We Love Rock ’n’ Roll — and the Words From the Genre

Wednesday, May 312 min read

Like any subculture, the world of rock ’n’ roll is steeped in slang. The phrase “rock ’n’ roll” itself is colloquial, traced to early usage in a 1938 song lyric: “It’s true that once upon a time, The op’ra was the thing, But today the rage is rhythm and rhyme, So won’t you satisfy my soul with a rock an’ roll.” Let’s dive deeper into this soul-satisfying genre and learn about the particular lingo and slang born out of rock ’n’roll.


“Punk” has been in the English language for centuries, used in mostly derogatory ways to describe various types of people, but in the 1970s, it began to be attributed to a new brand of music. Punk is fast, aggressive, and unpolished, characterized by a confrontational attitude and chaotic live performances. “Punk” articulates an entire lifestyle associated with this musical genre — anti-establishment and anti-authority. Music writers fight over who coined the term, but it’s generally attributed to Dave Marsh in a 1971 issue of CREEM Magazine.


In musical-recording lingo, “EP” stands for “extended play.” It refers to a 7-inch 45 record that plays for a longer time period, or has more songs on it, than a single (see “A-side/B-side”). Eventually, “EP” came to mean any musical recording that was longer than a single, but shorter than a full-length album.

A-Side / B-Side

These terms are a bit archaic, in the sense that vinyl-album recording has become more of a novelty than a given. They describe the two sides of a single-playing vinyl record, also known as a 45. “B-side” has come to denote a lesser-known or less-significant song, as the A-side is traditionally the single that plays on the radio. Don’t snooze, though — sometimes the B-sides are considered the best tracks. (The Beatles’ “I am the Walrus,” for example, was the B-side for the 1967 single “Hello Goodbye.”)


A demo is a rudimentary, often unpolished recording made to display the abilities of a musician or a band, and then be presented to record labels, DJs, and agents. It’s a shortened version of the word “demonstration,” and this usage has been around almost as long as the music genre. One of the earliest appearances in print is in a 1962 issue of Billboard: “Denny said he’ll often hear a song one day, make a demo of it the next morning, and it will be recorded by some name artist the same afternoon.”


Traditionally, “to jam” usually means “to squeeze or pack tightly into a specified space.” Colloquially, particularly in circles of musicians, it can be used as a noun or verb to denote a spontaneous burst of playing music. You might meet up with a friend to jam, or to have a jam session. This word emerged in jazz circles around the late 1920s and early ’30s, but it has come to be used by musicians across genres. The jam subgenre of rock ’n’ roll is characterized by bands such as the Grateful Dead and Phish, playing songs that can meander for upwards of 30 minutes.


In general, “fuzz” refers to any fluffy or frizzy mass of fiber. In rock ’n’ roll music, it’s a buzzing or distorted sound, especially when deliberately produced as an effect on an electric guitar. The etymology related to music is a bit… fuzzy, but early proponents of distorted guitar playing were blues guitarists — notably Elmore James and Buddy Guy, who were trying to recreate on a guitar the raw vocals of singers Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, among others.

Featured image credit: chabybucko/ iStock

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