Media · Music Monday · Nostalgia

In the Beginning: The Origins of Bluegrass, Heavy Metal, and 9 Other Music Genres

11 Famous Music Genres & Their Interesting Origins

Most casual music listeners have basic knowledge of the bands and artists who heavily influenced their favorite genres. Elvis and the Beatles influenced rock and roll. Willie Nelson and Hank Williams influenced country. Nirvana influenced grunge. Kiss influenced glam metal.

But what about the bands and artists at the cutting edge? The ones that you can trace to a genre’s origins?

This week, we’ve assembled a list of 11 genres and the artists who were there at the beginning. Some you may have heard of (and they may even induce a bit of nostalgia), some maybe not. But all have a most important place in the annals of music.

It’s like a little music appreciation class. Enjoy!

Oh, and by the way, the next time you are streaming Taylor Swift or Maroon 5 or Chris Stapleton or Jay Z on your iPhone, think about the decades-long history of music and musicians that influenced their sound.  And thank them. Thank them for the music.


1) Bluegrass

Strongly influenced by Appalachia music and related to country, bluegrass has mixed roots in Irish, Scottish and English traditional music. The genre takes its name from William Smith Monroe’s band, the Blue Grass Boys, which were named for Monroe’s home state of Kentucky. And by the way, you should also read Steve Martin’s essay on bluegrass banjo legend, Earl Scruggs.

On and On – Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys (1959)


2) Ambient

While Brian Eno was recovering in the hospital after being struck by a car in 1975, his then-girlfriend Judy Nylon put on 18th-century harp music in the background to compliment the pouring rain outside. The sound these two things made together provided Eno with the inspiration for his 1978 album Ambient 1: Music For Airports. With this album, the ambience genre was born.

Ambient 1: Music for Airports – Brian Eno (1978)


3) Heavy Metal

As have many other forms of Rock and Roll, heavy metal emergence in the late ’60s and early ’70s reflected the mood of disenfranchised youth on the margins of society. This musical movement, with its roots in hard rock and blues, embraced escapism and fantasy in a way that its predecessor, punk music, did not. Black Sabbath, with the unmistakable vocals of Ozzy Osbourne, was at the forefront of Heavy Metal.

War Pigs – Black Sabbath (1970)


4) Hip Hop/Rap

Many consider Rapper’s Delight by The Sugarhill Gang as the pioneering rap song. This has been contested since The Fatback Band released Kim Tim III (Personality Jock). But dig a little bit more, and you will find this gem. Yep. That is definitely rap. From 1968.

Here Comes the Judge – Pigmeat Markham (1968)


5) Neo-Soul

Keder Massenburg of Motown Records made up neo-soul in the 90’s as a flashy marketing word to give his breakthrough acts D’Angelo, Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill so they wouldn’t be associated with dated, plain old “soul” music. The success of D’Angelo’s 1995 debut album Brown Sugar has been regarded by many music critics as inspiration behind the term’s origin.

On & On – Erykah Badu (1997)


6) Punk

The term ‘punk’ started being used in the early ‘70s to describe garage rock, which meant a ‘beginner’ or ‘novice’ and referred to the music’s raw, unstructured style. Research the origins of punk rock, and you will find sometimes heated debates on who really was the first true punk band. Punk has its roots in the 60’s and early 70’s for sure, but it was in the mid 1970’s that punk rock became, well, the punk rock we know and love. The New York Dolls, The Ramones, Sex Pistols . . . Gotta pick one for the video, so… Yeah. You remember this one…

Blitzkrieg Bop – Ramones


7) Grunge

A genre started in the Seattle area, the band Mudhoney is often credited with influencing the grunge sound that was made most popular by, well, you know who.(That would be Nirvana, in case you were asleep in the early 90’s . . . ).

Touch Me I’m Sick-Mudhoney


8) Techno

An electronic dance music emerging from Detroit in the late-‘80s, Techno was derived from technology, in reference to the electronic equipment it was made with. One of the first instances of the music came in the form of a 1988 compilation album, Techno! The New Dance Sound of Detroit, featuring artists such as Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson.

Techno City – Cybotron (1984)


9) New Wave

New Wave was another marketing creation that came about in the 70’s. When Warner Bros Records VP Seymour Stein couldn’t get his punk artists radio play due to their violent, anti-establishment connotation, he invented the new label “new wave” for his bands to sell them better to US markets. Some of the first New Wave acts in the United States include the Talking Heads, Blondie, and Mink DeVille.

Psycho Killer – Talking Heads (1977)


10) Reggae

Before it was reggae it was “reggay”, which was the name of a dance craze sweeping Jamaica in the ‘60s. Reggae music became Jamaica’s most popular genre with Toots and The Maytals’ hit, Do the Reggay.

Do The Reggay – Toots and The Maytals (1968)


11) Disco

Some music historians cite 1973’s Soul Makossa by Manu Dibango. Law of the Land by the Temptations is another strong candidate, as is Gloria Gaynor’s 1974 megahit Never Can Say Goodbye. And still others cite the song The Hustle by Van McCoy, released in 1975, as the first song to truly have that “disco sound.” But what exactly is the disco sound? As James Brown’s trombonist Fred Wesley said, “Disco music is funk with a bow tie.” We’ll leave you with one of the most well-known disco songs ever made. While they did not invent the genre, they may be its strongest ambassadors.

Stayin’ Alive – The Bee Gees (1977)


Are you now thinking of some more genre pioneers?  How about for R&B? New Age? Folk? Dubstep?  Let us know your thoughts!

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