Ch. 1: The Reason and Rise of “Alt”7min, 30sec

There are many adages about history and its repetition. Edmund Burke said that those who do not know history are destined to repeat it. Statements by George Santayana and Winston Churchill echoed the same sentiment. However, some historians, such as Neil Howe, argue that it takes four generations for history to come full circle and give indications of mirroring previous occurrences.

With rock ‘n’ roll, it seems that it only took four decades for history to repeat itself.

Elvis Presley 01
Kurt Cobain 01

The renegade sounds and attitudes which launched a new genre in the early 1950s, complete with a new demographic audience, new counter-culture, new set of lyrics, and new hybrid of sounds, only took forty years to reemerge in a reincarnated form that was dubbed “alternative.”

“Alternative” (with its seemingly interchangeable terms “underground” and “indie”) could originally be defined as “going against the commercial or corporate trend.” In the rock ‘n’ roll of the 1990s, those commercial or corporate products were the highly manufactured sounds handed down by artists of the 1980s such as Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Prince. Though the roots of “alternative” began as a reaction to the pop-rock sound of the ‘80s, many variations of the “alt” movement reached new levels of maturity in the ‘90s.

However, the “alternative/alt” genre prefix of the 1990s also was applied freely (and sometimes enigmatically) to other genres. The decade saw the appearance of “alt-pop,” “alt-metal,” “alt-rock,” “alt-country,” “alt-Christian,” “alt-dance,” and “alt-rap,” among others. It seemed as if every musician was searching for a unique musical expression that both connected and simultaneously disconnected them from the past.

In the 1950s, the rise of popularity of the early rock artists was due in large part to the small, independent record labels like Sun in Memphis and Chess in Chicago. They were willing to take a chance on unknown artists with a new, commercially unproven sound. Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and others merged the sound of rhythm & blues and country & western and were given a platform on the 45 r.p.m. records created at Sun and Chess.

Similarly, in the 1990s, the new, innovative, and independent sounds, built from the punk, metal, and rock of the ‘70s and ‘80s, were created by local musicians of Generation X and recorded by “indie” labels such as Seattle’s Sub Pop Records. These indie labels also recorded early alt-rock and alt-grunge bands such as Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, and the quintessential grunge band of the 1990s, Nirvana.

Further parallels in rock music history also exist. In the 1950s, unknown artists and groups began exploring new musical territories in garages and local venues compared to the corporate/commercial music factories such as Columbia and Capitol Records. In the 1990s, undiscovered “indie” artists forged a punk-metal-rock hybrid on local college campuses and radio stations.

While early rockabilly was crafted to appeal to a new demographic in America: the “teenager,” the alternative-rock sound was created for “Generation X” – often characterized as a cynical and essentially nihilistic leaning demographic group – less interested in the polish of ‘80s pop and more in the counter-cultural voices eager to face the stark and jarring realities of life at the end of the 20th century.

However, the major record labels simultaneously marketed a secondary, somewhat sanitized version of “indie.” In a move reminiscent of the mainstreaming of rock at the end of the 1950s (see Fabian, Paul Anka, Bobby Darin, Frankie Avalon, and others), the established music industry promoted their group of “indie” artists, cultivated from within the corporate structure, and designed to compete with the truly independent artists and labels.

While some companies created in-house “faux indie” labels and artists, other record labels co-operated with the small independent record companies like Sub Pop Records, treating them almost as preparatory schools or lower-division baseball farm-clubs, pulling the most talented and promising from the minor leagues to the major leagues when the possibility of commercial success matched the independent spirit of the artist.  For many corporations, the commercial success of the artist was more important than their ideology. As long as the former was not affected by the latter, they were happy.

Many of the artists began the decade with a renegade, independent spirit. By the mid-90s, they had found their niche within the alt-rock, alt-metal, alt-pop, or grunge movements.

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Study Units

An Overview

Ch. 1: Understanding Pitch

Ch. 2: Understanding Musical Pulse

Ch. 3: Understanding Volume

Ch. 4: Understanding Tone

Ch. 5: Understanding Melody

Ch. 6: Understanding Harmony

Ch. 7: Understanding Rhythm

Ch. 8: Understanding Bass

Ch. 9: Understanding Countermelody

Ch. 10: Understanding Structure

Ch. 11: Understanding Instrumentation

Ch. 12: Understanding Tempo

An Overview

Ch. 1: 19th Century: Pre-Foster

Ch. 2: Folk Music by the People

Ch. 3: Popular Music in its Infancy

Ch. 4: Stephen Foster – “Father of American Popular Music”

Ch. 5: The Importance of Stephen Foster

Ch. 6: Scott Joplin – “King of Ragtime”

Ch. 7: The Player Piano – Automated Music

Ch. 8: John Philip Sousa – “The March King”

Ch. 9: John Philip Sousa – Recording Artist and Activist

An Overview

Ch. 1: John Lomax – Recording American Roots Music

Ch. 2: Woody Guthrie – “Father of Modern American Folk Music”

