surveying the hits, cultural history style.
Northwestern University, Winter Quarter 2017
Professor Michael J. Kramer, History and American Studies
This course examines the historical significance of popular music in the United States from the late nineteenth century to the present. No musical training is necessary to enroll in the course, however we will think about how to analyze music as a dynamic historical force, examining it not only as text, but also in its embedded contexts: the cultural, social, political, and economic dimensions of genres ranging from Tin Pan Alley to blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, country, folk, soul, rock, disco, hip-hop, and classical music. Working toward a set of overarching themes, we will explore popular music as an art form, a business, a medium for shaping identity and making meaning, an entity encompassing both conflict and consensus, a local, national, and global phenomenon, and a key area in the life of Americans. Students are expected to attend lectures, discussion sections, and complete all reading, listening, and viewing assignments. There will be three essay assignments in the course, with draft assignments leading up to each one.
- David Hadju, Love For Sale: Pop Music in America (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2016), ISBN-13: 978-0374170530
- David Brackett, The Pop, Rock, and Soul Reader: Histories and Debates, 3rd edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). ISBN: 9780199811700. **Note: be sure to purchase the proper edition.**
- Additional readings, listenings, viewings on Canvas.
|Th 01/05||Introduction — The Multitrack Model: Approaching Popular Music|
|Tu 01/10||The Empire of Sentimentalism: In the Parlor with Stephen Foster, In the Street with John Philip Sousa|
|Th 01/12||The Minstrel Show’s Many Masks: The Vexing Legacy of the Racial Masquerade|
|WEEK 03||Circa 1900-1930|
|Tu 01/17||Standardization: Tin Pan Alley and the Culture Industry|
|Th 01/19||Syncopatin’ Modernity: From Ragtime to Jazz In “The Jazz Age”|
|Fr 01/20||Discussion sections|
|Mo 01/23, midnight||Assignment 01 Outline. Upload to Canvas|
|Tu 01/24||Anti-Standardization: Race Records, Hillbilly Music, and the Emergence of Niche Markets|
|Th 01/26||A New Deal: Swingin’ the Machine in the 1930s|
|Fri 01/27||Discussion sections|
|Mo 01/30, midnight.||Assignment 01. Upload to Canvas|
|Tu 01/31||Everybody Eats When They Come to My House: Postwar Reconfigurations|
|Th 02/02||Roll Over Beethoven: The Rise of Rock ‘n’ Roll|
|WEEK 06||1960s Part 1|
|Tu 02/07||Twistin’: Teenage Symphonies, Hitsville USA, and More|
|Th 02/09||The Rise of the “Auteur” Pop Star From Subcultures: The Beach Boys and California Surfers—Dylan and the Folk Revival—The Beatles and the British Invasion—Marvin Gaye at Motown|
|Fr 02/10||Discussion sections|
|Mo 02/13, midnight.||Assignment 02 Outline. Upload to Canvas|
|WEEK 07||1960s Part 2|
|Tu 02/14||R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Soul and Civil Rights in the Sixties|
|Th 02/16||Are You Experienced? Rock and the Youth Counterculture|
|Tu 02/21||Mainstream and Margin in the 1970s: AOR, Funk, Punk, Disco, and More|
|Th 02/23||Two Turntables and a Microphone: The Rise of Hip Hop|
|Fr 02/24||Discussion sections.|
|Mo 02/27, midnight.||Assignment 02. Upload to Canvas|
|Tu 02/28||Video Killed the Radio Star: The 1980s //
Indie Nations/Corporate World: 1990s
|Th 03/02||Guest Lecture—Alana Toulin, Rebel Girls, Pop Tarts and Problematic Faves: Women, Gender and Power in American Music, 1980s to present|
|Fr 03/03||Discussion sections
|Mo 03/06, midnight||Assignment 03 Outline. Upload to Canvas|
|Tu 03/07||“Sampling” Recent Pop Music History: The Expansion of Compression—Pop Music Formats in the New Millennium|
|We 03/15 midnight||Assignment 03. Upload to Canvas|
Attendance: Students are expected to attend all lectures and discussion sections. If a student misses more than three meetings, the instructor reserves the right to issue a failing grade.
Reading: This course features roughly 100-150 pages of reading a week.
