American Popular Music: Readings from the Popular Press - Vol. 2

American Popular Music: Readings from the Popular Press - Vol. 2

American Popular Music: Readings from the Popular Press - Vol. 2

American Popular Music: Readings from the Popular Press - Vol. 2

Synopsis

Beginning with the emergence of commercial American music in the nineteenth century, Volume 1 includes essays on the major performers, composers, media, and movements that shaped our musical culture before rock and roll. Articles explore the theoretical dimensions of popular music studies; the music of the nineteenth century; and the role of black Americans in the evolution of popular music. Also included-the music of Tin Pan Alley, ragtime, swing, the blues, the influences of W. S. Gilbert and Rodgers and Hammerstein, and changes in lyric writing styles from the nineteenth century to the rock era.

Excerpt

By all counts and standards it was a certifiable revolution. It not only changed the music to which we listened, but it changed the way we dressed, groomed, talked, and, most importantly, the way we looked at the world. It was the third musical revolution in less than a century, the others being Ragtime (1890-1917), Jazz (c. 1917), and Swing (1935), and like those revolutions there was a song that signalled the change, that portended the anarchy to be loosed upon the world as it were.

There were, of course, other songs that had profound influences on the emergence of rock 'n' roll, but "Rock Around the Clock" is the song that we associate with the beginning of it all. The song itself, moreover, is a metaphor for the entire revolution: it is like it really shouldn't have happened at all. First, it never should have been heard beyond a small club somewhere in the Northeast or maybe Chicago, you know, the places where one clandestinely (almost in twenties speakeasy style) went to hear rhythm and blues. That's where music like it had been played for years, and there was no reason to suspect it would move beyond that realm. There was, after all, the institution of Tin Pan Alley; it was large, and, although not as centralized as it had been fifty years before, it was ubiquitous and its influence could be felt throughout all the media and the business world. It was, moreover, well organized (mostly through organizations like American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), and it didn't usually give a lot of credence or recognition to this type of tune. The diet it fed the consumer was relatively the same in 1955 as it was in 1935. Why change? Even though there were more "hillbilly" songs being heard in some quarters and kids seemed to like this new "race" music, the general population, the popular musical establishment perceived, still had its head screwed on right and still wanted songs like "Melody of Love" (written in 1903, but a hit in 1955) and "Love is a Many Splendored Thing."

Then there was the song itself. There was nothing spectacular about it. It had a fairly conventional backbeat rhythm, the progressions were hopelessly amateur (by Tin Pan Alley standards), the sound of the group had been around since rhythm sections splintered from big bands, and the leader of the group was not of the matinee idol variety. Its major public exposure, moreover, was on a limited number of radio stations which played rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll and in a movie, Blackboard Jungle, where it was associated with a group of juvenile delinquents and not the heroes. But then there wasn't anything particularly spectacular about Irving Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime . . .

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