Rock II: Rock Music from 1970 to the Present

Paper Assignment #1

The Clash, like many rock artists, work hard on their 1979 London Calling album to get across the idea that it is possible for rock music to transcend its status as a commodity, as a product for sale. When we listen to rock, they assert, we are able to step outside of consumer culture in order to critique it. A most significant moment in this regard is the opening stanza of the song "Lost in the Supermarket," which seems to be making fun of people who believe they can develop an identity just by buying things:

I'm all lost in the supermarket,
I can no longer shop happily.
I came in here for that special offer,
Guaranteed personality.

The second verse of "Death or Glory" appears to press this claim toward the critique of rock itself, suggesting that most rock musicians--even those claiming to denounce consumer culture--will end up succumbing to its temptations:

'N' every gimmick-hungry yob digging gold from rock 'n' roll
Grabs the mike to tell us he'll die before he's sold.
But I believe in this, and it's been tested by research,
That he who f***s nuns will later join the church.

But the Clash, too, were sold, and this album made its creators wealthy men. As hard as these musicians are trying to distance themselves from the business of buying and selling goods, this album is a commodity, and the folks who are in the business of selling albums very much want you to buy it.

This first paper is not an analysis of music, nor of lyrics, but of the experience of buying this album (i.e., The Clash, London Calling), or, rather, of having this album sold to you. You need not purchase the album, but act as though you are going to purchase it. You may do this either online or in a real store. In either case, the story begins from the moment you try to find the store or online vendor from whom to make the purchase. What sorts of banners, signs, or ads bring you into the buying space itself? What sorts of ads, signs, etc., surround the section where you'll find this actual album? What in the presentation of the album encourages you to buy it, or to feel good about your purchase (this might include cover art, for instance--anything that grabs you before you actually make the purchase)? Are you encouraged in any way to think of yourself, in the course of this shopping experience, as a serial shopper, that is, someone who really ought to be buying more than just this one product, or ought to return to this outlet soon for more? Even the lay-out of the parking lot, or the seemingly unimportant collage of online advertisements that surround the window, can figure into this discussion if they seem important in developing your self-image as a consumer. We are not talking, of course, about what the Clash themselves create, but about the operations of the industry through which their work passes from the recording studio into the world.

Your paper should be between 2 and 4 pages (typed, double-spaced, no larger than 12-point font).

DUE DATE: February 12. You should deliver your paper to your TA at your section meeting.

Paper Assignment #2

Analyze one, two, or three song(s) of your choice. If you choose to take on more than one, they should have some obvious connection to one another (being by the same artist, say, or by two artists working in closely-related styles). This does not mean you cannot offer a compare-and-contrast format; this may turn out to be a very helpful approach.

Whatever else you choose to do, your analysis should at least account for the over-all structure of each song under discussion in musical terms. It may be helpful to use terminology familiar from our lectures--with reference to "verses," "choruses," "middle-8's," "guitar solos," and so on, but you may be dealing with music for which such terminology is either inappropriate or, for whatever reason, undesirable. Just do your best to come up with a good description of the whole shape of the song as you perceive it. While you may want to make reference to the specific instruments and/or voices at work, you should do so only as far as you are confident in your own hearing (or whatever information research is able to provide). It is often quite difficult to arrive at a sense of exactly how many instruments are performing, and exactly what they all are.

Though the lyrics of the song may turn out to be very important to your reading, discussion about words should not comprise more than, say, 50% of the length of your paper.

Your paper may make reference to this song's place within a certain artist's output, or within a certain genre, but this sort of work should constitute no more than, say, 15% of the paper's length. At the same time, you may well want to gear your whole reading around a particular issue pertaining to the song's use (why it makes such a good piece of dance music, for instance, or why it works as a feminist utterance, or whatever). But the result should, in any case, be a "close reading" of the specific piece of music under discussion. You may make whatever use of musical notation and/or theoretical analysis you see fit, and for which your own background prepares you.

You should submit a recording in CD or cassette form along with your paper. This recording will be returned to you.

Your paper should be between 2½ and 4 pages (typed, double-spaced, no larger than 12-point font).

DUE DATE: March 5. You should deliver your paper to your TA at your section meeting.

Paper Assignment #3

In this paper, you should confront connections between Bret Eason Ellis's Less Than Zero and any of the music or the musical culture under discussion in this course. You may decide that Ellis's fragmented narrative helps you unpack the visual language of the music videos of the '80s; you may chose to explore the question of moral ambivalence or meaninglessness at work in the book and in some small body of music (even a particular song); it may be that the book strikes you as a model, for example, for certain moral tendencies in rap of the mid-90s; you may also want to explore the relationship between certain horrific imagery in the book and that of some of the more shocking music that has appeared in the last decade. In short, you can put together any sort of argument you want, dealing with any sort of music you want (within the general scope of this course). But you should make specific reference to at least a handful of passages in the book (identified by page number) and make clear how the book helps us make sense of the music under discussion.

I hope and trust that you have, in your recitations, engaged in some conversation already on the subject of this novel. Clearly the present paper may build on those conversations, and be strongly shaped by them, but your own insights should be clear, too.

Your paper should be between 3 and 5 pages (typed, double-spaced, no larger than 12-point font).

DUE DATE: April 23. You should deliver your paper to your TA at your recitation meeting.

Paper Assignment #4

Select one song that you think should have been included in this course and was not. Your task in this paper is to write what amounts to a mini-lecture about this song, capturing roughly what you would like to have heard Prof. Mercer-Taylor say about it. If you select a song from an artist or band that we have listened to one or more songs by, you should demonstrate why the song you picked reveals something new and enlightening.

There are many ways to approach this assignment. You may want to talk chiefly about the words of a song (though you should not talk ONLY about this), or about musical particulars, or about its relevance to the historical narrative of this course, or about the relevance of the artist/band who produced it. It is best if you are able to hit in some way on each of these, but this is not a hard-and-fast rule.

Your paper should be between 3 and 6 pages (typed, double-spaced, no larger than 12-point font).

DUE DATE: May 7. You should deliver your paper to your TA at your recitation meeting.