Social effects of rock music

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The popularity and worldwide scope of rock music resulted in a powerful impact on society. Rock and roll influenced daily life, fashion, attitudes and language in a way few other social developments have equalled. As the original generations of rock and roll fans matured, the music became an accepted and deeply interwoven thread in popular culture. Beginning in the early 1950s, rock songs and acts began to be used in a few television commercials; within a decade this practice became widespread, and rock music also featured in film and television program soundtracks.


There's a lot of conflict regarding how women are viewed by rock musicians as well as the perception outsiders have on their involvement with rock music. There's a Led Zeppelin movie titled, "The Song Remains the Same" which follows the band during a live show and there's one woman in the crown who really stood out. Susan Fast decided to use this inspiration to research gender and sexuality in these environments. "She is not only gazing at what she considers to be a pleasurable spectacle, but she is sitting still and listening; she is composed, analytical, engaged playfully with what she is watching" (Fast 255).[1] Her experience and research showed that women enjoy, and participate in rock concerts the same way men do. The woman in the video portrayed herself as a person who genuinely enjoyed the music. She wasn't hysterical or screaming. She wasn't removing her shirt to make herself known. She had no desire of attention from the men around her; just a person genuinely enjoying the performance and feeling the music.

In the grunge scene, you will find evidence of the Riot Grrrl Movement. According to Todd Kerstetter, this movement was launched by "radical feminists"[2] and really encouraged audience members to discuss sexual abuse instead of keeping it locked inside. They would even mandate that the women in the audience always had a safe place near the stage where they could watch the show without being put in danger from mosh pits and other aggressive behavior.


In the cross-over of African American "race music" to a growing white youth audience, the popularization of rock and roll involved both black performers reaching a white audience and white performers adapting African-American music.[3] Rock and roll appeared at a time when racial tensions in the United States were entering a new phase, with the beginnings of the civil rights movement for desegregation, leading to the Supreme Court ruling that abolished the policy of "separate but equal" in 1954, but leaving a policy which would be extremely difficult to enforce in parts of the United States.[4] The coming together of white youth audiences and black music in rock and roll, inevitably provoked strong racially charged reactions within the US, with many whites condemning its breaking down of barriers based on color.[5] Many observers saw rock and roll as heralding the way for desegregation, in creating a new form of music that encouraged racial cooperation and shared experience.[6] Many authors have argued that early rock and roll was instrumental in the way both white and black teenagers identified themselves.[7]

Although the rock scene did eventually bring black's and white's together, black's weren't always welcomed with open arms. They had to push and fight through the segregation and racism in order to finally belong. During her research, Maureen Mahon discovered that people had a very hard time picturing a black person up on stage with a guitar or even in the crown headbanging. Maureen states, "black rock stands outside conventional conceptions of black authenticity, for although it is easy to accept blacks as musicians, the image of a rock musician is, for most Americans, a white man with a guitar" (Mahon 288). So even today, a black musician is generally expected to be seen as a rapper or even a country singer before someone expects to see them on stage with a drum set or bass guitar. [8]

Sex and drugs[edit]

The rock and roll lifestyle was popularly associated with sex and drugs. Many of rock and roll's early stars (as well as their jazz and blues counterparts) were known as hard-drinking, hard-living characters. During the 1960s the lifestyles of many stars became more publicly known, aided by the growth of the underground rock press. Musicians had always attracted attention of "groupies" (girls who followed musicians) who spent time with and often performed sexual favors for band members.

