The Beat Goes On

Class: MUS 150-006: History of Rock ‘n’ Roll
Taught by: Frank Cook since 2011 (pictured above). In 2016, due to popularity, a second section was added and is taught by Ron Brooks. 
Course Description: The course is designed to cover as much quality rock ‘n’ roll as possible in the allotted time. Students listen to and discuss music ranging from circa 1920-2000. The goal of the class: “To get kids to listen to the lyrics and think about them. There’s so much that these poets are really doing. We discuss what’s going on with the music.”

The last strains of the soul sisters sweep through a rehearsal room in Frasier Hall, and Frank Cook smiles and steps up in front of his class.

“That was The Supremes, the most successful group on the Motown record label,” Cook, instructor of music theory, says. “We will talk about them later today.”

They will, but first, he has to talk about the Beach Boys, and why he posted the entire Pet Sounds album for his students as a part of the listening assignment.

“I wanted you guys to experience the journey,” Cook says. “I mean, what a beautiful album, right?”

There are many times during a session of “The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” the class he’s taught since 2011, that Cook sounds more like a DJ, or maybe your uncle, the one who insists vinyl is the best and still has black-light posters of Pink Floyd on his wall.

Cook recommends these movies to learn more about the history of rock ‘n’ roll:

  • The Buddy Holly Story, 1978
  • The Wall, 1979
  • The Complete YES THAT’S RIGHT Beatles, 1982
  • Standing in the Shadow of Motown, 2002
  • Joy Division, 2007
  • It Might Get Loud, 2008
  • 20 Feet from Stardom, 2013
  • CBGB, 2013

Cook sees this class as an opportunity — a rude awakening for the students who take it for an easy A and a chance to jam to some tunes for credit. But after their first assignment students get the message: This isn’t a cake course. This is about studying the music and lyrics of a genre in the same way any other kind of music would be studied in the School of Music.

The class offers students the opportunity to study a music genre that has its entire history recorded. Cook covers as much as he can, from soul to folk to surf rock, up to the British Invasion and The Beatles, and then disco and into the early 2000s.

A serious musician, Cook is a trombone player who gives lessons and plays for the Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra. But he loves rock ‘n’ roll. “It’s the music of our history,” Cook says.

The music has artistic merit, he says, but the lyrics are what really impress him. He aims to turn his students — most of whom aren’t music majors — into active listeners. He wants them, one day, to tell their friends at those cocktail parties about Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?”— how he wrote about the dangers of abusing the Earth, the Vietnam War, and how he wanted to resolve these issues with peace and love. Cook plays the track for his students, and once again, he’s a fan, not a teacher.

“He just showed some amazing forethought,” Cook says.

–Dan England