The Forum’s legacy: A key force in the birth of arena rock

Since it opened in 1967, the Forum in Inglewood has hosted all the biggest names in pop music, from Elvis Presley to the Rolling Stones to Led Zeppelin, Prince, Nirvana and Coldplay.

The Forum arrived at a crucial time in the evolution of rock ‘n’ roll, from its genesis as a primal expression of teen angst and rebellion to its transformation into a global entertainment powerhouse, bringing a new industry along with it.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, rock concerts were often revues -- multiple acts on tour together, each being afforded time to play a few of its Top 40 hits before moving on to the next act. A headliner might occupy the stage for 20 or 30 minutes.


PHOTOS: Concerts at the Forum

But as the 45 rpm single ceded its place in pop and rock music to the 33 1/3 rpm LP, which held at least 40 more minutes’ worth of music, the live presentation of that music expanded along with it.

Performers interested in stretching the boundaries of the music began experimenting with songs that stretched out for 7 or more minutes, some taking the liberty of filling an entire side of an LP with a magnum opus, a la Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”

In the concert business, it soon became common for shows to be built around just two or three acts, and on rare occasions, a single performer might carry an entire evening of two to three hours of music.

Additionally, the increasing acceptability of pop and rock music on network TV in the 1960s helped fuel a growing population of acts capable of drawing crowds beyond the capacity of municipal auditoriums and convention centers.

After Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke spent $16 million building the Forum as a new home for his basketball team and for the newly minted Kings, the distinct-looking venue began to usher in a new era of arena rock. Along with Madison Square Garden, which opened the following year in New York, it quickly established itself as one of the nation’s two leading rock concert arenas.

PHOTO: New life for the Forum in Inglewood

British hard rock supergroup Cream, with Deep Purple opening, played the first concerts at the Forum on Oct. 18 and 19, 1968, and were soon followed by the Doors, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane, Steppenwolf and Three Dog Night as the ‘60s drew to a close.

The 1970s brought future Rock and Roll Hall of Famers including Presley, Led Zeppelin (which played 16 shows at the Forum), more visits from the Stones, plus Paul McCartney & Wings, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Elton John, Bob Dylan & the Band, the Beach Boys, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, the Who, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Aerosmith, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles and Queen.

In the ‘70s and ‘80s, progressive rock (Yes, Jethro Tull, Genesis) alternated with hard rock (Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Grand Funk Railroad, KISS), pop (Barbra Streisand, the Jackson 5, John Denver), Southern rock (the Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd), popera (Luciano Pavarotti) and mainstream rock (the Moody Blues, John, McCartney).

The Forum found its way into the title of live albums by Three Dog Night (“Was Captured Live at the Forum,” 1969) and others, and part of Zeppelin’s “How the West Was Won” live album came from Forum performances.

Once Staples opened and stole the thunder from the Forum, concert activity fell dramatically, although it still was used as a site for film and TV shoots, and it was the arena used in the “Guitar Hero: Metallica” videogame.

PHOTOS: Concert pictures by the Times

Michael Jackson was rehearsing at the Forum for his planned comeback shows at London’s O2 Arena at the time of his death. In 2011, Prince staged 15 shows at the Forum over the course of several weeks, generating renewed exposure to the arena.

“The Forum has been an important gathering place for Angelenos and a respite from the sterility of corporate luxury-box venues,” Rage Against the Machine/the Nightwatchman’s Tom Morello told The Times in 2010, when Madison Square Garden officials first announced their interest in the building. “I had the good fortune of sitting in those Forum seats many a time and rocking that hallowed room once or twice myself.”

One of the biggest areas of skepticism about how vital the Forum will be able to be in 2013 and beyond has to do with the conditions in the surrounding neighborhood, which lacks the glitz of AEG’s L.A. Live development surrounding Staples Center. But there are plans for a major planned community next door at the site of the old Hollywood Park racetrack.

“In Staples Center and L.A. Live, you have several billion dollars invested in a very successful project in revitalized downtown Los Angeles, versus a much older arena in a non-developed area with safety concerns in the surrounding neighborhood,” David Brooks, senior writer at the Venues Today trade publication, told The Times in 2010.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the area is going to be as well run as any other place in Southern California,” said veteran talent manager and music industry executive Irving Azoff, manager of the Eagles, which will be playing three shows in January to usher the Forum into a new era. “I went over recently and they walked me through the whole plan and it looks very exciting.”



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