Listening/Viewing: Multimedia is an essential part of this course for obvious reasons. Be sure to complete the listening and viewing assignments as well as your readings. In a course on popular music, it would be a shame to privilege reading over other modes of communication, expression, argument, and experience!
Assignments: Students must complete all assignments to pass the course. These are designed to be fun, but they are also demanding—and perhaps for some, frustrating. Rather than test the breadth of your absorption of course materials, the assignments test your ability to wield specific knowledge of US popular music effectively in order to mount compelling, evidence-based arguments. If this mode of evaluation is not to your tastes, do not take the course.
Please be aware that historical analysis and musical analysis are not a science in the strict sense of the term. There is no purely objective, machine-like way to develop interpretation within the traditions of historical or musical meaning-making. This means there is not some perfectly standardized way to evaluate your work. There is, however, a craft to this mode of thinking, writing, and reasoning. It is that craft that we will use evaluations to help you access, participate in, and through which you can improve your capabilities as an observer, thinker, and writer. Your task is to develop effective and compelling evidence-based arguments informed by historical awareness and thinking. These will often work by applying your judgment and assessment to consider how things connect or contrast to each other: how do different or similar songs, performers, genres, historical moments, geographic locations, etc., relate to each other? And most importantly, why? Additionally, your task in this course is not to treat popular music merely as a reflection of larger phenomenon, but rather as a shaping agent of historical activities: music not as a mirror, but as a vessel of historical meaning and action.
Rubric: Your assignments must be well written in order to communicate a convincing, compelling, and precise argument that is driven by our description of and analysis of meaning in materials drawn from the course (and other sources if needed). Evaluation of assignments is based on the following rubric: (1) presence of an articulated argument, (2) presence of evidence, (3) compelling and precise connection of evidence to argument by comparing and contrasting details and their significance, and (4) logical flow and grace of prose: an effective opening introduction; the presence of clear topic sentences; the presence of effective transitions from one part of the assignment to the next; a compelling conclusion.
If you have any questions about evaluation in the course geared at helping you access and develop the craft of historical analysis, please speak with the instructor or teaching assistant.
Please submit your essay through the course Canvas website.
Late/Extension Policy: Please communicate with your instructor or teaching assistant ahead of time if you require an extension for an essay. Reasonable, occasional requests will be granted, but may involve a slight deduction in points to be fair to students who complete work on time. Late assignments without extensions granted will lose 1/4 point per day.
Quizzes/Short Assignments: There may be a number of quizzes and shorter assignments in this course. They will be evaluated as part of your participation grade.
History Department Writing Center: The History Department Writing Center is available for students working on your assignments. It is not merely for students having difficulty with their writing (we all have difficulty with our writing for it is difficult to write well), but also for students at any level or stage of the writing process: reading evidence, “brainstorming,” generating an argument, connecting argument to evidence, structuring paragraphs and transitions, and improving style and tone. Students wishing to contact the History Department Writing Center can email firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also the Writing Place, another excellent resource for improving your thinking and writing about historical topics, http://www.writing.northwestern.edu.
Academic Integrity: All Weinberg College and Northwestern policies concerning plagiarism and academic dishonesty are strictly enforced in this course. The instructor also reserves the right to assign a failing grade for the course if a student is found to have violated college or university policy concerning academic integrity. See http://www.weinberg.northwestern.edu/handbook/integrity/ for more details.
Special Needs: Students with special needs and disabilities that have been declared and documented through the Northwestern Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) should meet with the instructor to discuss any specific accommodations. For further information, see the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) website: http://www.northwestern.edu/disability.
Assignment 01: 15%
Assignment 02: 15%
Assignment 03: 30%
Assignment Outlines: 5% x 3 = 15%
Class/discussion section attendance/participation (including shorter assignments as necessary): 25%.
Assignments receive grades as both a letter grade (on the scale below) and a point system within the course percentages per assignment. Since assignments are weighted differently, the scales varies as to points given per assignment, but they all translate to the following 100-point scale in terms of letter grades.
93 and above – A
90-92 – A-
87-89 – B+
84-86 – B
80-83 – B-
77-79 – C+
74-76 – C
70-73 – C-
65-69 – D
65 and below – F
The outline assignments are designed to help you begin to organize your interpretation, evidence, and argumentation (the linking of evidence to support an interpretation) leading up to writing each essay for the course. They ask you to begin to map out the contours of your essay. They should take the following form: (1) a tentative title, (2) a hypothesis, (3) outline of body paragraphs, each with a topic sentence and planned evidence that will be used to support interpretation put forward in topic sentence.
