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Songwriting: Listening Examples

Listening Examples


American Popular Song

Beautiful Dreamer: the Songs of Stephen Foster by Stephen Foster
CD 26095  Check Availability
Image:Stephen-Foster.jpg From the publisher:
Foster was the founder of the pop music you hear on your car radio, whether it's jazz, country, rock, or rap, because all of these forms draw on the cross-thatching of traditions that Foster first joined into a single stream of American music nearly 150 years ago. This interesting collection of Foster songs by an assortment of country, folk, and pop performers points out how versatile (and how exceedingly lovely) these pieces continue to be.
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The George and Ira Gershwin Songbook by George and Ira Gershwin
CD 9504-9506  Check Availability
Image:George-&-Ira.jpg From the publisher:
The Gershwins' continuing appeal is demonstrated on this 20-track collection of recordings from the '50s and '60s, which features Benny Goodman, Julie Andrews, Perry Como, the Ames Brothers, and other stars of the era.
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The Coasters' Greatest Hits songs pred. by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller
CD 2720  Check Availability
Image:The-coasters.jpg From the publisher:
The Coasters were one of the few artists in rock history to successfully straddle the line between music and comedy. Their undeniably funny lyrics and on-stage antics might have suggested a simple troupe of clowns, but Coasters records were no mere novelties -- their material, supplied by the legendary team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, was too witty, their arrangements too well-crafted, and the group itself too musically proficient. That engaging and infectious combination made them one of the most popular early R&B/rock & roll acts, as well as one of the most consistently entertaining doo wop/vocal groups of all time.
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Music by Carole King
CD 4645  Check Availability
Image:Carole-King-Music.jpg From the publisher:
After years as one of the most prolific and successful songwriters in pop music, Carole King emerged in the '70s with Tapestry, an album that catapulted her to the forefront of the singer/songwriter movement. While she had mined her back catalog for that album, she relied more heavily on songs written with new collaborator Toni Stern for Music. While these songs lyrically lack the simplistic beauty of Gerry Goffin-penned tunes, the melodies are very strong and Carole King adds some nice texture to her piano-based tunes with the tasteful percussion of Bobbye Hall.
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Back to Mono (1958-1969) by Phil Spector
CD 13444-13447  Check Availability
Image:Phil-spector.jpg From the publisher:
Among producers, his name remains the simile of choice. If some hotshot studio whiz emerges in, say, hip-hop, he's inevitably labeled "the Phil Spector of rap." That's quite a statement given that decades have passed since this boy from the Bronx remodeled rock & roll to suit his own visions of grandeur. The story of the girl-group auteur is a fascinating one. Spector composed a No. 1 hit at 17 (the Teddy Bears' "To Know Him Is to Love Him," its title inspired by the inscription on his father's tombstone). By 19 he was head of A&R for Atlantic Records. By the time he was 22, he'd founded his own label (Philles) and was churning out Wall of Sound hits at an unprecedented clip.
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A Cellarful of Motown: the Rarest Detroit Grooves by Various Artists
CD 21462-21463  Check Availability
Image:Cellarfull-of-motown.jpg From the publisher:
The third volume in the fantastic collection series curated by Paul Nixon. He retrieves the best lost Motown tracks from the vaults of Hitsville, U.S.A., dusts them off, digitizes and cleans them up for release. Some have appeared on bootlegs and many are revered by Northern Soul collectors, but most will be new to most people. Motown's quality control back in the day was par excellence and even songs that were previously dismissed by the label brass or withheld from release can be considered long lost gems all these years later.
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The Stax Story 
CD 18739-18742  Check Availability
Image:The-Stax-Story.jpg From the publisher:
The Stax Story' brings together most of the company's biggest selling singles along with a well-chosen sampling of rarities and an entire disc of live recordings made around the world, including a couple of previously unissued gems. The 4 discs trace the evolution of a truly American style from the exquisite simplicity of the firm's early output through the often-lavish innovations of the later years. In addition to its 98 scorching selections, box set includes a richly illustrated booklet featuring the commentary of Rob Bowman, Stax historian & author of the award-winning Soulsville U.S.A.
