1963-70 - The birth of rock
1965-1993 – stadium rock
1966-1980 - Art rock
1970-present - metal
1973-1980 – punk
1980 – 1994 alternative
1980- Present indie
London Blues Scene
The wartime influx of Blues records from the US fuelled a British fascination with
American Electric Blues artists such as Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Big
Bill Broonzy. By 1960 many Blues Jams sessions had started across London, the most
famous of which was held at London's Skiffle Centre organised by Alexis Korner.
Korner became something of a father figure to the young aspiring musicians who had
been infected with a love of the blues - such as Eric Burdon (Animals), Jack Bruce
(Cream), Eric Clapton (Yardbirds, Cream) and the members of the Rolling Stones. By
1963 the first American blues festivals had been organised and London had a thriving
blues scene, with clubs such as Crawdaddy and The Marquee presenting The Who,
Yardbirds and Rolling Stones on the same bill.
Beatles At Shea Stadium
15 August 1965
At the peak of Beatlemania the Beatles embarked on their second tour of the US and
one of expected highlights was going to be the performance at Shea Stadium on 15
August 1965. It was the first time a band had played at a major outdoor stadium and the
promoter Sid Berstein had made what he thought were careful preparations. They had
specially designed amps made by VOX to boost the sound and 2000 security staff were
drafted in to look after the 55,000 people who had bought tickets for the event. It turned
out that the amps weren't loud enough (because of the screaming of the fans) and they
were forced into using the house amplification system normally used for baseball games.
As a result neither the audience nor more crucially the Beatles could hear what they
were playing. The crowd control didn't work either, at several points during the show the
frenzied crowd broke through the security and charged towards the stage. It was both a
groundbreaking and record breaking performance but one that would be remembered for
what went wrong rather than what went right.
Rolling stones release "Satisfaction" in US
6 June 1965
The single begins with one of the most recognisable riffs in rock history. It apparently
came to Keith Richards in a dream and Mick Jagger wrote the words inspired by the riff.
He said later that his lyrics "were my view of the world, my frustration with everything."
It had taken a while for The Rolling Stones write their own material; up until this point
they had only produced a series of reworked blues covers. "Satisfaction" was The
Stones' coming of age, using their love and knowledge of the blues to express their own
experiences: it was the moment that Rock and Roll became Rock. It scored them their
first simultaneous number one in the UK and US and broke the band in America. The
Rolling Stones were sending their own version of the blues back to the country it came
Dylan goes electric
25 July 1965
When Dylan walked on stage at the Newport Folk festival clutching an electric guitar and
backed by a full electric band, it was a pivotal point in the history of rock music.
Previously known as a folk artist, this was Dylan rejecting his acoustic roots and opting
for the amped up thrills of rock.
The first song Dylan and band played was met with a confused response from the
audience. By the time they'd finished a scrappy version of his recent single "Like A
Rolling Stone", the grumblings of the audience had turned into booing.
Folk legend Pete Seeger (who was watching from the sidelines) is said to have been so
appalled that he tried to get the power switched off, though he later claimed this was
because the sound was so bad. After the first half of the show, Dylan conceded and went
back on with an acoustic guitar to finish his set to rapturous applause. From this point
onward the folk community became bitterly divided, while Dylan stepped into the pop
The Who release "My Generation"
3 December 1965
"My Generation" was the moment where The Who arrived as a rock band. The stuttering
and aggressive vocal spoke of a pent up and frustrated youth who were struggling to find
a voice. The single eventually made it to number two in the UK, in spite of the fact that
initially the BBC refused to play the single because of the suggestion of the f-word in the
line "why don't you all just f-f-f-.....fade away." The single was an early sign of the
rebellious attitude that would pre-empt the punk movement by a decade.
Chas Chandler discovers Hendrix
5 July 1966
For a while Linda Keith (former Girlfriend of Keith Richards) had been trying to get
Hendrix taken on by someone from the music industry; it wasn't until ex-Animals bassist
Chas Chandler was roped into going to see him at the 'Cafe Wha?' in New York that
things changed. Hendrix began with a blistering version of "Hey Joe" and Chandler was
knocked out. Two-months later Hendrix and Chandler were on a plane to England to
begin his new career. It wasn't long before Chandler had introduced Hendrix to all the
key players on the London scene, and the guitarist became the envy of all who saw
Exploding Plastic Inevitable
The Exploding Plastic Inevitable had its origins on 13 January 1966 at a performance
(held at a dinner for the New York Society for Clinical Psychiatry) staged by Andy Warhol
and featuring the Velvet Underground and Nico. This was Nico's first public performance
with the band. A series of performances followed, which showcased Warhol's films and
the dancing of Gerard Malanga, Edie Sedgewick and others. Sterling Morrison: "It was at
this time that The Velvets started wearing dark glasses on stage, not through trying to be
cool but because the light-show could be blinding at times." The EPI toured the States
but was dogged by poor audience reactions, police intervention and other mishaps
including the suicide of its lighting designer. The final show was held in April 1967, by
which time Nico had left
Hendrix jams with Cream
1 October 1966
In 1966 Eric Clapton was the undisputed king of rock guitar in Britain. That was until
Hendrix turned up on the scene. Jimi had only been in England for a week, yet there was
already talk of this amazing American guitarist who had been creating a storm in
London's blues clubs.
