[NOTE: This course is not identical to Music 11C, Introduction to American Popular Music]

Welcome to U.S. Pop

From Hollywood musicals to Hip-hop, the topics of our course have been among the most exciting, troubling, provocative, and captivating cultural movements to affect the modern world. We’ll strive to understand the evolving popular cultures of the United States, from the rise of middle-class consumers in the late 19th century, through the birth of mass media in radio, recorded music, and film; from the internationalization of the blues to the early post-war era of televisions and teenagers, the American “culture wars” of the 1970s and early 80s, the extremes and paradoxes of the MTV generation, and the proliferation of “alternative” and “indy” consumerism in the mid-1990s; we’ll conclude with discussion of media-sharing contexts ranging from Napster to YouTube, and social networking more generally, as transformative forces not only for contemporary music, but for our memory and understanding of our own musical past. The primary goals in all of these discussions will be centered on how cultural diaspora, media technology, and commodification, have been powerful forces—sometimes hidden—that shape today’s music as it intersects with trenchant problems of culture and power, related to gender, sexuality, class, and race. And in order to study those questions, we’re going to learn about music itself, too: how it’s put together, how to talk about what you hear, and how to compare one musical experience to another.

This is serious stuff — but we won’t just study it in books. In this course, the lecture hall is a place for us to experiment with self-expression and collective expression, and to learn something about culture by actually *making* culture, ourselves. There’ll be time to discuss, debate, react, and even maybe tap a beat or two on your arm-rest. And you might just get a chance to make your own rhythms and invent your own blues. (But don’t worry — I won’t force you to sing in public.)

What I will ask you to do, though, is speak your mind on the discussion pages of this site. This is a big class, and speaking up to engage with your peers and your teachers intellectually, can sometimes be intimidating. Especially if you’re not sure what the professor (me) will think of you. But I need everyone to jump out of that mindset, because your active participation in the class is part of what makes it into a conversation. You’ll notice right away that this is a high priority for me.

Meanwhile, if you have comments about the site, the course — what you like, don’t like, what you’d like to see change — we want to hear about it. Put it on the discussion page too! Or tell us via email… or chat… it’s up to you. (If there’s anything you’re concerned about, but you’re not comfortable speaking directly to me about it, you also have the option of communicating one-on-one with a course TA.)  


The Basics:

Instructor: Benjamin Carson
Meetings: Tuesdays & Thursdays: 2:00 pm - 3:45 pm, in the Music Center Recital Hall (Music Center 101)

Office Hours:  12:15 - 1:30 pm Mondays & 10:30 am - noon on Thursdays, or by appointment
Office: Music Center rm 148 (bottom floor, to the right at the bottom of the stairs)
Correspondence: benja dot carson at gmail (dot com)











General Description of the course:
A survey of American popular music, from the beginnings of mass media to the late twentieth century and beyond. Areas of focus will include Anglo-American traditions, diasporas of African, Latin American, and Afro-caribbean culture in the U.S.; we concentrate on the stylistic products of consumer music industries, including songs of tin-pan alley composers, early jazz, “old-time” music, many blues styles, swing, rock and roll, soul, punk, and hip-hop.

Goals of the Course

  • Understand concepts and social forces important in the production of popular music in the United States.
  • Learn to hear and interpret basic elements of musical expression.
  • Develop awareness of differences and commonalities among a variety of popular music practices.
  • Learn about historical and contemporary relationships between musical communities, the music industry, and media.

Required Textbook:
There is no textbook for this course. Weekly required reading will be available online.

Course Activities:
The course meetings will include lecture, discussion, active participation in musical practice, and listening to recordings and ‘live’ demonstrations of those practices. Participation is essential to the course; your presence in lecture provides opportunities to witness and experience musical labor and expression, and think comparatively about music making and music listening in a variety of situations. (Recorded music and video cannot provide those opportunities, and will not prepare you adequately for the exams.) Since music listening and analysis often requires concentrated attention, please do not disrupt class by leaving class early.  


Exams and Quizzes:
I.  There will be two mid-term exams (October 20 and November 12), and one Final exam (December 8, 12:00 - 3:00 pm). Each of these exams will be given only once. Regrettably, neither the instructor nor your teaching assistants will be able to provide make-up exams, regardless of any special circumstances. Although we want to accommodate everyone’s needs, alternate exam times simply require more time and resources than we have available to us. In cases of emergency, students in good standing may contact me for opportunities to gain make-up credit in lieu of an exam, through alternate means such as research projects or listening analyses.