Some of the women who followed the band were fans of the music more than the musicians. Mimi Schippers spent a lot of time researching and experiencing sexuality and gender in the world of alternative hard rock and she found that a lot of women would make sexual comments about the music itself or the sound of the singer's voice. These women didn't have any interest in performing sexual favors for band members but had their own euphoric experience from the live performance. Mimi states that she witnessed women saying things like, "I need a cigarette" and "Just fuck me now" as a way to convey the music had provided them with sexually.[9]

As the stars' lifestyles became more public, the popularity and promotion of recreational drug use by musicians may have influenced use of drugs and the perception of acceptability of drug use among the youth of the period. For example, when in the late 1960s the Beatles, who had previously been marketed as clean-cut youths, started publicly acknowledging using LSD, many fans followed. Journalist Al Aronowitz wrote "...whatever the Beatles did was acceptable, especially for young people." Jerry Garcia, of the rock band Grateful Dead said, "For some people, taking LSD and going to Grateful Dead show functions like a rite of passage ... we don't have a product to sell; but we do have a mechanism that works."[citation needed]

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, much of the rock and roll cachet associated with drug use dissipated as rock music suffered a series of drug-related deaths, including the 27 Club-member deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. Although some amount of drug use remained common among rock musicians, a greater respect for the dangers of drug consumption was observed, and many anti-drug songs became part of the rock lexicon, notably "The Needle and the Damage Done" by Neil Young (1972).

Many rock musicians, including John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Stevie Nicks, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Bon Scott, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Steven Tyler, Scott Weiland, Sly Stone, Madonna, Ozzy Osbourne, Mötley Crüe, Layne Staley, Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Lemmy, Whitney Houston, Bobby Brown, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Dave Matthews, David Crosby, Anthony Kiedis, Dave Mustaine, David Bowie, Richard Wright, Phil Rudd, Elton John, Phil Anselmo, James Hetfield, Alice Cooper, Kirk Hammett, Joe Walsh, and others, have acknowledged battling addictions to many substances including alcohol, cocaine and heroin; many of these have successfully undergone drug rehabilitation programs, but others have died.

In the early 1980s. along with the rise of the band Minor Threat, a straight edge lifestyle became popular. The straight edge philosophy of abstinence from recreational drugs, alcohol, tobacco and sex became associated with some hardcore punks through the years, and both remain popular with youth today.[citation needed]


A Mohawked French punk

Rock music and fashion have been inextricably linked. In the mid-1960s of the UK, rivalry arose between "Mods" (who favoured 'modern' Italian-led fashion) and "Rockers" (who wore motorcycle leathers), each style had their own favored musical acts. (The controversy would form the backdrop for The Who's rock opera Quadrophenia). In the 1960s, The Beatles brought mop-top haircuts, collarless blazers, and Beatle Boots into fashion.

Rock musicians were also early adopters of hippie fashion and popularised such styles as long hair and the Nehru jacket. As rock music genres became more segmented, what an artist wore became as important as the music itself in defining the artist's intent and relationship to the audience. In the early 1970s, glam rock became widely influential featuring glittery fashions, high heels and camp. In the late 1970s, disco acts helped bring flashy urban styles to the mainstream, while punk groups began wearing mock-conservative attire, (including suit jackets and skinny ties), in an attempt to be as unlike mainstream rock musicians, who still favored blue jeans and hippie-influenced clothes.

Heavy Metal bands in the 1980s often favoured a strong visual image. For some bands, this consisted of leather or denim jackets and pants, spike/studs and long hair. Visual image was a strong component of the glam metal movement.

In the early 1990s, the popularity of grunge brought in a punk influenced fashion of its own, including torn jeans, old shoes, flannel shirts, backwards baseball hats, and people grew their hair against the clean-cut image that was popular at the time in heavily commercialized pop music culture.

Musicians continue to be fashion icons; pop-culture magazines such as Rolling Stone often include fashion layouts featuring musicians as models.

