The third cycle was a reaction to the mediocrities of the early 1970s. Fed up with both the awful state of AM radio and with the pomposity of the Stones and Zeppelin and the complexities of prog rockers like Genesis and ELP, a new generation embraced the back-to-basics and DIY aesthetics of punk. Punk first rose from the streets of New York and then London before exploding in March 1977 when the Sex Pistols first tried to release “God Save the Queen.”
Remember the contract signing ceremony with Virgin Records outside Buckingham Palace? The date was March 10, 1977. That’s 13 years and one month since the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan and almost 26 years to the day that “Rocket 88” was released.
Punk, post-punk and New Wave brought new life to rock and helped many of us weather the disco storm. But by 1984, punk had burned out, New Wave had grown stale and rock, in general, seemed to have little to offer. As the world’s attention turned to acts like Huey Lewis and the News and Whitney Houston, many rock fans turned back to the music of the 1960s and 1970s, creating an insatiable market for what would soon be called “classic rock.”
If you were around towards the end of the 1980s, you’ll remember the megatours by Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones. Meanwhile, arenas and stadia were home to package tours featuring acts like Van Halen and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Those acts making new music all looked like … well, women — or at least extremely feminized men with spandex and makeup: Motley Crue, Poison, Whitesnake, Twisted Sister. MTV was a huge ally; they looked very interesting on TV, something that drove bands to have even bigger hair and crazier outfits. But after a few years, even MTV realized that they had overdone it with the hair metal bands.
And once they discovered the power ballad, it was all over. Nothing killed hair metal faster than second tier bands singing histrionic love songs.
By the end of the 1980s, music was all poodle haircuts and New Kids on the Block. The same “rock is dead” cries that were heard in 1958 and 1970 were trotted out again.
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