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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The times they are a-changin : flexible meter and text expression in 1960s and 70s singer-songwriter music Murphy, Nancy Elizabeth


The 1960s and 70s saw the flowering of the singer-songwriter style, which featured acoustic performances by artists who were the composers and lyricists of their own music. Reflecting their culture, their songs carried messages of personal and political significance. But their music is of technical as well as of social interest. Like classical art song, it often highlights lyrical meaning with various sorts of metric irregularities. In this dissertation, I closely analyze twenty-seven songs by Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Joni Mitchell, and Cat Stevens, in order to characterize the metric style of their songwriting and demonstrate their use of meter as an expressive device. To describe meter in this music requires theories more flexible than those usually applied to groove-based music. The analyses in this dissertation draw not only from theories of meter as a hierarchy of beat streams, but also upon theories of metrical process and prosody, in order to create transcriptions, to describe precisely listeners' sensations of meter, and to propose expressive rationales for metric settings. As an introduction to the style and the theoretical issues, Chapter 1 considers the problems of conceiving of meter in the expressively timed context of Mitchell’s “The Fiddle and the Drum.” Chapter 2 examines the existing methods for analyzing meter in music and poetry, in order to find some productive ways to analyze this metrically fluctuant repertoire. Chapter 3 considers transcription as analysis, showing that one's conception of meter informs and constrains musical representation, and therefore interpretations of lyrical meaning. In Chapter 4, I position 1960s and 70s songwriting in its cultural and political environment, reviewing some stylistic precedents to understand their influence, and determine its original metrical techniques. In the remaining analytical chapters, I examine meter-text expression in songs by Simon, Sainte-Marie, and Stevens (Chapter 5), the expression of character and lyrical personae in the narratives of three solo-piano-accompanied songs by Mitchell (Chapter 6), and how Dylan adapted text-expressive metric techniques of earlier genres in a variety of original ways (Chapter 7).

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada