Rock History


Authored by Steve Morse


Course Code: OLART-170

Next semester starts September 23

12 Weeks

Level 1

Level 1

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Discover the history of rock 'n' roll in more detail than you can imagine. In Rock History, you will learn where rock music started, how it evolved, its highs and lows, its outlaws and visionaries, and how it changed social history by combating racism and challenging the establishment with alternate lifestyles and fashions. You will get a chance to explore many of the revolutionary artists who defined rock 'n' roll, as well as the unsung heroes in genres from rockabilly to psychedelia, punk, metal, and beyond. You will learn about the musical and business trends in rock, major technological innovations, the prime innovators, and the historical context that has seen rock alternately flourish and struggle over the past 60 years.

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The course features exclusive video interviews with Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, Ernie Isley of the Isley Brothers, Mike Mills of R.E.M., Hugo Burnham of Gang of Four, Amanda Palmer, Duke Levine of the J. Geils Band, British session drummer Dave Mattacks who also toured with Fairport Convention and Richard Thompson, rock promoter Don Law, mastermind of Parliament and Funkadelic George Clinton, and producer Jack Douglas, who has worked with John Lennon, Aerosmith, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, and many others.

You will be encouraged to think independently by participating in online discussions about key trends and developments in rock history, in addition to completing assignments that require added research and exploration to gain new perspectives. We'll look at the past, but also where rock music is going, treating rock 'n' roll as a vibrant, fluid attitude where nothing is sacred or predictable.

Course author Steve Morse brings three decades of in-depth experience with rock headliners to the course. During his 30-year tenure as the senior rock music critic at the Boston Globe, he interviewed such artists as the Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, U2, Joni Mitchell, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Bruce Springsteen, as well as many others involved in a variety of aspects within the music industry.

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Identify the major artists in rock music, including their influences and their legacy
  • Recognize the musical styles that informed rock
  • Identify the key trends that helped rock redefine itself through the decades
  • Associate the historical context of culture, society, politics, and prejudices that impacted rock
  • Assess the major business and technological innovations that continue to move rock music forward
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Lesson 1: Dawn of Rock & Roll

  • Digging into the Roots
  • Influence of Country/Hillbilly Music
  • Influence of Acoustic and Electric Blues
  • The Blues Gets Amplified
  • Rock's Commercial Beginnings: From Bill Haley to Elvis and Sun Records in Memphis
  • Business Spotlight: Colonel Tom Parker
  • Early Rock & Roll Hit Makers
  • Technology Spotlight: Leo Fender, Les Paul, Post WWII Electronics
  • Emergence of Black Stars: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino
  • Inside the Music Spotlight: The Beats
  • Emergence of Female Stars

Lesson 2: Rock's Racial Integration, Followed by a Backlash; Payola; and Moving Beyond the Day the Music Died

  • Buddy Holly's Pioneering Role and Tragic End
  • Rock in Retreat
  • Technology Spotlight: Shifting Music Formats
  • Alan Freed Helps to Racially Integrate Radio Stations and Concert Tours, then Implodes
  • Dance Crazes
  • Teen Idols
  • The Rise of the Brill Building Movement
  • The Four Seasons Bridge Doo-Wop and Rock
  • The Isley Brothers Provide a Bright Spot and a Link to the Beatles

Lesson 3: Rock Regains Its Luster, the British Invasion of the Beatles and Rolling Stones

  • Class Acts: Roy Orbison and Ray Charles
  • Instrumental Rock and the Surf Rock of the Beach Boys
  • Beatlemania
  • Beatles Firsts
  • The Rolling Stones Rekindle a Sense of Rebellion
  • Business Spotlight: Brian Epstein of The Beatles vs. Andrew Loog Oldham of the Stones
  • The Who Slam Into View
  • The Kinks Create a Different World
  • Melodic, Rhythmic, and Harmonic Functions

Lesson 4: More New Branches in the 60s—Soul Music, Funk, Bob Dylan and Folk-Rock, and the Birth of Protest Music

  • Motown and Stax-Volt Records
  • Soul Sisters Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin
  • Funk-Rock Pioneers James Brown and Sly & The Family Stone
  • Spotlight on Protest Music
  • Bob Dylan's Inspiration for Folk-Rock
  • Business Trend: Personal Manager Albert Grossman
  • Technological Innovations: Recording Studios
  • Donovan, the So-Called Scottish Dylan
  • Simon & Garfunkel Bring Folk-Rock to the Mainstream
  • The Ultimate Iconoclast: Frank Zappa

Lesson 5: More British Invasion Acts, Plus Guitar Heroes Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Alvin Lee, British Folk-Rock, and The Rawness of Garage Rock

  • More British Invasion Bands of the 60s
  • Hendrix in a Class by Himself
  • Yardbirds and Their Alumni: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page
  • Business Trends
  • Fleetwood Mac
  • Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin
  • Business Spotlight: Willie Dixon Influence On Zeppelin, but Leads to the Courtroom
  • Alvin Lee and Ten Years After
  • Garage Rock's Cult Status
  • Spotlight Moment: Rock Critic Gets Carried Away
  • Birth of British Folk-Rock

Lesson 6: Progressive Rock, the Birth Of Psychedelia, the Summer Of Love, and Acid Rock in San Francisco and L.A.

