The greatest strength of rock music is its simplicity. Since its birth in the 1950s, the guitars have gotten louder and the stars more explicit, but the idea is basically the same: indulgence, noise, songs of lust and rebellion. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Even with a cultural force as pure as rock ‘n’ roll, you run the risk of things becoming stale after a while, and that’s when it becomes necessary to push the envelope. Over the years many bands and artists have strived to explore the potential of the rock song, separating and expanding the form, using the studio as an instrument or stretching the two and a half minute rock single to the point of transcendence. .
Doing this while maintaining the rock structure rather than diving completely into the avant-garde is a delicate balancing act, but these songs pull it off, music to which an audience can bob their feet and stroke their chins in the same measure.
From early generations of music scientists to modern artists still finding new avenues to explore, here are 10 of the best tracks that are redefining what rock music can be.
Midway through their career, the Beatles embraced experimentalism wholeheartedly. While the results didn’t always lead to the most sonically pleasing music – “Revolution 9” comes to mind – they undeniably pushed things forward with their willingness to use the studio beyond what the majority of their peers imagined.
“Rain”, the B-side of the 1966 single “Paperback Writer”, was one of their first steps forward in this regard. The song is built around drones, the guitars sounding like sitars behind McCartney’s prominent bassline and Lennon’s detached, nasal (even to him) vocals. It’s an upbeat, pop tune, but with an ominous air due to its stop-start nature and the force with which everything is played.
More directly influential is the activity in the studio. The instrumental track is recorded at a faster speed and then played back slower for the master, giving it a stretched and unusual quality. The coda takes a snippet of the song and plays it backwards, fitting the melody perfectly but capping the melody on an otherworldly note.