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Popular Music Essay, Research Paper
Popular music is: “music that is enjoyed by the largest possible audience.” It includes country music, folk music, rhythm and blues ( R & B), musical comedy, jazz, marches, rock n’ roll, and ragtime. Popular music is primarily listened to by young people. In his book, Sound Effects, Simon Frith said that popular music has been about growing up, and that it has been like this since the beginning of the century.1 However, the popular music industry is based largely on the sale of records. However, popular music can also do many great things for society. Harry Belafonte once said “A funny thing happened to the world in 1985, it cared.”2 In the 1980’s, many benefit concerts such as Live Aid and USA for Africa were held to raise money for people who were in need of help. Other benefits such as Hands Across America and Farm Aid showed that the listeners could get involved too. Popular music reflects the outlook of the listeners of that time period.
The death of friends and family members during the first world war hardened people very much and this was reflected in the lifestyle of the twenties. There was much women’s suffrage during this time. People began to smoke and drink more often, and generally became more irresponsible. Jazz had much musical freedom. It represented the way many people were feeling.
Not everyone was smoking and drinking too much though. Many people still continued to lead highly respectable lives. For these people were the conventional songs. The big stage musical of 1921 was ‘Blossom Time’ which hit song was called ‘Song Of Love.’ This kind of song made people happy, something that was much needed in this post- war time.3
The teenagers of the twenties, on the other hand, were said to be carefree. ‘Ain’t We Got Fun?’ by Dick Whitings was said to be a perfect theme song for that generation.4 The young people of that time were not experiencing the same kind of grief as the slightly older people.
Many things happened in the 1920’s. First of all, radio was beginning to gain much power. Many things were happening in baseball. And fun- loving Ouija boards were becoming very popular.
Most of the songs of the 1920’s were considered proper, however there was protest over the song “If I Met The Guy Who Made This Country Dry,” by Jerome- Harry ven Tilzer. There were also the conventional songs with ballads and old-fashioned waltzes. Overall, the 1920’s had good songs and lyrics in popular music with much emphasis on the musical stage.6
The great depression started in the 1930’s. Because of this not many people could afford to buy records. But something new emerged out of the darkness. It was the radio. People could listen all they wanted, for free. People began to stop listening to the records and depended on their trusty radio. And not only could they tune into their favorite songs, but also hear the news and other forms of entertainment. During the 1920’s, at least 40 million records were sold each year. During the early 30’s, about one fourth of that amount had been sold.
During this time big groups of jazz musicians started to play together. It was during the swing era and was known as the Big Band era. The songs were very optimistic and could bring up the mood of the listeners, who, at this time were very depressed.7 Swing music had a very loose feeling sound. It became more popular with the popularity of the radio. Duke Ellington once said in a song “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got swing.” The soloists in Duke Ellington’s band were said to be “Very individualistic, playing clarinet cries, saxophone moans, and trumpet grows to his hundreds of compositions.”8
One of the leaders of swing was Fletcher Henderson who organized a successful
“big commercial” band. In his bands were both white and black musicians. This took away many racial tensions many people were having, by making everyone equal.9
During the thirties many people immigrated to the United States. With them they brought the music from their country. This had great influence on American music. Some immigrant composers taught music or performed in orchestras. Some even worked in films, so it also influenced American films.10
Overall, the music of the thirties was very upbeat, something the people really needed to take their mind off of their troubles.
As time progressed, the music started to change. The next kind of big music was rock n’ roll. Rock n’ roll started in the early 1950’s. The first real star of rock n’ roll was Bill Haley(see appendix page i, figure 1). However, then Elvis Presley(see appendix page i, figure 2) came along. Elvis was the first big star of rock n’ roll. He came along in 1954 and became a symbol of the young people’s generation.11 His first record was “Heartbreak Hotel” and it was a big success. Many other musical artists came along at about that same time hoping for the same kind of fame that Elvis was getting. Buddy Holly(see appendix page ii, figure 2) was one of the next big stars.
During this time, many different forms of rock n’ roll were popular. One of these forms was motown. Motown was a slightly different type of rock n’ roll. A very popular female singing group was the Supremes. They sang songs about love that had simple harmonies.
Another type of rock n’ roll was doo- wops. Doo- wops were vocal groups. They were called doo- wops because they sang “Nonsense syllables” in their songs. These bands included singers that could sing very low and singers that could sing very high.
Little Richard and Fats Domino were other popular rock n’ roll performers. Little Richard was very loud and energetic. In contrast, Fats Domino was “Warm voiced.”. They both recorded in New Orleans. The people who recorded in New Orleans were usually accompanied by pianos or saxophones that played “Simple riffs.”
