class Songs of social conscience

Overview: These brief readings (excerpts from larger works) and YouTube playlist raise questions about the role of music as a means of cultural transmission “across the boundaries of race” (Starr, Waterman, 2007) and as a force of social change.

Reading questions to discuss in class – written responses NOT REQUIRED

  • How to assess industry “popular” music in terms of the interests of youth and democracy?
  • What filters shape the lyrical narrative, i.e. the story, the message?
  • How is music a means of cross-cultural communication?
  • What is the role of music in youth socialization?
  • How is music a force for social change (or not)?
  • What songs — present/past — would you add to the playlist below?
  1. Allen Lowe. (2001) That Devlin’ Tune: A Jazz History 1900-1950. pp. 8-11.
  1. Larry Starr, Christopher Waterman.(2007). American Popular Music. pp. 14-15, 31-34.
  1. Brian Ward. What’s That Sound? Teaching the 1960s through Popular Music,  read up through Aretha Franklin, “Respect.”(1967)


4.  Billie Holiday. Strange Fruit (1939)  lyrics

  1. Peter, Paul & Mary. If I Had A Hammer (Live in Newport, 1965)

  1. Aretha Franklin . Respect (1967) lyrics

  1. Arlo Guthrie. Coming Into Los Angeles (live Woodstock 1969)

  1. Jimi Hendrix.  National Anthem, USA.  (Live Woodstock, 1969)

  1.  Joni Mitchell. Big Yellow Taxi  (1970) lyrics

  1. Curtis Mayfield. People Get Ready (1971)

  1. Marvin Gaye.  What’s Going On (1971) lyrics

The album is told from the point of view of a Vietnam War veteran returning to the country he had been fighting for, and seeing nothing but injustice, suffering and hatred. Wikipedia

  1. Stevie Wonder.  Living For The City (1973; live 1974) lyrics

  1. Teddy Pendergrass with Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. Wake Up Everybody, (live on Soul Train, November 22, 1975)  lyrics