Interpreting songs: Notes on methodology

Sarah Dayens

in Time and Memory in Reggae Music

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780719076213
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781702116 | DOI:
Interpreting songs: Notes on methodology

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This chapter reflects on a very simple question: how do sociologists of music analyse songs and interpret lyrics? In the 1950s and 1960s, the analysis of lyrics was the principal activity of sociologists of popular music in the United States: they worked on the songs themselves, and were not concerned with the artists or their audiences. Popular music has often been the soundtrack of protest movements, if only because it represents the people as opposed to the elite: blues, rock, folk, soul, reggae, rap and so on are all musical styles that affirm a ‘different’ identity, even when they do not maintain a strong tie with social or political movements nor transmit an ideological message through their lyrics. Love songs still form the majority of the music charts, and this is true for reggae as well. An analysis of reggae charts in Jamaica shows this quantitative domination. The chapter offers an analysis in terms of meaning – without categorising semantic vehicles – and based on a corpus of songs that includes, but goes beyond, Bob Marley.

Keywords: reggae; lyrics; popular music; love songs; Jamaica; Bob Marley; music charts

Chapter.  6981 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies

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