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Difference Between Rock and Alternative Rock

rock-bandRock vs Alternative Rock

A sub genre of the main music genre of rock, alternative rock started gaining ground in the early 1980s, with its cultural origins mainly in the United States and the United Kingdom. It was inspired by a combination of music varieties including the 1970s main stream rock music and its subgenres of punk rock, post-punk, hardcore punk and new wave. Although a few notable alternative rock artists achieved recognition in the mainstream and some commercial success during the 1980s, the larger section of alternative rock artists were cult acts that worked with independent labels and much of their exposure was by word of mouth or college radio airplay.

The sub genre of alternative rock was commonly known as ‘college’ rock in the United States and ‘indie’ rock in the United Kingdom. College rock in the US identified mainly with college radio where it received more airplay. However many music critics use the term ‘alternative’ rock as a blanket term for a wide variety of bands that fit a particular radio format and usually attached to independent labels. As mentioned earlier, alternative identified with college rock bands such as R.E.M, The Smiths and The Cure and such subgenres as radio friendly post-punk. These college bands were actually in the mainstream rock genre as far as beats and instrumentation were concerned but diverted from mainstream by changing subject matter in their music, image and did a lot of experimentation with their instrument set up and arrangements that were not typically rock.

Alternative rock is basically an umbrella term for post-punk bands from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s. Alternative rock has a multitude of styles that include the sweet melodies of jangle-pop and the disturbing metallic grind of industrial, yet they are all tied together by a similar trend; they all didn’t operate within the mainstream. The 1980s alternative rock was even more diverse and segmented than the mainstream; roots rock, alternative dance, jangle-pop, post-hardcore punk, funk-metal, punk-pop, and experimental rock were among the classified styles here. On the other hand the 1990s alternative rock came off with a more sanitized and homogenous sound than its predecessor, especially since the heavier material proved to have greater commercial appeal than the quieter elements of alternative rock.

Summary:
1. Rock music emerged some two decades before alternative sprung out of the mainstream rock.
2. Alternative rock is a sub genre of the mainstream rock genre music.
3. Alternative rock was created as a break-away by bands that didn’t sign with mainstream music labels but rock evolved from more than one existing genres.
4. Alternative includes various styles that are not typically rock and those that are hard core rock.


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4 Comments

  1. When I think of “rock”, I think of AC/DC, early Van Halen, Def Leppard, Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, Rainbow, KISS, Blue Oyster Cult, Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Buffalo, Mountain, Cream, and others from the blues rock/hard rock/heavy metal scenes of the ’60s and ’70s. In more modern terms, I see the likes of Kyuss, Wolfmother, Witchcraft, Radio Moscow, Rival Sons, Queens of the Stone Age, Jet, White Stripes, Sleep, Southern Whiskey Rebellion, and the like as being ‘rock’, which is odd seeing most of these tend to fall to the bluesier side of things. Yet it’s here I find what I call “Guitarlove”- a sheer fondness for riffs and solos and simple complexity and the just wig-out rock.

    In alt rock, I find stuff from The Clash and The Smiths, REM, Nirvana, Creed, Nickelback, and even the more gruntish types of Linkin Park, Skillet, SR-71, Sum 41, and Three Days Grace (AKA, “AMV Rock” or “Anime Music Video Rock”) but not forgetting the likes of Jane’s Addiction or Green Day or Blink 182. Korn, Rage Against the Machine, Slipknot, and most nu metal and rapcore bands also fall under this umbrella, alongside Alice in Chains, Tool, and even going to the prog-ish sounds of Radiohead. I always find Alt Rock to be the ‘softer, more punk oriented, more emotional, or less-guitar driven’ kind of rock, where the guitar is really more or less there to assert that the band is rock. Whereas with “Reg Rock”, the guitarist is probably the most important member of the band, even higher than the vocalist.
    I just can’t fathom the concept of an alt rock band playing blues, and so it be the other way around. That might be the main difference- when I think of Regular Rock, I tend to think of a direct association with the blues, blues rock, and even stoner rock and quite possibly doom metal. With alt rock, it tends towards emo, some rap, and punk aesthetics.

    Both are great, don’t get me wrong! And my definitions don’t stand with the commercial success of these types, nor should they- if alt rock always means “underground rock” or “indie rock”, then why are the alt rocks bands topping the charts and getting the most fans while the ‘reg rock’ bluesy-riffy-sabbathian bands always hang around underground?

  2. I’m with Gideon- most “regular rock” bands really come across as being “regular rock” when they begin showing some appreciation to the likes of Black Sabbath and AC/DC or Ted Nugent, in other words, when the guitar supersedes all. Alt rock feels more like its for the emo kid in the corner at school who likes “gowing” (how most punk inspired alt rockers pronounce “go”) and “If only you were here” themed lyrics stemming from Grunge. Also it is true that once upon a time, alt rock literally meant ‘alternative rock’, something different from the constantly poppy glam and post-punk new wave. Nowadays it is true that it is alt rock that rules rock radio, where sporadic guttural screaming and blast beating are must-dos for any alt metal band and all rock bands should be like Green Day… Yet when you find bands that one might call “regular rock” or “reg rock” (or hopefully just plain rock and roll!) you do find that ‘sabbathian tinge’ to their sound, where the vocalist must have taken lessons from Robert Plant, the guitarist has posters of Tony Iommi and Jimi Hendrix on his or her wall, and the bass and drums tend towards the twelve bar. As for just plain pure-as-hell “ROCK AND ROLL” in the terms of not being blues rock but not being heavy metal, nor alt rock, nor soft rock but pure hard rock, that’s still around too. Gideon is right when he says that, if you’re being specific, the meaning of the terms have changed, and ‘regular rock’ is now where alt rock was in the 80s, and alt rock reigns supreme, where it’s almost uncool to have a nice riff and solo in your song.

