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American Popular Music

  • "Castle House Rag": James Reese Europe's Society Orchestra

    "Castle House Rag": James Reese Europe's Society Orchestra
    A relatively large version of the Society Orchestra was involved in the making of this recording, including violins, cellos, banjos, brass and wind instruments, and percussion. While the recording technology is primitive relative to today's technology, the recording still gives the listener an idea of the European style and its musical influences such as ragtime and marching band music.
  • "Tiger Rag": Original Dixieland Jazz Band

    "Tiger Rag": Original Dixieland Jazz Band
    One interesting feature of this performance is the importance of syncopation created by the band. In this selection, the cornet plays a pattern accented between the regular pulses of the rhythm section, creating tension. The sheer energy of this performance must of been of great surprised to an audience accustomed to ballroom dance music and tin pan alley songs, but it was a refreshing change.
  • Duke Ellington: "East st. louis toodle-oo"

    Duke Ellington: "East st. louis toodle-oo"
    Ellington is widely thought of as one of the most important American musicians of the twentieth century. He led an African American dance band called teh Washingtonians. Ellington formed his first dance band while still in high school and then used his day job as a commercial sign painter to get musical gigs at night by playing the piano.
  • "April Showers": Al Jolson

    "April Showers": Al Jolson
    In this selection, Jolson's emphasis on theatrics and the performer and performane as well as the song has endured in the importane of entertainers for many years. The exaggerated diction, tendency to slow down and elongate notes at the end of phrases, and swellings in loudness all contribute to the theatrics.
  • "Dipper mouth blues": Creole Jazz Band

    "Dipper mouth blues": Creole Jazz Band
    This performane has a strong prevalene of syncopation. The cornet player plays a syncopated rhythm, accenting the offbeats between the regular pulses of the rhythm section, creatng tension. This performance must have been a striking surprise to listeners accustomed to hearing ballroom dance music and Tin Pan alley songs. This high energy selection was a shocker, but also a welcome wave of fresh intensity.
  • Bessie Smith: "St. Louis Blues"

    Bessie Smith: "St. Louis Blues"
    Bessie Smith, who lived from 1894 to 1937, was known as the "Empress of the Blues". Her recordings were important in the process of helping African American musicians and musical styles shape the tastes of a white majority audience in the 1920s and 30s.
  • Blind Lemon Jefferson: "That Black Snake Moan"

    Blind Lemon Jefferson: "That Black Snake Moan"
    Jefferson's voice in this selection and in general has a quality of moaning that slides along pitches. At times, his voice sounds more like speaking than singing, and this moaning is made even more evident by unintelligable vocalizations.
  • Gene Austin: "My blue heaven"

    Gene Austin: "My blue heaven"
    Austin was one of the first crooners, and mastered the electric microphone after its introduction two years earlier. Austin's recording was one the bestselling recording of its era. It is estimated that his recordings sold 86 millions copies, which was an amazing number at the time.
  • Jimmie Rodgers: "Blue Yodel No. 2"

    Jimmie Rodgers: "Blue Yodel No. 2"
    Jimmie Rodgers was the most progressive and widely influential of all the early country recording artists. His public influence in male country music stars can be seen in Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and many contemporary stars. Rodgers' receptivity to African American influences, complemented by his ability to create pieces that were also well received by a large white audience is one major reason for his success.
  • "Long John": Lightning Washinton and fellow convicts

    "Long John": Lightning Washinton and fellow convicts
    This prison work song descends from traditional work songs of African American slaves. The percussion element in this song is the hacking of logs as would present in work projects common to prisons of the time. In the song, Long John escapes the police, sheriff, and bloodhound dogs to eventually make it to freedom in the northern city of Baltimore, Maryland.
  • "In the Mood": Glenn Miller and his orchestra

    "In the Mood": Glenn Miller and his orchestra
    This selection held the number one place on the pop charts for 12 weeks and was the biggest hit record of the Swing Era. "In the Mood" is reminiscent of classic blue in the way it alternates the twelve-bar blues form with an eight-bar bridge phrase associated with Tin Pan Alley songs. At the end of this selection is a "trick" ending in which the band gets quieter and quieter and then erupts into a big finale. This is a particularly famous aspect of the performance.
  • Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan: "La Negra"

    Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan: "La Negra"
    This group of Mexican musicians, teh best-known mariachi group in Mexico, was founded by Gaspar Vargas in 1897. By 1957, the group included a trumpet, four violins, two guitars, a viheula, a guitarron, and a harp. This wide array of instruments helped to contribute depth to its polyrhythyms.
  • "Taking a chance on love": Benny Goodman and his orchestra

