Saturday, July 25, 2015
July 25-26, 2015: Crowd-sourced Hits
[75 years ago this week, Billboard magazine released its first chart of American popular music hits. So this week, I’ve AmericanStudied five #1 hits and their cultural and social contexts. This crowd-sourced post draws on the responses and other nominees of fellow ChartStudiers—add yours in comments, please!]
On Twitter, my former FSU colleague (and current writing superstar) Ian Williams nominates “The Ting Tings’ ‘That’s Not My Name’ as a possible feminist anthem.”
Gregory Laski writes that “an old student of mine once wrote great essay on ‘Party in the USA’ as a democratic meditation. I found it convincing.”
Josh Paddison shares that he “once taught Ke$ha’s ‘Die Young’ video in a New Religious Movements class! Students were surprised.”
On Facebook, my former Temple colleague Jeff Renye notes that “Autotune sucks,” which reminds me of one of my favorite recent hip hop hits, Jay-Z’s “D.O.A. (Death of Autotune)” [that explicit excerpted version is NSFW].
My former FSU student and current professional editor and blogger Erin Fay highlights “censorship on the radio” as something she’s “never understood,” focusing on “‘Semi-Charmed Life’ by Third Eye Blind” as an example of a song that “gets butchered on the radio. But that song is interesting in that it sounds so light and peppy despite being about meth.” Jeff adds “‘Jeremy’ by Pearl Jam” to that thread.
Finally, New England American Studies Association webmaster par excellance Jonathan Silverman shares these thoughts on teaching music:
“One of my duties as a roving scholar was to give workshops on subjects of my hosts’ choosing. Often this turned out to be a seminar on how to teach music in the classroom. I often use music as a way of helping students write about subjects that are not literature; I find by introducing the idea of argumentation and evidence on subjects that are not familiar to students, that they are able to think easier about the macro ideas behind paper writing rather than the familiar process of literature interpretation.
My workshop was a meta-version of what I often do in my class—we listen to a song, and I have students write down 10 things about the song as they listen to it. And then I give them the song lyrics and we go over it again, trying to come up with an argument.
I often used Sufjan Stevens’ song “Casimir Pulaski Day,” the story about the death of young woman from cancer, because it had a story, the music was simple but sophisticated, and the students rarely had heard it. In Norway, no one had actually heard of Stevens, who was a Brooklyn coffee shop darling when I lived there.
I remember once in a classroom at Pace that students were on the verge of crying after we had gone through the process of breaking down the song, which begins with the guitar and voice, then adds a banjo for the next verse, and finally a guitar for the final verse. We figure out together (I try to hang back in the discussion) the themes of loss, young romance, and the questioning of religious faith. Exercises like this are often ones of discovery for both myself and the students. One time, a student alerted me to the line “the cardinal hits the window” when the narrator’s would-be girlfriend dies was probably a religious one; I only get such insights when I leave myself out of it.”
Next series starts Monday,
PS. Any other hits you’d highlight?