A3. Rice, R.E. (1980). The content of popular recordings. The Journal of Popular Music and Society, 7(3), 140-158.


A previous paper (Rice, 1978) discussed how the mass medium of popular recordings may perform many of the social and cultural functions associated with other mass media. It has also been argued, as does Gerber in his studies of TV’s symbolic content (1972, 1976), that the content of a mass medium can be considered indicators of our cultural and symbolic environment. As such indicators, popular recording lyrics might be analyzed to speculate upon 1) the images of the dominate (sub)cultures in a society, or 2) what popular imagery reveals about various issues.  In changing images, recurrent sets appear. Specific popular recordings are similar to the day’s news or a TV series in that those played on the radio change from day to day; they underscore change, impermanence, and spontaneity. At the same time the symbolic presence of Chuck Berry, Walter Cronkite, Ann Landers, westerns and love songs remains constant and provides security and counter-balances to the rapid changes in our social surroundings.

As for mass appeal, over $2 billion were spent on all records and tapes (of which our categories of popular music were a large portion) in 1972, not including the $150 million committed to concert attendance. This figure grew to $2.7 billion in 1976 (Chapple and Garofalo, 1977) and to nearly $4 billion in 1978. These figures can be compared to $600 million spent on professional sports and $1.6 billion in movie revenues in 1976. Over 50 pop music stars were earning form two to five million dollars per year in 1972 (Atkin, 1973), while a year later, CBS Records group accounted for 20 percent of CBS’ total sales (Chapple and Garofalo, 1977). The growing interconnections among film, TV, record and radio business are particularly underscored by the media activities of stars such as John Travolta.

This paper will review the previous content analysis of popular recordings, and include new research, in an effort to acquire a sense of the direction, content and span of the symbolic indicators of this mass medium.

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