Posts Tagged ‘American music’

Pete Peterson

February 9, 2010

I am saddened to read of the passing of Pete Peterson, eminent sociologist and scholar of country music. My library copy of his book Creating Country Music is full of yellow stickies with notes on them. In his writings on the cultural history of country music, he explores the intersections of business, technology, society, music, and culture in a way that both informs us about country music itself and provides a model for the study of any type of American music in the twentieth century. His voice will be sorely missed.

I, IV, V and Beyond

January 27, 2010

Joe Burns’s analysis of one hundred rock and roll songs from 1955 to 1959 shows that forty-nine percent of the songs in his sample relied on the tonic, subdominant, and dominant chords (I, IV, V).[1] Burns’s study focuses on progressions and their frequency of occurrence. He includes all list of the songs in the study and the distinct progressions or each (for example, I-IV-V or I-ii-V-I). Using his data, I calculated that the average number of chords in the songs in this repertoire is 3.55; narrowing it to the years that coincide with the Everly Brothers (1957-1959) yields an average of 3.63. Richard J. Ripani analyzed twenty-five of the top R&B singles for 1950 to 1959. He calculated the average number of chords in use to be 4.68.[2] The average number of chords used in the Everly Brothers’ songs is 4.65, more closely matching that of rhythm and blues than rock and roll. (A comparable study of country or pop music hits of the same period does not appear to exist so no comparison is readily available.) Nine of their singles rely on the standard I-IV-V progression: “Maybe Tomorrow,” “Should We Tell Him,” “When Will I Be Loved,” “Problems,” “This Little Girl of Mine,” “Claudette,” “Be Bop A Lula,” “Leave My Woman Alone,” “I’m Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail.” The Everlys wrote the first three, “Problems” was written by the Bryants, and the rest were written by others. “(‘Til) I Kissed You” is a three-chord song, but it uses I, V7, and vi, the vi acting as a tonic substitute. The nine I-IV-V singles represent about thirty-five percent of their singles; using Burns’s data and calculating a comparable percentage for the years 1957-1959 shows that approximately forty-four percent of the rock and roll songs in his study relied on this set of chords (Table 7‑6).

Year # songs with I, IV, and V only # songs total percentage with I, IV, and V only
1955 6 9 67%
1956 11 19 58%
1957 11 20 55%
1958 11 25 44%
1959 10 27 37%
1955-1957 49 100 49%
1957-1959 32 72 44%

Early Rock and Roll Chord Analysis


[1] Joe Burns, “The Music Matters: An Analysis of Early Rock and Roll,” Soundscapes – Journal on Media Culture 6 (April, 2003).

[2] Richard J. Ripani, The New Blue Music: Changes in Rhythm & Blues, 1950-1999 (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2006).

Pop Hits 1955-1957

December 14, 2009

Below are the number one singles for the years 1955-1957 in chronological order. I am slowly putting the YouTube video playlist together. Stay tuned.

1955

  1. Let Me Go Lover – Joan Weber
  2. Hearts of Stone – The Fontane Sisters
  3. Sincerely – The McGuire Sisters
  4. The Ballad of Davy Crockett – Bill Hayes
  5. Cherry pink and Apple Blossom White – Perez Prado
  6. Dance with Me Henry (Wallflower) – Georgia Gibbs
  7. Unchained Melody – Les Baxter
  8. (We’re Gonna) Rock around the Clock – Bill Haley & His Comets
  9. Learnin’ the Blues – Frank Sinatra
  10. The Yellow Rose of Texas – Mitch Miller
  11. Ain’t That a Shame – Pat Boone
  12. Love Is a Many Splendored Thing – Four Aces
  13. Autumn Leaves – Roger Williams
  14. Sixteen Tons – Tennessee Ernie Ford

