I know that most critics around the world are not too pleased with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees over the past several years. Yes, there has not been enough women and artists of color being inducted (Really?!?! No Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Chaka Khan, Rick James, the Spinners, Zapp, LL Cool J, Eric B & Rakim, Pat Benatar, The Runaways, to list just a few???). But, personally, I have enjoyed seeing some of my favorite bands of my youth, most of whom were NOT critical darlings during their initial runs as artists, like KISS, Rush, Deep Purple, Cheap Trick, Chicago, Yes, Steve Miller and now Journey. Finally, that music of seemingly faceless bands (go ahead and name ALL of the musicians who have played in each of these bands. Impossible, I know!). Back in the late Seventies and early Eighties, these types of bands were lumped together under the banner of “arena rock”, “corporate rock” or “dad rock”.
Sure, these bands all shared a sound that originated with art rock and hard rock, but they all shared a love of melody. So, instead of using a jangling guitar, these bands used near-metal guitar solos that had been sweetened to fit within the constraints of a pop song. If that formula sounds vaguely familiar, it should since hair or glam metal used the same repertoire. So when did arena rock begin to infatuate the American youth?
The first inklings of a newer type of hard rock was bubbling up in the early Seventies in the form of Alice Cooper, Jethro Tull, Chicago and Bachman-Turner Overdrive. But, the sound did not kick into gear until the release of Boston’s eponymous titled debut album on August 25, 1976. After that, the labels were in search of bands with a similar sound to Boston. After Boston’s success, we started hearing great music by journeymen artists such as Peter Frampton, Kansas, REO Speedwagon and Head East. Like new bands were popping up like Foreigner, and other experienced bands, like Styx, REO and Journey, went through line-up changes that lead to bigger success. And, the sound was off to the races.
The quality of this type of music peaked in the late-70s, but the commercial success peaked in 1981, as the following artists had number one albums and big hit songs: REO Speedwagon, Styx, Foreigner, Journey and Pat Benatar. Other bands began to narrow their sounds to fit this genre which resulted in successful albums for Rush, the Moody Blues, Stevie Nicks and Billy Squier.
As the years pass on, more and more of these artists are being better appreciated now that they were back in those heady days of big album and single sales and concert receipts. These artists are in constant rotation on classic rock radio all over the world. I think we will continue to see more and more of these artists being recognized by the RRHOF and younger critics as the years pass. Here’s to Journey getting in the RRHOF! Next up Styx, Pat Benatar and/or Foreigner?