    "Taking a chance on love": Benny Goodman and his orchestra
    This particular selection was made popular by the Broadway musical (and eventually Hollywood film) titled "Cabin in the Sky". It was composed by Tin Pan Alley songwriter Vernon Duke. The singer on this recording is Helen Forrest, who although holds little fame today, was in her time thought of as one of the best big band crooners. She had a warm, fluid voice that was very appreciated by many musicians, as well as an excellent clarity of phrasing.
  • "San Antonio Rose": Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys

    "San Antonio Rose": Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys
    This recording, a country bestseller, was the Texas Playboys' biggest hit. It's structure is reminiscent of Tin Pan Alley music, and the performance attests to the unique grouping of stylistic components alwayys achieved by Wills. This recording featured a sixteen-piece ensemble, including a string band (giddle, banjo, and three guitars) with a big band (piano, string bass, drums, two trumpets, and six saxophones).
  • The Mills Brothers

    The Mills Brothers
    The Mills Brothers were an African American vocal harmony group composed of 4 actual brothers. When John Mills died in 1935, the group's bass singer and guitaristwas resplaced by his own father. This group was one of the first black groups to experience commercial success in mainstream pop music as well as be broadcast on network radio. Their success was largely due to their smooth style, heavily influence by jazz, that appealed to a large audience.
  • "Brazil": Xavier Cugat

    "Brazil": Xavier Cugat
    This lushly orchestrate4d samba was Xavier Cugat's bestselling record, although many of his hits at this time had more of a Cuban influence. The formal structure and musical feel of this recording contributes to its function today as a emotionally packed symboal of Brazilian national identity.
  • Frank Sinatra: "Nancy"

    Frank Sinatra: "Nancy"
    This recording, peaking at number ten on the Billboard pop charts. It is an excellent example of Sinatra's style at the beginning of the postwar era, transitioning out of the swing era. The song was written in honor of the birth of Sinatra's daughter Nancy.
  • Bill Monroe: "It's mighty dark to travel"

    Bill Monroe: "It's mighty dark to travel"
    Monroe was the pioneer of bluegrass music, a style rooted in southern string band tradition. The instrumentation in this song is typical of bluegrass groups with an acoustic quintet of a fiddle, mandolin, banjo, guitar, and string bass. It does not include amplified instruments unlike other postwar country songs.
  • Perez Prado: " Mambo No. 5"

    Perez Prado: " Mambo No. 5"
    This pianist, organist, and bandleader did the most to popularize the mambo throughout Latin America and the United States. "Mambo No. 5" is a classic example of the musical style that held the attention of American listeners at the beginning of 1950s.
  • Ruth Brown: "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean"

    Ruth Brown: "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean"
    Ruth Brown (1928-2006) was also known as "Miss Rhythm". The two streams of black church tradition Brown participated in as a child can be detected in her later work. This ranged from crooner-style ballads to jump band blues songs.
  • Big Mama Thornton: "Hound Dog"

    Big Mama Thornton: "Hound Dog"
    Thornton (1926--1984) was the daughter of a Baptist minister. She was born in Montgomery, Alabama and moved to Houston, Texas at the start of her musical career. She began her professional career singing and as a drummer and harmonica player.
  • Herman Parker: "Mystery Train"

    Herman Parker: "Mystery Train"
    Herman "little junior" Parker (1927-1971) was a singer, songwriter and harmonica player. His recording did not receive much success until Elvis Presley recorded it two years later. This song has obvious roots in rural blues and in rhythm and blues traditions. These characteristics are still true in Presley's version.
  • Elvis Presley: "Mystery Train"

    Elvis Presley: "Mystery Train"
    Elvis Presley (1935-1977) was the biggest star of the rock n' roll era and arguably of the entirety of American popular music. This song was recorded by Presley at the age of twenty and conveys the excitement and enthusiasm of a young performer.
  • "Son de la Negra": Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan

    "Son de la Negra": Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan
    This song includes a three beat driving rhythm that uses polyrthyms derived from Spanish music. Interestingly, it is also influenced by African rhythms, as Spain was highly impacted by a 780 year occupation by North Africans). At various points in the performance, mariachis will yell out (gritos). This is traditionally used to build excitement in the audience, to which the listeners often reply with their own shouts!
  • "Barbary (Barbara) Allen": Jean Ritchie

    "Barbary (Barbara) Allen": Jean Ritchie
    This song belongs to the British Ballad tradition, which was part of the European Stream of American popular music. This tradition had a direct influence on urban folk and country music in the USA, which is evident in this song. Ritchie's vocal arrangemnet includes a subtle use of melodic ornamentations commenly used in Appalachian hill country music.. This type of vocal arrangement is still present in some modern country music.
  • "The Twist": Chubby Checker

