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Twentieth Century Music and It’s Reflection of History Essay Sample

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Twentieth Century Music and It’s Reflection of History Essay Sample

For many hundreds of years, man has enjoyed and played music for various reasons: meditation, dancing, rituals, entertainment, to express feelings, to reflect on past events and to show what is happening in his world. In the Twentieth Century, music has been used for all of these, but none have been so important to making this country what it its today as the music that has reflected on past events and that shows what is happening in the country at the time that it was written.

The 1930s was the first decade of the Twentieth Century in which the music of the time reflected what was happening in the world around it. The Great Depression left its imprint on the music more than any other event of that time. Most of the music of the 1930s offered relaxation to the battered soul. Popular songs of the time brought the listener into the despair of the times apparent in songs, such as ‘Stardust’, ‘Solitude’, and ‘Blue Lovebirds Die Alone’.

World War II brought along a new attitude in it’s music. Songs of the WWII era showed split ideas about the war. Some works made the American People aware of the dangers of democracy while most songs emphasized it’s blessings, giving Americans a patriotic, anti-Fascist attitude. One popular song of the time was Earl Robinson’s ‘Ballad for Americans’ which emphasized the strongest support for the war at that time.

In the mid-1950s, a new style of music known as Rock ‘n’ Roll became prominent. This music was a combination of all the popular styles of music that preceded it. Three styles of rock: R&B rock, country rock, and pop rock; were evident at this time. Culturally, white teenagers were the dominant members of society, but the most popular form of rock was R&B rock, which was performed mostly by African-American males. This caused social problems because many upper class white American males labeled R&B rock as ‘African’ or ‘race’ music. Some even charged that it was a consparicy by the NAACP to corrupt white teenagers. To counter the popularity of R&B rock, many record companies found white pop performers to ‘cover’ popular songs recorded by African-American R&B artists. When an African-American performer had a hit song, the record company would have it re-recorded by a white performer. Pat Boone had hits with Fats Domino’s ‘Ain’t that a Shame’ and with Little Richard’s ‘Tutti Frutti’.

One record producer, Sam Phillips stated, ‘If I could only find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel I could make a million dollars.’ By 1956, a young singer, Elvis Presley, pade Phillips a prophet with his hit song ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. Elvis Presley did more than any other artist to promote the style of Rock ‘n’ Roll with fifty-two top thirty hits in less than ten years, earning himself the title of King of Rock and Roll.

By the early 1960s Rock and Roll was a contributing factor to the Civil Rights movements bringing African-Americans to become equal to whites. White teenagers purchased records released by African-American performers and African-American teenagers did the opposite. Whites and African-Americans sat beside each other at concerts, enjoying music that may not be performed by people of the same race as they were.

However, in a society dominated by white males, many minorities were mocked and treated cruelly. Women were looked down upon as second class citizens in the 1960s; treated as sex objects in songs such as Buddy Knox’s ‘Party Doll’, Johnny Tilloson’s ‘Poetry in Motion’, and Eddie Hodges’s ‘(Girls, Girls, Girls) Made to Love)’. African Americans were also viewed as comic figures in songs such as the Coasters ‘Charlie Brown’, Little Anthony and the Imperials’ ‘Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko-Ko Bop’, and Mongo Santamaria’s ‘Watermelon Man’. Native Americans were also depicted as cartoon characters in Johnny Preston’s ‘Running Bear’ and Larry Verne’s ‘Mr. Custer’. The accents of Italian and Hispanic emigrants were made fun of in Pat Boone’s ‘Speedy Gonzales’ and Lou Monte’s ‘Pepino the Italian Mouse’.

To many, the period of 1964 to 1974 is the most important period of American music in this century. Rock music reflected attitudes of the youth of that time, the Baby Boomers. In the early ’60s the youth looked up to President John F. Kennedy. His assassination on November twenty-second of 1963 sent shock waves throughout the country. The youth were disillusioned at this fact and had nobody to turn to. Quickly after, a new group came into the music scene from Europe. The Beatles offered American youth a new identity at the time when they needed it most. Songs of The Beatles such as ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ projected optimism, enthusiasm, and fun. The four members refused to take themselves seriously and offered American youth a new way to see their world. The Beatles’ new music was anything but new, in fact, it sounded more like the R&B of the fifties.

Rock music was the biggest promoter of the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. Bob Dylan put it best in his 1964 song ‘The Times They are a ‘changin’. Many songs of that time period addressed social and cultural issues of the time in which they were written, in fact, many singer/songwriters of that time period such as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan were active participants and sometimes the main speaker in various political rallies. Bob Dylan, however, was probably one of the most important political voices in America from 1963 to 1969. Songs Dylan wrote such as ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, later recorded by Peter, Paul, and Mary; became the unofficial anthem of the Civil Rights movement, while other songs such as ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and ‘All Along the Watchtower’ voiced the dissatisfaction, anger, and concern of the troubled youth at that time period.

‘Come writers and critics and prophesize with your pen.