    I suppose that if another grunge movement were to occur, this “Nu Grunge” rock revival will most certainly feature “regular rock” in the vein of the ’70s and ’80s hardcore classics and will almost certainly put blues in the forefront. Chances are whatever this ‘nu grunge’ movement brings, it’ll probably come from Britain or the Southern US.

  3. honestly i always prefer listening to mostly alt.rock because you can listen to it when you’re in any mood and its not haaard core nor is it “happy” pop just somewhere really great in between like my fave band bastille,30 secs to mars with florence and the machine not crap like nickleback

  4. This is going to be long, and I’m sure this will only be read a handful of times, but I’ll go out on a limb; The problem with the labels “rock” and “alternative rock” is that there’s a blurred line between the two. At some point, you’ll find a ‘mainstream’ rock act that sounds alternative, and an alternative band that sounds mainstream. One case: Velvet Underground vs Rival Sons. The former is very much non-alternative rock and roll, but if any modern rock fan were to give them a listen, they’d think they were a modern indie band recorded lo-fi. Rival Sons is part of the new wave of blues rock, and is consistently considered alternative, yet they sound as if their calendars are stuck on ’1972.’ If you need a better example, try one many should know: Soundgarden. They’re the Ur Example of Stoner Rock, a genre whose head is so stuck up Black Sabbath/Led Zeppelin’s ass that you’d think you just walked into a rose (and pearl and peach and lemon and lime) colored version of the ’70s. They’re also one of the most famous Alternative bands of all time, part of the Grunge wave. They have a punk ethos, very clearly in the earlier albums, but you might not pick it up well.

    Discarding most of what Gideon/Syd said (obviously one person, who were you trying to fool?), old school rock was indeed rooted in the blues and proto-rock, while early alternative was most known for its jazz and punk roots. But this assessment immediately collapses when you consider that many ‘old-school’ rock bands were also very much inspired by the likes of punk, jazz, and avant garde acts, and some alternative artists may take up more from blues or even straight rock than any amount of punk or new wave.
    The only thing I can think of that is a major differentiating point circa 1991 is that Straight/Old School rock was more, let’s say, “external.” You had love songs, cheesy songs on rebellion, love songs, songs about Western life, love songs, being the master of the world, love songs… love songs. “Baby,” “Lovin’ you,” and “C’mon honey” are in just about every ’70s and ’80s hard rock song. Alternative, on the other hand, seemed to be aiming for an artsy market, looking at life through a different lens, focusing on anti-capitalist sentiment, and quite frankly discussing matters of introspection, the personal self, and one’s mind and mental state (Sonic Youth’s Schizophrenia makes me think of this, as does The Pixie’s Where Is My Mind, both songs you’d never find on ‘mainstream’ rock radio, even if made and written in a mainstream fashion.)

    To me, alternative is better, and I feel that many dadrock bands are only liked because they replicate the arena/glam/progressive rock artists of the ’70s and ’80s, but straight rock is more powerful. Straight rock is about being a rock star. Mainstream rock, before the ’90s, was about living up life as a rock and roll king and celebrating what you love (or what they loved: money, women, success…)
    Alternative rock was about dealing with the pressures of life, real life, and not the life of millionaires and their skewed notions of what ‘real life’ is. It was down to earth, a tad shaggy, and diverse. The down to earthiness of it is what fans of old school rock don’t like. You didn’t breath the same air as Rod Stewart or David Bowie or Mick Jagger or Journey. You had no right to stand near the likes of Bon Jovi or Queen. You’re just a pissy little collegian with a guitar, bass, and drum set and a vocalist who’s listened to a little bit too much new-wave and post-punk. You had good songs in your head, but there’s just no point in trying to cover Van Halen. You couldn’t play a fraction as well as them anyway.
    So you just got some friends together, played the best you could, if simple, and enjoyed what you did. That was alternative rock in the ’80s.

    And the modern problem is that this scenario sounds more relevant to old-school style garage rock today. But ‘Alternative’ is the mainstream, and if it is the mainstream, then what does that make the ’70s oriented retro rock garage band? It obviously can’t take the label ‘alternative.’ It’s not mainstream, even though it sounds much like the mainstream rock bands of the ’70s.

    Simplifying it, alternative rock is like pointing at a rock, calling it a rock, then pointing at another slightly different rock and calling it a stone. Sure, they’re *slightly* different, but not enough to warrant the different labels. One may be historically more introspective and proleoisie than the other, but they’re both rock music by far. Soon, something may happen that completely throws these labels into the gutter, whether it be a return of classic Alternative, popularization of old school/retro doom, or something unique.

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