Macalester College

Music 50: Popular Music in Theory and Practice

(cross-listed with Humanities and Cultural Studies)

Mark Mazullo

Spring 2001

Tuesday and Thursday, 2:45 — 4:15

OlinRice 370


Course Description

All music functions as an expressive representation of its world. In the popular music of our time, and in the multi-faceted culture that contextualizes it, we witness a continuous, intricate retelling of the story of our world. It is no surprise that a host of theoretical explanations of popular music and its culture have emerged since the early 20th century¾ from an almost overwhelming variety of disciplinary and ideological perspectives. This course provides a critical survey of the intellectual-critical history surrounding popular music, with readings falling into two broadly conceived topics: (1) popular music, aesthetics, and value, and (2) popular music and the politics of identity. When possible, we will listen to the music under discussion in the readings, thinking about it in terms of both the author’s theoretical / ideological framework and our own personal (emotional, intellectual, physical) responses to it.


Assignments and Grading


Homework / class participation:

The following describe the day-to-day activities of the course. The regular, active participation of each student is crucial to the success of the course. The class participation portion of the final grade will be determined by the following:



In addition to class participation, your final grade for the course will be taken from your grades on 8 assignments, which total approximately 7,000 words (ca. 25-30 pages). General paper topics are listed below; the assignments are explained in detail on separate handouts

  1. Response to Allan Bloom (500 words)
  2. Response to Theodor Adorno (500 words)
  3. Position essay: on the value of popular music (1500 words)
  4. CD analysis/review #1 (The Flaming Lips) (800 words)
  5. CD analysis/review #2 (Dr. Dre) (800 words)
  6. CD analysis/review #3 (Prince) (800 words)
  7. CD analysis/review #4 (P.J. Harvey) (800 words)
  8. Final project (project format to be determined individually) (ca. 1500 words)


Paper Grading:

All written work will be graded using the +/- system. Consider the following as a general guide to letter grades on papers:

A: Excellent. Imaginative, fluent, sophisticated, thought-provoking, careful

B: Good. Clear, focused, but leaves room for improvement in one or more fairly serious departments: development of argument, style, etc.

C: Average. Adequate and competent, but undeveloped or unclear in important respects (especially development of ideas)

D: Below average. Derivative, deficient in terms of its argument, organization, and style

F: Unacceptable. inappropriate response to the assignment


Final grade percentage break-down:

10% Class participation: discussion leading; writing workshops; oral presentation

10% Two reading response essays (Bloom and Adorno) averaged

20% Position essay (on the value of popular music)

30% Four CD analysis/review papers (Flaming Lips, Dr. Dre, Prince, P.J. Harvey) averaged

30% Final project

Required purchases, readings, and listening


Required purchases:

The following four compact discs are the only required purchases for the course. I have no problem with the idea of students sharing these CDs. (For instance, a group of four of you could decide each to purchase one.) However, you will be required to get to know each of these albums extremely well, for the purposes of writing four of your eight papers, and I would suggest that if you have limited time to listen, you purchase them all yourself.

(1) The Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin (1999)

(2) Dr. Dre, The Chronic (1992)

(3) Prince, Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic (1999)

(4) P.J. Harvey, Dry (1992)



Most readings are on electronic reserve. (For all electronic reserve items, a hard copy is also available at the reserve desk.) If a call number appears after the entry, this means that the book itself is also on reserve.

Theodor W. Adorno, with the assistance of George Simpson, "On Popular Music," Studies in Philosophy and Social Science 9 (1941), 17-48.

Theodor W. Adorno, "Types of Musical Conduct," in Introduction to the Sociology of Music, trans. E. B. Ashton (New York: Seabury Press, 1976; orig. German, 1962), 1-20.

ML3797.1 A3.413

Martha Bayles, from Hole in Our Soul: The Loss of Beauty and Meaning in American Popular Music (New York: Macmillan, 1994):

· Chapter 1, Introduction, 3-14

· Chapter 19, Rap: Trying to Make It Real (Compared to What?), 341-62

· Chapter 20, You Don’t Miss Your Water (Till Your Well Runs Dry), 363-84

[not on electronic reserve]

Carl Belz, "Introduction: Rock as Folk Art," in The Story of Rock (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969), 3-15.

ML3561 J3 B34

Allan Bloom, "Music," in The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), 68-81.

