The goal of genres like punk, grunge, and shoegaze were to carry on the spirit of rock music but to go into new musical territory. Up until The Velvet Underground, The Ramones, and the Sex Pistols showed up, lots of rock music was firmly rooted around blues harmony and rhythm. They gave permission to many others to venture outside of the blues shuffle and the I-IV-V chords.

Metal as we know it would not exist if it were not for punk rock. Alternative rock would not exist without the Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa. Shoegaze’s innovations are direct descendants of these innovators too!

As songwriters and guitar players, it can be hard to pinpoint why that is. We can hear the difference but cannot put them into words! Let’s try to do that with a microscopic look into these genres and few popular chord progressions.

Sex Pistols – Holidays In The Sun

The first step in moving away from classic rock was actually getting back to it’s rock n’ roll roots. Bands like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols created music like the riff above as a reaction against more progressive bands like Emerson Lake & Palmer and Pink Floyd. They wanted to make music that was simpler and hit harder emotionally, at least in their opinions.

So Glen Matlock, the Sex Pistol’s bassist before Sid Vicious, wrote riffs that reflected this simplicity. This powerchord melody is a 4 note motif going from C down to G, and it’s all in the key of G major. It’s also in strict 8th notes, similar to many of Chuck Berry’s riffs.

What also makes this riff different is that it doesn’t stick so strictly to the I-IV-V chords. By using B5 and A5, the band is allowing themselves and anyone listening to make rock music that doesn’t adhere to the genre’s roots, while also maintaining it’s spirit!

In part two, we’ll take a look at how these concepts morphed even further into grunge.