In a particularly over confident gesture Hendrix asked if he could jam with Cream at their
gig at Central London Polytechnic. Hendrix took the stage and tore through a version of
'Killing Floor' in double time. Cream soon regretted allowing him to join them. Hendrix's
outrageous stage antics and dazzling guitar playing caused Clapton to leave the stage in
a state of shock. He asked Chas Chandler afterwards "Is he always that f***ing good?"
'Velvet Underground and Nico' LP is released
Recorded over three separate sessions in 1966, The Velvet Underground's first album
was released the following March. The delay was due mainly to production problems with
Warhol's ambitious sleeve design and in the interim the track 'Sunday Morning' was
added as a potential single. Actor Eric Emerson featured on the back cover but was
removed from subsequent pressings after legal action. Critical reaction to the band was
muted and some stores refused to carry the album due to its risqué lyrical content, and
the poor reaction the album met with in New York meant that Lou Reed would refuse to
play there until 1970. Though its highest US chart position was #171, it was placed at #1
in a list of 'albums that changed music' compiled by The Observer in 2006
Pink Floyd's 14 Hour Technicolour dream
This was an event organised in aid of counter culture newspaper The International Times
and was held at London's Alexandra Palace on 29 April 1967. Underground darlings Pink
Floyd (who were yet to release their first album) were one of a supposed 41 acts on the
bill playing to a chemically stimulated audience of 7000 or so. Among the acts were
Arthur Brown, Soft Machine and Yoko Ono, while in the audience were John Lennon and
Jimi Hendrix (though memories of the event are sketchy for many of those involved). The
Floyd made it to the stage at about 5am, having driven back from an earlier gig in
Holland. Hoppy Hopkins: "The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream was a big event and a
financial disaster. Most people were on drugs of one sort or another. It was a crest of a
wave. It wasn't fully understood, but it was a landmark event".
Hendrix covers Sgt Pepper two days after its
1 June 1967
The album 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' redefined the way records were
made. Using two 4-track recorders, The Beatles painstakingly pieced together a
stunningly original and inventive masterpiece in pop production. Its psychedelic style
helped it become the perfect expression of the 1967 'Summer of Love'.
Jimi Hendrix, who was already a great fan of the band, bought the album on the day of
its release and two days later performed an audacious cover of the title track at the
Saville Theatre. He didn't know at the time that some of The Beatles were in the
audience. Paul McCartney said later he was honoured by the tribute; "simply incredible,
perhaps the best I have ever seen him play."
Hendrix at Monterey Pop Festival
16 June 1967
At the request of Paul McCartney Hendrix was booked to play at the Monterey Pop
Festival. Even though he had dominated the English rock scene, he was still largely
unknown to the American audience. He was booked along some of the biggest names in
pop; Beach Boys, The Animals, Simon & Garfunkel and some who were soon to be
discovered by an American audience such as Janis Joplin and The Who. They soon all
paled into insignificance once Hendrix had taken the stage.
Hendrix's performance went down as one of his most explosive and spellbinding
performances of his career, not least because of the finale of "Wild Thing", where he set
fire to his guitar with lighter fuel. Hendrix vowed that he would 'pull out all the stops' after
following The Who's set.
15-19 August 1969
Billed as 'three days of peace and music', the Woodstock festival of 15 -19 August 1969
was originally designed as a commercial, profit making venture before mutating into a
free festival when the barriers were torn down by eager ticketless fans.
Nearly half a million people attended and watched performances by acts ranging from
Sly and Family Stone to The Who to Crosby, Stills and Nash. Over the three days there
were three deaths and two births, as well as some career defining performances.
Jimi Hendrix had insisted on being the final act and by the time he took the stage on
Monday morning there were less than 80,000 people and the site resembled a war zone.
Still, the guitarist's anguished deconstruction of "The Star Spangled Banner" became one
of the most iconic moments in the history of rock.
Rolling Stones at Altamont
6 December 1969
Altamont was meant to be a repeat of Woodstock, a free spirited event and brought
together all greatest 60s rock acts. Hells Angels were drafted in as security for the event.
Unsurprisingly they soon lost control of the situation and a fight started in the middle of a
In a desperate attempt to try and prevent the disaster, Mick Jagger can be heard on the
film of the event saying "We're splitting man if those cats don't stop beating everybody up
inside, I want them out of the way man". Tragically his efforts were in vain as a fan was
stabbed to death in the heat of the moment. Dubbed "Rock and Roll's Worst Day", this
event marks the end of an era, the end of the optimism of the 60s and beginning of the
struggles and conflicts of the 70s.
Black Sabbath release 'Debut'
13 February 1970
When the album Black Sabbath was unleashed on the record buying public in 1970, no
one had heard anything like their slow, sludgy heavy rock sound before. The label
promoted Sabbath as being "louder than Zeppelin," but at that time no one expected that
the album would even chart, let alone end up in the top 10 (not bad for an album
recorded in 12 hours). The guitar sound heard was largely down to Tony Iommi and an
accident he had while working at a sheet metal factory at the age of 15.
Iommi had accidentally cut off the ends of his third and fourth fingers in a cutting
machine. In a desperate bid to play guitar again, Iommi fashioned some makeshift finger
tips out of melted plastic and leather and relearned the guitar. It was a painful process
and eventually he ended up detuning the strings to lessen the strain on his fingers. In
doing so discovered a new, heavier guitar sound...
