Music Ed Video Review: “The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll” (Time-Life)

This is a mammoth documentary that includes pre-rock topics through the 1990s when it was produced. Pulling clips to show students is a great way to bring more authentic popular musicians into your curriculum. Like many documentaries, The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll from Time-Life (now part of Warner Brothers) it covers a wide swath of material from which you can choose what to focus.

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What I like:

This documentary is comprehensive and includes topics not explored in great depth in other rock and roll documentaries. The information on Bob Dylan plugging in, for example, is top-notch and the 1970s is explored in great detail. It’s also helpful that it includes pre-rock inspiration that directly led to rock ‘n’ roll. The sheer scope of the documentary means you can pick and choose great material for your students.

What I don’t like:

The scope is a double-edged sword and you’re going to have to preview a lot of material in order to find what’s right for your students. It’s not a documentary you can press play on and leave for a sub, either. Depending on the age and tolerance level of your students, school, and community there are some very good parts you’ll have to cut out. (Pete Townshend from The Who has great takes on Jimi Hendrix that you can’t play a single bit of because of the swearing, for instance.)


I have four documentaries I pull from for my curriculum and this one has been indispensable since I purchased it. Despite that fact that it’s 20 years old now, getting to hear from some of the people who were there and changing popular music and by extension the country is a valuable asset. It’s pricey ($175 is the cheapest used copy I’ve seen) so I would only recommend it for people doing extended popular music history lessons as opposed to a shorter five- or ten-week units. Do not leave it for a sub or you’ll have some apologizing to do when you return.

It’s available on Amazon.

images (1) @MattWarrenMusic

Music Ed Video Review: “The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll” (Time-Life)