1956

  1. Memories Are Made of This – Dean Martin
  2. Rock and Roll Waltz – Kay Starr
  3. The Great Pretender – The Platters
  4. Lisbon Antigua – Nelson Riddle
  5. The Poor People of Paris – Les Baxter
  6. Heartbreak Hotel – Elvis Presley
  7. Hot Diggity (Dog Ziggity Boom) – Perry Como
  8. Moonglow and Theme from ”Picnic” – Morris Stoloff
  9. The Wayward Wind – Gogi Grant
  10. I Almost Lost My Mind – Pat Boone
  11. I Want you, I need You, I Love – Elvis Presley
  12. My Prayer – The Platters
  13. Don’t Be Cruel – Elvis Presley
  14. Hound Dog – Elvis Presley
  15. Love Me Tender – Elvis Presley
  16. The Green Door – Jim Lower
  17. Singing the Blues – Guy Mitchell

1957

  1. Too Much – Elvis Presley
  2. Don’t Forbid Me – Pat Boone
  3. You Love – Sonny James
  4. Young Love – Tab Hunter
  5. Butterfly – Andy Williams
  6. Party Doll – Buddy Knox and the Rhyhm Orchids
  7. Round and Round – Perry Como
  8. All Shook Up – Elvis Presley
  9. Butterfly – Charlie Gracie
  10. Love Letters in the Sand – Pat Boone
  11. (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear – Elvis Presley
  12. Tammy – Debbie Reynolds
  13. Diana – Paul Anka
  14. Honeycomb – Jimmie Rodgers
  15. That’ll Be the Day – The Crickets
  16. Wake Up Little Susie – The Everly Brothers
  17. Jailhouse Rock – Elvis Presley
  18. Chances Are – Johnny Mathis
  19. You Send Me – Sam Cooke
  20. April Love – Pat Boone

Country Hits of 1955-1957

November 6, 2009

Below are the top country hits for the years 1955-1957. If you click on years, you will be taken to a YouTube playlist of the hits for that year. Some of the videos are fan tributes (song plays while photos of artist are shown) and some are from television performance from that era.

1955

  1. Loose Talk – Carl Smith
  2. Let Me Go, Lover – Hank Snow
  3. In the Jailhouse Now – Webb Pierce
  4. Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young – Faron Young
  5. A Satisfied Mind – Porter Wagoner
  6. I Don’t Care – Webb Pierce
  7. The Cattle Call – Eddy Arnold
  8. Love, Love, Love – Webb Pierce
  9. That Do Make It Nice – Eddy Arnold
  10. Sixteen Tons – Tennessee Ernie Ford

1956

  1. Why Baby Why – Red Sovine and Webb Pierce
  2. I Forgot to Remember to Forget – Elvis Presley
  3. Heartbreak Hotel – Elvis Presley
  4. I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby – Louvin Brothers
  5. Blue Suede Shoes – Carl Perkins
  6. Crazy Arms – Ray Price
  7. I  Want You, I Need, I Love You – Elvis Presley
  8. I Walk the Line – Johnny Cash
  9. Don’t Be Cruel – Elvis Presley
  10. Hound Dog – Elvis Presley
  11. Singing the Blues – Marty Robbins

1957

  1. Young Love – Sonny James
  2. There You Go – Johnny Cash
  3. Gone – Ferlin Husky
  4. All Shook Up – Elvis Presley
  5. White Sport Coast (And a Pink Carnation) – Marty Robbins
  6. Honky Tonk Song – Webb Pierce
  7. Four Walls – Jim Reeves
  8. Bye Bye Love – Everly Brothers
  9. Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear – Elvis Presley
  10. Whole Lotta Shakin’ – Jerry Lee Lewis
  11. Fraulein – Bobby Helms
  12. My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You – Ray Price
  13. Wake Up Little Susie – Everly Brothers
  14. Jailhouse Rock – Elvis Presley
  15. My Special Angel – Bobby Helms

Not So Loud!

October 21, 2009
Not So Loud

NBC Television Films advertisement in Billboard, May 13, 1957

NBC wants you to know that “you don’t have to rattle your tonsils to prove your worth.” Apparently a two-page advertisement for their new syndicated series, “The Silent Service,” is the equivalent of whispering in the entertainment industry.

