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MUS354: Classic Rock 

INSTRUCTOR: Professor Michael Campbell 

10 January 2018 

5 Decade long phases of rock 

● 5 Decade Long Phases of Music 

○ Formation: 1945 - 1955 
○ Fomentation: 1955-1965 
○ Fusion: 1965-1975 
○ Fission: 1975-1985 
○ Fragmentation: 1985-1995 

For popular music, the 20th century was a giant pendulum swing, from melody (at the 
beginning of the century) to rhythm (at the end of the century). 

For the first four decades, the pendulum swung steadily from melody to rhythm, mainly 
through infusion of African musical features heard in ragtime, syncopated fox trot songs, 
jazz, and big band swing. 

In the 1930s a conservative countercurrent d

​ evolutionary​ trend of a return to melody and 
became dominant in music after WWII. A positive example: Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable.” 
Less positive examples: Perry Como. 

Formation (1945-1955) 

● This was the decade in which a new generation of music began to take shap well 
outside the mainstream.  
○ The increased use of active rhythms at several tempos and in almost all 




■ Jackie Brenston “Rocket 88” (1951) 

● Shuffle rhythm and triplets 
■ Fats Domino “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” (1953) 
● Latin influenced rhythms 
○ More aggressive sounds, both instrumental and vocal 
■ Elmore James “Dust My Broom” 
● Raw vocal and amplified slide guitar 
● Shuffle rhythm and triplets  
○ Increasing interest in rhythm and blues by white musicians 
■ The Crew Cuts cover of “Sh-boom” (1954) 
● Bigger hit than the original 

Fomentation (1955-1965) 

● During this decade, rock and roll coalesced into a new sound different from rhythm 
and blues, gained great notoriety, and increased its commercial presence, in part 
because of the enthusiasm of white musicians for this music. 
● The new music of blacks and whites continued to evolve through the decade, 
becoming rock and new forms of black music. 
○ The synthesis of rock rhythm: a new more active rhythmic template and its 
gradual adoption and refinement through the course of the decade. 
■ Buddy Holly and The Crickets “It’s SO Easy” (1958) 
● The band plays a late 50s rock beat 
■ The Beach Boys “I get around” (1964) 
● Rock beat in this song is more vigorous, more solid and secure 
○ The standardization of the rock band and the assignment of instrumental 
■ Conventional two guitars, electric bass, drums lineup 
○ The transformation of black pop from an inventive take on existing popular 
song to a pop style that was new in every way. 
■ The Flamingos version of 1934 pop standard “I only have eyes for 
■ The Supremes “Come See About Me” (1964) 




● Motown: a fresh black pop sound 

○ The merger of blues and gospel in black music 
■ Ray Charles “What’d I Say” (1959) 
● Blues form/latin beat/gospel call and response 
○ The use of rock and roll, R&B, and--and later--folk music, as the soundtrack 
and symbol for a widening generation gap. 
■ Bob Dylan “Blowin in the WInd” 
● From folk revival to protest songs 

Fusion (1965-1975) 

● This was the decade of the rock revolution. Rock matured into a music that 
mattered, upended the music business as it gained both mind share and market 
share, and forced established styles to rock or risk irrelevance. 
○ Consolidation of the core rock style 
■ Creedence Clearwater Revival “Proud Mary” (1969) 
● Syncopated 8-beat rhythm with strong backbeat 
○ Exploration of rock’s boundaries 
■ The Beatles “A Day in the Life” (1967) 
● Non rock elements are dominant 
○ Formation of hybrid styles within rock and between rock and established 
■ Herbie Hancock “Chameleon” (1973) 
● Hancock: pioneer in fusion of jazz and rock 
○ Maturation and expansion of black pop 
■ Marvin Gaye “Inner City Blues” (1971) 
■ Stevie Wonder “Superstition” (1972) 
● Two Motown alumni charting new paths, both a departure 
from the Motown formula 
○ Soul = blues + gospel + rhythm 
■ Aretha Franklin “Respect” (1967) 
● Blues feeling 
● Gospel vocal style and call and response 




● Uptempo, syncopated rock rhythm 

○ Using rock to make an artistic statement through words and/or music 
■ Yes “Roundabout” (1972) 
● Art expressed through complex form and virtuosity 
○ Developing a rock-era approach to melody-oriented music 
■ Paul Simon “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard” (1972) 
● Melody still in the forefront 
● Musical settings not linked to pre-rock pop 
● More active rhythms 
○ Consolidating and commercializing rock 
■ Elton John “Crocodile Rock” (1972) 
● One of several big hits by the most popular rock act of the 

Fission (1975-1985) 