    "The Twist": Chubby Checker
    Recording artist Chubby Checker was only 18 when he recorded this cover of Hank Ballard's "The Twist". Chubby's really name was Ernest Evans. The dance "the twist: that came from this song eventually became even more popular than the song, being especially popular with the teenage audience.
  • "Georgia on my mind": Ray Charles

    "Georgia on my mind": Ray Charles
    Charles' version of the old Tin Pan Alley hit "Georgia on my mind" was his first number one pop hit. The recording also reached number three on the R&B charts. Ray Charles did more than reinterpret this song. He virtually reinvented it for the next generation. His recording of "Georgia on my mind" was fittingly named the official song of the state of Georgia in 1979.
  • "I Fall to Pieces": Patsy Cline

    "I Fall to Pieces": Patsy Cline
    This recording reached number one on the country charts and number twelve on the pop charts. This recording achieved great crossover success in 1961, even at a time of vastly increasing separation between country and pop markets.
  • "Uptown": The Crystals

    "Uptown": The Crystals
    The lyrics of this song deal with economic injustice and class inequalities. This was an extremely rare subject matter for pop songs of the era, and was more suited to urban folk music. The use of both castanets and ornate guitar figures reminiscent of flamenco guitar style contribute to the general Latin feeling of this recording.
  • "El Watusi": Ray Barretto

    "El Watusi": Ray Barretto
    This recording reached number 17 on the R&B and pop charts in 1963. "El Watusi" is based on the charanga, a genra that rose to popularity in the Latin dance scene of New York during the early 60s. The charanga is an energetic form of dance that combines Afro-Cuban percussion with flute and violins.
  • "Be My Baby": The Ronettes

    "Be My Baby": The Ronettes
    This recording employed a full orchestral string section, pianos, an array of rhythm instruments, and a background chorus behind the lead vocal. An agressive, distinctive rhythmic pattern on the solo drum from the first second hooks the audience, drawing them in and keeping them interested for the remainder of the recording.
  • Mississippi John Hurt: "Stack O' Lee Blues"

    Mississippi John Hurt: "Stack O' Lee Blues"
    He was raised in Avalon, Mississippi and taught himself to play the guitar at age 9 and play at local parties. At this time, he was also working as a sharecropper. While his first recordings were commercial failures, he was discovered by a scholar when he was around 70 years old and soon after was recorded by the Library of Congress.
  • "A Change Is Gonna Come": Sam Cooke

    "A Change Is Gonna Come": Sam Cooke
    While this recording is generally thought of as Cooke's greatest song, it did not rise as high as his earlier singles on the pop and R&B charts. Instead, it has gained popularity in the decades since its release. This recording is ranked number 12 on the Rolling Stone's list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".
  • Bob Dylan: "Like a Rolling Stone"

    Bob Dylan: "Like a Rolling Stone"
    This "watershed recording" effectively put an end to any existing limits on length, subject matter, and poetic diction that had controlled pop records. The two keyboard instruments featured in this recording, the organ and piano, dominate the texture of this song and give it a sonic density even more than the electric guitars, bass, and drums.
  • "My Girl": The temptations

    "My Girl": The temptations
    This moderate-tempo love ballad is a song of romantic sentiment quite common for the era. The recording of this composition, however, is brought beyond common by the skilled arrangement of guitar, drums, lead voice, brass instruments, and eventually orchestral strings. The increasing layers of instrument and voice compounding throughout the recording give a feeling of increased passion of the protagonist towards his "girl".
  • "A Taste of Honey": Herb Alpert and Tijuana Brass

    "A Taste of Honey": Herb Alpert and Tijuana Brass
    This recording was the biggest single for the Tijuana Brass, reaching number seven on the pop charts. The song came from the 1960 Broadway show of the same name. The recording begins with a slow introduction featuring a trombone and electric guitar with marimba and mandolin accompaniment. The bass drum then establishes the beat adn the band dives into a medium-tempo, swinging groove (shuffle).
  • James Brown: "Papa's got a brand new bag"

    James Brown: "Papa's got a brand new bag"
    This recording features a call adn response that takes place between hsi solo vocal and the instrumental accompaniment. This was Brown's first Top 10 pop hit (number 8), and it was also the biggest R&B hit of his career (reached number 1).
  • "Good Vibrations": The Beach Boys

    "Good Vibrations": The Beach Boys
    This recording has the fair possibility of being the most entirelly innovate single of the 1960s.Virtually everything about it was unconventional for its time. There is no name for the form of this recording. The only component of it that's remotely conventional is the lyrics that speak of adirmation for everything about the protagonist's beloved.
  • Aretha Franklin:"Respect"

