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Messages Through Music As Years Progressed Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 2897 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Music has been in people's lives for centuries. Music conveys atmosphere. There is always a communication behind every song and a message behind the lyrics, 'Let it be' is one of those song, I will refer to it later on in my research. Musicians usually write songs that reflect ethnography, conveying social and/or political messages. Others might write about personal feelings or events that happened in their lives and thus expressed themselves through their music.

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Ian Inglis, when writing about the Beatles, describes 'popular music' as the combination of "instant gratification, winning formulae and predictable outcomes" [1] . The charts, suitable lyrical content and nowadays music video formats are also features of popular music. The Beatles were one of the most iconic bands of the 1960's. From the release of their first song 'Love Me Do' (1962) until their disband in 1970, the Beatles produced over 200 songs and sold more than 2 million records. From 1962 to 1965, 74 of their 76 self-composed song (97%) were love songs. "The archetype pop songs" according to Inglis "has always been, and continues to be today, the love song- the lament for lost or unrequited love, the celebration of mutual and/or genuine love, and the comment about the nature and significance of love" [2] . Between the years 1966 and 1970 only 32% were love songs. The Beatles began to explore new themes other than love in their music; like nostalgia and regret 'You Never Give Me Your Money', the effect of drugs 'Tomorrow Never Knows', escape and solitude 'Fool On The Hill' and rebirth 'Here Comes The Sun'.

The theme of hope and rebirth is one where any person with difficulties and bad experiences can relate to. Looking into 'Here Comes The Sun,' one of George Harrison's best known songs, represents the overcoming of struggles. The song begins with two guitars, one holds the chord progression and rhythm while the other plays the melody, the chorus, which is based on a simple moving line sounding almost childlike.

Harrison in 1969 had his tonsils removed, he was arrested for the possession of marijuana and he had temporarily quit the band. In his autobiography Harrison stated: "Here Comes the Sun was written at the time when Apple was getting like school, where we had to go and be businessmen... So one day I decided I was going to sag off Apple and I went over to Eric Clapton's house. The relief of not having to go see all those dopey accountants was wonderful, and I walked around the garden with one of Eric's acoustic guitars and wrote 'Here Comes the Sun'". [3] 

'Let it be' was one of the last songs the band produced before their disband. The inspiration for this song was McCartney's mother; Mary, that came to him in a dream. McCartney said in an interview that his mother's words were "'it'll be alright.' I'm not sure if she used the words 'Let it be' but that was the gist of her advice, it was 'Don't worry too much, it will turn out okay." [4] It can be argued that this song represents hope and faith that people can relate to as it is no.3 in 'The 100 Best Beatles Songs' list.

Even though the Beatles disbanded in the '70s, music carried on and other great meaningful songs emerged. Bill Withers' 1972 'Lean On Me' is one of them. Anyone can sympathise to its lyrical message. In an interview, Withers talks about his origins, West Virginia, a rural place where people are less afraid and more caring towards one another, where people would genuinely help! He compares this to big cities like New York where "people step over you if you're passed out on the sidewalk" [5] . 'Lean On Me' would not have been composed if it was not for Withers' background. Through his creativity he is promoting the 'Lean On Me' circumstance to not merely be an exception and to start being a way of living.

During 1979 to 1990 Margaret Thatcher served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Many lead musicians expressed openly their hostility towards her and the government through their music. Popular music became the voice of the people's feelings. 'Stand down Margaret' by The Beat clearly states that the vast population of UK disliked her and her decisions. The lyrics "Would you give a second thought, would you ever give a damn?" emphasizes how people felt about Thatcher, provoking them to react against her. Elvis Costello's 1982 song, 'Shipbuilding' gives out two contradicting messages. It was written for the Falklands War, where England was led by Thatcher, and how prosperity went back to the traditional shipbuilding areas, replacing the sinking ships at war. Meanwhile, the sons of those whom built the ships were sent to war and probably killed at battle. Crass, a late 1970s punk rock band, also expressed their opinions on the Falkland war and Thatcher through a number of songs like 'Sheep Farming In The Falklands' with their astonishing lyrics "And, you know, I don't really give a toss if the cause is wrong or right, My political neck means more to me than the lives of a thousand men, If I felt it might be of use to me I'd do it all over again." 'How Does It Feel' also conveys a strong message against Margaret, describing her as the "Iron Lady" and "The Mother of a thousand dead." As a reaction to all these songs of anger and protest, The Smiths; through their song "'Asleep' promised in desperation that there must be a better world" [6] they gave the people of England a sense of hope.

