large niche of a generation-a lifestyle, as it were.
Regarding your original question, Zeppelin and AC/DC are certainly icons of Rock & Roll, and are 100% Rock & Roll, as opposed to being results of, or rooted in Rock & Roll. I would also mention the Rolling Stones as having a major impact on Rock & Roll. As Zeppelin was influenced by blues and the likes of Elvis, Zeppelin influenced many others, who influenced the musicians who are coming forth today. Fairly immediate impacts of Zeppelin who now stand as icons in the genre include Aerosmith, Guns n’ Roses, and quite a few others that I consider pure Rock & Roll bands. However, not one of them is a complete embodiment of the genre. In short, I believe Rock & Roll is too “big” to be contained by any one group of musical performers.
I hope that was thoughtful enough.