Sabbath's idea (according to Osbourne) was to 'make music that would scare people';
their darker lyrical themes of death and references to Satan seemed to resonate with
those tired of the 60s optimism and flower power and were looking for something
altogether harder and darker
Isle of Wight Festival
Held between 26 -30 August 1970, this was actually the third Isle of Wight Festival and
had hosted The Who and Bob Dylan the previous year. But this was easily the biggest;
the crowd of 600 000 was around 6 times that of the island's population, making it bigger
Despite a strong line-up, poor planning and security resulted in crowd trouble (plus
financial disaster for the organisers, Fiery Creations). While there were triumphs for The
Who, Miles Davis and the newly formed ELP, Jimi Hendrix's set wasn't one of his
strongest. Technical problems and overenthusiastic consumption of LSD resulted in an
uninspiring performance. Halfway through the set the guitarist told the audience to go
and buy hot dogs instead of listening to him. It was to be his last public performance in
the UK and he would be dead two weeks later.
Hype Concert at the Roundhouse
The Hype marked the first meeting of David Bowie and Mick Ronson. Bowie's drummer
John Cambridge had played with Ronson in Hull band The Rats, and was keen to get
him in Bowie's outfit. Their first engagement was a John Peel session on 5 February
1970, which was followed on the 22nd by an appearance at The Roundhouse supporting
Noel Redding's Fat Matress. The group dressed up in superhero costumes, with Bowie
as Rainbowman, bassist Tony Visconti as Hypeman, Ronson as Gangsterman, and
Cambridge as Cowboyman; their special powers remain a mystery, but arguably this gig
marks the birth of glam.
Death of Hendrix
18 September 1970
Jimi's body was found on 18 September at Samarkand Hotel at 22 Lansdowne Crescent
in London, the coroners concluded that while he was unconscious from sleeping pills and
red wine he choked on his own vomit. The inevitable controversy around his death led to
all manner of theories as to why he died. His death was made all the more tragic by the
losses of Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin in the same year.
Ziggy and Roxy at the Rainbow
On the 19 August 1972 David Bowie entered the second leg of his Ziggy Stardust tour
with two nights at London's Rainbow Theatre. Supporting him were Roxy Music, whose
single "Virginia Plain" was riding high in the charts. Bowie spent two weeks in rehearsal
for the concerts, which were massively elaborate affairs featuring dancers known as The
Astronettes, choreographed by Lindsay Kemp. The audience were understandably
gobsmacked by the costume changes and dry ice but some were less taken with the
blatant theatricality. Elton John declared it "too camp"; Bryan Ferry felt it was "eight years
out of date and rather embarrassing". Chris Welch wrote in Melody Maker, "Whether all
this fol de rol can survive the summer remains to be seen, but by God it has brought a
little glamour into all our lives, and Amen to that."
Bowie performs 'Starman' on 'Top of the Pops'
An iconic moment. Broadcast on 6 July 1972 but recorded the day before, this
performance caused a bit of a stir up and down the country. It was the first time many
had seen Bowie, and the sight of him camping it up in a multicoloured jumpsuit (with his
arm curled limply around Mick Ronson's shoulder) infuriated some and delighted others.
Ian McCulloch (Echo and the Bunnymen): "All my other mates at school would say, 'Did
you see that bloke on Top Of The Pops?' He's a right faggot, him!' And I remember
thinking, 'You pillocks'...It made me feel cooler."
Deep Purple release 'Machine Head'
13 April 1972
The album was due to be recorded at the abandoned Grand Hotel in Montreux,
Switzerland using The Rolling Stones mobile recording studio set up. The idea was that
the band wanted to capture the essence of playing live in a studio recording, and wanted
to exploit the acoustic of the Grand Hotel's cavernous halls.
Deep Purple went to go and see Frank Zappa in concert nearby and almost got caught in
a fire started by a fan with a flare gun that burned down the building. The events inspired
the writing of "Smoke On The Water" which included one of the most famous riffs in rock
Interestingly the band were slow to realise the potential of the song, and it was a year
before they released it as a single. This album shows Deep Purple in spellbinding form
with their classic line-up; Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillian, Roger Glover, Jon Lord, and Ian
Paice are all captured here at their best. It was this album that helped the band win
themselves an international audience.
Led Zep's record breaking concert attendance
4th & 5 May 1973
Led Zeppelin had just released their fifth album 'Houses of the Holy', they were at the top
of their game and played a string of live performances that put them in the record books
several times over. At the opening night in Atlanta Braves' Stadium Led Zeppelin pulled
in a crowd of 49,000 which destroyed the Beatles previous record of 33,000 and grossed
$246,180 for the band. But this wasn't all, the band then moved on to Tampa, Florida and
played to the largest crowd that had ever gathered to a single concert performance. They
broke another Beatles attendance record (55,000 at Shea), drew 57,000 to the event and
grossed $309 000. Which at the time was the highest amount ever grossed for a rock
concert. Not bad for a couple of hours work.
'Dark Side of the Moon' released
While Pink Floyd had built up a devoted fanbase in the difficult years following Syd
Barrett's departure, it was the release of 'Dark Side of The Moon' on 24 March 1973 that
propelled them into the big time. It marked a new directness in their writing and though it
acquired a certain reputation as a 'drug album', it was lyrically a far cry from their
psychedelic roots. In the US "Money" was released as a single and reached #11 in the
charts. David Gimour: "It was the release of the song Money that made all the difference.
It gave us a much larger following, for which we should be thankful. But they included an
element that wasn't versed in Pink Floyd's ways. People suddenly were shouting 'Play
MONEY, something we can shake our ass to'. Before we had been playing to 10,000-
seaters, where in the quiet passages you could hear a pin drop."
