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Arena Rock

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Primary Stylistic Influences:

Although rock groups had been filling some of the largest venues in the world since The Beatles played at Shea Stadium in the 1960s, this subgenre of rock music began to develop in the mid-1970s. Also known as adult-oriented rock (AOR, which is the term uses to describe the genre) or album-oriented rock (also abbreviated AOR, which is the term uses to describe the genre) due to the genre's focus on albums rather than singles — and by such other labels as pomp rock, melodic rock, anthem rock, teen rock, corporate rock, or stadium rock — the main exponents of the style were pop-rock bands that wrote songs specifically to be performed in big stadiums in front of big audiences.

Since artists of any genre can fill an arena if they're popular enough, arena rock naturally had several additional characteristics to help differentiate it from other rock subgenres. "Guitar pyrotechnics" and massed vocal harmonies performed by the whole band were very common, along with Audience Participation Songs featuring big, anthemic choruses. Most singers had cleaner-sounding vocals than a lot of the other Hard Rock or Heavy Metal groups of the time and often performed with an operatic flair. Lyrically, most arena rock songs were pretty simple, with many a straightforward Power Ballad for audiences to sing along with. And recordings were characterized by a slick, radio-friendly production sheen, which made the genre a perfect complement for the emergent AOR (for "album-oriented rock") format on the FM dial. The AOR format was an offshoot of the early FM stations — variously termed "freeform", "progressive", or "underground" — that played Psychedelic Rock in the late '60s and early '70s, many of which narrowed their focus to play more commercial material around the middle of the latter decade. The "album" in AOR came from the fact that these stations played album tracks rather than just singles.

This was the dominant commercial style of rock music for about ten years, starting in 1976 when Boston released their first album and Peter Frampton released Frampton Comes Alive! (the best-selling record of the year), and more or less ending in 1986 when Journey released their last album for ten years and Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet put Hair Metal, the format's spiritual successor, on top of the mainstream rock pile at the same time Alternative Rock acts like U2, R.E.M., The Cure and INXS started to cross over onto the AOR stations that had been arena rock's bread and butter. Hair Metal would serve as the Spiritual Successor to the genre for the next half-decade, inheriting the genre's penchant for glossy production, stadium-ready anthems and Power Ballads. The alternative bands meanwhile would set the stage for the next sea change with Nirvana's Nevermind in 1991.

Similar to Teen Pop today, at its height in the late '70s and early '80s, arena rock was marketed to teenagers and young adults. Typical characteristics of arena rock include an emphasis on visual appeal, lyrics focused on love, relationships, dancing, partying, and friendship. The genre was most popular in North America.

It's worth noting that while "arena rock" tends to be a blanket term used for any acts that are known for anthemic songs and memorable stagecraft, the term itself was originally an epithet used by critics to bash the genre for what they perceived as its tendency to prioritize spectacle and mass appeal over artistic quality. (It didn't help that many arena rock acts' use of polished production styles and precise songwriting conflicted with the critics' taste for the messy, Three Chords and the Truth style of Punk Rock at the time of arena rock's peak in popularity.) The epithet "corporate rock" was originally applied to this type of music by the more elitist critics, with "dad rock" also popping up around the late '90s due to the genre's popularity among aging baby boomers. Still, if you listen to any Classic Rock radio station nowadays, chances are arena rock is one genre you'll hear a lot of.

It's also worth noting that the sort of stadium rock played by bands like U2, INXS, Simple Minds or The Police doesn't necessarily come under this heading, as their sound was typically more influenced by Post-Punk and Alternative Rock (such as it was in the 1980s). Hair Metal, on the other hand, has plenty of overlap as mentioned earlier, and many bands will fall under both subgenres.

Artists commonly associated with the genre include:

Alternative Title(s): AOR