Critical Music Review

“The power of music to integrate and cure. . . is quite fundamental. It is the profoundest nonchemical medication.”- Oliver Sacks

Sources and Documentation

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The assignment for this unit is to write a critical review of a musical contribution to the human rights movement. Again, you must research your selection to evaluate its critical reception and its impact. Consult books, databases, and scholarly articles online; avoid fan sites, blogs, and commercial sites.

Be sure you cite the work reviewed properly. Use this format to cite a song: List the person associated with the song whose work you are concentrating on (performer, conductor, band, or composer, for example). Then give the title of the song in quotations. If it is part of a longer work (album, CD, etc), give that title in italics. Then give the manufacturer of the recording (record label) and date of release. If you get the song from the Internet include that publication information in the citation. Helpful links

Use hanging indent and double space (Canvas failed to retain formatting for some samples).

Samples of songs or albums (Instructions and examples are excerpted from Purdue University OWL (Links to an external site.)
(Links to an external site.)

Music can be cited multiple ways. Mainly, this depends on the container that you accessed the music from. Generally, citations begin with the artist name. They might also be listed by composers or performers. Otherwise, list composer and performer information after the album title. Put individual song titles in quotation marks. Album names are italicized. Provide the name of the recording manufacturer followed by the publication date.

If information such as record label or name of album is unavailable from your source, do not list that information.


Rae Morris. “Skin.” Cold, Atlantic Records, 2014, Spotify,

Online Album

Beyoncé. “Pray You Catch Me.” Lemonade, Parkwood Entertainment, 2016,


Nirvana. “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Nevermind, Geffen, 1991.

Here’s are a few more examples:

Marley, Bob. “Crisis.” Bob Marley and the Wailers. Kava Island, 1978.

Sample song on the Internet:

Seeger, Pete. “O Mary, Don’t You Weep.” American Favorite Ballads. Smithsonian Folkways Recording, Smithsonian Institution, 2016. .

Sample of a video online:

Rage Against the Machine. “Searching for the Ghost of Tom Joad.” YouTube, 29 Sept. 2006, uploaded by Ivan Zeljkovic.,

Sample review of an album (See instructions for Literature Review for more information on citing reviews) :

Ringen, Jonathan. Review of Bruce Springsteen: We Shall Overcome—the Seeger Sessions. Rolling Stone, 19 May 2006. (Links to an external site.)
(Links to an external site.)

Sample interviews (Instructions and examples are excerpted from Purdue University OWL (Links to an external site.)
(Links to an external site.)

Published Interviews (Print or Broadcast):

List the interview by the full name of the interviewee. If the name of the interview is part of a larger work like a book, a television program, or a film series, place the title of the interview in quotation marks. Place the title of the larger work in italics. If the interview appears as an independent title, italicize it. For books, include the author or editor name after the book title.

Note: If the interview from which you quote does not feature a title, add the descriptor, Interview by (unformatted) after the interviewee’s name and before the interviewer’s name.

Gaitskill, Mary. Interview with Charles Bock. Mississippi Review, vol. 27, no. 3, 1999, pp. 129-50.

Amis, Kingsley. “Mimic and Moralist.” Interviews with Britain’s Angry Young Men, By Dale Salwak, Borgo P, 1984.

Online-only Published Interviews:

List the interview by the name of the interviewee. If the interview has a title, place it in quotation marks. Cite the remainder of the entry as you would other exclusive web content. Place the name of the website in italics, give the publisher name (or sponsor), the publication date, and the URL.

Note: If the interview from which you quote does not feature a title, add the descriptor Interview by (unformatted) after the interviewee’s name and before the interviewer’s name.

Zinkievich, Craig. Interview by Gareth Von Kallenbach. Skewed & Reviewed, 27 Apr. 2009, Accessed 15 Mar. 2009.

Here’s another example:

Springsteen, Bruce. “On Jersey, Masculinity and Wishing to Be His Stage Persona.” Interview with Terry Gross, Fresh Air, NPR, 5 Oct. 2016.

Purpose, Focus, and Suggested Approaches for the Assignment

“Does music change the world or does the world change music?” Arlo Guthrie (I think). In virtually every movement for social change music is used to challenge the status quo and to inspire followers. Music of marginalized or oppressed people strengthens their cultural identity, lifts their spirits, and ultimately contributes to recognition of their rights. For this unit, you will select a musician or a body of musical work that relates to economic justice and write an analysis of the work.

One approach to this assignment is to consider the way that music unites people, even as they are oppressed or marginalized by the dominant society. For example, you might review a body of indigenous music; music preserves cultural identify, just as art and stories do, and may emerge as a powerful force for social justice for minority cultures. One of the most influential musical genres grew out of the pain suffered by the African American slaves. Included in this category are spirituals that raised hopes for a better world to come, work songs that lifted their spirits when their bodies were physically exhausted, and freedom songs specially coded to protest their enslavement. A tremendous variety of folk music also often expresses the travails of economically marginalized people, as does the music of immigrant communities. The music of various downtrodden people appeals across class lines and contributes to the empathic growth necessary for economic justice.