The Ramones first play CBGBs
16 August 1974
CBGBs became synonymous with the rise of punk in New York, though owner Hilly
Krystal had other plans for the venue's booking policy (Country, Bluegrass and Blues).
The club's involvement with punk (or 'street music') began when Television took up a
residency in the spring of 1974 (part of the deal was that the band build their own stage).
The Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith, Talking Heads and The Dead Boys followed in their
wake; the only rule was that bands play all original material - no covers. Patti Smith
played the final gig at CBGBs, in October 2007.
Johnny Rotten joins the Sex Pistols
Accounts differ as to how he got there, but in the summer of 1975 John Lydon (soon to
be rechristened 'Rotten') found himself auditioning for the job of The Pistols lead singer
at Malcom McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's 'Sex' shop on London's Kings Road.
Rotten maintains that he was discovered by McLaren's associate Bernie Rhodes who
was impressed by Rotten's T-shirt (a Pink Floyd shirt with the words 'I Hate' scrawled on
it). For his audition, he sang along with an Alice Cooper record playing on the shop's
Jukebox. Guitarist Steve Jones; "Rotten looked the part with his green hair, but he
couldn't sing. Then again, we couldn't play, so it was okay". Three months later, the band
played their fist gig.
Springsteen releases 'Born To Run'
1 September 1975
For a band who had been called "the biggest cult band in the world," Bruce Springsteen
and his East Street Band announced with the release of 'Born To Run' that they were
consciously stepping into the limelight. Although Springsteen had been using Blue Collar
American imagery in his songwriting for a while, it was his dense Phil Spector-style
layering of instruments and his innovative use of piano and saxophone that marked out
this record from any other at the time. The single "Born To Run" took a lengthy three
months to record (produced by Jon Landau, Bruce's eventual manager) and was
released a year before the album came out. The delay in getting the final record in to the
shops didn't seem to detract from the sales; within 2 weeks it had sold 700 000 copies
and was certified a gold record. The album's distinctive sound helped carve out a style
that would come to dominate the rock charts in the 1980s.
Patti Smith's 'Horses' released
November 1975, and the debut album from poet and musician Smith is unleashed.
Robert Mapplethorpe's iconic sleeve portrait was as edgy and confrontational as the
record's contents, which fused spiky three-chord rock with surreal, incisive wordplay. The
opening lines ("Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine") were a rallying call for the
angst ridden and disaffected and inspired a legion of musicians from Morrissey to KT
Tunstall. A young Michael Stipe bought the record and commented later "It tore my limbs
off and put them back on in a whole different order. I was like 'Shit, yeah, oh my God!'
then I threw up."
Queen play Hyde Park
18 September 1976
After the success of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "You're My Best Friend", Queen wanted to pay the
British fans back for back their loyalty over the years. Their idea was to stage a massive free
concert. With the help of Richard Branson they started making plans for Hyde Park; and off the
back of this decided that they wanted to do more than just a one off gig and planned a mini tour. It
is estimated that between 150-200 thousand people turned up for the event, which is still a record
for Hyde Park to this day. They began with 'Bohemian Rhapsody', Freddie burst onto the stage
wearing a specially made white leotard, later changed to a Black leotard with a diamante studded
crotch. In the end the show overran and the police wouldn't allow an encore and threatened to
arrest Freddie if he went back on stage
The Ramones play The Roundhouse
4 July 1976
On 4 July 1976, The Ramones supported The Flamin' Groovies at Camden's
Roundhouse and played Dingwalls the next night. The Ramones' 'Blitzkrieg Bop' had
aroused interest among the likes of The Damned, The Sex Pistols and The Clash; "it was
like a rallying call", according to the Buzzcocks' Pete Shelley. On the first night, The
Ramones "took over the hippy Roundhouse and reduced it to the hottest, sleaziest
garage ever", according to the NME. In the audience were various members of the
fledgling UK punk scene; later members of The Clash and The Damned were pictured
hanging out with the New Yorkers, who were apparently pleased to hear about the UK's
nascent punk movement.
Sex Pistols appear on 'So It Goes'
4 September 1976
The last episode in the first series of Granada Television's late night magazine
programme presented by Tony Wilson (broadcast only in the Manchester area on 4
September 1976) featured the debut TV appearance of the Sex Pistols. Opening with a
shout of "Get off your arse", Rotten and co delivered a furious, brutally intense rendition
of 'Anarchy in the UK'. Journalist Charles Shaar Murray described it as "the most utterly
immediate thing I've ever seen on television". Sharing the programme with the Pistols
were Dr Hook, Peter Cook and Clive James.
The Sex Pistols release "Anarchy in the UK"
26 November 1976
Just over a month after the release of The Damned's "New Rose", EMI issued the
Pistols' debut single on 26 November. According to Pistols engineer Dave Goodman the
song was referred to as "I'm So Pretty" by the record company, who were dubious about
making it a single. A plan to bring in Syd Barrett as producer was understandably
abandoned and industry vet Chris Thomas was brought in to oversee the recording.
Rotten and Thomas did not hit it off; the singer complained that while there were 21
guitar overdubs he was only allowed one vocal take. However, the impact of the record
was undeniable. Journalist Jon Savage wrote "It's Anarchy In the UK. Here was a group
that wasn't afraid to say 'This is it. This is about the whole of the country'." The record
peaked at #38 in the UK singles chart and made #27 in the NME chart and was
averaging sales of between and 1,500 and 2,000 a day, but the group's association with
EMI didn't last long.