Even though two decades have passed since Thatcher is no longer Prime Minister, songs and films are still produced around her. The film 'Billy Elliot' (2000) that centres around "the year-long miners' strikes in the early 1980s - when Thatcher was running Britain - and depicts a gloomy part of the country's political history" [7] was adapted to a West End show in 2005. Elton John wrote the music and Lee Hall the lyrics. Through their song 'Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher' sang by the miners in the play, the lyrics "We all celebrate today 'Cause it's one day closer to your death" is greatly emphasised in their tone of voice and attitude. Musical theatre and musical films have become very 'popular' as the years passed. The very first musical film was Alan Crosland's 'The Jazz Singer' which had a grand impact as during the next three years more than two hundred musical films were produced. In the 1940s musicals began to emerge in Hollywood where "the elements of song and dance were integral rather that incidental" [8] they acted as a continuation of dialogue. The songs expressed different messages according to the character that sang them. Cole Porter wrote many standard jazzy songs for the roaring 20's but became one of the greatest Broadway songwriters in the 30's. The original humours lyrics of 'Anything goes;'1934, are based on the Great Depression and scandals of high-society members. One of 'Anything Goes' couplets referred to Sam Goldwyn's, a 1920's American film producer's, film 'Nana', where his protagonist, Anna Sten's, English was incomprehensible. "If Sam Goldwyn can with great conviction, Instruct Anna Sten in diction". New adaptations of the song refer to social up-heaves emphasising how time changed and once shocking incidence are now seen with ease "In olden days, a glimpse of stocking, Was looked on as something shocking. But now, God knows, Anything goes."

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Sexual subtext began to arouse in popular songs through the 'Jazz Age'; the period between the 1920's after World War I and before the Great Depression. Youth began to test their boundaries in ways the generations before them never thought possible. Women became 'saucier' with short skirts, bobbed hair and plenty of 'IT', sex appeal, inspiring many songs to be created. Another great Cole Porter song, 'Let's Misbehave' expresses through subtle words, "They say that Spring means just one little thing to little lovebirds, We're not above birds--let's misbehave!", a playful subtext. Throughout history there were always songs with sexual messages. Through the title of the 1961 song 'Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen' one would have never thought this to mean anything but a 'happy birthday'. If one reads the words with an open mind, taking into consideration that the age of consent in the USA is 16, there is more than meets the eye, "Tonight's the night I've waited for, Because you're not a baby anymore, You've turned into the prettiest girl I've ever seen, Happy birthday sweet sixteen." Even in some Disney songs lust can be identified. Children as such would not fully understand the meaning of the song 'Hellfire' sang by Frollo, the antagonist of the story. The song is a confession of Frollo's carnal desires addressed to the Virgin Mary creating explicit sexual tension. "Beata Maria, you know I am a righteous man... much purer that the common, vulgar, weak, licentious crowd. Then tell me, Maria, why I see her dancing there. Why her smouldering eyes sill scorch my soul." In many Disney films we can identify songs with sexual messages but have always been encoded and have never been so trenchant as in 'Hellfire'. When one only listenes to the words of the song, they can picture what Disney provided on screen.

In the '70s and '80s many songs became more explicit with the theme of fornication, AC/DC was one of the bands that touched this matter in their songs. The lyrics of the song are quite vulgar, but generally rock songs in the 1970s and '80s became more aggressive in style. In the book 'Rock and Popular Music: politics, policies, institutions' (1993) rock music is described "as a 'dirty' category of social practice" [9] but the phrase as such is too general. Rock music is a vast genre that is not all 'dirty', there are a variety of messages that can emerge form Rock music. 'Carry On My Wayward Son' a progressive rock song by Kansas, is a song of 'will to carry on'. The song represents Kerry Livgren's, an ex-member of Kansas, searching for spiritual refinement, people can relate to this song through their own path of refinement. Another progressive rock song that when first heard lifts up ones spirit is Journeys 'Don't Stop Believing'. This song can give out the message of faith and will in oneself to by-pass any barriers sent their way "Don't stop believing, Hold on to that feeling". If we look deeper into the words some say that the message of this song portrays three different relationships a 'couple' can have. The first being the randomity of young innocent love as both "took the midnight train going anywhere", the second image depicts "a singer in a smoky room, The smell of wine and cheap perfume, for a smile they can share the night" this 'relationship' can be seen to be based on lust rather than love. The last image presented is "Strangers waiting, up and down the boulevard... Streetlight people, living just to find emotion, Hiding somewhere in the night" this couplet is expressing sexual relationships with prostitutes. Nevertheless, any way we analyse the song, the message behind it is the same: 'Don't Stop Believing', either for the pursue of our dreams or for any form of companion in this world. Moreover, Rock songs can also touch the classic 'love song'. Bon Jovi's 1988 'I'll be there for you' captures the essence of true love and all the absurd things one would do to prove his love, "When you breathe I want to be the air for you, I'll be there for you, I'd live and I'd die for you." One can connect with this song and dedicate it to his loved one after an argument and plead her for "one more chance" expressing his affection.