  • Progressive Rock Soars in England: Cream, Traffic, and More
  • What Is Psychedelic Rock?
  • Pink Floyd Launches Psychedelic Rock
  • Life in the Studio: The Moody Blues
  • The Beatles Raise the Bar
  • The Grateful Dead
  • Other San Francisco Acts from Janis to the Jefferson Airplane
  • West Coast Promoter Bill Graham
  • East Coast Promoter Don Law
  • Los Angeles Weighs In
  • Festival Peaks at Monterey Pop and Woodstock

Lesson 7: Turning the Corner to the 70s

  • A Tough Start
  • Excesses on the Road
  • Heavy Metal and Hard Rock Accelerate
  • Glam Rock Asserts Itself
  • Rock Opera in Vogue
  • Soft Rock as a Rejection of the High Decibels
  • Lester Bangs, Gonzo Rock Critic
  • Canadians Leave Their Mark on the Genre
  • David Geffen, Record Executive
  • The Beatles Go Solo

Lesson 8: Americana, Reggae, Blues Power in the Arenas, and New Superstars in Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, and Fleetwood Mac

  • Americana: The Band, Gram Parsons, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the Eagles
  • Bob Marley—Reggae Pioneer and Peter Tosh
  • Blues-Rockers Rule
  • New Superstars Springsteen, Seger, Fleetwood Mac

Lesson 9: The Extreme Rebellion of Punk

  • Setting the Scene
  • CBGB's Provides a Home for the Ramones, the Patti Smith Group, Talking Heads, Blondie, and More
  • The Sex Pistols Pace British Punk Explosion
  • The Clash Pick Up the Banner
  • Other Punks of Note
  • New Wave, MTV Superstars, Arena Rock, the 80s Soar

Lesson 10: New Wave, MTV Superstars, Arena Rock, the 80s Soar

  • From Punk to New Wave
  • Other Prominent New Wave Acts
  • MTV Changes Everything
  • Synth Pop Arrives and New Brit invasion
  • MTV's Biggest Superstars: Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Prince
  • Arena Rock Surges and Hard Rock/ Heavy Metal Returns

Lesson 11: Rock's Social Conscience, a Trend Toward Irreverence, Surging Female Stars, Alternative Rock, Two Woodstocks, and Angry Rap-Metal in the 90s 

  • Benefit Concerts in Vogue
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan: A One-Man Blues Revival
  • Rock's New Street Poets
  • Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves
  • Alt-Rock Comes on Strong
  • Alternative Touring Festivals
  • An Anger-Filled Festival Erupts with Rap-Metal Bands and a Destructive Finale

Lesson 12: More from the 90s, then the Effect Of 9/11 and Rocking into the 21st Century

  • Cover Songs
  • Welcome to Grunge
  • Brit Revival with Oasis, Radiohead, and Coldplay
  • Jam Bands Capture Fresh attention
  • Dramatic New Voices
  • Disastrous Effect of 9/11 on Changing Radio Playlists
  • More Recent Times
  • Long Live Rock?


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
This course does not have any prerequisites.


Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Classes. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Steve Morse

Author & Instructor

Steve Morse was the senior rock music critic at the Boston Globe for nearly three decades and continues to write for the paper on a freelance basis today. During his tenure, he interviewed legends such as the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Tracy Chapman, Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, U2, Pearl Jam, B.B. King, Metallica, Billy Joel, Jerry Garcia, Tom Petty, Ozzy Osbourne, Whitney Houston, Bonnie Raitt, Aerosmith, the Clash, Iggy Pop, Rage Against the Machine, Stevie Nicks, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Radiohead. He attended 250 concerts a year for 30 years, including frequent tour openings around the country as well as major events such as Live Aid and Farm Aid. Morse has contributed to Billboard and Rolling Stone magazines and served on the nominating committee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a seven-year term. He hosted a radio show, "Morse on Music,'' for Boston station WBOS-FM for two years and has aired "60 Second'' reviews on VH1. Morse has done many industry projects such as writing liner notes for album releases by Billy Joel and the Dave Matthews Band. In 2023, he was inducted into the New England Music Hall of Fame. He grew up around Boston and caught the Doors, Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin when he was a teenager.

Jim Horan


Jim Horan has over 20 years of experience in the music business as a record company executive, artist manager, consultant, and musician. He began his career at Rounder Records, one of the most revered independent labels in the country, where he rose to become the company’s Vice-President and General Manager while working with artists such as Robert Plant, Gregg Allman, Steve Martin, John Mellencamp, Rush, Alison Krauss, Nathaniel Rateliff, and The Jayhawks. He has managed artists including the GRAMMY-nominated Americana band Della Mae and the acclaimed indie folk artist Marissa Nadler, and he serves as a consultant for domestic and international artists. He is also a singer, songwriter, and guitarist who has been performing for over 25 years, most recently with the Boston-based country rock band, Georgia Overdrive. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Connecticut.

Jed Gottlieb


Jed Gottlieb was the senior music & theater critic at the Boston Herald for a decade and has written for The Atlantic, Billboard, Fast Company, Newsweek, and dozens more magazines and newspapers. Over his career, he has interviewed Adele, Alice Cooper, Bill Murray, Carlos Santana, Dolly Parton, Janelle Monáe, Jimmy Cliff, Paul McMcCartney, Sonny Rollins, Steve Martin, Stevie Nicks, and other icons. He has reviewed U2 at the tiny Somerville Theatre, an alternative rock festival in Madrid, Spain, the Broadway debuts of musicals in New York City, and hundreds of other concerts, plays, ballets, operas, films, TV programs, and stand-up comedy performances. He created Guestlisted, the first arts-based blog at a Boston daily, which earned nominations at the Boston Music Awards five years running, and created and hosted the popular concert and interview series, Behind the Album, for web broadcast with Emmy-winning Redstar Studio in Cambridge, MA.


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