In addition to magazines showcasing the classic rocker style, many local shops and restaurants across the nation display the iconic fashion trend. As mentioned previously, ripped jeans and flannels along with eclectic accessories complete the famous look. One example of a place that still continues to carry-on this fashion trend is Thirty Three Star. This is a privately owned store located in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. The shop is on 308 3rd St. S and is owned and operated by Thressa Anderson. The Jacksonville Beach location is the only one. The boutique was created to connect people everywhere with the cultural identity that stems from Rock and Roll music. The Rock and Roll genre has been around for many, many decades, late forties early fifties, and places like these help keep the spirit and culture of Rock and Roll alive[10]. The inside of the small boutique blasts Hard Rock music and is decorated with red and black paint giving people the feel of a true vintage Rock and Roll shop. According to a statistic done on the sociology of Rock and Roll music, Rolling Stone magazine has seen a sharp decline in great Rock albums since 1970[11].Many believe this is because the richness of the music that was once produced by early artists of the genre, are no longer seen today. Thirty Three Star and other places like it, are essential to those who are still heavily involved in Rock and Roll culture. Without places like Thirty Three Star, Rock and Roll culture may continue to decline and the free-flowing spirit that comes with a roaring guitar may be lost.


In the Goth subculture, individuals who are perceived as not truly sharing the values of the subculture are deemed to be "inauthentic".

Rock musicians and fans have consistently struggled with the paradox of "selling out"—to be considered "authentic", rock music must keep a certain distance from the commercial world and its constructs;[clarification needed] however it is widely believed that certain compromises must be made in order to become successful and to make music available to the public. This dilemma has created friction between musicians and fans, with some bands going to great lengths to avoid the appearance of "selling out" (while still finding ways to make a lucrative living). In some styles of rock, such as punk and heavy metal, a performer who is believed to have "sold out" to commercial interests may be labelled with the pejorative term "poseur".

If a performer first comes to public attention with one style, any further stylistic development may be seen as selling out to long-time fans. On the other hand, managers and producers may progressively take more control of the artist, as happened, for instance, in Elvis Presley's swift transition in species from "The Hillbilly Cat" to "your teddy bear". It can be difficult to define the difference between seeking a wider audience and selling out. Ray Charles left behind his classic formulation of rhythm and blues to sing country music, pop songs and soft-drink commercials. In the process, he went from a niche audience to worldwide fame. In the end, it is a moral judgement made by the artist, the management, and the audience.

Rammstein is a German rock band who has become widely popular in the United States, some were concerned that they would lose their authenticity during that transition. Robert Burns was intrigued by the band and did research in order to better understand the authenticity of their music and performances. He discovered that they "use formulaic rock arrangements and instrumentation to present a familiar rock concept to their audience, while stating national identity, and thus difference, with the use of cultural signifiers that establish notions of distinctiveness within national and international contexts" (Burns 461).[12]

Charitable and social causes[edit]

Love and peace were very common themes in rock music during the 1960s and 1970s. Rock musicians have often attempted to address social issues directly as commentary or as calls to action. During the Vietnam War the first rock protest songs were heard, inspired by the songs of folk musicians such as Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, which ranged from abstract evocations of peace Peter, Paul and Mary's "If I Had a Hammer" to blunt anti-establishment diatribes Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's "Ohio". Other musicians, notably John Lennon and Yoko Ono, were vocal in their anti-war sentiment both in their music and in public statements with songs such as "Imagine", and "Give Peace a Chance".

Famous rock musicians have adopted causes ranging from the environment (Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)") and the Anti-Apartheid Movement (Peter Gabriel's "Biko"), to violence in Northern Ireland (U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday") and worldwide economic policy (the Dead Kennedys' "Kill the Poor"). Another notable protest song is Patti Smith's recording "People Have the Power." On occasion this involvement would go beyond simple songwriting and take the form of sometimes-spectacular concerts or televised events, often raising money for charity and awareness of global issues.

