Sara Gulgas

AMS and Rock Hall Lecture Series with Sara Gulgas

Thursday, October 11, 2018 - 7:00pm

Baroque Rock: An Embarrassing Stain on Rock’s Harder Image?


Thursday, October 11th 7p.m. (Doors open at 6:30 p.m.)


Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Library & Archives, 2809 Woodland Ave, Cleveland OH


This event is FREE with a reservation. To RSVP, visit


Some of the biggest rock bands of the 1960s—The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Procol Harum, The Kinks— blended the sound of string quartets and harpsichords with rock instrumentation, creating a subgenre known as baroque rock. I argue that baroque rock artists utilized stylistic representations of the past not out of a desire to return to a simpler time (as is often the narrative associated with nostalgia), but to react against modernism, mainstream society, and traditional norms. They participated in what I refer to as postmodern nostalgia: an ironic interpretation of history that references an unexperienced past, in order to alert the listener about the dangers of nostalgic memory. Baroque rock artists poked fun at high class pretensions, canonic works of art, and nostalgic dreams of an imagined past but all of this was hidden beneath classical-sounding music that ran counter to rock’s working class, hard aesthetic. Baroque rock’s incorporation of a “high” art form drew the attention of cultural figures who assigned aesthetic value to rock and explained it to the mainstream adult audience it initially resisted. The subgenre is left out of historical narratives because it is seen as an embarrassing stain on rock’s harder image due to marketing expectations and the raced, classed, and gendered implications of respectability politics. This embarrassment was evident in the Rolling Stones’ decision to give “As Tears Go By” to Marianne Faithfull before feeling comfortable enough to release it themselves; the Beatles initially feared releasing “Yesterday” as a single in the U.K. for the same reason. The refusal to recognize these major bands’ influences on baroque rock not only diminishes the influence the subgenre had on rock music but it also perpetuates these bands’ initial fear of embarrassment due to the perceived incongruity between classical music’s pretensions and rock’s associations with anti-intellectualism. Through close examination of artist interviews, album critiques, and publicity materials, I document the cultural, social, and historical implications of an overlooked subgenre that is mentioned but in passing in popular music scholarship.

ABOUT Sara Gulgas:

Sara Gulgas is an Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Arizona where she teaches courses on American popular music and jazz. Her research interests include popular music studies, film and media studies, memory studies, and the sociology of music. She has presented at national and international conferences and she has published her work in IASPM-US Music Scenes, Resonance Interdisciplinary Music Journal, Bruce Springsteen and Popular Music: Essays on Rhetoric, Social Consciousness, and Contemporary Culture, and Heavy Metal at the Movies.


The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the American Musicological Society lecture series consists of two events each year that feature members of the Society presenting engaging lectures on topics relevant to the mission of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the holdings of its Library and Archives. The series brings scholarly work on rock and roll and popular music to a broader audience and showcases the musicological work of top scholars in the field. For more information about these events, visit


The Rock Hall’s Library & Archives is located at 2809 Woodland Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio. The facility is at the corner of Woodland Avenue and East 30th Street, in a shared building with the Gill and Tommy LiPuma Center for Creative Arts of Tri-C. This is approximately two miles southeast of the Museum.


Free parking will be available in Lots 5 and 6 of the parking garage. Metered parking spaces are also available on the street in front of the building or around the block. Signage will be posted directing visitors to the event.