What makes a song a rock song?

I don’t see a thread on this, so my apologies if this has been done before. I’m trying to figure out what makes a song a rock song. Are some the genres labeled as rock actually rock, or is just a label that happens to share the same word. Genres like yacht rock, trop rock, and soft rock don’t seem like rock to me, but maybe I’m missing something. What about genres initially branched off from rock, but might now be sufficiently different that they warrant their own category, like metal? Here are some specific examples to consider, but by no. means do I want to limit the question to these specific songs.

Suspicious Minds - Elvis Presley, as well as covers by Fine Young Cannibals and Dwight Yoakam
Enter Sandman - Metallica, album version as well as the version recorded by Metallica with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Orion - Metallica
Sailing - Christopher Cross
Everything I Do - Bryan Adams
Margaritaville - Jimmy Buffett
Stayin’ Alive - Bee Gees
Beat It - Michael Jackson
Purple Rain - Prince
Glycerine - Bush

We’ve done this before so I know it’s a classic 12 posters 13 opinions thread.

Rock is the genre that swallowed all the other genres. It has a good beat and you can dance to it, although sometimes the dance is slow and close.

Pin the blame on Paul McCartney. He loved blues, and country, and r&b, and skiffle, and folk, and Broadway show tunes, and classical, and British music hall songs, and crooners, and marching bands, and everything else he heard, the ultimate human musical hoover. They all came out in The Beatles’ music (to the dismay of John who hated Paul’s “granny music”). The Beatles conquered the world and sounded like no one else and still don’t. But they gave that musical menage a name and that name was rock. And the teenagers saw that rock was good and they picked up instruments and microphones and made more rock, a Tower Records that reaches to the heavens. Then some loudmouth said “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

And so it has been. What is rock? Nobody understands each other when they spaketh the word.

Where does this leave the “rock and roll” that was popular from 1955 - 1963? Songs like Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock up to Chubby Checker’s The Twist, and all the songs in between of that style?

I have at least two opinions, myself. In my mind “rock” (as a musical category) can be used in a broad sense or in a narrow sense—both of which I would have real trouble defining or delimiting. But I would consider all of the styles and songs mentioned in the OP to be “rock” in the broad sense of the word.

Speaking of broad categories and since I included The Bee Gees, does that mean that disco is a type of rock?

“What’s that awful racket? It’s nothing but salacious jungle rhythm. And these lyrics are obscene! You call that music?”

That’s Rock.

In my elementary school music classes, they taught us that rock was characterized by a particular sort of syncopation.

According to Jack Black, rock is all about sticking it to The Man.

I don’t consider any of those rock songs. Dwight Yoakum!?
I know a lot of folks consider Ike Turner’s Rocket 88 the first real rock song. I disagree (I started a thread about it but darned if I can find it now) but it started around that time. Music like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin is rock to me.

It’s got a back beat, you can’t lose it, any old time you use it. In the early days, the snare on the 2 and 4 really were representative of rock (as opposed to jazz, country, or some other genres that were around at the time), but now that’s pretty common in lots of popular music.

Anyway, like any category, there will be fuzzy edges.

Stayin’ Alive is outside of that zone, firmly in the middle of the disco category, for example.

Sailing is in a different category – “bad music”.

Beat It, with the heavy guitar and solid 2-4 drum beat would be in the rock category, towards the edge with pop and funk right there.

Purple Rain is really a ballad, and I guess there are rock ballads. I’ll allow it.

Margaritaville is more like island music or country. Right on the edge of rock, but not really rock.

Everything I Do is in the same category as Sailing

Enter Sandman is definitely rock – hard rock or metal, but those are kinds of rock

Suspicious Minds seems like a rock song, on the edge with pop maybe

Glycerine is rock, but of the boring kind

I don’t know Orion

Beat It, Purple Rain and Enter Sandman rock. The others are pop. Orion might be rock, but I don’t know it either.

On the other hand, Stayin’ Alive can rock, in the right hands:

I would put Disco under the umbrella of “Dance Music,” which is a different classification that also encompasses Western Swing, Texas Two-Step and anything that merits a mosh pit. Rock, Soul, R&B, Country…it doesn’t matter. If it was written to make you mbuki-mvuki, it fits.

Every category is going to have so many exceptions that it has to be “I know it when I hear it.” Disco songs tend to have bass drums on every beat, and rock songs don’t, but there will be counter-examples of each.

Is Watching the Detectives a great rock song or a poorly played reggae song? What about D’yer Mak’er (pronounced “Jamaica”)? That was Led Zep trying (and really failing) to play reggae, but making a very good rock song (without the 2-4 backbeat!).

“Pop” probably has more meanings than “rock” does. Depending on how you use the terms, “rock” can be a completely separate category from “pop,” or a subset of it.

Or a superset. Arguments can be made for both (or neither!)

The fight will be vicious because the stakes are so low.

According to Chuck Berry:

Can rock rock without an electric guitar?

If Progressive Rock is Rock, then yes, it can.

If you mean that electric guitar is what makes Rock rock, I agree.

To me, Rock music uses a heavy beat and electric instrumentation. A lot of the songs on that list fall into the broad category of “Pop.”

IMO, no.

The Rock label is more about pedigree than attributes. Anything with a direct line of influence from the glorious union of Louis Jorden and Bob Wills by a handful of artists in the mid 1950s.