Saturday, February 7, 2009

Garage Rock: The Origins and History

Doin' Our Thing album coverImage via Wikipedia

The History of Garage Rock by Joe Boikowich

Garage rock is a raw form of rock and roll that first became popular in the United States and Canada from around 1963 to 1967. During the 1960s garage rock was not recognized as a separate music genre and had no specific name. However, in the early 1970s, some rock critics began to label it as punk rock and later the name was changed to rock or '60s Punk to avoid confusion with the music of late 1970s punk rock bands such as the well-known Sex Pistols and The Clash.

The garage rock style had been evolving from regional scenes as far back as 1958. Mainstream examples of the genre in its formative stages are bands like "Dirty Robber" by The Wailers, and "Rumble" by Link Wray, Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs, but there are also a number of other bands that that had a significant impact in shaping the genre and by 1963, singles released by garage bands were creeping into the national charts in greater numbers, including the Kingsmen, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Trashmen and the Rivieras. Other influential garage bands such as the Sonics never made it into the Billboard 100 though.

In the early period of rock there was a cross-pollination between garage rock and frat rock. Frat rock, which is another major influence and precursor to punk rock, was also a vaguely defined genre of rock and roll, which was characterized by raw, energetic and usually party-themed anthems. Frat rock is today mainly viewed as a sub-genre of rock.

The "British Invasion" of 1964-1966 is another key influence on garage rock as garage rock bands were to a large extent influenced by the British "beat groups" with a harder, blues-based attack, such as for example The Kinks, The Who, The Animals and The Yardbirds among others. However, another major influence on garage rock, which should not be left unmentioned, is the folk-rock of the Byrds and Bob Dylan.

Looking back, it is commonly agreed that garage rock peeked both commercially and artistically in 1966. What happened was that the genre entered a slow, but irreversible, decline with fewer and fewer records being released, and by 1970 the genre was, from a general interest standpoint, by any practical means dead.

So how exactly did the genre get its name? Well, the name Garage Rock comes the common view that many of those performing within the genre were young and amateurish, and often practiced in a family garage. Naturally this connotation also evokes a suburban, middle-class setting. However, it is definitely not correct to draw the conclusion that that all garage bands had this demographic background. Some bands were made up of middle-class teenagers from the suburbs, while others were from rural or urban areas. Additionally there were also the professional musicians in their twenties.

The garage rock performances were most of the time characterized as being amateurish or naïve. Common themes were related to the negative aspects of high school life and the lyrics and delivery were quite a bit more aggressive than what was common at the time, often with growled or shouted vocals that often seemed to be more like screaming.

A particularly common type of song was about "lying girls". This might imply that the music was very limited. However, in reality different garage rock acts were quite diverse in both musical ability and in style. Bands varied from one-chord musical crudeness to near-studio musician quality. Also there were regional variations in many parts of the country with the Pacific Northwest states of Washington and Oregon having the most defined regional sound.

Thousands of garage bands were extant in the USA and Canada during the era. Several dozen of these produced national hit records, while hundreds of others produced regional hits. However, as expected most garage rock bands were commercial failures even though such bands were signed to major or large regional labels.

By 1968 the style largely disappeared from the national charts and the local level as new styles had evolved to replace garage rock. As well, the music industry stopped supporting it. The only exception was in Detroit where garage rock stayed alive until the early 70s, however, with a much more aggressive style. Among the true believers these later bands are not considered to belong to the rock genre. Instead they are often described as proto-punk or proto-hard rock.

Garage rock expert Joe Boikowich writes about the history of garage rock. For more information check out the Essential Garage Rock Selection at Nylvi.

Nylvi is a new social marketplace for buying and selling vinyl records.

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