The exams will consist of multiple-choice short-answer and listening questions. All the information related to these questions will be discussed extensively in lectures, but may not be available in readings or in other materials outside of class. 

II. I will give a one-question quiz in most class periods.This part of the course is designed to help you assess your own comprehension of the material, and to prepare you for the larger exams. These also help me to guide the conversation with a sense of how you’re doing. For this purpose, please bring a 3” x 5” index card to every class meeting. On any given day, whether or not your quiz answer is correct, your participation in the quiz will earn “full credit.” A small amount of extra credit will be given to students who consistently answer correctly.

Online Discussions:

We will engage in five online unit discussions this quarter, each lasting about 10 days.  Your participation in four of these discussions — subject to your preference of subject matter — is required. (In other words, you may choose to skip one of the five units.)

In each of these 10-day sessions, there will be several topics available. Participating students will choose one topic, and submit a well-written 1-2 paragraph response in the first 5 days, describing what they hear in a song, using terms and ideas from the course. Student work in these discussions will consist of their own words and ideas in response to the listening, and need not draw upon any additional sources. More specific guidelines for these assignments will be given in each unit.

In the latter half of the ten-day period, teaching assistants will moderate the discussions by asking additional questions in response to the student posts, and encouraging students to compare and contrast their own ideas. Full participation credit requires you to continue to engage in the conversation.

A 5-point participation grade will be offered in each unit, automatically, to each student who participates thoughtfully by submitting a post and following with additional conversation. Extra credit of 1-2 points will be offered for students who devote a lot of time and energy to accurate, thoughtful, articulate, and relevant commentary in the 10-day period. We really hope that all participants earn these extra points — its not hard to do.


Each student will choose two units in which to write a more lengthy essay, 600-800 words in length. Essays will typically compare two songs in greater detail, and will include explicit references to the content of the course readings, and other sources online where appropriate. Each unit will contain several “topic suggestions” for the essays, which will set forth a range of possible questions that essays can set out to answer. Students should write only two essays in the course, choosing from among the five available units. There cannot be any extra credit offered for additional essays written.

Students who get positive feedback on their essays can also get 1-2 extra credit points by encouraging additional conversation on the web, and encouraging their peers to create additional conversation and debate around the main claims of their essays. Debate has to be substantial, thoughtful, and related to topics in the course.

Accommodating individual learning differences in our classroom or in our coursework

I am eager to meet a wide variety of learning needs in this course. If you qualify for classroom accommodations because of a disability, please get an Accommodation Authorization from the Disability Resource Center (DRC) and feel free to send it to me via email or bring it to me in person. For more information, contact the DRC at 459-2089 (voice), 459-4806 (TTY), or visit them at http://drc.ucsc.edu.

Even if you don’t have a specific DRC qualification, please take the time to let me know if there is any aspect of our learning environment that could be improved to help you get the most out of the class.



Your TAs and I are committed to assigning grades based on what you do, not based on who you are. That means we give some low grades to people we really like, and some high grades to people who we don’t. Actually, we love you all like crazy. But grading this many students is very hard — please do not ask your TAs to consider special circumstances to excuse lateness or poor performance. Your honorable participation will make it easy for us to be consistent and fair.

Please assume the very best of intentions from your TAs — their decisions are not to be taken personally. If you believe that based on the work that you accomplished, a grade has been incorrectly calculated; or if you feel uncertain about what was expected of you, we DO want to hear from you, and we look forward to the conversation!

Calculating the Grade

20 Quizzes:    20% (1% each, regardless of your answers)

4 Online Sessions:       7%

2 essays:     20% (10% each)

Mid-Term Exams (2)

higher-scoring exam:     22%

lower-scoring exam:     11%

Final Exam:     20%

[ Total: 100 ]

Excused absences:
I regret that I cannot offer any “make-up” quizzes, regardless of the reason for your absence from any meeting. With medical documentation showing a reason for absence on a particular day, I sometimes subtract one daily quiz from your maximum. That means that you won’t get credit for the missed quiz, but you won’t be penalized either, because your overall quiz score for the quarter will be compared to a lower maximum total, raising the “worth” of all your other quizzes. (This recalculation is not to your advantage.)


Additional reading will be drawn from some of the following texts:

Click on a title to download an article: 

Barker, Hugh and Yuval Taylor. 2007. “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?“ In Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music. New York: Norton. 1-28.

Bradby, Barbara. 2005. “She Told Me What to Say: The Beatles and Girl-Group Discourse.” In Popular Music and Society, 28/3.359-390.

Carney, Court. 2006. “New Orleans and the Creation of Early Jazz.”In Popular Music and Society, 29/3. 299-315.