E169.1 .B653 1987

Norma Coates, "(R)evolution Now? Rock and the Political Potential of Gender," in Sheila Whiteley, ed., Sexing the Groove: Popular music and gender (London: Routledge, 1997), 50-64.

ML3470 .S46 1997

Angela Y. Davis, "‘Strange Fruit’: Music and Social Consciousness," in Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday (New York: Pantheon, 1998), 181-97.

ML3521 .D355 1998

Lewis Erenberg, "Things to Come: Swing Bands, Bebop, and the Rise of a Postwar Jazz Scene," in Lary May, ed., Recasting America: Culture and Politics in the Age of Cold War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 221-45.

E169.12 R43 1989

Simon Frith, "Confessions of a Rock Critic," in Music for Pleasure: Essays in the Sociology of Pop (New York: Routledge, 1988), 163-68.

ML3534 .F75 1988

Simon Frith, "‘The magic that can set you free’: the ideology of folk and the myth of the rock community," Popular Music 1 (1981): 159-68

Simon Frith, from Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996):

· Chapter 1: The Value Problem in Cultural Studies, 3-20

· Chapter 6: Rhythm: Race, Sex, and the Body, 123-44

· Chapter 10: Performance, 203-25

ML3795 F738 1996 [not on electronic reserve]

Theodore Gracyk, "Valuing and Evaluating Popular Music," Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 57:2 (Spring 1999): 205-20.

Mark Mazullo, "The Man Whom the World Sold: Kurt Cobain, Rock’s Progressive Aesthetic, and the Challenges of Authenticity" [paper currently under consideration for publication]

Ingrid Monson, "The Problem with White Hipness: Race, Gender, and Cultural Conceptions in Jazz Historical Discourse," Journal of the American Musicological Society 48:3 (Fall 1995): 396-422.

Gareth Palmer, "Bruce Springsteen and Masculinity," in Sheila Whiteley, ed., Sexing the Groove: Popular music and gender (London: Routledge, 1997), 100-17.

ML3470 .S46 1997

Max Roach, "What ‘Jazz’ Means to Me," in Gerald Early, ed., Speech and Power: The African-American Essay and Its Cultural Content, from Polemics to Pulpit, volume 2 (Hopewell, NJ: Ecco Press, 1990), 50-54.

PS683 .A35 S64 1990

Tricia Rose, "Voices from the Margins: Rap Music and Contemporary Black Cultural Production," in Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1994), 1-20.

ML3531 .R67 1994

Richard Shusterman, "The Fine Art of Rap," in Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, Rethinking Art (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), 201-35.

Cornell West, "On Afro-American Popular Music: From Bebop to Rap," in Gerald Early, ed., Speech and Power: The African-American Essay and Its Cultural Content, from Polemics to Pulpit, volume 2 (Hopewell, NJ: Ecco Press, 1990), 63-72.

PS683 .A35 S64 1990

Ellen Willis, "Janis Joplin," in Jim Miller, ed., The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, second revised edition (New York: Rolling Stone Press, 1992), 382-87.

ML3534 .R64 1980 [older edition of the book itself is on reserve: page numbers will be different, but essay is the same]



Reserve recordings (all personal copies of mine, so be careful!):

Anthology of Big Band Swing, disc 1

Elvis Costello, Armed Forces

U2, Pop

Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach in Paris

Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

Billie Holiday, Strange Fruit

Janis Joplin, Greatest Hits

Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run

Nirvana, Nevermind

Course Calendar


Tuesday, January 30


Part One: Popular Music, Aesthetics, and Value


Thursday, February 1

Tuesday, February 6

Thursday, February 8

Tuesday, February 13

Thursday, February 15

Tuesday, February 20

Thursday, February 22

Tuesday, February 27

Thursday, March 1

Tuesday, March 6


Part Two: Popular Music and the Politics of Identity


Thursday, March 8

Tuesday, March 13

Thursday, March 15

Tuesday, March 20 and Thursday, March 22

Tuesday, March 27

Thursday, March 29

Tuesday, April 3

Thursday, April 5

Tuesday, April 10

Thursday, April 12

Tuesday, April 17

Thursday, April 19

Tuesday, April 24

Thursday, April 26

Tuesday, May 1

Thursday, May 3

Tuesday, May 8