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Wednesday, September 16, 9:30 - 10:00am (Live Discussion of Asynchronous Presentations)

Mid-Century Rock & Olds 

  • “Dogging ‘Doggie in the Window’: The Song Young Rockers Loved to Hate,” Eric Weisbard (U of Alabama)
  • Dear Bobby: Dylan's 1966 Fan Mail, Sean Latham (U of Tulsa) & Nathan Blue (U of Tulsa)
  • Peter Pan vs Captain Hook: Comparing the Performance of Age(ing) in Classic Rock via Neil Young’s “Old Man” (1972) and Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” (1970), Kelso Molloy (NYU)
  • A Musical Reunion with America's Girl Next Door: The Concept Albums of Annette Funicello, Eric Schuman (WXPN)
  • The Dorian Gray Effect, or Why Some Recordings Don’t Age While Others Do, J.D. Considine (writer)

 

Presentation Descriptions

“Dogging ‘Doggie in the Window’: The Song Young Rockers Loved to Hate,” Eric Weisbard (U of Alabama)

Patti Page’s “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window,” a number one hit in 1953, sold millions of copies. It also became a leading example in endless accounts of why rock and roll saved the world from bland pop music. Bob Dylan, for example, looking back on his childhood for a Martin Scorsese documentary, dropped this A-bomb: “The music that was popular was ‘How Much Is That Doggie in the Window.’ That wasn’t our reality. Our reality was bleak to begin with. Our reality was fear that at any moment this black cloud would explode.”

Dog ditties: I want to survey the post-World War II U.S. landscape, the 45 RPM single as pop plasticity pitched in ways that offended music fans – just not the same ways rock and roll offended. For example, “Mama Will Bark,” a Frank Sinatra duet with busty comedienne Dagmar created by Mitch Miller, the A&R figure who insisted on strange hybrids like “Mule Train” long before “Old Town Road,” has often been called the worst recording of Sinatra’s career; Sinatra telegrammed a congressional committee that Miller forced him to make “inferior records.” It’s on a spectrum with “Hound Dog,” not only the Big Mama Thornton and Elvis Presley versions of songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s career-launching song but the Freddie Bell and the Bellboys version in-between, for Teen Records no less, that gave Presley his arrangement yet featured “arf arf”s as canned and corny as Page’s.

Kiddie pop, novice A&R approaches, atomic dogs – remembering this music, history signed off With Regret. But the legacy was no less lasting, just trickier to unpack.

 

Dear Bobby: Dylan's 1966 Fan Mail, Sean Latham (U of Tulsa) & Nathan Blue (U of Tulsa)

Among the other 100,000 items housed in the Bob Dylan Archive® in Tulsa is a mailbag stuffed with 1,300 unopened fan letters from 1966. They provide an extraordinary look into that chaotic period of Dylan’s career defined by hostile audiences, the creation of masterpieces like Blonde on Blonde, and the mysterious motorcycle crash. These are the only fan letters in the entire archive and a team of student researchers under the direction of Mark Davidson and Sean Latham are carefully opening and conducting a census of them. What we’ve found is extraordinary: a time capsule from the moment when Dylan was still just emerging from the structures of teen stardom and struggling to forge a new understanding of rock’s poetic maturity.

By focusing on youth culture (and lifting a Dylan title!), this year’s Pop Conference offers an ideal opportunity for us to present our initial findings about these first-hand accounts of Dylan as a teen pop star. Fans, after all, found his address in magazines like TeenSet, where writing about his music appeared alongside pieces on Sonny and Cher and the Dave Clark Five—not the company in which we expect to find the now iconic star. Latham and one of the student researchers (Nathan Blue) will offer a preliminary survey of these letters and what they tell us about Dylan’s place in the teen fan culture of 1966. We will use digital humanities techniques to provide data-driven insights into who these fans actually were and how they responded to his constant reinvention. We will then step back to locate the letters in the context of the teen magazines themselves to show how Dylan worked both with and against their narratives of youth fandom and sexuality to to develop a new image of the rock star.