The Damned release 'New Rose'
17 September 1976
"New Rose" was recorded in a single afternoon (17 September 1976) and was in the
shops just over a month later, ahead of the release of the first Sex Pistols single. Though
the Ramones, and Australian band The Saints had already released punk singles, "New
Rose" became the first recording issued from the UK punk scene. Producer Nick Lowe
thought the band the worst thing he'd seen since the Pistols, but decided that the
experience of recording them would be 'a good laugh'. "We did that purely on cider and
speed", recalls bassist Captain Sensible. The record did not chart, but was instrumental
in accelerating a feeding frenzy among record labels desperate for a punk band to add to
The Sex Pistols and Bill Grundy
1 December 1976
On the 1 December The Sex Pistols were booked to appear on Thames TV's 'Today'
programme, which aired live at 6.25pm. The group were a replacement for Queen, who
had pulled out. The resulting encounter between presenter Bill Grundy, The Sex Pistols
and an entourage who included Siouxsie Sioux and Steve Severin lapsed into a slanging
match that included the use of four letter words. The resulting media frenzy and public
outrage (one incensed viewer apparently kicked in their TV screen) turned the Sex
Pistols into a household name overnight.
The Clash - "White Riot"
18 March 1977
Though the Clash were inspired by The Ramones and the Sex Pistols, they had a more
positive outlook. Their first single was released on 18 March 1977, but was inspired by
the events of the previous summer, when vocalist/guitarist Joe Strummer and bassist
Paul Simonon were caught up in violence between black youths and the police at the
Notting Hill Carnival. According to Simonon, the song was about "white people getting up
and doing it for themselves; our black neighbours were doing it for themselves".
The end of The Sex Pistols
14 January 1978
The Sex Pistols toured the American Deep South in January 1978, ending up at San
Francisco's Winterland on the 14 January. The tour had been plagued by problems,
among them the deterioration of Rotten's relationship with the rest of the band and
particularly with manager Malcolm McLaren. Sid Vicious's escalating heroin habit and
increasingly violent onstage behaviour was also a cause for concern, and controversy
tailed the band throughout their trip. The Winterland gig was to be The Sex Pistols last
(Rotten would effectively leave the band the next day), and signalled in some ways the
beginning of the end for the punk scene as a whole. As Viv Albertine of the Slits
observed; "They had to implode. It had to happen. You couldn't contain them. It had to
Ozzy kicked out of Black Sabbath
After a long run of increasingly erratic drink and drug fuelled behaviour Ozzy Osbourne
was finally sacked by his band members. It had been a difficult time musically for Black
Sabbath, who'd been finding it hard to motivate themselves in the studio. This was
exaggerated by the fact that Ozzy barely turned up to the studio at all. The frictions in the
band came to head when Tony Iommi decided that he wanted to replace Ozzy. This was
more of a release for Osbourne, who felt he wanted to go in a different musical direction
Judas Priest release 'British Steel'
14 April 1980
With the onset of punk, all the hard rock giants seemed threatened. Black Sabbath, Led
Zeppelin and Deep Purple had all begun to lose their appeal by the end of the 70s. It was
clear that Heavy Rock needed re-energising. The movement that became known as the
'New Wave Of British Heavy Metal' was the jumpstart that Metal needed and was kicked
off by Iron Maiden's 'Soundhouse Tapes' recordings released in 1979. The music was
faster, grittier, punkish and less influenced by the blues and was Judas Priest's album
'British Steel' was one of a slew of NWOBHM successes including Def Leppard's 'On
Through the Night', Iron Maiden's eponymous debut, Saxon's 'Wheels of Steel' and
Motorhead's 'Ace of Spades'.
Judas Priest's album 'British Steel' was one of a slew of NWOBHM successes including
Def Leppard's 'On Through the Night', Iron Maiden's eponymous debut, Saxon's 'Wheels
of Steel' and Motorhead's 'Ace of Spades'.
R.E.M. form in Athens, Georgia
5 April 1980
Originally called the Twisted Kites, R.E.M. play their live debut at St Mary's Episcopal
Church in Athens, Georgia to a rabble of 350 excited teenagers. Peter Buck (record shop
clerk) and Michael Stipe (Student at University of Georgia) had been living in an
apartment at the former church after deciding that they would form a band together. They
then asked Mike Mills and Bill Berry who were also studying at the University to join
them. Eventually the band would change their name to R.E.M. and immerse themselves
in the US Alternative Rock scene or 'Underground'. They ended up on the same touring
circuit as hardcore visionaries Black Flag.
First date of The Wall
4 August 1980
Floyd's Roger Waters was inspired to write "The Wall" after a particularly difficult US tour
where he'd spat at a fan. The making of the album had been fraught and had been much
less collaborative than previous Floyd efforts and keyboard player Rick Wright had been
sacked during it. The scale of the show was gargantuan; it included 45 tons of
equipment, inflatable puppets, a bomber plane and (unsurprisingly) a wall which was 160
feet wide and 35 feet high. Ironically the only musician to make any money out of the
concerts was Wright, who'd been hired to play keyboards on a session basis. The final
Wall gig on 17 June 1981 would be the last time the four men would share a stage for 24
First Monsters of Rock Festival
16 August 1980
On a rain drenched motor racing course in Leicestershire in 1980 the first ever Monsters
of Rock festival took place. Promoter Paul Loasby came up with the idea of a summer
festival to promote heavy rock acts in the UK and managed to convince Ritchie
Blackmore and the rest of Rainbow to headline the first one (alongside Judas Priest,
Scorpions, Saxon and Touch). A few minor technical hitches aside (including a member
of Touch allegedly swallowing a bee onstage), the event was a great success and 35
000 turned up to bask in the light of the heavy rock royalty. Now reincarnated as the
'Download Festival', this festival remains one of highlights of the rock calendar.