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America's Blue Yodeler, 1930-1931 by Jimmie Rogers
CD 10497  Check Availability
Image:America's-Blue-Yodeler,-1930-1931.jpg From the publisher:
By 1930, Rodgers had hit his commercial peak. By adding to mountain music hints of jazz, blues, and cowboy music he'd picked up while working the trains, he'd broken new ground, and his popularity gave him many options in the studio. Two installments of his "Blue Yodel" series are included here: No. 8, which became "Muleskinner Blues" and No. 9, with the unlikely husband-wife team of Louis and Lil Armstrong
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The Original Singles Collection, Plus by Hank Williams
CD 18843 - 18845  Check Availability
Image:Hank-Williams.jpg From the publisher:
This three-CD, 84-song indoctrination to The Basic Hank may not actually offer all of Hank's singles (it's missing most of his Luke the Drifter tunes, and his duets with Audrey), but it goes a long way to explain why Williams was country's first big legend and a superstar by 25. And with the good-natured wink of "Hey, Good Lookin," the Cajun spice of "Jambalaya," and the donkey's bray of "Honky Tonkin'," Williams shows that he could balance his melancholia with upbeat songs of joy. Whatever his subject matter, however, Hank's aim was always for the heart. As these songs attest, he rarely missed.
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The Chess Box by Willy Dixon
CD 5940-5941  Check Availability
Image:The-Chess-Box.jpg From the publisher:
Best known for his work as a songwriter, producer, and talent scout, singer-bassist Willie Dixon essentially built Chicago's Cobra and Chess labels with his sweat. Although this double-disc set does include five performances by the man from Vicksburg, Mississippi, himself, it's really a testament to his songwriting prowess, packed with recordings that made his tunes classics of blues and early rock & roll.
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Library of Congress Recordings by Woody Guthrie
CD 7504-7506  Check Availability
Image:Woody-guthrie.jpg From the publisher:
In was in March 1940 that Alan Lomax, then a young folklorist at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., brought Woody Guthrie into a recording studio at the Department of the Interior. What emerged from three days of sessions is one of the purest documents of Americana ever released. Originally appearing as a three-LP set, this collection of "songs and conversation" features Guthrie classics such as "Do Re Mi," "Pretty Boy Floyd," "They Laid Jesus Christ in His Grave," and "I Ain't Got No Home."
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Suddenly it's the Hi-Lo's: Harmony in Jazz arr. by Gene Puerling
CD 28576  Check Availability
Image:Gene-puerling.jpg From the publisher:
Suddenly It's the Hi-Lo's is a studio album from 1957, and Harmony in Jazz represents a retrospective from 1980 -- this Collectables release is nevertheless a superior introduction to one of the premier vocal harmony quartets of the postwar era.
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Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys featuring Brian Wilson
CD 12773-12777  Check Availability
Image:The-beach-boys.jpg From the publisher:
From "Surfin'" to "Kokomo," the first four discs of this box chart the Beach Boys' inimitable 30-year course. Here are all the hits and key album tracks, and an assortment of unreleased material that illuminates Brian Wilson and company's immense contribution to the development of pop music. (Especially fascinating are the assembled fragments from Wilson's abandoned 1966 masterwork, Smile.) A fifth disc features demos, radio spots, live tracks, and studio goodies for the hardcore fan. The set confirms Brian's hardworking genius, but also gives each member his due, especially the late Carl Wilson. Rock & roll music grew up with the Beach Boys, and this box is rock's best family album.
