Pop rock has been a staple in the music industry since the 1950s, and it continued to reign supreme until the 1990s.
If you’re a fan of catchy tunes with a rock edge, then you’re probably already familiar with pop rock. In fact, you might have been singing along to pop rock hits without even realizing it!
So let’s get started on this musical journey and explore the fascinating history of pop rock music.
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What is Pop Rock?
Pop rock music is where pop and rock intersect and make sweet, sweet music together. You’ve probably heard pop rock hits like “Livin’ On a Prayer” by Bon Jovi or “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey. These tunes are usually driven by guitar riffs and drum beats and are often catchy enough to get stuck in your head all day.
Now, when we say “pop,” we’re talking about all kinds of popular music – from hip-hop and country to R&B and K-Pop. But when we add “rock” to the mix, we get something special. Pop rock music draws from the traditions of rock ‘n’ roll pioneers like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and the Beatles.
Rock music has given birth to many subgenres over the years, such as hard rock, heavy metal, and alternative rock. But pop rock remains one of the most commercially successful genres out there. It’s accessible and appeals to a wide range of music fans, which is why it continues to be a mainstay on the radio.
A Brief History of Pop Rock
Pop rock music has come a long way since its inception in the 1950s. Let’s take a journey through the decades and explore the different eras of pop rock music.
The Birth of Pop Rock – 1950s
In the 1950s, rock ‘n’ roll exploded onto the music scene and changed the course of pop music forever. Artists like Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Buddy Holly dominated the airwaves, and pop rock music was born.
The Golden Age of Pop Rock – 1960s and 1970s
The 1960s and 1970s were the golden age of pop rock music, as rock ‘n’ roll artists like the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Rolling Stones dominated the music charts. These two decades also saw the rise of album-oriented rock, as artists focused on creating cohesive, thematically-driven albums rather than hit singles. This era also saw the emergence of new styles like punk rock, new wave, and heavy metal, as well as the incorporation of rock instrumentation into other genres like R&B and Motown.
The Competition Era – 1980s
The 1980s were a time of competition for rock music, as other genres like disco, hip-hop, and electronic music surged in popularity. Despite this, new styles like synth pop and jangle pop found success, and artists like U2 and Prince continued to push the boundaries of pop rock.
The Diverse Era – 1990s
The 1990s saw the rise of pop punk and power pop, with bands like Green Day, Gin Blossoms, and Toad the Wet Sprocket finding mainstream success. Indie pop rock groups like R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs also managed to break through. The era gave us a diverse range of styles, making it a great time for pop rock music.
The Present Era – 21st Century
While pop rock may not be as dominant in the mainstream as it once was, it still has a strong presence in the 21st century. Artists like Taylor Swift, Adele, and Lana del Rey incorporate rock elements into their music, while bands like Foo Fighters and Bruce Springsteen continue to draw crowds. Indie pop rockers like Belle and Sebastian and Fleet Foxes also have dedicated followings, showcasing the enduring appeal of pop rock music.
4 Characteristics of Pop Rock
Pop rock music has become increasingly popular over the years, and it’s no wonder why. It’s a fusion of two well-loved genres that results in catchy, upbeat music that is easy to listen to. Here are some defining characteristics of pop rock:
1. Emphasis on Songwriting and Catchy Hooks
Pop rock artists prioritize songwriting and creating memorable hooks over technical prowess. They aim to create songs that are catchy and easy to sing along to, while still being musically satisfying. This emphasis on song form and structure sets pop rock apart from other rock styles that focus on instrumental virtuosity.
2. Concise Song Format for Mainstream Appeal
Unlike the long, epic song forms of the 1970s, pop rock songs tend to be concise and short enough to receive airplay on FM radio and streaming playlists. This shorter format allows pop rock artists to pack a punch in a shorter amount of time, while still delivering a memorable melody and chorus.
3. Talented Lead Singers as Key Feature
One thing you can count on in pop rock music is the presence of talented lead singers. Pop rock songs are typically sung melodies, and many of the artists in this genre are accomplished vocalists. In contrast to some indie and punk rock groups, where singing may take a backseat to other elements of the music, pop rock prioritizes high-quality lead vocals that carry the melody and convey the emotion of the song.
4. Guitar and Drums as Core Instruments
Guitars and drums are the driving force behind pop rock music. Electric guitar, electric bass, and a drum kit are the standard instruments in rock music, and they feature prominently in most pop rock songs. Some bands may also incorporate keyboards or other instruments, but the guitar and drums are the backbone of the genre. These instruments provide the energy and rhythm that make pop rock such an exciting and enjoyable genre.
9 Famous Pop Rock Artists
Let’s talk about some of the biggest pop rock artists of all time! These guys have been around for decades and have made a huge impact on music history.
1. Elvis Presley
The King of Rock himself, Elvis Presley, burst onto the scene in the 1950s and took the world by storm. He was known for his incredible voice and his hip-shaking dance moves. He became one of the biggest celebrities in America, and his music is still beloved today.
2. The Beatles
Hailing from Liverpool, England, the Beatles were one of the first international acts to dominate the pop rock scene. They were known for their catchy tunes and their unique style. They’ve influenced countless musicians over the years and are still hugely popular today.
3. The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys were pioneers of pop rock music, bringing top-notch vocals, concise songs, and endless hooks to the scene in the 1960s. They had a distinctive sound that was all their own, and they’ve left a lasting mark on music history.
4. Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen broke through in 1975 with his third album, Born to Run, and has been a pop rock icon ever since. His music is known for its raw, emotional power and its ability to connect with fans on a deep level. He’s one of the most successful musicians of all time, and his impact on pop rock music can’t be overstated.
5. Fleetwood Mac
Fleetwood Mac were soft-rock pioneers, known for their mainstream pop hits penned by Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, and Lindsey Buckingham. They also featured rock guitar played by Buckingham and band founder Peter Green. Their music is still hugely popular today, and they’ve inspired many musicians over the years.
R.E.M. was a quartet from Athens, Georgia that was well known on the indie pop rock scene throughout the 1980s. However, they became mainstream artists thanks to the 1991 mega-hit “Losing My Religion.” Their music was known for its catchy hooks and thoughtful lyrics, and they’ve left a lasting impact on pop rock music.
7. Cyndi Lauper
Along with Pat Benatar and Linda Ronstadt, Cyndi Lauper proved that female solo artists could thrive in the pop rock genre. She had a distinctive voice and a unique style that set her apart from other artists of her time. Her music is still loved today, and she continues to inspire new generations of musicians.
8. Maroon 5
Although pop rock has waned in influence in the twenty-first century, some mainstream acts keep rock music as part of their sound. Maroon 5 is a great example of this trend. They’ve had numerous hits over the years, and their music is known for its catchy hooks and upbeat energy.
9. Billie Eilish
Billie Eilish is a newer pop rock artist who has helped update the pop rock tradition for a new generation. She combines rock idioms with synthesizers and drum machines, creating a unique sound that’s all her own. She’s become hugely popular in recent years, and her music is loved by fans all over the world.