Everly Brothers Fan Survey

October 14, 2009

I have created a survey for Everly Brothers fans, hoping to capture some interesting viewpoints and data to use in my dissertation. I was restricted to 10 questions, but I think that will be enough. If any of my fellow musicologists are listening, let me know if the questions seem reasonable or what tweaks need to be made.

Online discographies

July 9, 2009

Just a quick link for those you interested in recordings from the early twentieth century. There’s a very nice online discography available. The role of collectors to scholarly research, particularly with popular music, is critical and I, for one, truly appreciate it. I have a list going of other discographies and information about old recordings here, some from collectors and amateurs, and others hosted by research institutions.

Tracing the melody

June 3, 2009
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I spent Monday in the Hay-Harris Library at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, looking at old shape-note tunebooks, including:

  • Christian Harp, attributed to C. H. Brunk (Singer’s Glen, VA, Joseph Funk’s Sons, 1867)
  • Song-crowned King, compiled by Aldine Kieffer (Singer’s Glen, VA, Ruebush and Kieffer, n.d. [cover indicates 1870])
  • Christian Harmony, compiled by William Walker (Philadelphia, Miller’s Bible and Publishing House, 1873)
  • Temple Star, compiled by Aldine Kieffer and B. C. Unseld (Singer’s Glen, VA, Ruebush and Kieffer, 1878)

All of these tunebooks use seven shapes, with one vocal part per staff, in the same manner as is used in the four-shape, four-syllable tunebooks such as B. F. White’s Sacred Harp and William Walker’s Southern Harmony (for an explanation of the Sacred Harp singing tradition, see Fasola.org). The following shows an example of this dispersed notation, from Walker’s Christian Harmony.

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Dispersed notation, from Christian Harmony

These tunebooks fall into a transition period between the older four-shape sacred song tradition and the rising gospel music style. In the fasola-style (four-shape and the seven-shape books that adhere to the older style), the melody is in the Tenor (the staff directly above the Bass); above that are the Counter (sometimes called the Alto) and the Treble. In Southern Harmony (I have the facsimile edition of the 1854 edition) Walker describes the two lower parts as being for male voices and the two upper for female, though he recognizes that the upper parts may be sung by men (no mention is made of women singing the melody). Twenty years later, in Christian Harmony, Walker suggests allows for both male and female voices on all but the Bass part. While Walker included “a large number of new tunes, from eminent composers, never before published” (title page), his modernization seems to be limited to the use of seven shapes and a recognition of the vocal variety that presumably was occurring in singing schools and conventions.

The Christian Harp contains many fewer tunes, being one of the small tunebooks that would later become a staple of the gospel-music singing conventions. No instructional or pedagogical information is included in the book, but observation reveals that the melody is still in the tenor. The book includes tunes for two, three, and four voices (I have not witnessed two-voice tunes in other books so far). Occasionally the tenor and counter/alto are combined on one staff, as seen below.

Combined tenor and counter, from Christian Harp

Combined tenor and counter, from Christian Harp

This might be perceived as a modernization or a nod towards traditional European-style condensed notation (soprano and alto on the upper staff, tenor and bass on the lower), but I suspect it was employed more as a space-saving device given the size of the book (13 X 16 cm., 112 pages). The tunes and texts do seem (without a thorough study) to reflect George Pullen Jackson’s assessment that they contain a “new note of optimism.” Jackson notes that many of them are in the major mode, contain larger melodic leaps and syncopation, and use a greater pitch compass. He further characterizes them as having an “instrumentally influenced melodism,” caused apparently by the introduction of the melodeon and Sunday-school reed organ into churches. He goes no further in quantifying this statement, so it is difficult to determine what he means. I have to trust that he senses a significant change in the temperament of the songs in this tunebook, distinguishing it from its four-shape, tradition-bound brethren.

