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2.   Literature Review


2.6.1   Disciplinary Overview and Trends

undermine Everett’s interpretation. To paraphrase Moore, relief is there only if one looks for it.108

The problem is that Everett’s analysis is based on a rigid theory; namely, tonic and dominant harmonies equate to tonal stability, security and resolution. This theory is often, but not always applicable to popular music and Everett’s analysis lacks the required flexibility. When popular music is made to fit classical theory in a wholesale manner, there is the potential for skewed results that are not sympathetic to the “distinct” features of popular music.

classic rock, progressive rock, indie rock, blues rock, and so on. It is, therefore, necessary to understand the similarities and differences between titles.

Some authors have asked wider questions of a particular artist, band or style.

Peter Winkler’s study of Randy Newman is outstanding in this regard.111 Winkler locates the American musical influences — parlor, gospel-blues, barbershop and film scoring — within Newman’s songs, and asks, “what does musical style have to do with musical meaning?”112 In a similar manner, Kevin Holm-Hudson uncovers various signposts in Styx’s ‘Come Sail Away,’ such as the ‘classical’ piano accompaniment, the Townshend-esque “Windmill” figure, and the space-travel narrative. He argues that Styx’s appropriation of musical traits helped to define “prog lite,” the AM-friendly, but critically derided 1970s rock style.113

In analytical contexts, Everett investigates Steely Dan’s harmonic characteristics in relation to modern jazz musicians such as Oscar Peterson, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie.114 Chris McDonald explores the different harmonic relationships in alternative rock music, focusing predominantly on the modal ambiguities in songs by Nirvana and My Bloody Valentine.115 One can also add the aforementioned Rock: The Primary Text and Running With The Devil, by Moore and Walser, respectively, both of which document rock styles and sub-styles in greater detail.

These authors consider individual songs as part of wider contexts, such as an artist’s oeuvre or a broader style. But in each case, they begin with a particular issue, which dictates the choice of songs. For example, when Walser examines metal and classical music, he refers to Eddie van Halen; for metal and

androgyny, Poison; for censorship, Judas Priest, and so forth. Consequently, one

111 Peter Winkler, “Randy Newman’s Americana,” Popular Music 7, no. 1 (1988), pp. 1-26.

112 Ibid., 1.

113 Kevin Holm-Hudson, “‘Come Sail Away’ and the Commodification of ‘Prog Lite,’”

American Music 23, no. 3 (2005), pp. 377-394.

114 Walter Everett, “A Royal Scam: The Abstruse and Ironic Bop-Rock Harmony of Steely Dan,” Music Theory Spectrum 26, no. 2 (2004), pp. 201-236.

115 Chris McDonald, “Exploring Modal Subversions in Alternative Music,” Popular Music 19, no. 3 (2000), pp. 355-363.

understands heavy metal not as a coherent genre or style, but as a range of artists each related to a particular sub-issue.

One could likewise ask, what of 1990s alternative rock music that does not use the “particular set of harmonic practices” identified by McDonald?116 Or where do the songs not marked by specific American influences sit in Randy

Newman’s oeuvre? These are pedantic, but necessary questions because the authors here are united by a common theme: they always find what they are looking for.

John Covach describes the situation through Pete Townshend: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”117 He argues that traditional forms of analysis did not, in themselves, validate the greatness of selected works, but their

development alongside the German repertoire enhanced notions of a canon. In other words, musicologists would study Mozart, Beethoven or Brahms because established frameworks, such as Schenkerian analysis, were ready for use.

Covach’s argument is directed towards sociological accounts of popular music.118 Just as Schenkerian or other formal analytical tools enhanced the classical canon, a number of scholars treat popular music as a political and social vehicle, an ideal that similarly determines their repertoire. The “new boss” of popular music studies is the same as the “old boss” of classical analysis.

Covach intimates that analysis can solve this problem. That is, not every song can be considered in terms of its political content (i.e. if it is not overtly

political), but any song can be analysed with regards its musical details; thus, he

116 Ibid., 355.

117 The following paragraphs are from John Covach, “We Won’t Get Fooled Again: Rock Music and Musical Analysis,” in Keeping Score: Music, Disciplinarity, Culture, eds. David Schwarz, Anahid Kassabian, and Lawrence Siegel (United States of America: University of Virginia Press, 1997), pp. 75-89.

118 Susan McClary is the object of Covach’s criticism here. See Susan McClary, “Terminal Prestige: The Case of Avant-Garde Music Composition,” Cultural Critique 12, Discursive Strategies and the Economy of Prestige (Spring, 1989), pp. 57-81.

views rock music as providing fertile ground for developing and refining analytical theories.

Unfortunately, Covach’s argument is more idealistic than realistic. As Kaminsky points out, much analytical work has focused on 1960s and 1970s rock, such as The Beatles, Genesis, Frank Zappa and Yes. This is music with a

“degree of structural integrity that can withstand…analytical scrutiny.”119 He jests that Everett has written The Beatles as Musicians but there is yet to appear a scholarly book titled The Backstreet Boys as Musicians.

Even Covach is guilty in this regard; three of his contributions to the literature, two in well-known academic books, have concerned progressive rock.120 Although none are methodologically oriented, he focuses on music suited to Schenkerian analysis, a framework promoted in the aforementioned essay, “We Won’t Get Fooled Again.” When combined with a chapter on 1960s pop121, the comparison of Foreigner and The Cars discussed above, and a delightful essay on Spinal Tap122, it is clear that Covach is interested in analysing music that analyses well. Thus, for all the authors listed above, the “old boss-new boss”

dilemma remains, insofar as their repertoire is determined by their methods or questions.

There is a need for research in which the music dictates the results rather than selecting structurally sound works for analysis, or considering songs that

119 Peter Kaminsky, “Revenge of the Boomers: Notes on the Analysis of Rock Music,” Music Theory Online 6, no. 3 (2000), from

http://www.mtosmt.org/issues/mto.00.6.3/mto.00.6.3.kaminsky_frames.html (accessed 1 June 2011).

120 See John Covach, “Jazz-Rock? Rock-Jazz? Stylistic Crossover in Late-1970s American Progressive Rock,” in Expression in Pop-Rock Music: Critical and Analytical Essays, 2nd ed., ed. Walter Everett (New York: Routledge, 2008), pp. 93-110; John Covach, “Progressive Rock,

‘Close to the Edge,’ and the Boundaries of Style,” in Understanding Rock: Essays in Musical Analysis, eds. John Covach and Graeme M. Boone (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 3-31; and John Covach, “Echolyn and American Progressive Rock,” Contemporary Music Review 18, no. 4 (2000), pp. 13-61.

121 John Covach, “Leiber and Stoller, the Coasters, and the ‘Dramatic AABA’ Form,” in Sounding Out Pop: Analytical Essays in Popular Music, eds. Mark Spicer and John Covach (Ann Arbor, MI.: University of Michigan Press, 2010), pp. 1-17.

122 John Covach, “Stylistic Competencies, Musical Humour and ‘This Is Spinal Tap’,” in Concert Music, Rock, and Jazz Since 1945: Essays and Analytic Studies, eds. Elizabeth West Marvin and Richard Hermann (Rochester, New York: University of Rochester Press, 1995), pp.


conform to a particular issue.123 In doing so, one is better placed to develop a theory, in Temperley’s sense of the word, of a particular style, artist or body of songs. Such an approach also refines analytical methods because one can see when, and why, a particular tool may not be appropriate — for example, is Schenkerian analysis applicable or necessary for Britney Spears as well as The Beatles?