And keep your eyes wide, the chance won’t come again.

And don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin.

And there’s no tellin’ now where it’s leadin’.

For the loser now will be later to win.

For the times they are a ‘changin.’ Bob Dylan ‘The Times they are a Changin”

The mid-sixties also helped promote the civil rights of African-Americans with the introduction of Motown Records established by Berry Gordy. One song, Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’ expressed the demand for racial equality. While others such as the Impressions’ ‘Keep on Pushing’ refleclted the early civil rights movement of African-Americans and ‘Say it Loud-I’m Black and I’m Proud’ by James Brown established African-American pride.

Racial minorities were not the only groups preaching equqlity in America during the sixties. American women also obtained a better standing as their role in society advanced beyond second class housewives. Songs like Roy Orbison’s ‘Pretty Women’, The Rolling Stones ‘Stupid Girl’, and the O’Kaysions ‘Girl Watcher’ presented an image that many women resented. Women fought back against songs such as these with their own songs such as Lesley Gore’s ‘You don’t Own Me’, Nancy Sinatra’s ‘These Boots are Made for Walkin”, and Helen Reddy’s ‘I am Woman’.

Although there were many important events in the decade from 1965 to 1975, none were more remembered than the Vietnam War. Many music artists, at this time began to write and sing songs about world peace and ending the Vietnam War. Many of these songs were very popular, in fact, the music performed at Woodstock was primarily protest songs such as these. Artists who stood out as the war protest singers were Bob Dylan; Country Joe and the Fish; Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; Janis Joplin; Joan Baez; and Jimi Hendrex. Artists such as John Lennon of The Beatles wrote and sang songs voicing world peace like ‘Give Peace a Chance’, ‘Imagine’, and ‘Happy Christmas (War is Over)’.

‘Well come on all you big strong men.

Uncle Sam needs your help again.

Got himself in a terrible jam

Away down yonder in Vietnam

Put down your books and pick up a gun

We’re gonna have a whole lot of fun.

And it’s One, Two, Three, What are we fighting for?

Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn

Next stop is Vietnam

And it’s five, six seven, open up the Pearly Gates

Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,

Whoppee!! We’re all gonna die.’ ‘Country Joe’ McDonald ‘The Fish Cheer’

During, and the time soon after, the Vietnam War many illegal drugs became very popular in the United States. Substances known as hallucinogens were pushed by a form of music called ‘acid rock’ featuring lyrics about psychedelic (hallucinogenic) drugs, mostly LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide). Artists who influenced the use of such substances were The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrex. Until recently, with the death of thier lead singer, Jerry Garcia, The Grateful Dead was the only acid rock band still performing.

Some music of the past two decades has been a reflection on past events. Frankie Valli released a solo record GREASE in 1978 which looked back on the past fonldy. Other artists have written music which reflects on the past with bittersweet nostalgia such as Bob Seger’s ‘Against the Wind’ and Don Henley’s ‘End of the Innocence’. Billy Joel looked at the Vietnam war in ‘Goodnight Saigon’ and summed up forty years of pop culture from 1949 to 1989 in his song ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’.

Eighites songs also viewed the social problems in America. Bob Seger’s ‘Makin’ Thunderbirds’ and Billy Joel’s ‘Allentown’ drew attention to hard times in American manufacturing. Other artists helped out through benefit concerts such as Live Aid to help assist drought stricken African countires, Farm Aid to help farmers facing bankruptcy. Money from thes benefit concert
Band Aid was donated to combat hunger in Ethiopia.

There are in the eighties and nineties very few songs which links to world events. Michael Jackson, though, through songs such as ‘Heal the World’, has been able to show how there are places in the world where people are going hungry. He has also demanded world peace and humane treatment toward animals with ‘Earth Song’.

In the nineties, there has been music which reflects one of the biggest problems in American Sociey in a number of years. ‘Gangsta rap’ (hard-core rhyming recited in rhythms) has influenced many lower class American teenagers to become involved with drugs and gang activity. Gangsta rap bluntly endorses the use of drugs such as marijuana, a large problem with American teens since the sixties. Music by rappers such as Dr. Dre, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Eazy-E, Ice-T, and Tupac Shakur, suggest violence toward law enforcement through songs such as ‘Deep Cover’ and ‘Cop Killa’. These songs also recommend using high powered weapons and drive by shootings to solve their conflicts. Artists of gangsta rap claim that they are not trying to influence young adults through their music, they are only showing what is happening on the streets of America. Rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg was charged with murder in 1993 after his bodyguard shot and killed a twenty year old gang member in Los Angeles in self defense. In an interview before his acquittal, Snoop Doggy Dogg (Calvin Broadus) stated, ‘This doesn’t fit into the dream of stardom I had…People think this is cool, that I like being notorious…this is nothing cool, nothing fun, nothing to laugh about.’

In these present times, much of the music written and recorded is done for the sole purpose of painting a picture of events which Americans face or have faced. Through the process of recoring music, we will be able to preserve history as it happens.

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