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Some people say rock music is just noise, which is an easy assumption without considering its evolution. John Covach's What's that Sound? An Introduction to Rock and its History 2nd Edition explores the history of the rock music genre from its roots to where it is today, while exploring many of the genres that have developed from it. Covach has earned a Bachelor of Music, a Master of Music, a Ph.D. in music theory, earned several teaching citations and awards, and has authored many textbooks, articles, and journals. These credentials make him an excellent subject matter expert. Rock music, with a reputation of pushing society's boundaries, has changed throughout its history and continues to do so.
The book introduces the reader to a world of music prior to rock and roll and provides an elementary lesson in the composition of rock music. From that point, it proceeds in a chronological order through time to the late 1990's offering period specific examples of songs while emphasizing the influences of new music as it develops. Styles discussed include: early rock, British rock, Motown, Psychedelia, Disco, Punk, Rap, and Heavy Metal just to name a few. Though I do not like all styles discussed, after reading the book I definitely have a greater appreciation for the artistic value and history of all forms of music.
The emergence of the rock genre originally targeted teenagers following WWII, and centered on themes important to them such as romance and dancing. As it progressed, so did the themes of the music to target politics, drugs, sex, violence, discrimination, and even societal norms. The focus of music would change from dancing, to the listening experience with the hippie aesthetic, and ultimately seemingly to merge the two. Prior to reading the textbook, I had no idea what the hippie aesthetic was or how it even related to music. But, I now understand the important impact it had on the development of rock and the composition of the music. Covach explained how the evolution of music formats from AM to FM radio fundamentally changed music, then yet again with the introduction of video and MTV. It was clear to me that rock music had evolved, and with digital formats; it still continues to do so today.
What we consider to be controversial or rebellious certainly changes with time. Though extremely popular among the younger crowd, many people had issues with the sexually suggestive movements of Elvis and Madonna, yet their success only proves there was a market for the music at different times. Something as controversial as drug use led to gatherings such as the acid tests and culminated in large concerts such as the Monterey Pop Festival and ultimately, Woodstock. I now understand that the vulgar and explicit lyrics of Rap music were often directly related to culture and the treatment of that demographic. Through reading the book, I gained a better understanding of how society pushed against rock, causing rock to push back against society.
Most textbooks are dry and difficult to read, but I found this one to be easy and informative. I would recommend this book to anyone who has a love for rock or those that just appreciate the history and how music can move not only your body, but society as well. Movements such as Rock the Vote, Live Aid, Band Aid, and many other charitable acts can directly be attributed to Rock and roll. Though it might not always conform to what society views as being appropriate, it's clear that rock and roll will continue to change in form, and function.