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The Beatles, 1967-1970 featuring John Lennon & Paul McCartney
CD 13407-13408  Check Availability
Image:The-beatles.jpg From the publisher:
Even as the Beatles began heading toward an inevitable breakup, their prolific ways continued; this two-disc look back only skims the surface of their later achievements. Excerpts from Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour, the white album, Abbey Road, and Let It Be compete for space with classic singles that do as much or more to prove their eclecticism: the epic ballad "Hey Jude," the plaintive "Strawberry Fields Forever," straight rock & roll of all stripes from the plainspoken "Revolution" and "Get Back" to the surreal "Come Together." Decades after the split, this set remains a favored introduction for young listeners and a key sampler for veteran fans.
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Bringing It All Back Home by Bob Dylan
CD 2296  Check Availability
Image:Bringing-it-all-back-home.jpg From the publisher:
"You sound like you're having a good old time," a purist Dylan fan is spotted telling the artist in the documentary Don't Look Back just after the release of this, his first (half-)electric album. He certainly does. Updating Chicago blues forms with hilarious, tough lyrics--in fact, all but stealing the meter of Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business" for "Subterranean Homesick Blues"--on one side, dropping some of his most devastating solo acoustic science on the other, the first of Dylan's two 1965 long-players broke it right down with style, substance, and elegance.
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Bridge over troubled water featuring Paul Simon
CD 4856  Check Availability
Image:Bridge-over-troubled-water.jpg From the publisher:
No one can say Simon & Garfunkel went out with a whimper. The popular duo's 1970 swan song produced four hit singles and won six Grammy awards, including Record, Album, and Song of the Year. An involving mix of sweeping epics and breezy throwaways, Bridge was one of the most popular albums of its era. What's particularly striking about this collection is how brightly lesser-acclaimed songs like "So Long Frank Lloyd Wright" and the gorgeous "The Only Living Boy in New York" shine.
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Listening examples of American popular song and hip-hop


The Best of Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel & the Furious Five by Grandmaster Flash
CD 27675  Check Availability
Image:The-Best-of-Grandmaster-Flash.jpg From the publisher:
Is there a rap fan out there who didn't like "The Message"? It took rap in an entirely new direction: while others were content to ride the "Double Dutch Bus" down to the disco, the Furious Five spoke out about social decay. The chorus of "The Message" ("Don't push me, 'cause I'm close to the edge / I'm trying not to lose my head / Sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from going under") describes the effect of Reaganomics in ways that Dan Rather never could. Of course, Grandmaster Flash and company weren't against partying. In fact, they cut some of the best party tracks in the genre's history ("Freedom," "The Birthday Party"), along with some battle raps ("Step Off," "Showdown") to complete the package.
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Looking for the Perfect Beat: 1980-1985 by Afrika Bambaataa
CD 20322  Check Availability
Image:Afrika-bambaataa.jpg From the publisher:
As celebrated as Afrika Bambaataa has been, until now his music has remained scattered across disparate collections. That's what makes Looking for the Perfect Beat such a welcome release. Collecting 11 of Bam's sides on one CD, the album neatly summarizes his seminal studio recordings, beginning with both versions of 1980's true-school grail, "Zulu Nation Throwdown," and ending with 1985's "Funk You." The tracks are all restored to their uncut full-length 12-inch mixes.
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The Sugar Hill Records Story by Busy Bee
CD 10273-10277  Check Availability
Image:Sugar-hill.jpg‎ Easily the two most overused words in music criticism are essential and classic. That said, this five-CD box set is all that and a bag of chips to boot. Back in the late 1970s, the small Sugar Hill Records label changed the nature of the rap genre with the music, made with a live band, that they released--and the beats still sound on point today:
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The Hip Hop Box 
CD 25790-25793  Check Availability
Image:The-Hip-Hop-Box.jpg From the publisher:
Who knew that "Rapper's Delight" would kick-start the most thorough alteration of pop culture since rock & roll itself? Marking 25 years of commercial hip-hop recording, this four-CD set gathers dozens of key tracks for connoisseurs of every age. In fascinating fashion, it brings together early strains of party rap, gangsta styles, and socially conscious lyrics from a time when they happily coexisted, while showing a convincing grasp of later developments.
