It must have been quite something to be a teenage pop fan in the mid-1960s, to hear new singles by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan every week, and to realise that your own personal obsession, once dismissed as childish and ephemeral, was now the most revolutionary art form in the world. ...
Nicholas Barber, BBC
By late 1962, British beat groups like The Beatles were drawing on a wide range of American influences including soul music, rhythm and blues and surf music. Initially, they reinterpreted standard American tunes, playing for dancers doing the twist, for example. These groups eventually infused their original compositions with increasingly complex musical ideas and a distinctive sound. During 1963, The Beatles and other beat groups, such as The Searchers and The Hollies, achieved popularity and commercial success in Britain.
British rock broke through to mainstream popularity in the United States in January 1964 with the success of the Beatles. The Beatles went on to become the biggest selling rock band of all time. They were followed by numerous British bands, particularly those influenced by blues music including The Rolling Stones, The Animals, the Who and The Yardbirds. The British Invasion arguably spelled the end of instrumental surf music, vocal girl groups and (for a time) the teen idols that had dominated the American charts in the late 1950s and early 60s. It dented the careers of established R&B acts like Fats Domino and Chubby Checker, and even temporarily derailed the chart success of surviving rock and roll acts, including Elvis.
The British Invasion also played a major part in the rise of a distinct genre of Rock music, and cemented the primacy of the rock group, based on guitars and drums, and producing their own material as singer-songwriters. And then came a whole assortment of styles and performers: Folk rock, Psychedelic rock, Southern rock, Heavy metal, Punk rock, New wave, Grunge, Rap rock ... The likes of Cream, Led Zeppelin, and the Rolling Stones. Punk made its mark in the '70s with Patti Smith's Horses and the Clash's London Calling. In the '80s Michael Jackson's blockbuster LP, Thriller became the best-selling record of all time. And we cannot forget Soul...and its myriad incarnations and derivatives.
By the early 2000s, a new group of bands, that played a stripped-down and back-to-basics version of guitar rock, emerged into the mainstream. They were variously characterised as part of a Garage rock, Post-punk or New Wave revival. There had been attempts to revive Garage rock and elements of Punk in the 1980s and 1990s, and by 2000 several local scenes had grown up in the US. The commercial breakthrough from these scenes was led by bands including The Strokes, who emerged from the New York club scene with their début album Is This It (2001) and The White Stripes, from Detroit, with their third album White Blood Cells (2001). They were christened by the media as "The" bands, and dubbed "The saviours of rock 'n' roll", leading to accusations of hype. A second wave of bands that managed to gain international recognition as a result of the movement included Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Killers, Interpol and Kings of Leon from the US.
Given the long complex history outlined above, studying Rock will be different... . Though the media catering to general interest listeners (and fans!) can provide useful information, a more studied approach to Rock is desirable here. As music fans tend to ignore artists they do not like; a more balanced approach also is required. The "Ups and Downs" of Chart Positions: Charts such as those published in Billboard offer information about how popular a record was at the time of its release and listeners’ tastes over time, but they do not definitively reflect a record’s popularity, sales, or influence. We will consider a wider range of artists than most media treatments, and employ descriptive information and historical context from our Core Book (What's That Sound?: An Introduction to Rock and Its History by Covach and Flory) to promote informed (and lively) discussions.
Four important themes will be stressed during the SDG. Each of these themes is an important part of Rock’s development in music and in popular culture:
1. Social, political, and cultural issues
2. Issues of race, class, and gender
3. The development of the music business
4. The development of technology
Given the large number of Rock artists from the time of “The British Invasion,” and the usual SDG time constraints (viz, fourteen 2-hour sessions), this S/DG will take a very broad—rather than a very deep—look at the artists identified in our Core Book as “important” and/or “influential”. The classic recordings called out in our Core Book reflect—and sometimes changed—the political, social, and economic culture of their eras. At the end of the semester, one desired outcome is to understand better the lives, times and works of the artists, and the evolved styles and realizations of their music.
Each week will use a different chapter from What's That Sound?. Weekly artist selections will allow the contrasting styles and subject matter of the different artists within each time period to be heard and discussed. SDG participants will be asked to listen to the songs at home, and then we will discuss the selected artists and songs in the weekly sessions. Each weekly discussion leader will pick the songs that will be discussed that week from the Core Book's Listening Guides. Leaders also may include some personal preferences; and since it is "Rock 'n 'Roll", their selections may include some rarely-heard tunes or lost classics.
Almost all the songs from these popular artists are available on Itunes or YouTube—or other Internet sources. The new PLATO A/V system and Wi-Fi mesh will enable us to play songs, music videos, interviews, etc. during the sessions as well.