MUS 210 class notes 1950-1964



Social structures and social constructs

Ø  big ones such as class, race, gender

Ø  socio-musical ones such as genres

Ø  smaller structures such as distribution systems (record companies and record labels)

Ø  CHARTS are another structure that line up with some of those other categories, such as rhythm & blues, rock, urban, country, classical, etc.

Ø  "Hot 100" or the "Top 40" singles -- compiled in various ways changing with time, based on radio play, jukebox play, sales, and now downloading

Ø  top 100 album charts based on sales


Individual people live with flexibility, moving and buying and listening across categories, but these categories are very clear (and often quite rigid) in terms of social structure.  


Notes on reading the book

Ø  it can be boring at times, but once you start skimming it is hard to "reenter" and read with detail again.  If you see that a paragraph has lots of artist names and song titles in it, it can be usually skimmed quickly

Ø  have a strategy in your reading

Ø  I chose this book because it covers a lot of material and presents you with a lot of raw material for the final assignment of selecting songs that you think represent history -- read the book is if you are a wolf on the prowl looking for your choices.  To change metaphors, the book is full of "trees" (specific details) that I want you to organize into a "forest" (a general overview)

Ø  pay particular attention to the opening and closing paragraphs of sections




What is popular music?  It can be contrasted to other categories such as “art” or "classical" music and "folk" music.  In this use, "folk" music is not just that Americans stuff that gets played in the Appalachian Mountains, but any music across the world that is 'of the people.'  Social concepts and ideas associated with art music include associations with political, economic or educational elites, notation, and often formal patterns of instruction (for example, in Europe, there are music conservatories, and in India there is a formal system of gurus and their students).  It seems part of the definition of 20th-century popular music would include a commercial aspect, and technology that would allow the music to be spread among the populace -- various forms of media (recordings, radio, film, television, and the Internet).  Popular music -- music for entertainment that is bought and sold -- has roots that go back to the Renaissance.  Naturally, this older music is based on notation.


Listening example -- a Renaissance madrigal by Josquin, "El Grillo.” 


In America, an example of a composer who reached this middle class piano-playing market was Stephen Foster.


Listening example -- Stephen Foster, "I Dream of Jeannie"


Marches played by military and military-style bands were also popular.


Listening Example -- John Philip Sousa, "Stars and Stripes Forever"


Listening Example – Scott Joplin, “Maple Leaf Rag” popular music in notated sheet music form or piano roll recording


Another source of popular music would be music for the theater such as Broadway and vaudeville shows.


Listening example -- Victor Herbert, "Sweet Mystery of Life," Naughty Marietta


Victor Herbert was one of the founding members of the music licensing organization known as ASCAP, the American Society for composers and publishers.  A rival organization, BMI or Broadcast Music Inc., also emerged.  Both of these organizations collect royalties.  The influence of these organizations on popular music is discussed in the textbook.



Musical traits and terms introduced –


form (the breaking up of a musical work into sections; the sections are often repeated in various patterns), verse, and chorus.


Rhythm -- most music that we here has a clear sense of beats.  Parts of the music such as melodies can be on the beat or off the beat.  If they are off the beat, the effect is called syncopation.  Playing with the loose sense of syncopation is the feeling or style called swing.


Listening example for syncopation, Mozart, Symphony No. 25 in G minor ("the little G minor”).  A great new (2009) recording!


Social connections and representations -- this example ties us to the world of Tin Pan Alley through composer Irving Berlin.  Tin Pan Alley is the name for the group of commercial songwriters working in New York City in the first half of the 20th century.  This example also ties us to one of the earliest stars of the commercial business based on selling records, Bessie Smith.  She is most known for singing blues, which is different from this example, but this recording does give us a sense of her vocal style.  This example also shows the complicated relationship between ragtime, a musical style that gives rise to jazz but is not itself jazz, blues, jazz and Tin Pan Alley songwriting.  Here is a white (Jewish) composer borrowing a bit of the flavor of two kinds of African-American music, ragtime and jazz.  Then we have an African-American performer putting her own very strong stamp and personality on her performance of the piece.


Other musical issues --

the idea of scales -- rarely in the surface or foreground of the music, but often organizing melodies and harmony

Ø  pentatonic

Ø  diatonic (major)

Ø  blues (possibly a compilation of a pentatonic scale with diatonic harmony)

Ø  other scales

Ø  chromatic  --  all the notes



A theme to be developed – what is pop as compared to rock?




More notes on rhythm & meter

 Listening example, Ledbetter/Campbell “Sylvie” performed by Sweet Honey in the Rock (see also nice YouTube clips of the WailinJennys performing this song, even more slowly) – does the music stop when there is no singing?  No!  Silence is part of the music, and your brain is the performer.

The RHYTHM is in the music, in the sounds that you hear, but the BEAT is in your mind.  Beats are grouped by METER (also called the time signature) into BARS (also called MEASURES). 

“Bring” is sung every 4 beats, so this is in a 4-beat meter.  Just because “Bring” is first does not make it Beat 1, the DOWNBEAT.  The heaviest emphasis is on “WAter", and that is Beat 1.  “Bring” is a pick-up that leads us to the downbeat.

Once you count measures, notice that they are often in groups called PHRASES; 4-bar phrases are the most common.  A single verse of the 12-bar blues is made of three 4-bar phrases.

