I’m preparing to release a new original music CD entitled "Art Rock". It’s a 12 song tribute of sorts to Lady Gaga’s acclaimed 2013 "Artpop" album. I got the idea for the project listening to some old Pink Floyd records and from the artist herself. To be a true tribute I tried to follow similar song themes as the Gaga record but from a Modern Classic Rocker’s perspective. I tried to be true to the “wharholian” vision for the genre while using both tracks from Lady Gaga’s "Artpop" and proven Art Rock radio hits as inspiration.
So what is “Art Rock” exactly? If “Art Rock” was simply “Rock and Roll” as an art form, every “Rock” song ever recorded would qualify. One could argue that the term “Art Rock” comprises a wide-range of eclectic genres with an overt sense of creative detachment, classical music pretensions, and experimental, avant-garde proclivities. However, I would argue that the 'art' in Art Rock it has more to do with a songs story, subject matter and how artistically a song is lyrically told.
A great “Art Rock” song story line usually progresses towards a central moral or message. Take Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” as an example. Hands down one of the bands most successful radio hits. While the lyrics come off early as anti-authoritarian, they ultimately lead us to a feeling of human connection, of needing friends and family and how loved ones give us a reason to keep fighting. The song also utilizes a coherent musical narrative, structure and tone, as well as, lyrical sophistication, a perfect example of what great Art Rock sounds like.
Another great example is the Beatles song "Eleanor Rigby”. Perhaps one of the first successful rock songs to deal with death and loneliness. The theme and song lyrics were a shock to listeners at the time. They tell a story and bleak lesson of loneliness, depression and desolation. This was a huge change for the Beatles' at the time and an artistic deviation from the more mainstream love songs of that era. Incidentally, the song was released as a double A-side single with the song "Yellow Submarine”, another successful Art Rock radio hit for the group.
A third example would be Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. The song is a call to arms of sorts, not in revolution terms, but a call to a generation that their apathy was becoming over the top. It’s a wake up call anthem for the aimless that fittingly drew inspiration from a hygiene product with a silly name. Again, not your standard theme and lyrical content. Kurt Cobain, the songs lyric writer, said his vision for “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, he was to try to create the ultimate pop song. Perhaps he succeeded as listeners and critics continue to praise it as one of the greatest songs of all time. Another great example of how a great Art Rock song can be defined by use of musical narrative, structure, tone, and lyrical sophistication.
Nest, let’s look at Fleetwood Mac’s “Gypsy”. On the surface it’s a simple lyric about a specific hole-in-the-wall store in San Francisco where Janis Joplin and Grace Slick found most of their unique clothing. But with the lyrics we’re also given both an uncluttered feeling of calmness and a feeling of looking back at our lost youth. Ultimately the song ends as a message of tribute to someone’s passing. Examples of Art Rock narrative and lyrical sophistication abound here.
To round out the examples, let’s close with the Eagles “Hotel California”. The song is a warning that we’ve become a society of decadence, greed, corruption, drugs and arrogance. It is rumored to be inspired by the hedonism, self-destruction, and greed musicians can experience in the music industry. The band wrote the lyrics thinking in a cinematic context to create an image sort of like an episode of The Twilight Zone adding that they purposely chose to end the song in a way that lets the listener draw their own conclusions. Julia Phillips proposed adapting the song into a film, but the the band said no. I think that was wise. The recording by itself is Art Rock at its finest. A film done incorrectly would have messed up that legacy.
To wrap up, when crafting a great artistic Art Rock ong and story, an artist usually has a definite idea of what they’re building toward (Eagles “Hotel California”). If their story has a strong moral component, they’ll guide listeners or readers to that message (Pink Floyd “Wish You Were Here”). If they’re telling a funny story, they will build toward a twist that will lead the audiences in deeper (Beatles “Yellow Submarine”). If they’re telling an engaging story, they will increase the dramatic tension and suspense, sometimes right up until the climax of the chorus (Fleetwood Mac “Gypsy”). If they’re telling a socially political story, they use artistic sarcasm and humor (Nirvana “Smells Like Teen Spirit”).
While many may define Art Rock as simply a sub-genre of Rock containing anything having experimental or avant-garde influences, I take the case that worthy Art Rock is separated from Rock by use of artistically sophisticated lyrical content along with the utilization of coherent musical narrative, structure and tone. Either definition, Art Rock surely has given us some incredible songs, songs we love, songs we share, and songs which other people love! I’m glad to be one of Art Rock’s rising artists helping shape the future of this genre. To learn more about the Art Rock I record and perform please visit my YouTube channel or visit my artist website www.avsupersunshine.com.
AV Super Sunshine is a global top 10 charting recording artist and an award winning independent film maker from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
Oct 2021 YouTube Art Rock Single "Frankenstein": https://youtu.be/pKmGWr3we24