    Aretha Franklin:"Respect"
    Franklin had an enormous undertaking in attempting to record "Respect", which had already achieved significant success for its writer and composer Otis Redding. Franklin's cover shifts significantly in the demeanor of its lyrics from Redding's version. In Franklin's cover, the woman is the one the relationship who needs a llittle more respect and is certainly deserving of it, while in Redding's recording the man is begging for some respect.
  • Cream: "Crossroads"

    Cream: "Crossroads"
    This recording is Cream's version of Robert Johnson's "Cross Road Blues". It was recorded live at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. While this recording still shows deep respect for Robert Johnson, Cream's version is worlds away from the 1936 recording. Cream's performance is closer associated with urban blues and R&B than with Delta blues.
  • Synthesizer (technology)

    Synthesizer (technology)
    Stevie Wonder was a major pioner in the early 1970s of this new electronic instrument. It would prove to be very influential in the years to come, especially in pop music. Synthesizers are often operated through a keyboard. They can imitate other instruments or create new timbres.
  • "It's too late": Carole King

    "It's too late": Carole King
    This selection was part of the first album King wrote that she actually recorded herself. After this, many other songwriters began to record the music they had written, and this became almost expected of them. This selection shows a maturity in its lyrics that moves away from the heartbreak of her earlier songs. It talks of moving on from a significant relationship with understanding and acceptance of the situation and the future.
  • Led Zeppelin: "Stairway to Heaven"

    Led Zeppelin: "Stairway to Heaven"
    This selection is Led Zeppelin's most famous recording, and it reflects certain characteristic elements of its musical and commerical approach. "Stairway to Heaven" is often known as the anthem of heavy metla music. This type of music developed out of hard rock in the 70s and achieved mainstream success in the 80s.
  • Stevie Wonder: "Superstition"

    Stevie Wonder: "Superstition"
    This selection is a combination of different African American musical traditions and Wonder's own musical flavorings. This song gets an inflection of Wonder with his use of an electric keyboard called the Clavinet. This instrument, a novelty at the time, was used to play the riff.
  • Elton John: "Crocodile Rock"

    Elton John: "Crocodile Rock"
    While Elton John has had an extremely substantial and varied musical career, this selection still does a great job of representing his characteristic humor. It also shows how he was able to link commercial smarts with musical intelligence. "Crocodile Rock" has the flavor of an upbeat teenage dance song. While there never was a dance named the "crocodile", the song is reminiscent of other "animal" dances such as the monkey.
  • Dink Roberts: "Coo coo"

    Dink Roberts: "Coo coo"
    Dink Roberts was a type of musician known as a "songster". He could play a wide range of musical genres such as ballads, folk songs, and dance tunes, and he also traveled often. Amazingly, Roberts was eighty years old when his version of "coo coo" was recorded. He said he had first heard the song in Greensboro, NC around 1910.
  • John Denver: "Thank God I'm a Country Boy"

    John Denver: "Thank God I'm a Country Boy"
    This selection was Denver's third number one hit. At this point in his career, he was going all-out to portray himself as a country artist musically and thematically. Having been raised in the South and Southwest US, Denver came by his rural flavor featured in this song naturally. This is especially seen in the opening, which captures the ambience of a real country dance party.
  • Eagles: "Hotel California"

    Eagles: "Hotel California"
    This selection was the fourth of the Eagles' five number one singles. It introduced a complex, fresh poetic feel into their work. California is portrayed in a dark way compared to the way it was in the 60s. Instead of the sun-blessed state of peace and love it used to be, it is now portrayed as a sinister trap for lost souls.
  • Lionel Richie and Kenny Rogers: "Lady"

    Lionel Richie and Kenny Rogers: "Lady"
    "Lady" was the tenth bestselling single of the entire decade. It also one of the very few singles of the decade to appear on all major Billboard charts, topping the pop, adult contemporary, and country charts. It also reached number forty-two on the R&B charts. This sentimental song has much in comon with popular songs of the nineteenth century. Richie kept the production piece simple to foreground Rogers' sincere delivery of the vocals.
  • Dead Kennedys: "Holiday in Cambodia"

    Dead Kennedys: "Holiday in Cambodia"
    This selection is a good example of the sensibility of early 1980s hardcore punk rock. Written by the band's lead singer Jello Biafra, the lyrics are loaded with unforgiving sarcasm. Opening with a frightening display of guitar pyrotechnics, the recording features many Henrix-inspired scratches, slides, and whoops that sound like a war zone.
  • Tina Turner: "What's Love Got to Do with It"