Ozzy launches his solo career
Once Ozzy had left Black Sabbath, his friend Sharon Arden (later his manager/wife) saw
an opportunity and encouraged him to begin his solo career. Ozzy had heard of a young
virtuoso guitarist named Randy Rhoads who had been causing quite a commotion on the
LA rock scene. Ozzy asked him to an audition for his new band and after five minutes of
Randy's playing hired him on the spot. Even though there was considerable doubt about
whether Ozzy would be able to make it as a solo artist, the resulting partnership
spawned the ground breaking 'Ozzy Osbourne's Blizzard of Oz' and 'Diary of a Madman'.
Unfortunately their career together was tragically cut short when Randy was killed in a
plane crash witnessed by Ozzy and Sharon.
Henry Rollins joins Black Flag
21 August 1981
Henry Rollins was the fourth singer in a long line of front men for the band Black Flag.
The band had fought their way into the newly formed California Punk scene by funding
their own national tours and self releasing three EPs worth of DIY Punk material. They
attracted a dedicated and passionate following. Among them was Henry Rollins, who
would closely follow their tours and exchange letters with the band. One evening he
asked if he could step in and sing "Clocked In", the current singer Dez Cadena (who was
hoping to change to play guitar anyway) stepped aside and let Rollins hurtle through a
supercharged version. The band was so impressed by his energy, they asked him to
rehearse with the band and eventually join them as the lead singer. His powerful and
aggressive presence drew considerable attention to the band on the release of their first
studio album 'Damaged' in December.
Iron Maiden's 'Number of the Beast' goes #1
29 March 1982
It was clear by the time that Iron Maiden's 'Number Of The Beast' had become the first
Heavy Metal album to go straight to number one, that even though the genre had been
largely ignored by the music press it was still making a huge connection with the record
The new lead singer Bruce Dickinson (previously from the band Samson) and his soaring
vocals became a formidable presence in the band. Up to this point Iron Maiden were
teetering on the edge of worldwide success; this album sent them over the edge.
The Smiths perform on TOTP
24 November 1983
This was The Smiths' first appearance on television and they immediately made a mark
with their unique blend of classic British rock and guitar pop. Poking fun at the Top Of
The Pops protocol of mimed songs, Morrissey sang into a bouquet of gladioli and gave
one of the most joyous, camp performances of the decade. Not wanting to lose touch
with their indie roots, the band left the TOTP studio that night and jumped on the train to
Manchester where they performed to a heaving crowd at the Hacienda night club.
Police play Shea Stadium
18 august 1983
"We'd like to thank the Beatles for lending us their stadium." Sting announced nearing
the end of their explosive performance at Shea Stadium. This was the biggest rock
concert at Shea Stadium since The Beatles first played there in 1965 and it marked the
moment where the Police claimed The Beatles mantle and announced that they were the
biggest band in the world.
With the help of the recently launched Ticket Master (allowing tickets to be sold over the
phone), The Police sold out the 55 000 seats so quickly that they were forced to open up
the playing field for the audience. This sold them another 15 000 tickets, which made 15
000 more than the Beatles.
Now with bigger sound systems and three huge video screens, the Police had
technology and experience on their side and played an enthralling set. What the
audience didn't know was that at this point Sting had already made his mind up that he
was going to leave the band. "During the performance I thought, This is it, you can't do
any better than this,'" Sting admitted later. "That's the point I decided to stop."
13 July 1985
What started out as a one-off charity single organised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure in
response to the famine in Ethiopia, turned into the largest single event in rock history. 1.5
billion viewers across 100 countries tuned in live to watch the biggest names in rock and
pop perform for free in over the course of the day. The main performances began at
Wembley Stadium in London and continued in JFK Stadium in Philadelphia.
The most impressive thing about the day was the world-class line up that Bob Geldof
badgered into performing on the day. Among many others, The Who, Dire Straits, David
Bowie, U2, Queen, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath, The
Beach Boys and a reformed Led Zeppelin all took part.
There was a particularly impressive contribution from Phil Collins who managed (with the
help of Concorde) to perform in both London and Philadelphia on the same day. The
event raised more than $280 million in aid for Ethiopia; though it didn't change the world
completely, it was effective as a consciousness raiser and set a trend for huge charity
gigs that continues to this day
The Smiths break up
End of an era? Morrissey and Marr's songwriting partnership had been under strain for a
long time due to creative differences. On the 1 August 1987, it was the NME that first
announced the Smiths were going to split, as Marr said that he was going to leave the
band. The NME headline 'Smiths to Split' was especially shocking as The Smiths had yet
to release what would be their final studio recording 'Strangeways, Here We Come',
released 10 October 1987.
U2 appear on cover of Time
27 April 1987
One month since the release of their fifth album 'The Joshua Tree', U2 find themselves at
the top of the Billboard US album charts. Time magazine put them on the front cover and
declared them 'Rock's Hottest Ticket.' It was the moment where U2 moved from being
the "biggest underground act in the world" to finally making a connection with the
American audience; and that meant unprecedented record sales.
Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno's production helped the album achieve a soaring ambience
that lifted U2 above the other posturing artists in the charts. 'The Joshua Tree' saw U2
being much more ambitious and eclectic in their song writing. The moving "I Still Haven't
Found What I'm Looking For" captured the prevailing backlash against consumerism,
while the epic "Where The Streets Have No Name" evoked the American desert
landscape as effectively as Anton Corbijn's sleeve photography.