In the 1990s the third feminism wave emerged where women grew stronger as individuals but also socially, politically and economically. Even though girl bands like 'The Ingenues' can be found in the 'Jazz Age,' girl bands that began to surface in the '90s were something the world had never before experienced. 'Riot grrrl' bands emerged were their songs discussed issues based on domestic abuse, racism, rape, patriarchy, sexuality and most importantly female empowerment. Starr, C quotes in her book Because: Riot Grrrl, Social Movements, Art Worlds, and Style "BECAUSE we girls want to create mediums that speak to US. We are tired of boy band after boy band… BECAUSE in every form of media I see us/myself slapped, decapitated, laughed at, objectified, raped, trivialized, pushed, ignored, stereotyped, kicked, scorned, molested, silenced, invalidated, knifed, shot, choked and killed. BECAUSE I am tired of these things happening to me…BECAUSE a safe space needs to be created for girls... without being threatened by this sexist society and our day to day bullshit." [10] This quote emphasises the motivation of the riot grrrl movement. Some of the bands involved in this movement were the 'Bikini Kill' and 'L7' girl band that resonated "with the 'positive' rock discourses of youthful fun and rebellion." [11] Ever since, the women began to be more confident, strong and more female artists came to surface. Madonna, is an iconic and influential singer of the '80s where many young women in the 'Riot Grrrl' movement and generally the female genre were inspired by her music making them feel empowerment. Her 1984 song 'Like a Virgin' was misinterpreted according to her interview in the 'Rolling Stone' magazine of September 1987. Madonna expressed that "when I did the song, to me, I was singing about how something made me feel a certain way - brand-new and fresh." [12] Through her music and mainly how she presented herself, Madonna became a role model for women and a sex icon for men.

We can see a number of female singers of 21st century wanting to be the 'New Madonna,' like Britney Spiers, Lady Gaga and Rihanna. Rihanna confessed in an interview that "I think that Madonna was a great inspiration for me, especially on my earlier work." [13] 'Pon de Replay' was the song that made her famous in 2004, this song was simply an encouragement to make people dance. The phrase 'Pon de Replay' means 'play it again' which is commonly used in Barbados, Rihanna's birth place. Some suggest that her music became darker and more explicit as she become more industrial, 'Disterbia' has a dark message of possessed souls by evil; "It's a thief in the night To come and grab you It can creep up inside you And consume you," while 'S&M' encourages 'sadism and masochism' as a form of sexual pleasure "sticks and stones may break my bones but chains and whips excite me." After her physical abuse from Chris Brown, Rihanna sang songs with hopeless meanings like 'Love The Way You Lie' and 'We found Love' that portray relationships that came to an end. When the lyrics of 'We Found Love' refering to 'yellow diamonds' this can be seen as a metaphor for drugs, specifically crack rocks. These type of songs that feature drugs and sex are very popular simply because these are the things that the youth wants. Some argue that it is because of the encouragement of these songs that made youth desperately want these things. These songs are accessible to any age group and can be a bad influence to many teenager that see Rihanna as their 'Role Model'.

Concluding, popular music has evolved throughout time but has always conveyed strong social and political messages. In any genre of music there can be found popular songs that different groups of people can relate to. Songs that discuss Love, Hope, Drugs, Sex, Feminism and Rebellion. People feel for songs that can express their feelings better than their own words. Different song are motivating in different ways while other songs, even though are enjoyable to hear, can be a bad influence when you pay close attention to the lyrics. Ethnography will always inspire songwriters and musicians to write new songs that might one day become 'Popular.'


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