The Roots Of Rock is a playlist which explores the birth of modern rock guitar, and the foundations of what later became heavy metal.

These are sounds from a time before heavy metal existed. We start in 1968. We had just emerged from 1967, the Summer of Love, and before that the Beatles and the British Invasion. This was the end of one phase in rock music, and the beginning of another.

There was a lot of experimenting in the early days of rock, before 1968. Everything was an experiment, because rock music was a new product, and record companies didn’t pretend to understand the “rock music phenomenon.” But 1968 marked the beginning of new, more ambitious rock music experiments. This “Experimental Phase” would last until about 1972. (See the KNUS playlist on Spotify.)

By 1968, we had psychedelic rock from The Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, which went on to have very long careers. (The Airplane became the Starship. Dead and Company just played their final show in July 2023.) Brian Auger was inventing jazz/rock fusion, today just known as “fusion.” Chicago and Blood Sweat & Tears started jazz rock. Steppenwolf and Vanilla Fudge gave us hard rock. “Precision rock” was applied to technically proficient hard rock bands like Deep Purple and Focus. King Crimson and Yes gave us art rock.

By 1972, rock music and the rock music business had matured. Between 1973 and about 1978, there was an avalanche of historic, ground-shaking albums. This phase produced a catalog of music that’s unsurpassed, and sets the standard for serious musicians to the present day. This catalog will produce successful covers for many decades to come, especially after they pass into the public domain. (See the KZEW playlist on Spotify.)

The rock song that introduced the phrase “heavy metal” to rock music fans was Born To Be Wild from Steppenwolf in 1968.