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Same Old Song - The Enduring Past in Popular Music

Same Old Song

The Enduring Past in Popular Music

By John Paul Meyers
Series: American Made Music Series

Hardcover : 9781496850867, 256 pages, 6 b&w illustrations, March 2024
Paperback : 9781496850874, 256 pages, 6 b&w illustrations, March 2024

Table of contents

Chapter 1: Twenty Years Ago Today: Tribute Bands and Historical Consciousness in Popular Music
Chapter 2: Yesterdays: Performing the Past Through the Great American Songbook from Ella Fitzgerald to Bob Dylan
Chapter 3: Memories and Standards: Miles Davis and “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” 1963–1970
Chapter 4: Old School: Sampling, Re-Playing, and Re-Hearing the 1970s in Hip-Hop
Chapter 5: “I Just Wanna Go Back, Baby, Back to the Way It Was”: The Past, Activism, and Recent Black Popular Music

How pop music remembers and re-plays sounds from the past


Popular music and its listeners are strongly associated with newness and youth. Young people can stay up late dancing to the latest hits and use cutting-edge technology for listening to and sharing fresh music. Many young people incorporate their devotion to new artists and styles into their own developing personalities. However, if popular music is a genre meant for the youthful, what are listeners to make of the widespread sampling of music from decades-old R&B tracks, sold-out anniversary tours by aging musicians, retrospective box sets of vintage recordings, museum exhibits, and performances by current pop stars invoking music and images of the past?

In Same Old Song: The Enduring Past in Popular Music, John Paul Meyers argues that these phenomena are part of what he calls “historical consciousness in popular music.” These deep relationships with the past are an important but underexamined aspect of how musicians and listeners engage with this key cultural form. In chapters ranging across the landscape of twentieth- and twenty-first-century music, Meyers finds indications of historical consciousness at work in multiple genres. Rock music canonizes its history in tribute performances and museums. Jazz and pop musicians cover tunes from the “Great American Songbook.” Hip-hop and contemporary R&B singers invoke Black popular music from the 1960s and 1970s. Examining the work of influential artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Kanye West, Prince, D’Angelo, and Janelle Monáe, Meyers argues that contemporary artists’ homage to the past is key for understanding how music-lovers make meaning of popular music in the present.


"John Paul Meyers does an excellent job of formulating perceptive analyses of rock, soul, funk, and hip-hop. Same Old Song gives us a new way to understand popular music and the various strands of concepts connected to it."

- Tony Bolden, author of Groove Theory: The Blues Foundation of Funk

"In this compelling, multigenre study, John Paul Meyers teaches us time travel. Or, better, he tells us how much our listening habits comprise it. From tribute bands and the idea of versioning in jazz performances to the aural muscle memory involved in hip-hop sampling and more, Meyers shows how the cult of the new in American popular music is, in truth, the same old song. You’ll never hear your playlists the same way after reading this fresh take!"

- Guthrie P. Ramsey Jr., author of Who Hears Here? On Black Music, Pasts and Present

"Same Old Song is a fascinating book. Wide-ranging and at the same time deep, Meyers uses case studies from across popular music to help us understand why something that seems to be ‘of the moment’ is also deeply imbued with historical consciousness. Highly recommended!"

- Gabriel Solis, professor of ethnomusicology at University of Washington

"Lending a much-needed ethnomusicological perspective to a field largely dominated by theory and outsider analysis, Same Old Song is a valuable book in the study of the relationship between music and its past."

- Caitlin Vaughn Carlos, lecturer at the Herb Alpert School of Music at the University of California, Los Angeles