MUS 120: Popular Music of the Rock Era

Course Description

This course will focus on the history and analysis of rock, R&B, and other popular styles that influenced and interacted with them. Topics include the distinctions (and similarities) between various sub-categories and chronological periods, roles of the primary instruments used and how these roles have evolved, vocal styles, song form, and the racial, cultural, and economic dynamics influencing the music. Through reading and listening to many recordings, students will become familiar with many of the important figures in rock and R&B music, including Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, and many others.  (3 credits)


  • None

Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs)

Students who successfully complete this course will be able to discuss:

  1. Identify the roles (and the evolution of the roles) of the following instruments in rock (including the ability to aurally identify each instrument and, where applicable, the way these instruments interact with one another):
    • vocals (lead and background)
    • acoustic guitar
    • electric guitar
    • bass (electric and acoustic)
    • piano
    • electric and electronic keyboards
    • drum set
    • saxophone
    • other horns
    • strings
  2. Explain the basic structures and principles that factor into the creation and evolution of rock, including:
    • song form
    • arrangement and orchestration
    • the rhythm section
    • improvisation
    • reciprocal influences between rock and other forms of music (including classical, jazz, blues, ethnic music, and so on)
  3. Discuss the primary characteristics of sub-styles of rock including the following (and, as applicable, the impact of each style on the role of each instrument):
    • Early Rock
    • Rockabilly
    • R&B
    • British Invasion Rock
    • Folk-Rock
    • Psychedelic Rock
    • Motown
    • Soul
    • Heavy Metal
    • Punk
    • Rap/Hip-Hop
  4. Explain the historical/musical significance and primary contributions of the following artists:
    • Elvis Presley
    • Chuck Berry
    • Ray Charles
    • James Brown
    • The Beatles
    • The Rolling Stones
    • Stevie Wonder
    • Bob Dylan
    • Jimi Hendrix
  5. Identify the general significance and style of several dozen other significant rock artists and groups, including the following:
    • Little Richard
    • Jerry Lee Lewis
    • Buddy Holly
    • Sam Cooke
    • The Beach Boys
    • The Who
    • The Byrds
    • Grateful Dead
    • Jefferson Airplane
    • Sly and the Family Stone
    • Otis Redding
    • Aretha Franklin
    • Led Zeppelin
    • Yes
    • David Bowie
    • Bob Marley
    • Donna Summer
    • The Sex Pistols
    • The Pretenders
    • Bruce Springsteen
    • Prince
    • Nirvana
    • Public Enemy
  6. Analyze the elements in SLOs 1, 2 and 3 when writing about musical recordings.

General Education Outcomes (GEOs)

Please check the applicable GEOs for this course, if any, by outcomes at GEO Category Search, or by subject area at GEO Discipline Search.

Course Activities and Grading



Course Introduction Quiz (Week 1)


Discussions (Weeks 1-8)


Comparative Essays (Weeks 2, 3 & 4)


Performance Review (Week 6)


Final Project (Week 7)




Required Textbooks

Available through Charter Oak State College's online bookstore

  • Garofolo, Reebee. Rockin’ Out: Popular Music in the U.S.A. 6th ed. Prentice Hall, 2017. ISBN-13: 9780134415017 [Looseleaf version]

Additional Required Materials

(not available through bookstore)

  • Playlist of songs available online on Spotify.

Additional Resources

  • Access to Spotify (see Additional Information below)
  • Capacity to listen to music and audio lectures on a computer, and/or the ability to burn the audio files to CD or transfer them to a portable music player
  • Admission to one concert - cost depends on concert chosen (could be a free bar/club show, a large concert or anything in between).

Course Schedule



Readings and Exercises




Topic: Introduction; How Rock Music Works: The Basics

  • Readings: Textbook Introduction
  • Listening:
    • “Rock 'N Roll Music” by Chuck Berry
    • “Bring It On Home to Me” by Sam Cooke
    • “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles
    • "I Got You (I Feel Good)" by James Brown
    • “Changes” by David Bowie
    • “Ladies First” by Queen Latifah

Topic: The Pre-History of Rock

  • Reading: Chapters 1-2
  • Listening:
    • "Alexander’s Ragtime Band" by Bessie Smith
    • "Crazy Blues" by Mamie Smith
    • "Blue Yodel #9" by Jimmie Rodgers
    • "Cross Road Blues" by Robert Johnson
  • Make sure Spotify playlist can be accessed
  • Explore all pages of Blackboard course shell
  • Read assigned chapters
  • Review the Lecture material
  • Study listening material
  • Participate in Discussion Board
  • Take Quiz on How to Navigate Course
  • Optional, un-graded Comparative Essay



Topic: The Development of R&B

  • Reading: Chapter 3
  • Listening:
    • "Hey Good Lookin’" by Hank Williams
    • “Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean” by Ruth Brown
    • “Choo Choo Ch'Boogie” by Louis Jordan
    • " (I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man" by Muddy Waters

Topic: Early Rock Part 1

  • Reading: Chapter 4 (pages 55-68)
  • Listening:
    • “Tutti Frutti” by Little Richard
    • “Rock 'N Roll Music” by Chuck Berry
    • “Ain’t That A Shame” by Fats Domino
    • "What'd I Say" by Ray Charles
    • “Bring It On Home to Me” by Sam Cooke
  • Read assigned chapters
  • Review the Lecture material
  • Study listening material
  • Participate in Discussion Board
  • Submit Comparative Essay 1
  • Begin research/exploration for Final Project