Rock and roll as social activism reached a milestone in the Live Aid concerts, held July 13, 1985, which were an outgrowth of the 1984 charity single "Do They Know It's Halloween?" and became the largest musical concert in history with performers on two main stages, one in London, England and the other in Philadelphia, USA (plus some other acts performing in other countries) and televised worldwide. The concert lasted 16 hours and featured nearly everybody who was in the forefront of rock and pop in 1985. The charity event raised millions of dollars for famine relief in Africa. Live Aid became a model for many other fund-raising and consciousness-raising efforts, including the Farm Aid concerts for family farmers in North America, and televised performances benefiting victims of the September 11 attacks. Live Aid itself was reprised in 2005 with the Live 8 concert, to raise awareness of global economic policy. Environmental issues have also been a common theme, one example being Live Earth.


Songwriters such as Pete Townshend have explored these spiritual aspects within their work. The common usage of the term "rock god" acknowledges the religious quality of the adulation some rock stars receive. John Lennon became infamous for a statement he made in 1966 that The Beatles were "more popular than Jesus Christ".[13] However, he later said that this statement was misunderstood and not meant to be anti-Christian.[14]

Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, King Diamond, Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin, Marilyn Manson, Slayer and numerous others have also been accused of being satanists, immoral or otherwise having an "evil" influence on their listeners. Anti-religious sentiments also appear in punk and hardcore. There's the example of the song "Filler" by Minor Threat, the name and famous logo of the band Bad Religion and criticism of Christianity and all religions is an important theme in anarcho-punk and crust punk.[citation needed]


Christian rock, alternative rock, metal, punk, and hardcore are specific, identifiable genres of rock music with strong Christian overtones and influence.[citation needed] Many groups and individuals who are not considered to be Christian rock artists have religious beliefs themselves. For example; The Edge and Bono of U2 are a Methodist and an Anglican,[15] respectively; Bruce Springsteen is a Roman Catholic;[16] and Brandon Flowers of The Killers is a Latter Day Saint.[17][18] Carlos Santana [19], Ted Nugent [20], and John Mellencamp [21] are all other examples of rock stars who profess some form of Christian faith.

However, some conservative Christians single out the music genres of hip hop and rock as well as blues and jazz as containing jungle beats, or jungle music, and claim that it is a beat or musical style that is inherently evil, immoral, or sensual. Thus, according to them, any song in the rap, hip hop and rock genres is inherently evil because of the song's musical beat, regardless of the song's lyrics or message. A few even extend this analysis even to Christian rock songs.[22]

Christian conservative author David Noebel is one of the most notable opponents of the existence of jungle beats. In his writings and speeches, Noebel held that the use of such beats in music was a communist plot to subvert the morality of the youth of the United States.[23] Pope Benedict XVI was quoted as saying, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation, that "Rock... is the expression of the elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a sometimes cultic character, a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship."[24]


Some metal bands use demonic imagery for artistic and/or entertainment purposes, though they do not worship or believe in Satan.[citation needed] Ozzy Osbourne is reported to be Anglican[25][26] and Alice Cooper is a known born-again Christian.[27] In some cases, though, metal performers have expressed satanic views. Numerous others in the early Norwegian black metal scene were Satanists.The most known example of this is Euronymous, who claimed that he worshiped Satan as a god. Varg Vikernes (back then called "the Count" or Grishnak) has also been called a Satanist[28], even through he has rejected that label. Even within this localized musical subgenre, however, the arson attacks against Christian churches and other centers of worship were condemned by some prominent figures within the Norwegian black metal scene, such as Kjetil Manheim.[29]


