Cover image for The story behind the song : 150 songs that chronicle the 20th century
The story behind the song : 150 songs that chronicle the 20th century
Publication Information:
Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, c2004.
Physical Description:
ix, 318 p. ; 25 cm.
Introduction -- 1900-1909 : the decade of opportunity -- 1910-1919 : America joins the global community -- 1920-1929 : gin, jazz and women's rights -- 1930-1939 : a new way of dealing with the Depression -- 1940-1949 : swinging into a Second World War -- 1950-1959 : teens rock the boat -- 1960-1969 : war in the streets and overseas -- 1970-1979 : war, Watergate, and disco -- 1980-1989 : MTV and Reaganomics -- 1990-1999 : the end of the second millenium.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 782.42164 BAR 1 1
Reference Book R 782.42164 BAR 1 1
Reference Book R 782.42164 BAR 1 1

On Order



Songwriters often use lyrics to describe the current events and social attitudes of a particular period or people. An examination of America's popular songs--and the stories behind their creation--can help us better understand our history and culture. This chronologically organized volume provides the stories of 150 songs in 20th-century American history. Each chapter begins with an historical overview of how songs from the period reflected the political, social, and economic culture of the decade. A discussion of 15 influential songs from each decade provides the songs' histories, what inspired the writers to create them, and why they have resonated over time. Included are patriotic songs, such as The Yankee Doodle Boy and God Bless America, protest songs of the civil rights and women's rights movements, such as We Shall Overcome and I Am Woman, songs that defined musical genres, such as Heartbreak Hotel and Stayin' Alive, and contemporary, often controversial music like Eminem's Stan.

Each song's entry includes the song title, songwriter(s), publication information, and current availability. A selected bibliography includes Web sites and books helpful for researching songs, songwriters, and events of the 20th century. Indexes are arranged alphabetically, by song title, by songwriter name, and by subject, making this an excellent research tool for students and general readers alike.

Author Notes

RICHARD D. BARNET is a Professor in the Department of the Recording Industry at Middle Tennessee State University. He has worked in various positions in the music industry including artist management, booking, concert promotion, television, and live show music production, performance, and conducting. He is a former officer of the Music and Entertainment Industry Educator's Association and a gubernatorial appointee to the Tennessee Film, Entertainment, and Music Advisory Council, as well as a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Professor Barnet is co-author of Controversies of the Music Industry (Greenwood, 2001).

BRUCE NEMEROV is an audio specialist at the Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University. He joined the Center in 1990 after 20 years as a professional musician, producer, and audio engineer.

MAYO R. TAYLOR is a librarian at the Walker Library at Middle Tennessee State University. Prior to her current appointment, she was coordinator for Research Collections at the Center for Popular Music.

Reviews 2

School Library Journal Review

Gr 9 Up-Ten chapters, one devoted to each decade, contain brief overviews of major social, political, and musical events, followed by entries, from 1 to 4 pages long, on 15 representative songs. The lyrics are not included. Although each entry ends with information on where printed and recorded versions of the song can be found, students will have difficulty locating some of them. An extensive bibliography is included, but specific sources of particular facts are not noted. Some of the writing is confusing or unclear, as in this sentence: "More than 1 million people attended the celebration of the one-hundredth anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth in New York City at which Booker T. Washington was the keynote speaker-." Some entries have very little to say about the song under consideration. "Heartbreak Hotel" gives a synopsis of Elvis Presley's life and career, but says almost nothing about the lyrics or the composers. The list of research centers is heavily slanted toward one region of the U.S., listing two centers in Tennessee, one in Alabama, two in New Orleans, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The idea of following the history of the 20th century through its most significant music is a fascinating one; unfortunately, this book does not live up to the promise of the concept.-Ginny Gustin, Sonoma County Library System, Santa Rosa, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Barnet, Nemerov, and Taylor (all Middle Tennessee State Univ.) selected material for this volume on the basis of a song's popular success, its ability to capture the significance of events in US history or represent pivotal movements and ideologies, or its achievement as a combination of music and texts. The scope ranges from "Stars and Stripes Forever" (instrumental version from 1897; song version from 1901) to "I am a Man of Constant Sorrow" (a song with origins from 1910 Appalachia that was adapted several times before it was used in the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?). Each chapter offers historical orientation for the decade covered and provides information on 15 representative songs. Readers will certainly lament the absence of their own choices: e.g., this reviewer wishes the selections included songs about Amelia Earhardt, or "The Flying Purple People Eater," "Runaway," "Fade to Black," "White Rabbit," "Whiter Shade of Pale," "People Are Strange," Neil Diamond's "America" (from the film The Jazz Singer), "Celebrate," "Rapture," "Losing My Religion," among others. The book will serve as a reference for less advanced readers and as a supplementary resource for reviewing popular music history for scholars. ^BSumming Up: Optional. All levels. M. Goldsmith Louisiana State University