Rock n’ roll became very popular with a younger audience. In fact, they made up an extremely large part of the music’s audience. The songs became very geared toward a younger audience.12 Most of the lyrics of these songs focused on love, loneliness, and of course the ever popular subject of the break- up of teenage romances.13 Some of the titles of songs were “Young Love”, “Teenage Crush”, and “Sixteen Candles”. Young adolescent singers were even recruited to appeal to an adolescent audience.14 Some of these singers were Pat Boone(see appendix page ii, figure 2), Ricky Nelson, Paul Anka(see appendix page ii, figure 3), and Frankie Avalon(see appendix page ii, figure 4).15
The 1960’s was the “Flower child” generation. These flower children participated in protests for social, racial, and political freedom.16 One of the things that many people protested during this time was the war in Vietnam.
The lyrics of the music of the sixties was very honest. Many people liked this during the sixties because of the anger and confusion the war in Vietnam was causing.17
However as the decade wore on the rallies began to stop and drug use began to start. 18
One kind of popular music in the sixties was folk music. Folk music had much influence on popular music in general.19 Folk music primarily revolved around the ideas of survival, loneliness, freedom, love, hope, salvation, and anguish, protesting with lyrics about the problems with society. But the main things they focused on were freedom and survival. Maynard Solomon once wrote that Joan Baez(see appendix page iii, figure 1) had succeeded in capturing the emotional outlook of her generation by sending messages of nonviolence and love and freedom without having self- pity for herself or her generation.20
Toward the end of the 1960’s many young people began to revolt against establishment. This was the same time as the groups such as the Beatles(see appendix page iv), the Monkees(see appendix page iii, figure 2), and the Rolling Stones(see appendix page v), who appeared to be very odd. 21
One of the popular bands of the sixties were the Beach Boys(see appendix page vi). The Beach Boys started off singing surf songs. One of their very popular songs is “California Girls”. But then as the sixties wore on they began to use instruments not usually used in Rock n’ Roll. Some of these were a flute, a harpsichord and a koto- which is a Japanese stringed instrument.22
The Beatles were probably the most popular and influential band of the sixties. They brought people together with their music. The Beatles songs were not only about love, but peace and freedom as well. They sang and spoke of an end to the war in Vietnam. This influenced their listeners to do the same.23 They made long hair and hallucinogenic drugs very popular.24 The Beatles were very influential to their generation.
Another very popular band were the Rolling Stones. They had sort of a “Bad boy” image. They sang about drugs and sex25 and their songs were very angry. Their songs differed greatly from the sound of Beatles music.26
One critic once said that Bob Dylan(see appendix page vii) “Sounds like a sheep in pain.”27 But that didn’t stop people from listening to his music. He wrote all of his songs and sang about equal rights for all Americans.28 Many of his songs were about movements against war and social injustice.29 He also encouraged peace in his songs. Two
USA for Africa, New York, Franklin Watts, 1987
Sound Effects, New York, Pantheon Books, 1981
A History of Popular Music In America, New York, Random House, 1948
Great Men of American Popular Song, New Jersey, Prentice Hall, inc., 1970
De Turk, David A., Poulin, A Jr.
The American Folk Scene , New York, Dell Publishing Co. Inc., 1967
” Jazz” Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, 1990 ed.
All American Music, New York, Alfred A. Knoph Inc., 1983
“Jazz” Comptons Interactive Encyclopedia CD- ROM, Comptons New Media Inc., 1993
“Music Popular” Comptons Interactive Encyclopedia, CD- ROM, Comptons New Media
“Dylan, Bob”, Comptons Interactive Encyclopedia CD- ROM, Comptons Media Inc.,
“Beatles, The” Comptons Interactive Encyclopedia CD- ROM Comptons Media Inc.,
“Rolling Stones” Comptons Interactive Encyclopedia CD- ROM, Comptons Media Inc.,
Giles, Jeff “The Poet of Alienation” Newsweek, April 18, 1994
“U2″ Microsoft Encarta 1996 Encyclopedia 1993- 95 Microsoft Corporation
Levine, Daniel R. “Drugs Are Back- Big Time” Readers Digest Feb. 1996, 71- 76
Marks, Craig, “Green Day- Boys to Men” SPIN November 1995: 54+
Chaplin, Julia, “Mysterious Ways” SPIN April 1996: 36
Chaplin, Julia, ” Just Cause” SPIN April 1996: 36
The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, Ney York, Harmony Books, 1983
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