12-bar Blues chord progression (3 phrases)

I    I    I    I      (A lyrics)

IV  IV  I   I     (A lyrics)

V   IV  I   I      (B lyrics)

Listening Example: The Surfaris, “Wipe Out”

chord – simple definition

 The simultaneous sounding of three or more notes.

chord –a better definition

 A recognizable group of notes in a system of harmony. 

Chord progressions

 Chords function as units in a system of harmony, creating a system of expectations.  In a tonal system, those expectations include a sense of a home chord and tonic note, and degrees of tension away from that tonal home or center.  For example, the V chord seems to have more distance or tension away from the tonal center, I, than the IV chord.

Naming chords

Most of us recognize chords relative to one another, not in absolute terms.  It is as if someone held up a lemon but we don’t know that it is yellow until we see it next to an orange.  (Analogy from Daniel Levitin).  Once we have a sense of a tonic (central or home) pitch, chords are usually labeled by considering the place of the root of the chord in the scale of the key.  For example, since F is the 4th note in the scale that starts on C, a chord that is based on F is some sort of IV chord.  Chords also have functional names; the V chord is also known as the dominant, and the IV chord is the subdominant.  These labels were given to these chords by Rameau, a composer and music theorist, without any logical justification, but the names stuck and there is no reason to change them.

Many variations are possible in the blues progression.  The last phrase, V-IV-I, is particularly interesting to me, because of its complete avoidance of European musical habits.  A common European musical progression is IV-V-I; the blues progression is 'backwards' in the traditional European way of hearing harmonic progress and direction. Additionally, I think is very interesting how the harmony arrives back at the I (or "tonic") chord in advance of the completion of the rhythmic cycle.  I think the usual European approach would be to end the cycle with a strong statement of V, which would set up a strong return to the beginning on the I (tonic) chord.  It is part of what makes the blues so distinctive and so truly American.


Listening ex.: Hank Williams, “Lovesick Blues”

·         Yodel! 

·         Backbeat (accents on beats 2 & 4)

·         originally composed in 1922; Hank Williams 1948

·         recording in National Registry

·         #1 country radio hit in 1948

·         song form a Tin Pan Alley trait.  4-bar phrases add up to big ABA pattern (4-bar intro, 16 bars of verse, then the B section)

-           not the blues, despite the title

Garofalo Listening Guide 6 & 10 “Tutti Frutti

Great questions: what is the difference between the blues, rhythm & blues, and rock?

“Great Balls of Fire,  Jerry Lee Lewis

o   1957

o   Rolling Stone list rank #96

o   blues-based, but not the blues:

o   note duple subdivision in repeated piano notes

o   pattern in melody & chords: A (8 bars) A (8 bars) B (12 bars) A’ (8 bars, mm. 5 & 6 varied) [this structure is repeated]

o   While not pentatonic, the melody only uses 5 pitch classes. 

o   lyrics a (sacrilegious?) reference to Pentacost (Christian Biblical reference)


A phrase harmony


















B phrase harmony





























Examples of canons

Examples in class

Little Richard, “Tutti FruttiGarofalo Listening Guide 6 & 10

Chuck Berry, “Johnny B. Goode”

o   convergence of early rock style

o   solo breaks

o   assertive guitar lead

o   double note licks

o   strong rhythm guitar

o   boogie woogie pattern

o   backbeat




Doo wop

The name “Doo-wop” is derived from two of the many nonsense syllables sung by backup vocalists.  As a genre, doo-wop is primarily equated with the mainly black vocal harmony music of the 1950s, although its origins were in the late 1930s and the ballad style of the Ink Spots.  Doo-wop evolved out of the gospel tradition, and was characterized by close (four-part ballad) harmonies.  As essentially an a cappella style, doo-wop was developed by New York groups, often originally singing on street corners, in the period  1945-55.  The songs were relatively simple and extremely formulaic, with a sentimentalized romance as the dominant theme.  . . . Gribin and Schiff argue that doo-wop deserves greater recognition for its contribution to rock music's development during the 1950s.  Groups such as the Drifters and the Coasters added a stronger beat and more pronounced gospel elements, providing a bridge to what became known as soul music.  This genre did not survive the British invasion of the early to mid-19 60s, although it remained evident in the work of artists such as the Four Seasons, who enjoyed considerable chart success, 1962-7.  From Popular Music: The Key Concepts, Second Edition Roy Shuker, Routledge Key Guides.

Scott Lipscomb’s web page illustrating the illustration of chord progressions demonstrates the common chord progression I-vi-IV-V with The Marvelette’s “Please, Mr. Postman.”  ("Please Mr. Postman" was the debut single by The Marvelettes for the Tamla (Motown) label, notable as the first Motown song to reach the number-one position on the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart. The single achieved this position in late 1961; it hit number-one on the R&B chart as well.  From Wikipedia.)

Pages 82-95 regional histories

Surf music

“Mr. Moto” -- The Belairs (1961)

Latin’ia” -- The Sentinels

“MISIRLOU” -- Dick Dale & the DEL-Tones

“Baja” -- The Astronauts – reverb set on STUN

Good reminder of how timbre can define a genre as much as a rhythm or a chord progression.

Surfin’” -- Beach Boys

“Surfing USA” -- Beach Boys

“Surf City” -- Jan & Dean “Two girls for every guy” – really?


David Meckler


Histories of Popular Music and Rock (MUS 210) main webpage


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Cañada College