The Avid Listener

May 23, 2016

What’s a Girl Gotta Do to Get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

Alexandra Apolloni (UCLA Center for the Study of Women, Los Angeles, CA)

Each year, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (henceforth Rock Hall) announces a new list of inductees: artists that are deemed worthy of commemoration—and canonization—as rock greats. And in 2016, none of the inductees were women.

The underrepresentation of women in Rock Hall is nothing new:­ of 259 musicians, bands, and music industry luminaries who have been inducted since 1986, a mere 42 are women, or even groups that include women.

Maybe this is unsurprising. Rock and roll is, after all, a man’s game, right? Not so! Women have always been involved in rock and roll—and the notable but few women who have made it into the rock hall are a testament to that. Those women include Rhythm and Blues pioneers Ruth Brown and Lavern Baker; iconic performers Aretha Franklin and Madonna; and songwriters Carole King, Cynthia Weill, and Ellie Greenwich, to name a few. But Rock Hall inductees are disproportionately male. And the reason why becomes clear when we ask one particular question: what do Rock Hall inductees do in rock and roll?

Continue reading "What’s a Girl Gotta Do to Get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?" »

May 16, 2016

Hearing with Your Eyes: Science Fiction Television and Hearing the Unseen

Reba A. Wissner (Montclair State University)

Hearing the unseen through non-diegetic music is nothing new to film. Although John Williams made the technique famous in his scores for Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977), it dates back to horror films of the 1930s and radio dramas of the 1940s. Early radio plays were dubbed “The Theater of the Mind” because listeners had to visualize what was happening. In a radio horror series such as Suspense, it was conventional for the scary thing to be heard through music before it was heard through words. But the evocation of terror and dread through music didn’t start with radio, film, or television. Known as ombra, this type of music came from opera of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, usually in scenes where supernatural or mythical beings appear and are musically dramatized.

 

The beginning of the “Wolf’s Glen Scene” from Carl Maria von Weber’s opera Der Freischütz (1821). Samiel, the huntsman who casts magic bullets, speaks rather than sings in this scene. His music is first introduced in the overture.

 

Continue reading "Hearing with Your Eyes: Science Fiction Television and Hearing the Unseen" »

May 2, 2016

Silly Songs about the Space Race

Tim Smolko (Athens, Georgia)

 

CBS special news coverage from 1957 about the launching of Sputnik

 

The Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world’s first satellite, on October 4, 1957, triggering the space race with the United States. Although the satellite was only the size of a beach ball and emitted nothing more than radio beeps, many Americans feared it, supposing that it had some sort of militaristic purpose. This fear can be tracked through three novelty songs from the late 1950s: “Russia, Russia (Lay That Missile Down),” “Sputniks and Mutniks,” and “A Russian Love Song.”    

Continue reading "Silly Songs about the Space Race" »

April 25, 2016

Cutting It Up with Dickie Goodman: Communism, Castro and the Wall

Tim Smolko (Athens, Georgia)

American record producer Dickie Goodman made a career out of writing novelty songs. From the mid-1950s to the 1980s, his songs poked fun at current events, politicians, dance crazes, films, and especially the Russians. He is best known for creating and popularizing the “break-in,” a technique of inserting brief portions of popular songs into a ludicrous narrative to comically respond to, and comment on, current events. This practice began with his first recording, “The Flying Saucer” in 1956. Using razor blades, adhesive tape, a steady hand, and a hefty dose of patience, Goodman spliced together various portions of reel-to-reel tapes to make these songs. Taking advantage of the spate of alleged UFO sightings in the 1950s, “The Flying Saucer” used hits by Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and others to comment on an alien spacecraft landing on Earth.

Goodman created several songs with Cold War themes, his first being the 1959 instrumental “Stroganoff Cha Cha.” It is an unlikely mishmash of Russian and Cuban music. This song shows that even a cheesy instrumental novelty song without lyrics can be meaningful and even prophetic. This Russian/Cuban alliance in sound was released in February 1959, not only before the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis, but before Nikita Khrushchev had even met Fidel Castro.

Continue reading "Cutting It Up with Dickie Goodman: Communism, Castro and the Wall" »

April 18, 2016

Celebrating the Nuclear Apocalypse with Tom Lehrer

Tim Smolko (Athens, Georgia)

Like Pez, Peeps, and Pop Rocks, a novelty song is a sugar rush for the ear. The great number of novelty songs about the Cold War attests to the fact that people needed to diffuse their fear of the Soviet Union, and the possibility of nuclear war, with humor and satire. But can anything substantial be expressed about an immense subject like the Cold War through comedy? Perhaps Tom Lehrer’s songs can. They are a sugar rush, but they contain erudite social commentary.

Continue reading "Celebrating the Nuclear Apocalypse with Tom Lehrer" »

Dedicated to the idea that music criticism can be literate and fun to read, The Avid Listener fosters weekly discussions between scholars and novices alike.

Listen. Write. Discuss. Repeat.

Norton Music

A History of Western Music

J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca

The Enjoyment of Music

Kristine Forney, Andrew Dell’Antonio, and Joseph Machlis