Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

"Audio Musicology: A Discography of Tributes to Musical Styles and Recording Artists"

Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

"Audio Musicology: A Discography of Tributes to Musical Styles and Recording Artists"

Article excerpt

Don McLean, Stevie Wonder, and The Tractors possess no formal credentials in musicology. The same can be said for Billy Joel and The Blasters. Yet each of these artists explore the historical roots of modern music in their popular recordings. McLean's "American Pie" focuses on the shift from lyrical innocence (Buddy Holly) to sexual deviance (The Rolling Stones) between the late 1950s and the early 1970s. Wonder salutes the jazz singing, playing, and composing contributions of Count Basic, Ella Fitzgerald, and Edward Kennedy Ellington in "Sir Duke." The Tractors, The Blasters, and Billy Joel probe geographical and cultural links among competing musical styles in "The Tulsa Shuffle," "American Music," and "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me." None of these analyses qualifies as systematic, comprehensive research into a specific field of music. In fact, most professional musicologists would scoff at the ephemeral utterings of performing artists about Chicago blues, Dixieland jazz, or New Wave music. Yet students of popular culture can benefit greatly by examining the musical observations of contemporary singers and songwriters. Twentieth century music lacks fine genre distinctions. It thrives on amateur zeal, creativity, and cross-pollination of ideas. In truth, the dynamic elements of American popular music are poorly articulated. But the personal commitments of individual artists to earlier influences (Bob Wills, Elvis Presley, and Duke Ellington), to specific locations (Nashville, New Orleans, and Detroit), and to particular styles of music (doo-wop, Texas swing, and the blues) are worthy of investigation.


Whether real or imaginary, life in the musical fast lane is a popular lyrical focus. Classic examples of mythic searches for recording fame and fortune are found in "The All American Boy" and "Johnny B. Goode." Each performer's goal is notoriety, recognition, and celebrity. Visualization of musical success is humorously characterized "On The Cover Of The Music City News" and "The Cover Of The Rolling Stone." Such public identification is usually reserved for performers of the "Star Baby" magnitude. Yet there are numerous behind-the-scenes operatives in the record industry as well. A few such characters are depicted in "Albert Flasher," "Clap For the Wolf Man," "Money for Nothing," and "The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man." Other hidden elements of the pop music business include record companies, songwriters, and band members. These areas axe noted in "Guitar Man," "I Write the Songs," "It's Only Music," "Large Time," "Travelin' Band," and "Workin' For MCA."

While charismatic influence over an audience is lauded in "The Entertainer," "Jazzman," "Killing Me Softly With His Song," and "Piano Man," not all performers hit gold. In fact, most recording artists fail. Lyrical tales of misspent amateur careers and second-rate professional musicians include "The Free Electric Band," "Please Come To Boston," "Rock 'N' Roll (I Gave You the Best Years of My Life)," and "Tulsa Time." Even if national or international fame is elusive, most performers judge their lives as meaningful and fun. Such opinions are rendered in "Life's Been Good," "Making' It," and "Road Scholar."


Musicians are especially fond of praising their performing roots. This activity may take the form of citing other stars as artistic influences or noting beloved regions of the country that yield their favorite styles of music. Historical homage is found in "American Pie," "Power In the Music," and "Sir Duke." Specific personalities are saluted in "I Dreamed of a Hillbilly Heaven" and "Rock and Roll Heaven." The evolution of rock music is also main topic of "Garden Party" and "The Story of Rock and Roll." Among the more interesting overviews, though, are commentaries that weave place, personality, and genre into a single lyrical format. Some of these recordings make direct location references, such as "The Motown Song," "Nashville Cats," and "The Tulsa Shuffle. …

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