The Avid Listener: Popular Music

59 posts categorized "Popular Music"

September 19, 2016

Politics and Protest in Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”

Joanna Smolko (Athens, Georgia)

“I liked Springsteen before he became political,” a friend of mine commented on Springsteen’s performance at the 2009 Super Bowl. But in actuality, Springsteen has always been political. From the outset, he infused his music with elements of working class identity: unions and families, steel and rust, coal and dust, machines that bind you to a community and way of life, and machines that allow you to ride away in a cloud of exhaust and defiance. But there was a specific moment that galvanized Springsteen’s self-identification as a political spokesperson. As Marc Dolan narrates, “Born in the U.S.A.” was used as an anthem in Ronald Reagan’s 1985 campaign without Springsteen’s permission, and in a speech, Reagan cited Springsteen as a beacon of the “American dream.”

 

Video compilation of conflict around “Born in the U.S.A.” between Reagan and Springsteen. Here Reagan praises Springsteen, stating, “America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts. It rests in the message of hope in songs of a man so many young Americans admire, New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen.” In an interview, Springsteen articulates his response, including his opposition to Reagan’s economic policies, and his support for locally based community efforts, such as food banks.

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September 5, 2016

Bruce Springsteen, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger: “This Land Is Your Land”

Joanna Smolko (Athens, Georgia)

 

Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, Tao Rodríquez-Seeger, and choir singing “This Land Is Your Land” at We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration (2009). Springsteen draws attention to Seeger, and Seeger sings in a call-and-response fashion, inviting the crowd to sing, speaking out the words between verses as they sing along with other musicians and a choir.

 

On January 18, 2009, Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen sang together at We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial, accompanied by Seeger’s grandson Tao Rodríquez-Seeger and a choir. Seeger invited the crowd to sing along, reflecting his lifelong commitment to group singing; even in staid places like Carnegie Hall, his concerts were less about performing than about community music making. The song they chose was Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” a song much-beloved by both musicians. As they prepared for the event, Springsteen asked Seeger on how he wanted to perform the song. Seeger replied, "Well, I know I want to sing all the verses, I want to sing all the ones that Woody wrote. Especially the two that get left out: about private property and the relief office." After Seeger’s death in 2014, Springsteen memorialized this moment: “And I thought, of course, that's what Pete's done his whole life. He sings all the verses all the time, especially the ones that we'd like to leave out of our history as a people. At some point, Pete Seeger decided he'd be a walking, singing reminder of all of America's history. He'd be a living archive of America's music and conscience, a testament of the power of song and culture to nudge history along, to push American events towards more humane and justified ends.” 

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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?

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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.

 

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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.”    

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