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Radio by LL Cool J
CD 10648  Check Availability
Image:Radio.jpg From the publisher:
Although just a teenager at the time of this recording, LL booms with shocking authority on tracks like "I Can't Live Without My Radio" and "I Need a Beat." Rick Rubin completes the soundscape with Def Jam's early signature arena-rock guitar strangulations and mechanical drum fills. LL's bravado and vocal presence--despite the imperfect production on the CD and the juvenilia of "You Can't Dance" and "I Want You"--remain inescapable on Radio.
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Raising Hell by Run-DMC
CD 10348  Check Availability
Image:Raising-Hell.jpg From the publisher:
Run-DMC's 1986 rap masterpiece, Raising Hell, storms out of the musical gate. One of the albums that defined the transition from the old school to the new school, with its heavy rhyme sequences layered on top of drum-machine beats, and an assortment of pulse-quickening record stabs thrown in for good measure, it's relentless. The late-'80s lyricism of MCs Run and DMC is not as complex as that of today's microphone mathematicians, but that was never the point--what they lack in finesse, they more than make up in intensity, authority, and flat-out lung power
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It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy
CD 194  Check Availability
Image:Public-enemy.jpg From the publisher:
It Takes a Nation of Millions was the sign that hip-hop had exploded like a grenade. A rap record as abrasive, hardcore, and eloquent as a JFK speech, the 1988 disc is one classic track after another: tense, multilayered, harmonically wild music. Chuck D. declaims like a master preacher with foil Flavor Flav's voice darting around his. They've got the desperate energy of people fighting for their lives, and everything from their pumped-up rhetoric ("Prophets of Rage") to the group's quasi-paramilitary organization to the sirens and sax squeals in nearly every track declares how urgent their mission is.
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3 Feet High and Rising by De La Soul
CD 17026  Check Availability
Image:3-Feet-High-and-Rising.jpg From the publisher:
De La's debut represented a new path for hip-hop, a reaction to conventions that had turned into clichés. It was friendly and playful enough to cross over to a pop audience, but complicated and tough enough to be hugely influential in the hip-hop world. Cryptic but ecstatic, and sometimes sexy, Trugoy and Posdnuos's lyrics invented a "new style of speak," dense with self-invented slang and metaphors.
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Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'em by MC Hammer
CD 368  Check Availability
Image:Please-Hammer-Don't-Hurt-'em.jpg From the publisher:
In hip-hop, respect is like currency, and by the mid-'90s MC Hammer was as bereft of props as he was of cash. But there was a short period in the early '90s when every clock in the land read "Hammer time," and truth be told, he was the artist who introduced a lot of kids to hip-hop and its many possibilities. The driving force behind Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em, of course, is the irrepressible single "U Can't Touch This," built on the central riff from Rick James's immortal "Super Freak."
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The Chronic by Dr. Dre
CD 15090  Check Availability
Image:The-Chronic.jpg From the publisher:
The Chronic's real genius is the music. By breeding hip-hop, jazz (studio instrumentation includes saxophones and flutes), funk, and soul (sampled artists include Parliament, Donny Hathaway, and Isaac Hayes), Dre creates downright intoxicating grooves. If you can't feel The Chronic pulsating through your veins, maybe your heart's not pumping.
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Midnight Marauders by A Tribe Called Quest
CD 10425  Check Availability
Image:Midnight-Marauders.jpg From the publisher:
With so many competent tracks, there's no chance for something to stand out above the pack, like "Scenario" did on Low End Theory or "Can I Kick It" did on People's Instinctive Travels. The celebration is there, the jazz drums kick, and the stand-up bass dribbles, keeping perfect pace with Q-Tip's unmistakable mic-touch. There's even a Native Tongues armistice/reunion with De La Soul. Although it comes together like a seamless tutorial in jazz hip-hop style, it comes together so damn well that it's hard for any one track to excel, cursing the album with consistent quality.