  1. ^ Fast, Susan (Autumn 1999). "Rethinking Issues of Gender and Sexuality in Led Zeppelin: A Woman's View of Pleasure and Power in Hard Rock". American Music. 17:3: 245–299 – via JSTOR.
  2. ^ Kerstetter, Todd (Spring 2012). "Rock Music and the New West, 1980-2010". Western Historical Quarterly. 43:1: 53–71 – via JSTOR.
  3. ^ M. Fisher, Something in the air: radio, rock, and the revolution that shaped a generation (Marc Fisher, 2007), p. 53.
  4. ^ H. Zinn, A people's history of the United States: 1492–present (Pearson Education, 3rd edn., 2003), p. 450.
  5. ^ G. C. Altschuler, All shook up: how rock 'n' roll changed America (Oxford: Oxford University Press US, 2003), p. 35.
  6. ^ M. T. Bertrand, Race, rock, and Elvis (University of Illinois Press, 2000), pp. 95–6.
  7. ^ Carson, Mina (2004). Girls Rock!: Fifty Years of Women Making Music. Lexington. p. 24.
  8. ^ Mahon, Maureen (May 2000). "Black like This: Race, Generation, and Rock in the Post-Civil Rights Era". American Ethnologist. 27:2: 283–311 – via JSTOR.
  9. ^ Schippers, Mimi (Dec 2000). "The Social Organization of Sexuality and Gender in Alternative Hard Rock: An Analysis of Intersectionality". Gender and Society. 14:6: 747–764 – via JSTOR.
  10. ^ "The Roots and Definition of Rock and Roll". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
  11. ^ "Sociology of Rock Music". condor.depaul. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
  12. ^ Burns, Robert (Oct 2008). "German Symbolism in Rock Music: National Signification in the Imagery and Songs of Rammstein". Popular Music. 27:3: 457–472 – via JSTOR.
  13. ^ Evening Standard, March 4, 1966
  14. ^ Chicago Press Conference Transcript "Chicago Press Conference"
  15. ^ Dunphy, Eamon (1987). Unforgettable Fire: The Definitive Biography of U2. New York: Warner Books.
  16. ^ "Bruce Springsteen – Biography". Retrieved 2012-03-29.
  17. ^ "Craig McLean talks to the Killers' singer Brandon Flowers". The Observer. London. 2006-09-24. Retrieved 2012-03-29.
  18. ^ "Hi I'm Brandon | Mormon | 5233". Retrieved 2012-03-29.
  19. ^ "Carlos Santana shares the time his Christian faith stopped him from committing suicide".
  20. ^ "Live Chat: Ted Nugent".
  21. ^ "Famous Lutherans".
  22. ^ "Virtue Magazine » Blog Archive » Music; how does it affect you?". Archived from the original on 2011-12-16. Retrieved 2011-12-07.
  23. ^ "Atomic Platters | The Marxist Minstrels [1968]". Conelrad. Retrieved 2011-12-07.
  24. ^ "Pope Benedict XVI in his own words". BBC News. 20 April 2005. 2005-04-20. Retrieved 2008-10-15.
  25. ^ Moreman, Christopher M. (Fall 2003). "Devil Music and the Great Beast: Ozzy Osbourne, Aleister Crowley, and the Christian Right". Journal of Religion and Popular Culture. Department of Religious Studies and Anthropology, The University of Saskatchewan. V. Archived from the original on 2007-11-05. Retrieved 2012-03-29.
  26. ^ Ravo, Nick (1992-09-23). "At Tea With: Ozzy Osbourne; Family Man. Fights Fat, Is Good With Kids". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-03-29.
  27. ^ "Alice Cooper Is a Christian". 2006-03-28. Retrieved 2012-03-29.
  28. ^
  29. ^ Martin Ledang, Pål Aasdal (2008). Once Upon a Time in Norway.

Further reading[edit]

  • Alain Dister, The Story of Rock: Smash Hits and Superstars, 'New Horizons' series (London: Thames and Hudson, 1993), 40. ISBN 978-0-500-30033-6
  • Jeff Godwin, The Devil's Disciples: the Truth about Rock (Chino, Calif.: Chick Publications, 1985). ISBN 0-937958-23-9
  • Dan Peters, Steve Peters, and Cher Merrill. Why Knock Rock? (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House Publishers, 1984). ISBN 0-87123-440-8
  • Perry F. Rockwood, Rock Music or Rock of Ages (Halifax, N.S.: People's Gospel Hour, [1980?]). Without ISBN

External links[edit]