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History of Rock, Part One

University of Rochester via Coursera


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.


  • Introduction
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Final Exam
    • Final exam for this course.

Taught by

John Covach


4.8 rating, based on 18 Class Central reviews

4.8 rating at Coursera based on 1132 ratings

Start your review of History of Rock, Part One

  • Very interesting and engaging part of cultural history. It paints a clear picture of what was going on in music and culture chronologically.
  • Mrs Susan England
    I thoroughly enjoyed this course. Dr Covach is a knowledgeable, entertaining and engaging instructor. This course is focused on the American Rock and Roll scene from about 1955 through to psychedelic era of the late 1960s. Social issues and technological developments that contributed to the development of American Rock and Roll are discussed throughout. If you enjoy rock and roll or just want to learn about this type of music, I highly recommend this course.
  • Lau Wei Lyn
    To big fans of Rock music, this course might seem to skim over a lot of precious material. However, it is an excellent introductory course to Rock music and the study of the history of music in general. As a beginner to Rock music, I thoroughly enjoyed the first part of the course - it was clear but interesting, simple yet insightful. Most of all, I learnt to see music as a cultural influence and product just as much as it is a form of art.
    Dr. Covach was a great instructor.
  • I'm a huge fan of rock'n'roll and I found this course very well done and historically detailed. Maybe the only issue was with the quiz assessments where you had to choose between answers like:

    * “The Sounds of Silence,” Simon and Garfunkel, Wednesday Morning, 3 a.m., 1965
    * “The Sounds of Silence,” Simon and Garfunkel, Wednesday Morning, 3 a.m., 1966,
    so I quit the assessments and the possibility of a certificate.

    Anyway it's still recommended for all the rock fans.
    Rock on!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Anonymous
    Lovely course, suitable for all ages. It covers broad range of music starting from swing to rap and punk. Quizzes are not too difficult, but it's a lot of music to listen to and share with the wonderful people in the class from all around the world.
  • Henry Alvarado
    Excellent course, great material and an excellent instructor. I'm enjoying every lesson, and i think that the university of rochester should receive a lot of compliments for putting this excellent course online.
  • Anonymous
    Fun and informative. Grew up with much of the music; nice to learn the background and how they all fit together.
  • pssGuy
    Nice manner. Could have done with an accompanying playlist
  • A comprehensive survey of the roots of rock and roll. Interweaves the socio-political climate and the power that black musicians had in drawing a white audience and inspiring innovation and social change.
  • Anonymous
    Fun course to take and professor is engaging in his lectures.
  • Aana
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  • Themis Drakontis

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