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CD 1317  Check Availability
Image:Doggystyle.jpg From the publisher:
Produced by the infamous Dr. Dre with assistance from Mr. Suge Knight, Doggy Style was the first solo outing by Calvin Broadus a.k.a. Snoop Doggy Dog. Incorporating a straight gangsta vibe into the deep funk grooves pioneered by George Clinton and his Parliament-Funkadelic ensemble, Snoop and Dre dogmatically invent the "G-Funk" aesthetic. Espousing an irreverent dope, bitches, and guns mentality, Doggy Style garnered the Parental Advisory for explicit lyrics it sorely deserved. Still, Snoop's lazy-yet-acrobatic rap/drawl is distinctive and undeniably entertaining.
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All Eyez On Me by Tupac Shakur
CD 9246-9247  Check Availability
Image:All-eyez-on-me.jpg From the publisher:
Simultaneously serving as both endless fodder for intellectual debates and the album most likely to be blaring out of the adjacent car's window, All Eyez on Me is a phenomenon that packs a wallop with every listen. Recording commenced within hours of Tupac Shakur's release from prison, and a year's worth of pent-up ideas are unleashed with a fury akin to lifting the lid on a box of plutonium. The line between high art and insufferable reality, possibilities and self-destruction, has never been so blurred.
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Wu-Tang Forever by the Wu-Tang Clan
CD 10512- 10513  Check Availability
Image:Wu-Tang-Forever.jpg From the publisher:
By this long-delayed, massively anticipated album, the Wu had become less a crew than a small country, with dozens of central and auxiliary members, and rap styles so twisted they seem like another, private language. Without even a hint of anything for radio or casual listeners to latch onto, Wu-Tang Forever sprawls out for nearly two hours, and--taken as pure sound--it's about the most avant-garde No. 1 album ever, with deliberately bizarre production and relentless torrents of cryptic, furious words.
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Life After Death by Notorious B.I.G.
CD 10123-10124  Check Availability
Image:Life-After-Death.jpg From the publisher:
The King of Brooklyn, Biggie Smalls, busted through with an instant hip-hop classic on his first album, Ready to Die, but he outdid even his standard on Life After Death, an audible, posthumous autobiography about the life of the former dope dealer. The album also serves as a testament to Biggie's flexibility: he adopts Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's rapid rhyme flow and Midwestern beats when they guest on "Notorious Thugs," he positively bounces on both "Mo Money Mo Problems" and "Going Back to Cali", and even kicks it Wu-Tang style when RZA shows up for "Long Kiss Goodnight."
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When Disaster Strikes by Busta Rhymes
CD 12007  Check Availability
Image:When-disaster-strikes.jpg From the publisher:
Busta Rhymes opens his second album with a ridiculous monologue predicting global destruction before the year 2000. From mellow to wild, over an eclectic mix of samples that range from Seals & Croft to KC & the Sunshine Band to Henri Mancini. Sean "Puffy" Combs produces a track called "The Body Rock" that sounds like an old-school Tribe Called Quest cut, while Erykah Badu helps Busta forget the rampant sexism and violence for a minute as the unlikely duo gets spiritual on "One."
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Hard Knock Life, Vol. 2 by Jay-Z
CD 14086-14087  Check Availability
Image:Hard-knock-life.jpg From the publisher:
Jay-Z had established himself as a savvy, street-smart rapper on those two records, but with "Hard Knock Life" he decides to shoot for crossover territory, for better and for worse. At his best, he shows no fear -- witness how the title track shamelessly works a Broadway showstopper from Annie into a raging ghetto cry, yet keeps it smooth enough for radio.
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Hello Nasty by the Beastie Boys
CD 13752  Check Availability
Image:Hello-nasty.jpg From the publisher:
Hello Nasty, the Beastie Boys' fifth album, is a head-spinning listen loaded with analog synthesizers, old drum machines, call-and-response vocals, freestyle rhyming, futuristic sound effects, and virtuoso turntable scratching. The Beasties have long been notorious for their dense, multi-layered explosions, but Hello Nasty is their first record to build on the multi-ethnic junk culture breakthrough of Check Your Head, instead of merely replicating it.
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