Cohodas, Nadine. 2000. “2120 South Michigan” [Ch. 10 of Spinning Blues into Gold. New York: St. Martin’s Press.]

Davis, Angela. 1998. “Mama’s Got the Blues.”Chapter 2 of Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday. New York: Pantheon Books, 1998.

Dunlap, James. 2006. “Through the Eyes of Tom Joad: Patterns of American Idealism, Bob Dylan, and the Folk Protest Movement.” In Popular Music and Society 29/5. 549-573.

Ehrenreich, Barbara. 1983. “The Grey Flannel Dissidents.” Chapter 3 of The Hearts of Men. New York: Doubleday, 29-41.

Ferris, William Jr. 1970. [Excerpts from] Blues from the Delta. London: Studio Vista.

Friedman, Ted. Making It Funky: The Signifyin(g) Politics of George Clinton’s Parliafunkadelicment Thang. Work in progress, unpublished .

Gilroy, Paul. 1994. “Sounds Authentic: Black Music, Ethnicity, and the Challenge of a Changing Same.” In Imagining Home: Class, Culture, and Nationalism in the African Diaspora. Edited by Sidney J. Lemelle and Robin D. G. Kelley, 93-117. London: Verso.

Ginsburg, Allen. 1956. “Howl.” <http://sprayberry.tripod.com/poems/howl.txt>. Published originally in Howl and Other Poems. San Francisco: City Lights Books.

Gower, Charles Price. 1997. “Sources of American Styles in the Music of the Beatles.” In American Music, 15/2.299-315.

Hess, Mickey. 2005. “Metal Faces, Rap Masks: Identity and Resistance in Hip-hop’s persona artist.”

Heylin, Clinton. 1993. “All Needles are on Red!” In From the Velvets to the Voidoids: A Pre-Punk History for a Post-Punk World. New York: Penguin Books.

Jackson, Travis A. 2000. “Jazz performance as ritual: the blues aesthetic and the African diaspora.” In The African Diaspora: A Musical Perspective. New York: Garland. 23-82.

Johnson, Maria V. 2007. “Black Women Electric Guitarists and Authenticity in the Blues.” In Black Women and Music: More Than the Blues. Edited by Eileen Hayes and Linda Williams. Chicago: University of Illinois.

Kauppila, Paul. 2005. “The Sound of the Suburbs: A Case Study of Three Garage Bands in San Jose, California during the 1960s.”In Popular Music and Society, 28/3391-405.

Levine, Lawrence. 1985. “American Culture and the Great Depression.” In The Yale Review, 72/2. 196-223.

Lott, Eric. 1993. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. New York: Oxford University Press.

O’Brien, Lucy. 1999. “The Woman Punk Made Me.” [New version 11/21: grayscale images; just 4.2 MB] In Punk Rock: So What? Edited by Roger Sabin. London: Routeledge.

Oliver, Paul. 1969. “Hard Time Everywhere.” In The Story of the Blues. Boston: Northeastern University Press. 105-116.

Oliver, Paul. 1969. “Froggy Bottom to Buckhead.” In The Story of the Blues. Boston : Northeastern University Press. 40-51.

Peterson, Richard. 1990. “Why 1955? Explaining the Advent of Rock Music.” In Popular Music, Vol. 9, No. 1. (Jan., 1990), pp. 97-116.

Pough, Gwendolyn. 2007. “Hip-Hop Soul Divas and Rap Music: Critiquing the Love That Hate Produced.” In Black Women and Music: More Than the Blues. Edited by Eileen Hayes and Linda Williams. Chicago: University of Illinois.

Rose, Tricia. 1994. “Prophets of Rage: Rap Music and the Politics of Black Cultural Expression.” In Black Noise. Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. Hanover: Wesleyan University Press. 99-145.

Santoro, Gene. 2004. “Chess Records” [Ch. 10 of Highway 61 Revisited. New York: Oxford University Press.]

Stowe, David. 1998. “Tempo of the Time.”In Swing Changes: Big Band Jazz in New Deal America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Tucker, Mark. 1990. “The Renaissance Education of Duke Ellington.” In Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance. Edited by Samuel Floyd. Knoxille: University of Tennessee.

Wald, Elijah. “What is Blues?” Chapter 1 of Escaping the Delta. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.

Whiteley, Sheila. 2000. “The Lonely Road: Joni Mitchell, Blue, and Female Subjectivity.” In Women and Popular Music: Sexuality, Identity, and Subjectivity. London: Routeledge. 78-94.