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Ch. 4: The Birth of Alternative Rock

The basic rock instrumental format, two guitars, bass, and drums, had become a dinosaur by the beginning of the ‘80s. The soft rock of the 70s, the studio-produced disco and early techno-sounds made the simple rock quartet a Model T Ford on the supersonic speedway of sound. Even heavy metal and punk bands that conformed to the basic format were more involved in pyrotechnics and provocation than crafting a sense of musical purpose.

In the debris of the post-punk sound, below the media hype that glorified ‘80s pop was the beginnings of a retro-sound which would, in the late ‘80s and ‘90s be called “alternative.” Like the term rock ‘n’ roll, alternative rock has been applied to such a diverse group of artists that it’s meaning seems to being continually morphing. In the beginning, though, it was a retro-rock sound that connected more with the Byrds than Devo.

The new/old sound was first heard in the simplified sound of an early ‘80s garage band called R.E.M. from Athens, Georgia. From their post-punk and southern rock roots, the three university students and record store manager formed a sound that was far more folk-rock than the techno-sounds that were being heard on the charts and MTV.

With uncomplicated layers of clanging electric guitar, understated bass, solid drum back-beats, and slightly nasal vocals singing enigmatic lyrics, the DIY band rediscovered the simplicity of the Monkees without the saccharine aftertaste. The group also rediscovered the unadorned structure of the verse/chorus format with solo voice on the verse and harmonized vocals on the chorus. Had the group recorded in 1968, their sound would have been recognized as one of the best folk-pop-rock bands of the era, but certainly not out of step with then current trends. Their appearance in 1983, though, made them seem at first, anachronistic. By the end of the decade, they were the acknowledged to be at the front edge of a style known as “alternative” rock. For many, it was rock reborn, or at the least, rediscovered.

A second band emerging from the post-punk wave forged an alternative sound from sonic experimentalism was the Irish band U2. Originally formed as a Beatles and Stones cover band in 1978, the band found their own identity in the early ‘80s and by 1983 had wide release of their album War in both Britain and America. Extensive video play on MTV helped build their following in America and identified them as a band that sincerely believed in the power of music and the ability of their band to participate in the revolution towards peace. Common to most of U2’s sound is the cleanly articulated lyrics, the firm, sometimes weaving bass line and steady back-beat with occasional drum-fills.  The unique sonorous quality of U2 lies in the sonic landscape created by the Edge, U2’s guitarist. Far from the distorted power chords of punk, the Edge relies heavily on effects like fuzz-tone, wah-wah and tonal sweeps to shape arches of textured musical sound. In this, the Edge has come more closely to the effects of the synthesized keyboard than the aggressive experimentation of Jimmy Page.

The alternative movement in the ‘80s yielded many bands varying their own style of post-punk rock. The Cure created a following with a funk-pop commercial dance sound. Sonic Youth gave new energy to the post-punk sound with avant-garde textures and low fuzz-tone guitar chords that exceeded the limited three used in punk. Jane’s Addiction, with future Red Hot Chili Pepper’s guitarist Dave Navarro, fashioned its hypnotic, trashy, and gritty sound at the end of the decade. The Pixies’ wide dynamic swings, subversive lyrics, and noisy guitar solos helped pave the way for the indie movement of the next decade.

The evolution of alternative rock continued into the ‘90s with bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Green Day. In their own way, they continued the aggressive, anti-pop path begun by R.E.M., U2 and others.

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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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