Peter Pan vs Captain Hook: Comparing the Performance of Age(ing) in Classic Rock via Neil Young’s “Old Man” (1972) and Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” (1970), Kelso Molloy (NYU)

Regarding his niche in the world of rock artists, Alice Cooper famously said “Rock n roll is full of Peter Pans. I will gladly be Captain Hook.” While that predicted the oft-heard critique of aging rock stars “trying not to grow up”, it also poignantly foreshadowed the other side of the divide in how rock musicians have recently been contending with the changing nature of their position in a “youth-oriented” music as they age. It seems that they can either take the route of a Peter Pan, the hero, the white hat: trying to stay “forever young” like Mick Jagger, or gracefully passing the torch like Neil Young; or they can take the route of Captain Hook, the villain, the black hat: using bitterness like Bob Dylan, or humor like Alice Cooper.

In this paper, I focus on the nuanced ways many Classic Rockers have been contending with age in their performance beyond the stereotyped narratives of nostalgia or tired mantras like “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” (with which they are supposedly no longer in touch). I highlight “Old Man” (1972) by Neil Young and “I’m Eighteen” (1970) by Alice Cooper not just because they very obviously deal with age in their lyrics, but also because the musicians perform the songs differently now in their seventies than they did in the ‘70s.

By juxtaposing and analyzing—in archival footage and from ethnographic work at recent rock concerts— the way Neil Young now plays the “old man” part and allows his young guitarist to replace him as the “young man”, or the types of humor Alice Cooper has injected into his ad libs and choreography, I ultimately grapple with the question of how the meaning of “youth” can evolve differently across one's lifespan.

A Musical Reunion with America's Girl Next Door: The Concept Albums of Annette Funicello, Eric Schuman (WXPN)

Decades before the careers of Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera were kick-started on the All-New Mickey Mouse Club, one original Mouseketeer found herself an accidental multimedia phenom. Though she was the last member of the cast to be recruited (by Walt Disney himself, no less), Annette Funicello became an immediate sensation. More than any other early Mouseketeer, Annette quickly found herself appearing as a featured player in Disney-produced films, television specials and, eventually, recorded music.

Following early singles written by Disney go-tos Richard and Robert Sherman and produced by the studio’s in-house music director Tutti Camarata, Annette’s full-length musical offerings were almost exclusively concept albums. Not in the Sgt. Pepper’s or Tommy sense, but akin to the thematically linked collections of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Despite being a figurehead for youth with her perennially ‘teenage’ image, Annette’s albums more closely resembled the music industry machinations of the previous generation.

The story of Annette Funicello’s ascendance as one of Disney’s first and youngest (non-animated) celebrities, and how her recording career fit into the popular music landscape of the 1960s, is a revealing look at how young stars were marketed to their adoring public. On her six albums released while under contract with Disney, and on several tie-in records to her later Beach Party movies, Annette carried on the traditions of the era’s established ‘adult’ singers and helped lay the foundation for the burgeoning rock reclamation of the concept album. In this presentation, I'll discuss the oft-overlooked musical career of Annette Funicello, particularly focusing on her releases Hawaiianette and Italianette, which exemplify the early format of concept albums.

 

The Dorian Gray Effect, or Why Some Recordings Don’t Age While Others Do, J.D. Considine (writer)

If you were in a grocery store in the late ’70s and the instore sound system played a steady rotation of 78s from the late ’20s, you would likely have been flummoxed. Was there some “Roaring Twenties” promotion going on in the frozen foods section? Was there a mix-up at Muzak? Certainly, nobody would purposely listen to music that sounded so utterly old.

Fifty years later, when grocery stores or shopping malls select the ’70s rotation on their instore sound systems, no one bats an eye. Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” is an office party standard almost forty years after it fell off the charts, Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September,” from 1979, is almost as common at weddings as “Here Comes the Bride,” and Guardians of the Galaxy even made Blue Swede’s 1974 cover of “Hooked on a Feeling” a feature of the future. By rights, these songs should be the sonic equivalent of a once-fashionable hairdo that now instantly dates the wearer. Yet they remain forever young, in ways that contemporaneous hits like Hot Butter’s “Popcorn” or Ray Stevens’ “The Streak” never managed. Moreover, this is as true for millennials as for boomers, as if these tracks somehow became eternal youth music.

How, though? In an effort to unravel this mystery, this paper will look at the evolution of recording technology, the faddishness of certain beats, styles and instruments, the emergence of sampling, and the evolution of “classic” radio formats to understand how they factor into pop music’s Dorian Gray Effect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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