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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 late seventies. Also known as pomp rock, melodic rock, anthem rock, stadium rock or AOR, the main exponents of the style were pop-rock bands that wrote songs specifically to appeal to large crowds, to be performed in big stadiums in front of big audiences.
Since bands of any genre can fill an arena if they're popular enough, arena rock has several characteristics that differentiate it from other rock subgenres. "Guitar pyrotechnics" and massed vocal harmonies performed by the whole band were very common, as were Audience Participation Songs with 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.
AOR was the dominant 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 album put Hair Metal on top of the mainstream rock pile.
Although the spectacle and accessability of arena rock has pretty much always been popular enough with the public, it isn't always treated as kindly by music critics, many of whom seem to see it as Hair Metal without any make-up on. The epithet "Corporate Rock" was originally applied to this type of music.
It's worth noting that the sort of stadium rock played by U2, INXS or Simple Minds doesn't necessarily come under this heading; their sound was typically more influenced by post-punk and "modern rock" (such as it was in the 1980s).
Artists commonly associated with the genre include:
- Bryan Adams
- April Wine
- Pat Benatar
- Chicago (mid- to late-eighties output)
- Def Leppard
- Dire Straits (eighties era)
- Fleetwood Mac (Buckingham/Nicks era)
- Peter Frampton
- Heart (mid- to late-eighties output)
- The Hooters
- Jefferson Starship/Starship
- John Mellencamp (eighties era)
- Night Ranger
- The Outfield
- REO Speedwagon
- Bruce Springsteen (post-1982)
- Yes (post-90125)
- ZZ Top (post-Eliminator)