R.E.M. release 'Document'
1 September 1987
Outside the College radio network and US underground scene, R.E.M.'s biggest
commercial success was with the album 'Life's Rich Pageant' which went gold in the US.
With the release of 'Document' and the radio friendly single "One I love" R.E.M. finally
moved on from their relatively small fan base to top 10 chart success and platinum
record sales. It was at this point that R.E.M. decided that they needed a record label that
could cope with their meteoric rise. Warner was a label the band had always respected;
they had a reputation for allowing their artists a good amount of creative control;
something that R.E.M. had always valued in their earlier recordings.
Pixies release Surfer Rosa
21 March 1988
This was the first full length album from the Pixies after the release of their debut EP
'Come on Pilgrim'. With the help of sound engineer Steve Albini, their sound really
started to find its course. Albini's dynamic, raw recording technique was perfectly suited
to the bands 'loud quiet loud' style and nasty guitar sounds.
'Surfer Rosa' was a huge breakthrough for the Pixies and won them many new fans. A
great example is the iconic "Where Is My Mind" (Later used in the sound track for 'Fight
Club') which Frank Black wrote about some fish he met on a scuba diving trip, and Kim
Deal's sexually charged "Gigantic". Kurt Cobain was so influenced by the Pixies that he
later admitted that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was 'just a Pixies rip-off', and was almost
thrown out as a result!
Sup Pop's first single: Mudhoney's "Touch Me
The release of this single marks the beginning of both the label and a band that would
take the central role in the Seattle underground music scene. Sub Pop's first release was
an explosive and raw record that harked back to the punk/hardcore of Black Flag but
looked forward to the gritty sound that would characterise the 'grunge' phenomenon. It's
often said that Mudhoney were the true founding fathers of Grunge, and shouldn't have
been left behind in the wake of Nirvana's eventual success. In fact Sub Pop put much
more backing behind earlier Mudhoney's releases and were slow to market Nirvana.
Mudhoney would become something of an inspiration to the young Kurt Cobain, who
hoped one day to produce records that packed the same kind of emotional punch.
R.E.M. change direction with 'Out of Time'
On the back of a huge 8 month world tour promoting their album Green, R.E.M. prepare
to slow down; they are wiped out. ItÕs been their biggest year, they have the full weight
of a major label backing them on a 5 album deal, have already sold over a million copies
of their record and have been dubbed ÔAmericaÕs Hippest BandÕ by Rolling Stone
Magazine. They have finally made the big jump to the mainstream; thereÕs big
adjustment to be made for a band that have always stressed their independent roots.
They decide to slow down and take almost a year off before getting back together to
work on the next album, the multi-platinum ÔOut of TimeÕ.
The Stone Roses at Spike Island
12 August 1989
On a grassy knoll near the muddy banks of the Mersey, opposite a cement factory, The
Stone Roses held a huge outdoor gig. Spike Island was rammed full of 27,000 people
excitedly waiting for the big Stone Roses moment. It marked the beginning of the 1990s,
a celebration of all things Madchester and the moment where The Stone Roses moved
directly into the media spotlight. It was a hugely ambitious gig for an Indie band, perhaps
a bit too ambitious technically. On the day there were problems with the sound rig - the
sound was literally being 'blown away' and the audience were struggling to hear the band
properly. It didn't stop the event becoming legendary.
Judas Priest subliminal message suicide trial
On 23 December 1985, Raymond Belknap (18) and James Vance (20), after a long
alcohol and drug binge, made a suicide pact to kill themselves with a shot gun. Where
Belknap succeeded, Vance failed to take his own life and blew away the bottom part of
his face leaving him grossly disfigured.
When it later transpired that the pair had been listening to Judas Priest that afternoon,
the parents saw someone they could blame for the tragedy. Judas Priest were taken to
court in 1990 and the parents claimed that there were 'subliminal messages' in the music
that encouraged the boys to commit suicide; such as "Try suicide," "Let's be dead," "do it,
do it, do it." The band made a point of testifying in person at the proceedings, where they
merely pointed that if they wanted to use subliminal messages in their music it would be
tell the kids to buy more records.
Metallica's 'Metallica' transatlantic gets #1
12 August 1991
Metallica wanted their next album to stand up alongside the greatest Led Zeppelin, Deep
Purple and AC/DC albums, and invested $1 million into the recording to make it happen.
The aptly named Bob Rock (Producer of Moetley Cruee's "Dr Feelgood") was drafted in
to help strip down their sound and make it more commercially palatable.
The inclusion of the dark ballads 'Nothing Else Matters' and 'The Unforgiven' are
testament to the producer's influence on the record. The resulting album may have
divided loyal Metallica fans but launched the band into superstardom and became a
transatlantic number one. "Enter Sandman" was on constant MTV rotation and the
record kept selling, eventually clocking up 15 million sales. Lars Ulrich is honest about
the fact that the album saved the band's career, but more modest about the fact that it
saved metal from 'death by grunge'.
Zoo TV Tour
After the backlash that U2 received from the disappointing 'live' film and follow up album
'Rattle and Hum', U2 took on board what the critics had said and decided that a radical
change of direction was needed.
