When the Beatles played several concerts in New York City's Shea Stadium in 1965, it was more out of logistical necessity than anything else. Few music venues at the time contained enough seats to satisfy the needs of Beatles fans caught up in the hysteria. By staging their live concerts in large outdoor venues in front of thousands of screaming fans, the Beatles and their opening acts helped to create a subgenre of rock music known as stadium rock or arena rock.
By the late 1960s, many popular rock bands had largely outgrown the standard concert halls and rock-oriented nightclubs generally reserved for live performances. Bands such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who, The Rolling Stones and others needed to find venues large enough to accommodate many thousands of fans as well as more elaborate stage, sound and lighting equipment. The solution was to book these larger-than-life bands into sports stadiums and other open air arenas.
Stadium rock performances often employed state-of-the-art light shows and pyrotechnics to instill a sense of shock and awe into audience members, many of whom could not see the actual performers from their upper deck seats. The music itself generally featured heavy amplification and power chords as a replacement for intimate vocals or intricate harmonies. These bands soon learned that audiences responded better to over-the-top vocals and strong anthemic hooks.
By the late 1970s, many of these bands had become household names, including Queen, Styx, Kansas, Boston and Meatloaf. These rock concerts became major media and social events, especially if two or more popular bands were on the bill. Arena rock venues became small cities for a few hours, complete with their own food services, medical support and law enforcement.
During the early 1980s, however, public interest in these bands started to wane. Many of the bands popular during the 1970s, such as Aerosmith and Kansas, lost a number of their members to drug abuse and other excesses associated with their former lifestyles. Ticket sales to stadium rock concerts dropped off significantly, although a few bands such as U2 could still fill arena seats. By the mid-1980s, arena or stadium rock had largely become an outdated form of entertainment.
Some music critics say there is a difference between true stadium rock and rock music played in a stadium. Certain modern bands have the ability to fill an entire sports arena or stadium with fans, but they still perform the style of music which made them popular in the first place. The original stadium rock bands, most notably KISS and Queen, often wrote music with a stadium audience in mind. Queen's anthemic song "We Will Rock You", for example, encouraged thousands of fans to stomp and clap in unison as singer Freddy Mercury belted out the lyrics.
Although the genre of rock music known as "stadium rock" may have collapsed under its own weight, many older fans still remember the times when going to a rock concert was truly a memorable event. Some bands who established their reputations during the stadium era have also reformed in recent years, although they may not perform in the same oversized venues as they once did.