(1) Tentative title of essay
(2) Hypothesis (1-2 sentences or clauses).
What is the overarching contention of your essay in response to the prompt? What material will you use to support this argument? Are you explaining why or how the argument arises from the evidence? Most crucially, are you developing a historical argument based on your evidence, one that rigorously and compellingly connects, locates, links, and shows the relationship between your evidence and a historical moment, era, or time period and what how it has been understood by previous historians? It is often useful to develop an argument as a statement and then add the word “because” to explain the how or why—the justification—of your link from evidence to argument. The hypothesis, in bold in the example below, will most often form the eventual thesis for your essay, perhaps with a snappy opening line. Don’t worry if you only partially begin to develop your hypothesis—that’s the point here: to try to get started on articulating an interpretation in a compelling and cogent form. It’s not easy to do and it usually takes a few tries to arrive at something worth saying.
Example of an opening paragraph with thesis: The taboo blackface minstrel show of the rowdy nineteenth century theater seems so different from the sentimental piano playing of the parlor in the nineteenth century middle-class home, however Stephen Foster’s music forces us to reconsider these distinctions. His career exemplifies the surprising confluence of blackface minstrelsy’s transgressions with the constraints of respectability and decorum emerging in the dominant middle-class culture of modernizing America. Because songs such as “Oh Susannah” and “The Old Folks At Home” musically modeled how participants in middle-class white American society could balance fantasies of wild freedom and release with the need for security and stability, they not only harmonized contradictory elements in Foster’s personal life, but also in the broader culture of the nineteenth-century United States [note: this claim is what I will need to support in the rest of the essay with evidence and argumentation]. In doing so, Foster’s music suggests we revise our assumptions about the incompatibility of the blackface minstrel show’s vulgar roughness with middle-class sentimentalism and supposed refinement.
(3) Body paragraphs (2-3 in shorter assignments, 3-6 or more in longer assignments), each with (a) topic sentence and (b) outline of evidence to be used. Each should have a tentative topic sentence and supporting evidence (1-2 examples of evidence to support the topic sentence).
(a) Topic sentences. As with your hypothesis, your topic sentence should strive to explain the point of its subsequent paragraph and the how or why justifying the argument put forward.
Example: Stephen Foster’s first big hit as a commercial songwriter, “Oh Susannah” mingled desires escape with notions of discovering home; it did so by oddly mapping the idealized bourgeois home of middle-class whites onto a fantastical version of the Southern slave plantation.
(b) Evidence. Evidence can be a short quotation, description of song or performance material on audio, in an image, or a film clip, etc. You can provide an excerpt of it in outline with the reference information.
Example: The lyric “I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee” condenses the flight from home while the vision of locating Susannah and particularly the recurring idea she is crying for the singer suggests a vision of searching for, and perhaps arriving in, a secure, sentimentalized domestic relationship. Fleeing and reconstituting home blur in the song’s story, which becomes a displaced proxy for the contradictions between seeking freedom from the bourgeois home and securing it in the disorienting culture of industrializing, urbanizing nineteenth-century America. It is no accident, perhaps, that the singer is moving from rural Alabama to urban New Orleans.
Write an imitation of a Tin Pan Alley song. You will not be evaluated for the quality of your hit-making songwriting skills, but rather for your explanation of how and why your imitation resembles a Tin Pan Alley standard. Have fun with your imitation, try to pay attention to the themes, styles, rhymes, and tones of the quintessential Tin Pan Alley song. To accompany your Tin Pan Alley imitation, in 500-750 words approximately, explain precisely and compellingly how your lyric relates to the content and context of the Tin Pan Alley song as a historical phenomenon. You might even use the moments when your imitation does not seem accurate to you as opportunities to explain what the Tin Pan Alley song was all about in its time, location, and context. Be sure to justify the choices you made in relation to specific examples and aspects of Tin Pan Alley songwriting and its historical context from lecture, readings, viewings, and/or audio selections. Refer to assignment rubric under Expectations section of syllabus for more information and guidelines. For more on this assignment, read Michael J. Kramer, “Tunesmithing History,” Issues in Digital History, https://www.michaeljkramer.net/tunesmithing-history/.
