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A gateway to classic rock: how Guitar Hero and Rock Band kept rock alive

by Wesley McLean February 12, 2021
A gateway to classic rock: how Guitar Hero and Rock Band kept rock alive

In an era that was beginning to see a steep decline in popular rock acts, the rhythm-based game genre brought new life to music that was fading away

I can still remember my first time playing a Guitar Hero game pretty well. I couldn’t have been more than 11 years old; I was at my childhood best friend’s house and after days of him talking about how fun it was, he finally booted up Guitar Hero II on his PlayStation 2. Little did I know that that one time playing would have had such a long-lasting impact on my life.

From the moment that I saw the stylized animated intro that featured the likes of in-game playable characters and rock stars Axel Steel and Judy Nails, I was completely immersed. As we scrolled through the menu, with a guitar strum indicating every confirmed selection we made, we got to the list of songs, and it’s a list that greatly impacted the music that we consumed through the years following.

A lot of people probably can’t confidently tell you where they first heard Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” or classics like Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” or even Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing In The Name,” but I can — sitting on that couch, next to my best friend. We played and played, becoming acquainted with some phenomenal music as we tried our hardest to hit every note (well, as someone who hadn’t played yet and didn’t have the guitar peripheral, my “medium”-est).

Guitar Hero II and its successors, as well as the Rock Band series, may not have introduced me to classic rock, but they were definitely the catalyst in pushing my interest in the genre further. I think this is a pretty common feeling among people who are in my age group.

Obviously, a lot of the songs included in these games were staples in CHOM’s rotation, and as a kid in Montreal, that was a station I was familiar with through the adults in my life. But what made me really take interest in these songs, was the repeated listens that came with repeated attempts at perfecting them in these games. 

What started as a single gaming session with a friend soon turned into me being an avid player of the games that followed, which kept me diving into decades of some of the greatest music ever produced. As a kid who grew up primarily being a fan of hip hop as well as listening to a lot of the popular alternative, punk and emo acts of the time, these games were game-changers. I don’t know if I ever would’ve taken the plunge into the hundreds of albums I’ve listened to since that first time playing.

These two series are what piqued my interest in several of my favourite artists of all-time. From Black Sabbath to Nirvana to David Bowie, and many more, all of these artists have had a tremendous impact on me and the way I view and consume music. I mean, they’ve even impacted the way I dress, considering that I wear shirts that display some of these bands literally all the time.

This was the real beauty that these games held. Sure, they were polished and fun games, but beyond that, they opened the eyes of many kids/teens like myself to the fantastic music that came before us. They were a way of bridging a generational gap that existed within music, and they deserve a lot of credit for that.

It’s not unusual for a video game to leave an impact on someone who plays it, but the lasting impact that the Guitar Hero and Rock Band games have had in my life, and many others’, shouldn’t be overlooked. The games may have come and gone pretty quickly, peaking and tinkering off within a few years, but their impact outside of gaming can’t be understated, and can still be felt today.

 

Graphic by @the.beta.lab

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