Ch. 3: Leadbelly & Pete Seeger: End of the First Wave

Ch. 4: The Kingston Trio – Beginning of the Second Wave

Ch. 5: Joan Baez – “First Lady of Folk Music”

Ch. 6: Peter, Paul & Mary – Balancing the Message

Ch. 7: Robert Zimmerman – The Beginning of an American Icon

Ch. 8: Dylan in New York City

Ch. 9: Dylan after Newport

Ch. 10: The Importance of Dylan

Ch. 11: Folk Music in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: The Roots of Country

Ch. 2: Bristol Beginnings

Ch. 3: The Grand Ole Opry

Ch. 4: Cowboys and the Movies

Ch. 5: Western Swing

Ch. 6: Bluegrass: Hillbilly on Caffeine

Ch. 7: Honky-tonk: Merging Two into One

Ch. 8: The Nashville Sound: Country-Pop

Ch. 9: Rockabilly – Country meets R&B

Ch. 10: Country Feminists Find Their Voice

Ch. 11: The Bakersfield Sound

Ch. 12: Austin “Outlaw” Country

Ch. 13: Neo-Traditionalists at the end of the 20th Century

Ch. 14: Mainstreaming Country in the ‘90s

Ch. 15: Redesigning Country in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: What is Jazz?

Ch. 2: Before It Was Jazz

Ch. 3: Jazz is Born!

Ch. 4: Early Jazz Musicians

Ch. 5: Louis Armstrong

Ch. 6: Chicago and Harlem – Hub of 1920s Jazz

Ch. 7: Big Band – Jazz Swing!

Ch. 8: Big Band Musicians and Singers

Ch. 9: Jump Blues and Bop

Ch. 10: Cool Jazz

Ch. 11: Hard Bop

Ch. 12: Free Jazz – Breaking the Rules

Ch. 13: Fusion – The Jazz-Rock-Funk Experience

Ch. 14: Third Stream and World Jazz

Ch. 15: New Age & Smooth Jazz

Ch. 16: Summary – Jazz Lives!

An Overview

Ch. 1: Blues – The Granddaddy of American Popular Music

Ch. 2: Where Did the Blues Come From?

Ch. 3: What Are the Blues?

Ch. 4: How to Build the Blues

Ch. 5: Classic Blues – The Early Years

Ch. 6: Delta Blues – Authentic Beginnings

Ch. 7: Blues in the City – Migration and Power

Ch. 8: Blues in Britain – Redefining the Masters

Ch. 9: Contemporary Blues – Maturity and Respect

Ch. 10: The Relevancy of the Blues Today

Ch. 1: Timelines, Cultures & Technology

Ch. 2: Pre-Rock Influences

Ch. 3: Rock is Born!

Ch. 4: Rock is Named

Ch. 5: Doo-Wop

Ch. 6: Independent Record Labels

Ch. 7: Technology Shapes Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 8: The Plan to Mainstream Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Payola – Rock ‘n’ Roll’s First Scandal

Ch. 1: Crafting Sound in the Studio/Producers and Hit Songs

Ch. 2: West Coast Sound: Beach, Surf, and Teens

Ch. 3: The British Invasion: Two Prongs – Pop & Blues

Ch. 4: Motown and the Development of a Black Pop-Rock Sound

Ch. 5: Soul Music: Gospel and R&B in the Deep South

Ch. 6: The Sounds of Bubble Gum Pop-Rock

Ch. 7: The Arrival of Folk-Rock

Ch. 8: Psychedelic Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Early Guitar Gods of Rock

Ch. 10: Rock Festivals: The Rise and Fall of Music, Peace, and Love

Ch. 11: Anti-Woodstock and Shock Rock Movements

Ch. 1: Technological Breakthroughs

Ch. 2: Electronic Dance Music

Ch. 3: Hip-Hop & Rap – An Introduction

Ch. 4: The Beginnings of Rap

Ch. 5: Old School Rap – Up From the Streets

Ch. 6: Rap’s Golden Age

Ch. 7: East Coast – Political Rap

Ch. 8: West Coast – Gangsta Rap

Ch. 9: The Fragmentation of Rap – Pop, Party & More

Ch. 10: Further Fragmentation – Different Directions

Ch. 11: The Importance of Rap

Ch. 1: Musical Stage Productions in America before the 1800s

Ch. 2: Minstrel Shows and Melodramas

Ch. 3: Stage Presentations in the Late 19th Century

Ch. 4: Early 20th Century: Revues and Operettas

Ch. 5: The Arrival of the Modern American Musical

Ch. 6: Great Partnerships in Book-Musicals

Ch. 7: Musical Theatre Composers in the mid-Century

Ch. 8: Fresh Voices on the Stage in the 1960s

Ch. 9: Two Dominant Forces at the End of the Century

Ch. 10: New Voices at the End of the Century

Ch. 11: New Voices, New Sounds in the New Century

Ch. 12: Musical Theatre Glossary

Ch. 13: Is it “Theatre” or “Theater”?

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