You have been asked by a recording label to write an essay and construct an annotated Spotify playlist of 5-10 songs revolving around a particular artist, group, producer, record label, or other topic between 1840 and 1960. Your assignment is to (1) create the annotated playlist in Canvas (1-3 sentences of description and justification of selection per track), and follow it with (2) an analytic essay of up to 1000-1500 words.
The recording company insists that your essay must offer a compelling, precise, and clear evidence-based argument as to the historical significance of your profile topic. In other words, the “suits” (the executives) want to know what their customers can learn about the larger story of US history from studying the story you will tell in your annotated playlist and analytic essay about the playlist. Your annotated tracks can form part of your evidentiary base, along with specific evidence from the readings, listening, viewing, and lectures.
Your essay should emphasize how your profile topic relates to a specific theme from the course: why does it matter to the larger history of popular music in the United States between 1840 and 1960? How does your pop music topic not only “reflect” that larger history, but also embody, raise the stakes of, even drive that larger story?
Instructions for assembling and embedding Spotify playlist are below; you may create an actual playlist or, if for some reason you are not able to do so, you may simply create an annotated playlist in the text entry box (in other words do not spend time if you hit technical difficulties; privilege the historical and interpretive work and spend your time on that!).
Refer to assignment rubric under the Expectations section of syllabus for more information and guidelines. For more about the intent of the assignment, read Michael J. Kramer, “Spotify Playlists for Historical Analysis,” Issues in Digital History, 8 February 2016, https://www.michaeljkramer.net/spotify-playlists-for-historical-analysis/.
-Log in to or create a free account at Spotify web player (or download the Spotify app) at https://play.spotify.com.
-Click on “Your Music” on the lefthand column.
-Click on “New Playlist” and Create a playlist name.
-Use the Search function on lefthand column to locate songs you wish to add.
-Move cursor over the three dots next to song name to open up menu. Select Add to and then when next menu opens up add the song to the playlist you have created.
-Click on “Your Music” and go to your playlist.
-Next to each track (not for the playlist as a whole), move cursor to the three buttons and select “Copy Spotify URL.”
-Go to this webpage, https://developer.spotify.com/technologies/widgets/spotify-play-button/.
. Paste in the Spotify URL to generate the embed code. Select and cut the embed code to paste in to your Canvas assignment.
-You will write your canvas assignment directly in the HTML page as a “Text Entry.”
-To paste in your Spotify track as an embedded file, you must switch to the “HTML editor” function, which lets you paste in the embed code (which should look something like this: <iframe src=”https://embed.spotify.com/?uri=spotify:track:7GBk90STM3d2BsNomTnpve” width=”300″ height=”380″ frameborder=”0″ allowtransparency=”true”></iframe>). Click on “HTML editor” to paste in code. Once you do so you can switch back to “Rick content editor” to write your annotations of the text and your essay (the embed will show up as a gray box).
-You can also assemble your embed code, annotations, and essay in a text file or MS Word and then paste the entire document into the HTML Editor setting on the Text Entry page. This will prevent you from accidentally deleting or losing any of your work. If you do be sure to switch back to the “Rich content editor” function to make sure your assignment is rendering correctly.
-Be sure to submit your assignment. You can revise it up until the deadline.
-You are now a computer programmer! (And you thought that you wouldn’t be acquiring useful computer skills in a pop music course!)
-It is acceptable if you run into technical difficulties to create a text version of your song tracks and annotations and essay. Give the technical part a try and see if you can do it; if not, spend your time on the content of the assignment.
In 2000-2500 words, develop an analytic essay about one genre of American popular music since 1960. Your essay must focus on the relationship of this genre to larger cultural issues in the United States: what did this genre do as an active agent in the shaping of US history? What can we learn about US history through the “amplifier” of this genre? How does this genre relate to other genres of American popular music? Which performers or songs or labels, etc., best exemplify the genre and why? How stable is this genre, or do the performers, songs, sounds, labels, stories that constitute it raise questions about how genres themselves get constructed within US popular music history? Your essay must offer a clear, compelling, and precise argument that is driven by explications of specific evidence. You only need to draw upon material from the course, but you may also pursue outside sources as well if you wish to do so through additional research. Refer to assignment rubric under Expectations section of syllabus for more information and guidelines for essays.