Another approach is to focus on music that is intentionally created to support demands for economic justice. The antislavery crusade, for example, produced some early-day protest music. Later in the 19th century, the labor union movement organized to the tune of some powerful music. In the 20th century the music of the Depression decade served both to express the pain of those left impoverished and to demand social change. As the movement for economic justice merged with demands for equality, once again music played an organizing and inspiring role in the civil rights movement. In our own times, popular musicians often raise their voices to protest economic injustice in the global economy. For your specific research, you may prefer to focus on a specific performer, musical piece, or genre.

Suggested Resources

Some general references that may help you focus your research include 33Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs from Billie Holiday to Green Day by Dorian Lynskey; Rebel Music: Human Rights, Resistant Sounds, and the Politics of Music Making edited by Daniel Fischili and Ajay Heble; Eileen Southern’s The Music of Black Americans, Ron Ayerman and Andrew Jamison’s Music and Social Movements: Mobilizing Traditions in the 20th Century; and Dick Weissman’s Whose Side are You On: An Inside History of the Folk Music Revival in America.

One of the best sources for exploring folk music is Smithsonian Folkways,
(Links to an external site.)
. This site includes indigenous music, songs from the civil rights era, union organizing music, etc. You can listen to samples and download entire songs and albums.

Of course, music has always been an energizing and unifying force, originally memorized and passed on from generation to generation. With the development of the same relatively cheap printing processes that made the antislavery movement possible, sheet music was circulated and played in homes as well as at public meetings. Then as the recording industry took off in the 20th century and radio became popular, music became an even more ubiquitous presence in modern life and a driving force in popular culture.

Early collections of antislavery songs include Maria Weston Chapman’s Songs of the Free, and Hymns of Christian Freedom, George Clark’s The Liberty Minstrel, and William Wells Brown’s The Anti-Slavery Harp; all of these are available online. In addition you may want to check out the Hutchinson Family Singers, one of the earliest “pop music” groups who used their celebrity to sing out against slavery. African American spirituals were first collected by Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Army Life in a Black Regiment, and published after the Civil War. The best collection of recordings of African and African American music is probably Harry Belafonte’s The Long Road to Freedom: An Anthology of Black Music.

There are many approaches that you might take to the study of folk music and union organizing songs. Early social protest ballads from England include “The Diggers’ Song,” “The Triumph of General Ludd,” “Black Leg Miner,” and “The Factory Bell.” Some of these songs have been recorded on the album The Iron Muse: A Panorama of Industrial Folk Music. In the US the most radical labor union of the late 19th and early 20th century, the Industrial Workers of the World, produced the “Little Red Songbook” to energize their meetings. Labor organizer and songwriter Joe Hill contributed such songs as “Preacher and the Slave,” “Rebel Girl,” and “There is Power in the Union.” One of the best known labor songs from the 1920s is “Bread and Roses.”

The Depression decade spawned a new generation of economic protest songs, such as those of Aunt Molly Jackson, Josh White, and Woody Guthrie. Many of these old songs have been recorded by Pete Seeger, and he has added a number of his own to the list. Unfortunately during the 1950s the anti-communist hysteria led to investigations and persecutions of musicians whose politics had been identified as leftist. Although many continued to write and perform, their work was excluded for a time from the mainstream media. Paul Robeson and Pete Seeger were among the most famous victims.

The decades of the 1960s and 1970s was an especially fertile time for protest music, as civil rights advocates united in singing their unofficial anthem, “We Shall Overcome,” and issues of economic justice were tied to the antiwar movement. Bob Dylan’s music became iconic of the era; other important voices include Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, and Marvin Gaye.

If you are interested in studying the impact of a specific genre of music, you may want to look at social justice messages that sometimes show up in Reggae (Bob Marley is especially interesting), rhythm and blues (going back to Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter), jazz, rock, punk (Black Flag), alternative, hip-hop, and rap (Stop the Violence Movement). Almost every possible form of music has been used to mobilize for social change.

If you are interested in the contemporary music scene, you may want to look at the way some musicians use their celebrity to call attention to social and economic justice issues. For example, Bono of U2 has been especially engaged in the campaign to address the problems caused by Third World debt. Peter Gabriel used music to mobilize opposition to apartheid in South Africa and continues to be involved in the human rights movement. Another possible approach is to look at concerts like Farm Aid staged to foster awareness of economic and social problems in rural America.

The long list of musicians and bands who have written songs and engaged in political activism also include Tracy Chapman, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, 10,000 Maniacs, Patti Smith, Rage Against the Machine, Ani Di Franco, R.E.M., Tom Waits, Pearl Jam, Beastie Boys, Steve Earle, Eminem, and the list could go on and on ……… Have fun exploring all the possibilities!

Suggested issues to consider:

What song titles are reviewed?
Who are the artists involved in writing, performing and producing the music?
What are their backgrounds? What were their aims and motives in producing the music?
What was the historical and cultural context for the music?
Interpret the meaning and impact of the lyrics.
What instruments are used?
In what ways do the lyrics, rhythms, instrumentations, etc. appeal to the emotions of the audience?
How was the music performed and circulated?
What was its intended audience?
How did the general public receive it? How did music critics respond?
Evaluate its impact on public opinion and social change.
Relate the music to course lectures and discussions

Again it is not sufficient merely to summarize the work; you must research its reception and evaluate its impact on issues of economic rights and social justice.

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