To help encourage this change the band travelled to Berlin in an effort to wipe the slate
clean and begin again. They would begin working on an album ('Achtung Baby') that
would be their most diverse and eclectic yet; everything from East German car
manufacturers to electronic dance music became an influence. Bono said later that
'Achtung Baby' was the sound of 'The Joshua Tree' being cut down,' and it proved to be
another massive international hit record.
The resulting tour, 'ZOO TV', was one of the most ambitious tours ever undertaken,
featuring multiscreen video projections and live satellite television feeds, U2 bombarded
the audience with audio and visual media. Less well known is the fact that The Pixies
opened for U2 on the first leg of the tour.
Nirvana headline Reading Festival
30 August 1992
At the beginning of Nirvana's headlining slot, journalist Everett True wheeled Kurt Cobain
(wearing a blonde wig) in a wheelchair onto the stage. This gesture was a quip at the
journalists who had accused Kurt of being a useless drug addict; the triumphant
performance was Nirvana proving to the audience and themselves that they were much
more than the hype and media coverage that surrounded them. The show was
performed with an unflinching ferocity and became one of their most memorable
performances. Dave Grohl remembers the 50,000 people in the audience chanting the
lyrics to ÒLithiumÓ - he admitted later that it was one of their biggest moments.
'Nevermind' knocks Michael Jackson out of the
24 September 1992
It wasn't until 'Nevermind' knocked Michael Jackson out of the Billboard top 200 albums
on the 11 January 1992 that the world woke up and took notice. Until this point US
alternative rock music had a small but passionate audience. Now a small scruffy band
from Seattle was reaching millions. Kurt's blood curdling scream and attacking melody
managed to articulate both the hopes and fears of new generation of angst ridden
teenagers. This song initiated a new brand of White American Rock, from the alternative
underground to the US chart rock bands its influence is still heard today. The name
"Smells Like Teen Spirit" came from Kurt's Girlfriend at the time who sprayed the
message 'Kurt Smells like teen Spirit' on a wall in their flat.
Suede perform "Animal Nitrate" at the Brits
16 February 1993
When the NME got wind of the fact that their heroes Suede had been left off the
nominations for the Brit awards, they began a weekly campaign to get them to perform at
the awards on the night. Their campaign worked as the Brit Awards organisers relented
and Suede's triumphant "Animal Nitrate" performance marked the beginning of a new
wave of British music. The resulting single went straight into the top ten and Select
magazine chose Brett Anderson as the figure head for their famous issue titled 'Yanks go
home'. The cover portrayed Anderson in front of a Union Jack and announced that the
British bands Suede, St Etienne, Pulp, Denim, and The Auteurs, were 'fighting for
Blur single 'Girls and Boys'
Inspired by a holiday in Magaluf (Greece), Damon wrote this song to honour the rampant
18-30 Club Med culture. He said later that it had "a very strong sexuality about it. I just
love the whole idea of it, to be honest. I love herds. All these blokes and all these girls
meeting at the watering hole and then just copulating. There's no morality involved, I'm
not saying it should or shouldn't happen."
The Death of Kurt Cobain
5 April 1994
8 April 1994; Seattle radio station KXRX breaks the news that a body has been found in
the Seattle home of Kurt Cobain. 2 days later a candlelit vigil is held outside the EMP
Centre in Seattle where thousands of young fans turn up to mourn their hero; the
organisers play a recording of Kurt's suicide note read out by Courtney Love. Kurt
honoured Neil Young in his final note by quoting the words "Better to burn out than to
Oasis release 'Definitely Maybe'
10 September 1994
Following the singles, "Live Forever", "Shakermaker", and "Supersonic", this album
catapulted Oasis into the top of the charts and announced them as the new kings of
British rock. It was radically different from the dance tinged rock or grunge that had come
before it, sporting a swagger and Britishness that instantly connected with the indie
crowd. Noel Gallagher: "It's all about escapism - a pint in one hand, your best mate in the
other, whoever that may be, and just having a good time."
Blur vs Oasis
14 August 1995
At the peak of the 'Britpop' years, Blur and Oasis' respective labels decided that as a big
marketing stunt they would release their new singles on the same day. This created a
huge head to head battle between the two bands. The resulting news coverage turned
this event into a bitter class war between the Northern working class Oasis and the
Southern middle class Blur. Damon Albarn ended up being interviewed on the Ten
O'clock news. In the end Blur's "Country House" won over Oasis' "Roll with it", though
neither were the strongest offerings from each of the albums.
Oasis At Knebworth
11 August 1996
At this stage of Oasis's career they were top of the Britpop pile and were looking for the
next big conquest. Knebworth was a venue that had long been associated with the
biggest acts in rock history; Queen, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones had all played there to
vast audiences. Oasis now saw themselves as part of this rock legacy and there were
only few UK locations left that could handle the crowds that followed them. Oasis wanted
to set a new benchmark for an open-air performance; they hired the biggest PA, the
biggest video screens, and reportedly sold over 250,000 tickets for 2 consecutive
performances. This moment could be seen as the last great Britpop performance;
nothing after would match its scale.
The Libertines guerrilla gigs
The Libertines had recently signed a record deal and released their debut album 'Up the
Bracket'. They were being hailed as Britain's best new band. Pete Doherty and Carl
Barat had started living together in a flat in Bethnal Green which they used at various
stages throughout their Libertines life as a impromptu venue for 'guerrilla gigs'. Through
an intricate network of email, texts and web postings the band would announce their next
sing-a-long to their 'online community' and the Albion army would descend. This was a
particularly busy period for the Albion Rooms with fans cramming themselves into the
living room as the police vans rolled up outside.