Topic: Early Rock Part 2

  • Reading: Chapter 4 (pages 68-80)
  • Listening:
    • “Sh-Boom” by the Chords
    • “Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley
    • "Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On" by Jerry Lee Lewis
    • "That’ll Be the Day" by Buddy Holly and the Crickets

Topics: Backlash and Retreat

  • Reading: Chapter 5
  • Listening:
    • “Tutti Frutti” by Pat Boone
    • "Surfin’ U.S.A." by the Beach Boys
    • "Hello Mary Lou" by Rick Nelson
  • Read assigned chapters
  • Review the Lecture material
  • Study listening material
  • Participate in Discussion Board
  • Submit Comparative Essay 2
  • Submit Initial Final Project Proposal



Topic: The 1960s Part 1

  • Reading: Chapter 6 (pages 96-110)
  • Listening:
    • "Stop! In the Name of Love" by the Supremes
    • “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes
    • “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles
    • "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones
    • “The Times They Are A-Changin’ by Bob Dylan

Topic: The 1960s Part 2

  • Reading: Chapter 6 (pages 110-126)
  • Listening:
    • "Mr. Tambourine Man" by the Byrds
    • "I Got You (I Feel Good)" by James Brown
    • "Respect" by Aretha Franklin
    • "Oye Como Va" by Santana
    • “A Day In the Life” by the Beatles
    • “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” by Jimi Hendrix
  • Read assigned chapters
  • Review the Lecture material
  • Study listening material
  • Participate in Discussion Board
  • Submit Comparative Essay 3
  • Work on Final Project



Topic: Miscellaneous Styles of the 1970s

  • Reading: Chapter 7
  • Listening:
    • "Roundabout" by Yes
    • “You Make Me Feel Brand New” by the Stylistics
    • "I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)" by Stevie Wonder
    • “You’ve Got A Friend” by Carole King
    • “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple
    • “Changes” by David Bowie

Topics: Punk, New Wave and Disco

  • Reading: Chapter 8
  • Listening:
    • "“I Don’t Wanna Be Learned, I Don’t Wanna Be Tamed” " by The Ramones
    • “Anarchy in the U.K.” by the Sex Pistols
    • "Punky Reggae Party" by Bob Marley and the Wailers
    • “Brass In Pocket” by the Pretenders
    • "Last Dance" by Donna Summer
  • Read assigned chapters
  • Review the Lecture material
  • Study listening material
  • Participate in Discussion Board
  • Submit Revised Final Project Proposal
  • Work on Final Project



Topic: Rock Developments of the 1980s

  • Reading: Chapter 9
  • Listening:
    • "Beat It" by Michael Jackson
    • "Little Red Corvette" by Prince
    • "Born in the U.S.A." by Bruce Springsteen
    • "Like a Virgin" by Madonna

Topic: Rap and Metal

  • Reading: Chapter 10
  • Listening:
    • "Jump" by Van Halen
    • “. . . And Justice for All” by Metallica
    •  "Rock Box" by Run-DMC
    • "Bring the Noise" by Public Enemy
    • “Ladies First” by Queen Latifah
  • Read assigned chapters
  • Review the Lecture material
  • Study listening material
  • Participate in Discussion Board
  • Submit Live Performance Review
  • Work on Final Project



Topic: Rock Developments of the 1990s

  • Reading: Chapter 11
  • Listening:
    • "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana
    • “I’ll Be Missing You” by Puff Daddy
    • “Love Takes Time” by Mariah Carey
    • “. . . Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears
    • “Livin' la Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin
    • "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga

Topic: The 21st Century

  • Reading: Chapter 12
  • Listening:
    • "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)" by Toby Keith
    • “Not Ready To Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks
    • "Turn Me On" by David Guetta (featuring Nicki Minaj)
    • "Everything in its Right Place" by Radiohead
  • Read assigned chapters
  • Review the Lecture material
  • Study listening material
  • Participate in Discussion Board
  • Submit Final Project



Topic: Discussion of Final Projects (read, comment, Q &A)

  • Readings: Reading two classmate's Final Project (randomly selected and sent to you via email)
  • Peer Final Project review
  • Discussion Board
  • Complete course evaluation

Additional Information

The listening examples you will be expected to study for class assignments can be found in playlists on Spotify ( Spotify "Premium" (which costs approximately $10/month) allows for an ad-free environment and the capacity to listen to the tracks offline without purchasing them. However, the free version of Spotify is also fully-functional for the purposes of this class if you can handle some commercials and are doing your listening from a web-connected computer (note that on a mobile device you can only listen in Shuffle Mode with the free version of Spotify, which won’t allow you to hear the tunes you need on demand). The course playlist can be found, depending on whether you have the Spotify program/app installed or are using it in a browser, at: OR spotify:user:noahbaerman:playlist:50RGzaFfzVXDz9jGfb7rwk

NOTE: There will be a small number of assigned songs you will need to acquire through other means (such as iTunes). This will be addressed more specifically in an announcement the first week of class.

COSC Accessibility Statement

Charter Oak State College encourages students with disabilities, including non-visible disabilities such as chronic diseases, learning disabilities, head injury, attention deficit/hyperactive disorder, or psychiatric disabilities, to discuss appropriate accommodations with the Office of Accessibility Services at

COSC Policies, Course Policies, Academic Support Services and Resources

Students are responsible for knowing all Charter Oak State College (COSC) institutional policies, course-specific policies, procedures, and available academic support services and resources. Please see COSC Policies for COSC institutional policies, and see also specific policies related to this course. See COSC Resources for information regarding available academic support services and resources.