Rock music’s greatest strength is its simplicity. Since its birth in the ‘50s, guitars have got louder and stars more explicit, but the idea’s basically the same: indulgence, noise, songs of lust and rebellion. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
Even with a cultural force as pure as rock ‘n’ roll, though, you run the risk of things getting stale after a while, and that’s when it becomes necessary to push the boundaries. Over the years, many bands and artists have taken pains to explore the potential of the rock song, pulling apart and expanding the form, using the studio as an instrument, or stretching the two and a half minute rock single to the point of transcendence.
To do this while maintaining the rocking structure rather than dipping fully into avant-garde is a tricky balancing act, but these songs pull it off, music to which an audience can move their feet and stroke their chin in equal measure.
From the earlier generations of musical scientists to modern artists still finding new avenues to explore, these are 10 of the finest tracks that redefine what rock music can be.
10. The Beatles - Rain
Towards the midpoint of their career, The Beatles embraced experimentalism wholeheartedly. While the results didn’t always lead to the most sonically pleasing music - “Revolution 9” springs to mind - they undeniably pushed things forward with their willingness to use the studio beyond what the majority of their peers were imagining.
“Rain”, the B-side to 1966’s “Paperback Writer” single, was one of their earliest leaps forward in this regard. The song is built around drones, with the guitars sounding like sitars behind McCartney’s prominent bassline and Lennon’s detached, nasal (even for him) vocals. It’s an upbeat and poppy tune, but with a sinister air to it through virtue of its stop-start nature and how loud everything is played.
More directly influential is the activity in the studio. The instrumental track is recorded at a faster speed then played back slower for the master, giving it a stretched and unusual quality. The coda takes a snatch of the song and plays it backwards, seamlessly fitting across the melody but capping the tune off on an otherworldly note.