Comparative Literature | Lyrics and Popular Culture
C251 | 12013 | D. Hertz
Meets: TR 4:00 pm - 5:15 pm
Fulfills A&H and CS requirements
The course will explore all sorts of popular songs, from the late-
nineteenth century to now. We will mostly concentrate on the great
American songwriters, including such as figures as Irving Berlin,
Jerome Kern, W.C. Handy, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Hoagy
Carmichael, George Gershwin, Harold Arlen, and Frank Loesser. We
will also consider later figures such as The Beatles, Stevie Wonder,
Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen. We will periodically move abroad
to study French, Italian, Argentine, Brazilian and Mexican songs.
Our target in all cases is the same: the varied phenomena of how
words and music come together in the hybrid art form we call the
popular song. At times we will concentrate on the culture that
produced the song, and its means of production and distribution.
Most of the time, we will focus close attention on the work of the
lyricist or the composer. Sometimes we will discover that they are
the same person. The great Cole Porter is a case in point, and
Irving Berlin is another fine example. At other times, we will focus
on a great performer, such as Piaf or Sinatra. Or we will discover
that the performer and creator are sometimes the same person, as in
the case of Jacques Brel, the Beatles, or Springsteen. Lyrics will
be analyzed in relation to the musical structures and as poetry
too. Most important will be to study the popular song as a complete
art form, using both words and music. Emphasis will be on the 30s
through the 50s, but there will be very recent song material as well.
No prerequisites. Varied levels of training in music and poetry are
expected from the students in the class. Independent projects will
be designed to fit the level of each student. Classes will be a
mixture of lecture and discussion. There will be some live
performance, and some recordings. Attendance is required.
Assignments: there will be two short papers, or the first paper can
be expanded into a final paper (the two written projects can be
interrelated). Two tests (midterm and final).
Required Texts (subject to change):
-Stephen Citron, Songwriting.
-Phil Furia, Poets of Tin Pan Alley
-Will Friedwald, Stardust Melodies
-D.M. Hertz, ed., Songbook I (essays, lyrics, scores) available at
-Oncourse materials and other short readings to be assigned during