The Three Types of Rock

When I think about the various musical acts that fall under the umbrella of “Rock Music” from the late 1960s to present, I like to place them into three broad categories, which I shall henceforth refer to as: Cerebral Rock, Visceral Rock and S.T.O. Rock.



These are acts that professional music critics tend to shower with praise in their reviews, even though the general public aren’t familiar with nor care for the music of the artist in question (at least in terms of music sales). Examples of such acts would be the Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, Björk, and with respect to current music, pretty much every act featured in Pitchfork’s annual Best Rock Albums list.

In reviewing these acts, critics put particular emphasis on the quality of the song lyrics (which are usually quite well-written) and more often than not the artist’s political stance – hence the usage of the term “Cerebral” when categorizing this type of music.

However, there’s usually little or no attention paid to the quality of the music production, instrumental ability or the harmonic complexity of the music, all of which the typical layperson would consider just “average”. This opinion is borne out by the sales of these artists’ music in that they rarely sold over a million units, even in the pre-digital era.

The largest audience for these acts were (and are) usually found in urban areas within the East and West coasts, such as Los Angeles or New York. Said audience also tends to be younger and more educated and hence, more upwardly mobile within American society.



These are acts that were (or are still) unpopular with professional music critics but beloved by the general public. Examples of such acts would include Led Zeppelin, Ted Nugent, Queen, Kiss, Rush, Stone Temple Pilots, and pretty much every 1980s hair metal band. A contemporary example would be Greta Van Fleet, who the professional critics loathe. Moreover, almost all of these acts are usually featured at your local Hard Rock Café.

Before the advent of digital downloading and streaming, these acts sold their music by the millions. Typical characteristics of their music: loud guitars and drums but usually played with a great deal of skill, occasionally inane (but sometimes tongue-in-cheek) lyrics often sung by a vocalist with an impressive vocal range, catchy guitar riffs and/or choruses, as well as high production values. Performers within this music category are typically male.

I call this “Visceral” Rock because the music within this category usually inundates your visual and aural senses: the acts play their music at high volume and the performers are typically flamboyant in their attire and stage performances. Most fans who love this type of music would explain to you that this music “has balls and kicks ass”. There’s nothing cerebral about seeing Kiss in concert, that’s for sure!

The largest audience for these acts were (and are) usually found in the American Mid-West; after all, “Cleveland Rocks” and “Detroit Rock City” were written for a reason. The audience is typically working-class or middle-class, male, and tends to be (but not always) older, which isn’t surprising given that the heyday of said acts were in the 1970s-1990s.
Interestingly, many of the (American) performers of this type of music also hail from the Mid-West, like Ted Nugent (Michigan), the members of Poison (Pennsylvania) and Guns N’ Roses (Indiana) as well as Greta Van Fleet (again, Michigan).



This is a third category of act where the music has the sensibilities of both Cerebral Rock and Visceral Rock. Musicians in this category could rock as hard as Led Zeppelin with loud guitars and drums, great musicianship and memorable melodies and guitar riffs, but also wrote emotionally introspective and sometimes politically-charged lyrics. They were also typically politically left-leaning.

Acts in this category were (and are) beloved by both music critics and fans. Their audience was (and is) extensive and their music sold in the millions (at least before the onset of the digital era). These types of acts were rare indeed and are now mostly defunct after springing up during the 1990s with the leading bands being Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden.



What I discussed within this article was my own personal observation. Maybe I’m right or maybe I’m wrong. Anyways, you’re free to comment below.