History of Rock, Part One

John Covach , University of Rochester
Related Topics: history music business beatles


Course Description

This course, part 1 of a 2-course sequence, examines the history of rock, primarily as it unfolded in the United States, from the days before rock (pre-1955) to the end of the 1960s. This course covers the music of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Phil Spector, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and many more artists, with an emphasis both on cultural context and on the music itself. We will also explore how developments in the music business and in technology helped shape the ways in which styles developed. 

Rock emerged in the mid 1950s as a blending of mainstream pop, rhythm and blues, and country and western--styles that previously had remained relatively separate. This new style became the music of the emerging youth culture and was often associated with teen rebellion. We will follow the story of how this rowdy first wave of rock and roll (1955-59) was tamed in the early 60s but came roaring back with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and then went psychedelic by the end of the decade.

View the video lectures listed for each week. Students have the option of using the textbook or not; the video lectures are designed to be self-contained. The textbook provides increased depth, context, and background, as well as dozens of listening guides. [Additional assignments for those using the book are given in brackets below.]

Week One: "The World Before Rock and Roll (1900-1955)"
The Role of Tin Pan Alley in mainstream pop, the formation of a national audience through radio and the rise of television, the pre-rock pop of Frank Sinatra, Patti Page, and Les Paul and Mary Ford; rhythm and blues in the years before rock and roll; country and western and the rise of Nashville.
[Read introduction and Chapter 1, along with the listening guides for each. For each listening guide, you may view the dedicated video on the W.W. Norton textbook site.]
Week Two: "The Birth and First Flourishing of Rock and Roll (1955-59)"
Chart crossover and cover versions, the first hits of Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, and Little Richard, the rise of Elvis Presley, the music of Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly, the rise of American Bandstand, the payola scandal and the "death of rock and roll."
[Read Chapter 2 and work through the listening guides in that chapter, viewing the dedicated video.]

Week Three: "The Demise of Rock and the Promise of Soul (1959-63)"
Was this era the dark ages for rock music or was it a golden era cut short by the British invasion? The music of teen idols, the folk revival, early surf music, sweet soul, rockabilly pop, and girl groups. The Brill Building songwriters and the rise of the producer. Playlets and splatter platters.
[Read Chapter 3 and work through the listening guides for that chapter, viewing the dedicated video.]

Week Four: "The Beatles and the British Invasion (1964-66)"
The Beatles transform the UK music scene and then invade America. Other Beatles-type British bands. The London blues scene and the Rolling Stones. Other Stones-type bands. The Who and the Kinks.
[Read Chapter 4 and work through the listening guides for that chapter, viewing the dedicated video.]

Week Five: "American Responses (1965-67)"
Dylan, the Byrds and folk rock. Garage bands in the northwest. Sonny and Cher and the legacy of Phil Spector. TV rock, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and the Monkees. Music in New York and Los Angeles.
[Read Chapter 5 and work through the listening guides for that chapter, viewing the dedicated video.]

Week Six: "Motown Pop and Southern Soul (1960-69)"
Berry Gordy and the rise and first flourishing of Motown. Atlantic, Stax, and southern soul (Memphis, Muscle Shoals, New York). Parallels between Motown and Stax. James Brown and the roots of funk.
[Read Chapter 6 and work through the listening guides for that chapter, viewing the dedicated video.]

Week Seven: "Psychedelia (1966-69)"
How can music be psychedelic? Underground psychedelic scenes in San Francisco and London. Psychedelia in LA. The Summer of Love and the rise of hippie culture. The birth of FM rock and rock magazines. Woodstock and Altamont.
[Read Chapter 7 and work through the listening guides for that chapter, viewing the dedicated video.]

No previous training in music is required.

Write Your Own Review

Reviews on Springboard

  1. Let it Rock!

    A must do for a Rock buff! The course gave me a whole lot of songs to be added on to the youtube playlist! It also threw light on stories of rock stars,evolution of rock stars,their songs and the impact on the industry. And some on whom that were discussed, i had never even heard of!

  2. This course rocks

    This is complete approach to the early history of rock music. Music genres are analysed from different point of views (artistic, commercial, technological) and in relation with society. Listening to prof. Covach is extremely enjoyable. Enroll!

History of Rock, Part One

by John Covach, University of Rochester