From the same publisher, Ruebush and Kieffer, only three years later, we have Song-crowned King, compiled by Aldine Kieffer. The instructional pages label the parts as soprano (also called air or treble), alto, tenor, and bass. Soprano and alto are female voices, tenor and bass, male. The melody is printed in the staff above the bass staff, and Kieffer further states that the soprano and alto sometimes occur on the same staff. The first tune in the book has only three voices, labeled from top to bottom tenor, treble, bass. In other words, in this book the melody has been renamed soprano/air/treble and assigned to the highest female voices and what had been the treble has been renamed tenor and assigned to the highest male voices. This represents a shift in nomenclature towards the Europe-style condensed notation, and the voice distribution also more closely resembles the SATB-style hymns in use in other hymnbooks. If singers followed the instructions closely and shifted female voices exclusively onto the melody, the sound of the song would have changed. It is hard to imagine, though, that singers would affect such a change rapidly or consistently. Certainly, the notation leaves the possibility open of performing the songs in exactly the way they had been for decades.

Temple Star employs the same terminology, the same dispersed notation, and the same voice distribution as Song-crowned King. The only difference is that it now uses Jesse Aikin’s seven shapes rather than the shapes that Kieffer’s grandfather, Joseph Funk, had devised and used for several publications.

My next goal is to examine two later Ruebush and Kieffer publications, Royal Proclamation (1886) and Star of Bethlehem (1889). According to Jackson the soprano and alto are on one staff and the tenor and bass on the other. The gospel music publishers that sprang up in the South beginning in the last decades of the nineteenth century also used the SA/TB condensed notation with seven shapes, but the music itself stands apart from the fasola-style in numerous ways. It will be interesting to see how these two Ruebush and Kieffer books compare.

A New Force

May 5, 2009

I grew up in North Carolina and heard dulcimer playing most of my life. I even took it up for a time. All the players I ever saw/heard play placed the dulcimer on their laps. They often used a pick to strum and a small flat piece of word to fret the melody strings. The primary model for this style, of course, is Jean Ritchie, as seen below.

Today I encountered an entirely different style of playing and I feel like a whole new world opened up to me. It started when I heard a recording this morning by Quintin Stephens called “Event Horizon” from his CD Under the Porch Light. I’m not even sure how it ended up in my iTunes library, but when it came up on shuffle, I was intrigued. I listened to a few 30-second clips on iTunes then went off to Google to learn more. Here’s a video of him playing a tune he wrote called “Thunder Walk.”

Notice how the dulcimer is hanging from his neck and he is standing to play. The instrument also has a pickup mic and he may even have effects pedals because he reaches forward with his foot in that signature way that guitarists do when pressing one. He also strums hard and fast, not in the gentle way of Jean Ritchie. The dulcimer also appears to have six strings rather than the standard four. But what really caught my attention was the way that he frets. His hand looks stretched and awkward, but he is certainly achieving some very interesting melodic and chordal sounds. Gone is the constant drone from the old-style fiddle and folk tunes that typically follow this instrument everywhere.

I did a bit more searching and discovered Robert Force. He seems to be one of the earlier players to experiment with new ways of playing the lap dulcimer. Here he demonstrates how to play a tune he wrote called “Wellyn.”

In particular I am intrigued by his barre chords and how he plays a melody from that position. Though he is sitting in this video, he does not lay the instrument flat, and in fact, other videos show him standing to play with the dulcimer hanging from the strap around his neck.

I just might have to pull out my dulcimer and give it a try.

Road Trip

April 17, 2009

I’m heading to NYC for a few days with my son. We plan to see a Broadway show (of course), do some of the touristy things, and eat fun and exotic foods. I’m also going to drag him to the New York Public Library so I can spend time with the Billy Rose Theatre Collection. I’m hoping to find the name of at least one duo from the minstrel or vaudeville era or to find examples of people singing duets in the shows. When I return, I’m also planning to visit the Harvard Theatre Collection in the Houghton Library. They have programs from both minstrel and vaudeville shows. Ideally I would love to find descriptions of how the duos performed, but absent that, I may be able to make some extrapolations if I know what songs, what shows, what theaters, and so on. Actually I think I have a good how idea how the vaudeville acts performed from listening to numerous recordings of duets in the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara.