Z201/History of Rock Music I:
Roots of Rock to the British Invasion

Dr. Glenn Gass
Professor of Music
Music in General Studies Department


Z201 is a history and appreciation of the musical and cultural melting pot of 1950's rock & roll and early 1960's pop. The course begins with an overview of ancestors and influences: blues, boogie-woogie, jazz, swing, country & western, gospel and popular music, and the crossover success of rhythm & blues acts that marked the true birth of rock & roll. The focus then shifts to the cataclysmic arrival of Elvis Presley and the careers and musical styles of Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers and other Founding Fathers, and continues through fifties R&B, doo-wop, the soul pioneers Ray Charles, Sam Cooke & Jackie Wilson and the early sixties pop landscape of Phil Spector, the Brill Building writers, the teen idols, the Twist and American Bandstand.

Instructor: Dr. Glenn Gass, Sycamore 139, 855-9460; Email: gass@indiana.edu

Course Information

Required Text: Gass, "A History of Rock Music: The Rock & Roll Era"

Recommended Text: DeCurtis, ed.,"The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll" (this is also the required text for the Spring Z202 course)

Required Listening: on reserve at the School of Music Library. Instructions are available online for using the reserve listening at the School of Music Library, as is information on the Variations2 system.

Attendance for the full class period is assumed and required.

Laptops and texting have proven to be a distraction and are not allowed during class.

Please see course syllabus for assignments, test dates and other semester-specific information. Note: apologies for all of the dead links! This website is ancient.

Week 1:

ROCK ROOTS: Overview of pre-rock styles and influences.
The Blues: roots in work songs & field hollers. Bessie Smith and the great "Classic Blues" women.
Robert Johnson & the guitar based rural blues of the Mississippi delta.

Click here for a Delta blues pilgrimage report.

Gass, History of Rock Music: The Rock & Roll Era, Chapter 1.
Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, Chapter 1.


Week 2:

ROCK ROOTS: Rural Blues and the epic Northern migration and move to electric urban blues: Memphis and Chicago, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Chess Records. The 12-bar blues and other style traits.

Week 3:

Gospel styles, singers, groups, and influences. Thomas Dorsey

Gass, History of Rock Music: The Rock & Roll Era, Chapter 1.
Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, Chapter 1.


Week 4:

Country & Western Styles: Appalachia, the Southwest and Nashville. String bands, the Carter Family and Traditional music & values. Jimmie Rodgers and the early incorporation of blues styles. Roy Acuff & the Grand Ole Opry, Hank Williams, singing cowboys, Western Swing, bluegrass, honky-tonk, The Nashville Sound.

READING: R.S., ch. 2; Gass ch. 2


Week 5:

RHYTHM & BLUES: Jazz, boogie-woogie and the Swing Era; decline of the Big Bands and the splintering into sophisticated bebop and dance-oriented rhythm & blues.

R&B in the 1940's: Louis Jordan and jump blues, Nat "King" Cole and club blues, Big Joe Turner, Big Mama Thornton and the blues shouters. The Ink Spots, Ravens and Orioles.

The Dawn of Rock & Roll: 1950's R&B solo singers and vocal groups.

READING: R.S. ch. 2, Gass ch. 2


Week 6:

CROSSOVERS & COVERS: popular music in the 1950's and R&B "crossover" hits.

The industry response: whitewashed cover versions of R&B hits. Pat Boone: King of the Covers. The emergence of the Teenager as a social and economic class. Alan Freed and the airwaves as battleground.

Bill Haley and "Rock Around the Clock."

READING: R.S. ch. 13, Gass ch. 2


Week 7:

ELVIS PRESLEY: The Sun Records Years (1954-55): Elvis and the South. Memphis, Sam Phillips and Sun Records; Scotty Moore and Bill Black. Rockabilly style traits.

The move to RCA: the glory years and the transformation into rock's first great Hero and uniting force. Col. Tom Parker and the Jordannaires.

The Army & Hollywood, the 1968 comeback, Las Vegas and the final descent.

READING: R.S ch. 3, Gass ch. 3


Week 8:

ROCKABILLY: Saturday night in the wild-eyed South. Rockabilly guitar and vocal styles, Southern roots and borrowings from black music and style.

Sun Records after Elvis: Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbinson, Charlie Rich and Jerry Lee Lewis, the living embodiment of rockabilly.

Other rockabilly artists and "extensions" of the style: Gene Vincent, Johnny Burnette Trio, early Buddy Holly & Eddie Cochran...

READING: R. S. ch. 8, 9, 17. Gass ch. 4


Week 9:

NEW ORLEANS: the Cradle of Jazz, with a long history of cultural & musical intermingling. Professor Longhair and the piano patriarchs. New Orleans R&B singers and styles. Cosimo Matassa's recording studio and Dave Bartholomew's house band.

New Orleans' twin rock pillars: Fats Domino and Little Richard.

READING: R. S. ch. 4, 5, 6. Gass ch. 5.


Week 10:

CHICAGO & CHESS RECORDS: Chess Records in the Rock & Roll era. Early Chess crossovers.

Chuck Berry: the Eternal Teenager, first great Rock Poet and archetypal rock guitarist. Berry's boogie-based rhythm & lead styles, songwriting themes & rapid-fire words.

Bo Diddley: the "Bo Diddley beat" and guitar vision -- rock as pure Rhythm & Sound

READINGS: R. S. ch. 7, Gass ch. 6.


Week 11:

VOCAL GROUPS AND DOO-WOP: Vocal group rock & roll. Lead & background vocal styles and arrangements. The Platters: the Ink Spots' descendants on the Pop charts.

Streetcorner styles: Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers and the long line of great "One-Shots". Atlantic Records and Uptown R&B: Leiber & Stoller productions for the Coasters and the Drifters.

READINGS: R. S. ch. 12, 18, 19, 20, 24; Gass ch. 7.

LISTENING: Tapes 5a, 5b and 6a.

Week 12:

R&B SINGERS AND SOUL PIONEERS: Rhythm & Blues singers in the rock & roll era. Gospel infusions & the push toward Soul. The Atlantic and King Records rosters. Early Stax and Motown eras
Early King recordings of James Brown.
Ray Charles: merging of gospel, R&B. pop and C&W styles; Atlantic & ABC.
Sam Cooke: gospel years with the Soul Stirrers and pop crossover w/"You Send Me"; 1960 move to RCA.
Jackie Wilson: early days w/Dominoes, live and vocal gymnastics, uneven recording career.

READING: R. S. ch. 18, 19, 20, 24. Gass ch. 8.

LISTENING: Tapes 6a & 6b.

Week 13:

THANKSGIVING week (no class)

Week 14:

ROCK STYLES EXPAND: The Push Towards Pop and a renewed emphasis on melody.

Paul Anka, Bobby Darin and other proto-teen idols.
Ricky Nelson: the "L.A. Rockabilly."
Eddie Cochran: rock anthems, guitar "power chords" and influence on next generation.
The Everly Brothers: country-duo harmonies, teen ballads and "choir boy rockabilly."

Buddy Holly & the Crickets: last of the fifties giants. Lubbock and Clovis; Norman Petty, studio innovations and a new fusion of pop and rock & roll. Crickets as proto-Beatle group archetype. Clear Lake, Iowa and The Day the Music Died.

READING: R.S. Ch. 10, 11 Gass ch. 9


Week 15:

EARLY SIXTIES POP: The Teen Idols and the taming of rock & roll: exits of the Founding Fathers, the Payola Scandal, Dick Clark, American Bandtstand and the "Death of Rock & Roll."

Brill Building Pop: Aldon Music's great songwriting teams: Goffin & King, Mann & Weil, Barry & Greenwich, Sedaka & Greenfield. Leiber & Stoller and Red Bird Records.

The Girl Groups: George Goldner & the Chantels, Luther Dixon & the Shirelles, the Chiffons, the Marvelettes, Angels, Shadow Morton & Shangri-Las, Lesley Gore.

Phil Spector & the Wall of Sound: "little symphonies for the kids" by the Crystals, Darlene Love, the Ronettes, the Righteous Brothers and Ike & Tina Turner.

EARLY SIXTIES POP: Male Singers and Groups. Roy Orbson's epic heartache ballads. Del Shannon, Neil Sedaka, Dion, the Four Seasons... The "twist"and the R&B revival.

Surf music: Dick Dale and surf instrumentals, garage bands, Jan & Dean and early hits from the Beach Boys.

The folk music boom: Bob Dylan & the new generation of folk/protest music.

THE BRITISH INVASION: Rock's rebirth: America reinvented and brought back home. British cover versions of American rock, pop, soul, blues and R&B. Overview of early styles of the Beatles and Rolling Stones

CLICK HERE to visit Glenn's "Trip to the Beatles' England" website

Click Here or visit the Overseas Studies offices (Franklin Hall 303) for information about the Summer in London program, including the 3-credit "Beatles in London" summer course offering.

READING: R. S. ch. 14, 16, 21, 22, 23, 26, 27. Gass ch 10, 11.

LISTENING: Tapes 7b, 8, 9a

Some Rock History encounters, including IU Honorary Degree recipients John Mellencamp and Booker T. Jones: