Popular music analysis: ten apothegms
and four instances

About thirty years ago there was much talk that geologists ought only to observe and not theorize; and I well remember someone saying that at this rate a man might as well go into a gravel-pit and count the pebbles and describe the colours. How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service!1


What exactly constitutes 'analysis' of the texts, performances and discourses of popular music too often goes without saying. Indeed, the very idea of musical analysis has often been disparaged or defended as though it inevitably implies the deployment of ready-made models that had originally been designed to demonstrate the supremacy of German instrumental music or the underlying coherence of jarring modernisms. But basic questions of analytical method deserve to be continually rethought, since interpreting

Portions and earlier versions of this chapter were delivered as invited talks at the Claremont Graduate School, the University of California, Riverside, the University of Colorado, Northeastern University, Brandeis University, SUNY-Buffalo, the University of Girona, the University of Valencia, Gothenburg University, the University of Hong Kong, the University of Melbourne and the University of Munich, as well as at conferences of the American Musicological Society and the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (US Branch), the Cross(over) Relations conference at the Eastman School of Music, and the Discord conference at UCLA. I am grateful for the invitations to speak and for the productive dialogue that followed in each case. I would like to thank David Ake, Robert Fink, Susan McClary and Mitchell Morris for their helpful comments on the written version of this chapter; I am solely responsible for any faults they may have charitably overlooked.

Charles Darwin in a letter of 1861, quoted in Zinn (1990: xvii).


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Analyzing Popular Music


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