The 10 Most Important Moments in Rock and Roll
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
Modern music owes a LOT to these pioneers. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we'll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Moments that Defined Rock.
For this list, we're looking at crucial moments in rock music that changed the genre or defined a generation.
Top 10 Moments that Defined Rock
Modern music owes a LOT to these pioneers. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Moments that Defined Rock.
For this list, we’re looking at crucial moments in rock music that changed the genre or defined a generation.
#10: David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust & the Rise of Glam-Rock
David Bowie created multiple alter egos throughout his career, but this bisexual alien rock-star was the most iconic. First unveiled in the early 1970s when the general public was far from accepting of glam rock entertainers and progressive sexuality in general, Ziggy Stardust was a bold and controversial persona. Partially inspired by former lead singer of the Playboys, Vince Taylor, Ziggy saw Bowie’s live shows take on a more dramatic theatrical tone, while continuing the themes of space travel that always interested the singer. The character only lasted for one album, but Ziggy’s legacy lives on.
#9: Nirvana Perform at the VMAs
It's hard to imagine the music scene of the early 90s without Nirvana. They were everywhere. In 1992, the band was at their peak and MTV had finally started to give them their due after originally refusing to air Smells Like Teen Spirit. Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, and Krist Novoselic were set to steal the show with a slot at the VMAs but were not given the go-ahead to play Rape Me. As the poster boys for their generation, the group rebelled by opening with a few chords from their ode to self-hate before moving onto a subdued performance of Lithium.
#8: Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock”
It might not have been the first rock n’ roll song released, but “Rock around the Clock” brought the genre into the mainstream. Originally released as a B-Side, it performed okay but failed to leave much of a lasting impression. Bill Haley’s rock anthem was catapulted to fame after being used during the opening credits of Glenn Ford’s “Blackboard Jungle”. Due to the film’s depiction of teenage rebellion and delinquency, “Rock Around the Clock” came to represent the youth of the time, who eventually propelled it to the top of the Billboard Charts in 1955.
#7: Queen Steals the Show at Live AID
Describing Freddie Mercury as a phenomenal live performer is about as controversial as saying the Sun will rise tomorrow morning. But, after rising to superstardom in the 70s, the British group had lost some of their magic by the mid-80s, which meant that their set, at the time, wasn’t exactly the most anticipated of performances. That’s what made this now historic performance in 1985 so monumental. Though just 24 minutes long, the set included hits like Bohemian Rhapsody, Radio Gaga, and We Will Rock You, and from start to finish, it proved absolutely magnetic. Jumping from the piano to an acoustic guitar, Mercury taught every up and coming rockstar an invaluable lesson in showmanship.
#6: Elvis Presley Breaks Into “That’s All Right, Mama” & the Legend Is Born
Greatness isn’t always the result of meticulous planning – sometimes, it's born out of boredom. Before Elvis Presley became a musical god, he was a young up and comer struggling to find the perfect song to launch his career. After a few failed recording sessions, his career blew up with an impromptu recording of ‘That’s All Right, Mama’ in 1954. Originally released by Arthur Crudup, this cover quickly ended up on local radio stations and found an audience. Although Elvis would have to wait until the release of ‘I Don’t Care If the Sun Don’t Shine’ to hit the Billboard charts, ‘That’s All Right’ started his career, and by extension, changed the course of music history.
#5: The Who Smash Their Instruments for "My Generation"
The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour served as a source of political satire and a platform for musicians to reach their audience. Over its less than three-year run, there were few moments as controversial or fondly remembered as The Who’s explosive performance in 1967. Known for their love of smashing instruments, the band often had Keith Moon set up a small detonator in his drum set so it could go off during the climax of their performance. But this time it was filled with a bit more ammunition than usual. When Pete Townshend smashed his guitar into the kit, the whole stage went up in smoke - singing his hair and knocking the show off air.
#4: Bob Dylan Goes Electric at the Newport Folk Festival
By the mid-60s, the ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ singer had become the de facto voice of his generation. Known mostly for folk music, Dylan started to move towards a more electric sound with his fifth album. The legendary performer challenged expectations during a performance at Newport Folk Festival in 1965, his very first electric performance. Dylan performed with a full electric band and, as the story goes, received a simultaneously warm and cold reception from the crowd before winning them all over with two final acoustic tracks. Dylan would not return to the festival for over 35 years.
#3: Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode"
Covered by everyone from The Beatles to Marty McFly, 1958’s Johnny B. Goode might not be the original rock n’ roll song but it is ONE of the first to reflect on the rock musician’s journey. The somewhat autobiographical nature of the lyrics, about a country boy who plays the guitar and dreams of having his name in lights, added a sincerity which is not easily replicated. More importantly, it created an enduring musical icon. Last, but certainly not least, the riff is one of the most recognizable in history.
#2: The Beatles Perform on "The Ed Sullivan Show"
The group from Liverpool were already huge by the time they appeared on US television. But this moment in 1964 provided further proof of their popularity. Over 40% of all American households tuned in to watch John, Paul, George and Ringo perform a slew of their hits on “The Ed Sullivan Show”. With a contract that stipulated three appearances over different nights, their performances pushed Beatlemania to new heights. The Beatles returned for another performance a year later, a day before launching their American tour.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven"
The Last Waltz Concert
Run-D.M.C & Aerosmith Bridge Rap & Rock with “Walk This Way”
#1: Jimi Hendrix Performs at Woodstock
Considering the heavy downpour, a postponed time slot, and a rough around the edges backing band – the fact that this performance turned out so good was a borderline miracle. During Jimi Hendrix’s two hour set at Woodstock in 1969, the most iconic moment came in the form of a socially conscious rendition of the national anthem. Using only his music, the legendary guitarist subverted the optimistic nature of the track in criticism of the Vietnam War and other violent issue plaguing the country at the time. For a four-minute period, Hendrix teleported the massive crowd from Woodstock to another place.