● In this decade, rock experienced its own generation gap. Disco and punk introduced 
new sounds and rhythms that were different from each other, and from the 
now-established rock mainstream. 
● It was the beginning of the rock-era’s second generation.  
○ The explosion of punk and new wave as an underground reaction against 
corporate rock. 
■ Talking Heads “Psycho Killer” (1978) 
● Sparse musical settings bring words to the foreground 
● Unconventional approach to rock rhythm 
● Matches understated rock band sound 
○ The emergence of disco as a new dance music that mainstreamed new 
rhythms and sounds. 
■ Chic “Good Times” (1979) 
● Disco helped mainstream 160beat rhythms 
● And electronics instruments 
○ Development of a new, surpassingly popular pop style 
■ Michael Jackson “Billie Jean” (1982) 




● New 80s pop--rooted in Motown, but using post punk/disco 

rhythms and sounds 
○ Post-disco/funk/punk fusions and the emergance of a distinctive array of 
1980s rock styles 
■ The Police “Every Breath You Take” (1983) 
■ Van Halen “Jump” (1984) 
● Both tracks prominently feature synth sounds and lean 8-beat 
○ Early stirrings in rap and techno, the last significant new genres of the 20th 
■ Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five “The Message” (1982) 
● First important rap with a serious message 

Fragmentation (1985-1995) 

● The diversity of rock-era music deepened dramatically toward the end of the 
century because of the mainstreaming of new genres, the continuing 
cross-pollination among styles, and growing generational split within rock. Both old 
and new became increasingly prominent 
○ The “classicization” of first-generation rock. 
■ Nirvana “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (1991) 
● New take on first-generation rock 
■ Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child O Mine” (1987) 
● Another fresh approach to first-generation rock 
● Classic rock radio emerged in late 1980s 
● Both tracks eventually appeared on classic rock playlists 
○ The further fragmentation of rock 
■ R.E.M “Losing My Religion” (1991) 
● Rich, gentle setting anchored by conventional rock band 
■ Nine Inch Nails “I Do Not Want This” (1994) 
● Distinctive, repetitive rhythm replaces rock beat 
● No guitars or bass, just quirky keyboard riff 




● Contrast between the two tracks suggests broad range within 

the alternative movement. 
○ Mainstreaming of rap and the increasing influence of electronica 
■ Public Enemy “Fight The Power” (1989) 
● Uncompromising rap, voices, rhythm 
● Melody no longer part of the mix 
● Song and album both a critical and commercial success 
○ Exploitation of new sounds made possible by digital technology 
■ Aphex Twin “Ageispolis” (1992) 
● New digitally generated sound world 
● Subtle 16beat rhythm under slow-moving harmonies 
● Anticipates increasing emphasis on new sounds and sound 
● The emergence of rap and electronica unleavened with melody in the latter part of 
the 1980s signaled the end of the giant pendulum swing from melody to rhythm 
● In both, the focus is almost completely on rhythm and sound 

Progression of “number” beats in the rock era 

● The progression from melody to rhythm lasted almost the entire century. The 
number beats--the rhythmic templates for four generations of popular 
music--demarcated the major stages in the overall process. 
● The rock era took shape during the latter half of this progression. A quick recap of 
rock-era number beats highlights how these rhythmic templates played the key role 
in defining the stages of the rock era. 
○ 4-beat shuffle rhythm (late 1940s/early 1950s) 
○ Early version of 8-beat rhythm (Late 1950s/early 1960s) 
■ Early beatles, “I wanna Hold Your Hand” 
○ Mature rock rhythm (late 1960s+) 
■ Less repetitive and predictable approach to rock rhythm 
○ 16-beat rhythm over rock beat (1970s+) 
■ Rap and guitar part map onto 16-beat rhythm (Aerosmith Walk This 




■ Guitar and drums play insistent 16-beat rhythm (U2 steets have no 

Furcation (1995-???) 

● The 3rd generation of rock-era music was different from the previous two in two 
important ways. Because the rhythmic evolution of popular music had reached an 
endpoint, the musical way forward was not at all clear. There was no revolutionary 
new direction around which popular music could coalesce, and the turning away 
from melody seemed to alienate a sizable percentage of rock’s potential audience.  
● In 2017, music rooted in the past--such as classic rock, 80s inspired pop, and country 
music--has a larger slice of the market than modern rock. 
● By the end of the 20th century, both rock and black music had furcated along 
generational lines. Within all three generations there was fresh music from both 
established acts and new faces 
○ The Strokes “The Modern Age” (2001) 
○ Beyonce “Crazy In Love” (2003) 
○ Tedeschi Trucks Band “Come See About Me” (2011) 
○ Alicia Keys “If I Ain’t Got You” (2003) 
○ Bob Dylan “Someday Baby” (2006) 
● In particular, those looking to create a 21st century sound have colored their music 
with new instrumental timbres and blends to distinguish it from the past. Still, we 
remain in the rock era almost by default, since there has not been a revolution in 
popular music since the 1960s, and there are no obvious signs of one on the 
musical horizon.