    Tina Turner: "What's Love Got to Do with It"
    This crossover hit reached number one on the pop charts and number two on the R&B charts. It also won Turner the 1984 Grammy Awards for Best Female Pop Vocalist, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year. The intstrumental arrangement of this selection alternates between a more reggae-like bouncy groove established by the electric and bass guitars and a rich, continuous texture dominated by flute and string synthesizer sounds.
  • Van Halen: "Jump"

    Van Halen: "Jump"
    While "Jumo" still includes the virtuoso guitar instrumental of Eddie Van Halen, the introduction is created wtith a keyboard synthesizer. This change was a big move for hardcore heavy metal fans. While some have criticized Van Halen for moving away from the traditional guitar-centered model of heavy metal music, the band introduced synthesizers to the genre and help to spread heavy metal's popularity to a larger and more diverse audience.
  • Run- D.M.C. and Aerosmith: "Walk this way"

    Run- D.M.C. and Aerosmith: "Walk this way"
    This collaboration between Run- DMC and the popular hard rock group Aerosmith is a cover version of the song previously written and recorded by Aerosmith. This million-selling single reached number four on the pop charts and number eight on the R&B charts in its release year of 1986.
  • Public Enemy: "Night of the Living Baseheads"

    Public Enemy: "Night of the Living Baseheads"
    The grim lyrics of this recording explore the chilling effects of crack on the human body and America's inner cities in the 1980s. Lyrics describe "some shrivel to the bone, like a comatose walkin' around". The musical landscape that surrounds these grim messages is jagged and stark, using bits and pieces of music and other noises stitched together like a chaotic quilt.
  • "Jeanie with the light brown hair": Thomas Hampson

    "Jeanie with the light brown hair": Thomas Hampson
    This song utilizes the AABA musical pattern, and is an excellent example of a musical form that would very common in American popular music. "Jeanie"'s melody also hints at origins in Irish popular music. It's subsequent popularity in the USA points to the European stream and is a great example of the diversity of cultural and musical roots.
  • Queen Latifah: "U.N.I.T.Y"

    Queen Latifah: "U.N.I.T.Y"
    Jazz tenor saxophone with guitar, string bass, and drum set accompaniment opens this selection. This transitions into a slow, reggae-influenced groove that is grounded by a bass riff and digitized snare drum backbeat. After the opening lines, Queen Latifah moves right into her rap, leaving behind the Jamaican dialect of the chorus. Thoughout this section, she incorporates rhythmic accents into her speech like a boxer jabbing at the opponent.
  • Rihanna ft Mikky Ekko: "Stay"

    Rihanna ft Mikky Ekko: "Stay"
    This piece peaked at number 3 on the billboard charts, giving Rihanna her 24th top ten single. This brought the artist past Whitney Houston's tally. The simple piano riffs and guitar instrumentation really allow the raw emotion and beauty of Rihanna's vocals to glow and hover over the piece. Ekko's guest vocals complement this nicely.
  • OMI: "Cheerleader"

    OMI: "Cheerleader"
    Jamaican singer OMI first recorded this single in 2011. While the song topped the charts in Jamaica, it wasn't until the late spring of 2015 that the single began topping charts in 20 countries. 'The genre of the original single was reggae fusion. The remix featuring Felix Jaehn, a young German DJ, is classified as "Deep House".
  • Demi Lovato: "Really Don't Care"

    Demi Lovato: "Really Don't Care"
    This single by Demi Lovato features English singer Cher Lloyd and was released as the fourth single from her fourth studio album "Demi". This is her third number one hit on the US Dance chart. The uptempo dance-pop piece also has influences of bubblegum pop.
  • Beyonce: "Flawless"

    Beyonce: "Flawless"
    Musically, the song features "Bow Down" and "Flawless" divided by the speech "We should all be feminists" by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This song was performed on Beyonce's co-headlining "On the Run Tour" with Jay-Z and also at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards.
  • Sam Hunt: "Leave the Night On"

    Sam Hunt: "Leave the Night On"
    This piece was the lead single from Hunt's debut studio album, Montevallo (2014). It showcases Hunt's ability in songwriting and as an artist to redefine country music with new pop and hip-hop influences. The music video for this single won the 2015 CMT Breakthrough Video of the Year Award.
  • Foster the People: "Are You What You Want to Be?"

    Foster the People: "Are You What You Want to Be?"
    This piece by the American alternative rock group "Foster the People" features Mark Foster on lead vocals and keyboards. The piece also includes bass, guitar, drums, and synthesizer in its instrumentation. The genres mixed in this piece include Indie pop, alternative rock, and afrobeat.