History of Rock, Part Two

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Course Date: 31 August 2014 to 12 October 2014 (6 weeks)

Price: free

Course Summary

Learn about the growth of rock music, from the early 1970s through the rise of punk and disco in the late 1970s, and from the emergence of MTV, hip hop, and heavy metal in 1980s to the rebellion of Nirvana in the early 90s.

Estimated Workload: 2-4 hours/week

Course Instructors

John Covach

John Covach received his B.Mus., M.Mus. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Michigan. He was a Fulbright scholar in Vienna, Austria during 1987-88, and has done post-doctoral work in philosophy under Charles Bambach at the University of Texas-Dallas. Professor Covach has taught at the Interlochen Arts Academy, The University of North Texas College of Music, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His students have won a wide variety of awards, and hold faculty positions at CUNY, the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, the University of Surrey, Carleton College, among others.

Professor Covach has published dozens of articles on topics dealing with popular music, twelve-tone music, and the philosophy and aesthetics of music. He co-edited Understanding Rock (Oxford, 1997), American Rock and the Classical Tradition (Harwood, 2000), and Traditions, Institutions, and American Popular Music (Harwood, 2000). His textbook, What’s That Sound? An Introduction to Rock Music, was recently published by W.W. Norton & Co. in the in its third edition and is the country’s leading textbook in rock music. Covach currently serves on the Editorial Board of the Cambridge University Press journal, Twentieth Century Music, and is a General Editor of Tracking Pop, a monograph series devoted to topics in popular music to be published by the University of Michigan Press. He has lectured across the US and in Europe, and has been the focus of feature stories in newspapers and magazines, as well as on radio and television.

As a guitarist, Professor Covach has performed throughout the United States and Europe. He remains active as a performer, touring and recording with several bands as well as a solo artist.

Course Description

This course, part 2 of a 2-course sequence, examines the history of rock, primarily as it unfolded in the United States, from the early 1970s to the early 1990s. This course covers the music of Led Zeppelin, the Allman Brothers, Carole King, Bob Marley, the Sex Pistols, Donna Summer, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, Metallica, Run-DMC, and Nirvana, 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. 

Emerging out of the experimental and ambitious years of late-60s psychedelia, rock splintered into a variety of styles in the 1970s as the music business continued to expand. By the end of the decade, punk and disco had challenged the excesses of the hippie aesthetic, as rock became more commercially streamlined and radio friendly. The emergence and rise of MTV transformed pop music and propelled the careers of Michael jackson and Madonna, while heavy metal and hip hop dominated the late 1980s. Nirvana leads alt-rock's return to simplicity in the early 1990s. 


  • Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class?

    Yes. Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor.

  • What resources will I need for this class?

    For this course, all you need is an Internet connection, the textbook (if you decide to use it) and the time to read it, an eagerness to seek out and listen to the music, and the desire to discuss the music and the issues it raises.

  • What is the coolest thing I'll learn if I take this class?

    You probably will know a fair amount of rock music when you begin the course, but you'll know a lot more more when you finish it. You may be surprised how much of this new music you will like, even if you initially thought you might not. You'll also gain a deeper and broader sense of context in which to enjoy your favorite rock music. A course that helps you enjoy your favorite music even more--how can you beat that?!


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 Growing Rock Monster (1970-77)"
A series of styles continue to develop the combinations of late-1960s psychedelia: blues-rock, southern rock, progressive rock, jazz-rock, theatrical rock, country rock, and singer-songwriters. Rock becomes increasingly ambitious.
[Read Chapter 8 and work through listening guides for that chapter, viewing dedicated video.]

Week Two: "Black Pop, Reggae, and the Rise of Disco (1970-79)"
Moving along a parallel but mostly separate path, black pop develops with the help of James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone. Motown continues, the rise of funk and Blaxploitation films. Bob Marley and reggae. The emergence of disco the reaction of rock fans.
[Read Chapter 9 and work through listening guides for that chapter, viewing dedicated video.]

Week Three: "Mainstream Rock, Punk, and New Wave (1975-79)"
Rock style from the early 70s are streamlined and labeled corporate rock, as the music business expands even further. The mega-album. Punk reacts with a return to simplicity. New wave develops the punk attitude.
[Read Chapter 10 and work through listening guides and dedicated video.]

Week Four: "I Want My MTV (1980-89)"
MTV emerges from a developing cable television industry. Michael Jackson and Thriller. The rise of Madonna, Prince, and Janet Jackson. Does MTV make music more visual than aural? Mainstream rockers continue thrive.
[Read Chapter 11 and work through listening guides and dedicated video.]

Week Five: "Heavy Metal, Rap, and the Rise of Indie Rock (1980-89)"
Developing out of underground scenes of the late 1970s, heavy metal and hip hop become important mainstream styles in the late 1980s, aided by exposure on MTV. The rock reaction against rap.
[Read Chapter 12 and work through listening guides and dedicated video.]

Week Six: "Widening Gaps (the 1990s)"
The growth of "classic rock" and the development of the history-of-rock awareness. A survey of artists as they relate to earlier trends in the history of rock, including teen idols, hip-hop, 60s-influenced rock, female singer-songwriters, dance music, indie rock, and heavy metal.
[Read Chapter 13 and work through listening guides and dedicated video.]


The class will consist of lecture videos, which are between 8 and 12 minutes in length. These contain 1-2 integrated quiz questions per video. There will be quizzes for each chapter and a final exam.

Suggested Reading

Although the lectures are designed to be self-contained, we recommend (but do not require) that students refer to the book, What's That Sound? An Introduction to Rock and Its History (Third Edition), which is the basis for this course. The book contains a more detailed treatment of all the topics discussed in the videos and its structure parallels that of the course. The book also includes dozens of listening guides. The publisher (W.W. Norton) has made an online version of the text available to Coursera students with added features. Extra assignments for those using the book are given in brackets in the Course Syllabus.

Unfortunately, the expense of licensing music to support a course like this is prohibitive. Students are therefore asked to seek out the music discussed here (most of which is readily available on the internet). Because artists cannot be paid otherwise, we encourage all students to purchase the music they enjoy when possible; a playlist of listening guides presented in the textbook is available through iTunes.

Course Workload

2-4 hours/week

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