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The Persistence of Sentiment

Display and Feeling in Popular Music of the 1970s

Mitchell Morris

Publication Year: 2013

How can we account for the persistent appeal of glossy commercial pop music? Why do certain performers have such emotional power, even though their music is considered vulgar or second rate? In The Persistence of Sentiment, Mitchell Morris gives a critical account of a group of American popular music performers who have dedicated fan bases and considerable commercial success despite the critical disdain they have endured. Morris examines the specific musical features of some exemplary pop songs and draws attention to the social contexts that contributed to their popularity as well as their dismissal. These artists were all members of more or less disadvantaged social categories: members of racial or sexual minorities, victims of class and gender prejudices, advocates of populations excluded from the mainstream. The complicated commercial world of pop music in the 1970s allowed the greater promulgation of musical styles and idioms that spoke to and for exactly those stigmatized audiences. In more recent years, beginning with the "Seventies Revival" of the early 1990s, additional perspectives and layers of interpretation have allowed not only a deeper understanding of these songs' function than when they were first popular, but also an appreciation of how their significance has shifted for American listeners in the succeeding three decades.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

A book such as this, with a long and idiosyncratic genesis, puts an author in a dilemma: to thank too much or too little. On the theory that perhaps less sometimes really is more, I will thank those whose support has been constant and crucial. First and foremost, let me thank Susan McClary and Robert Walser whose support has been unceasing— ...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-33

I first began looking for ways to write about the artists discussed in this book in the mid-to-late 1990s. The timing matters for a several reasons—a vaguely discernible twenty-year cycle of rubbishing and rehabilitation in much postwar popular culture, for instance; the generational and technological shifts that enabled the appearance of a broader range of values ...

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2. Black Masculinity and the Sound of Wealth: Barry White in the Early 1970s

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pp. 34-58

One early beneficiary of the 1970s revival was the magnificent songwriter, producer, and singer, the late Barry White. A gigantically imposing figure with resonant bass voice to match, White had been absolutely central in the development of disco, one of the 1970s’ hallmark styles, and his music flourished during its years of popularization. ...

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3. Transport and Interiority in Soft Soul

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pp. 59-87

Early on in her prickly, brilliant film Without You I’m Nothing (1990), the comedienne Sandra Bernhard adopts the persona of a black would-be diva thoroughly at home with the players and other ubiquitous habitués of inexpensive cocktail lounges and party clubs. Although there are African American venues that are high-falutin’ and expensively appointed, ...

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4. The Audience and Barry Manilow

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pp. 88-117

On February 5, 2002, Arista Records released Ultimate Manilow, a substantial retrospective album containing Barry Manilow’s greatest hits, mostly from the 1970s.1 Although a number of similar collections had been released during the 1980s and early 1990s, this latest production nevertheless debuted at number three on Billboard’s 200 chart ...

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5. The Voice of Karen Carpenter

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pp. 118-142

In the years of its greatest popularity, the brother-sister duo of Richard and Karen Carpenter never lacked disparagers. The Carpenters and their music brought out nearly as much hostility as attraction among American audiences, whether attributable to the glossy sentimentality that listeners often found in their music, ...

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6. Cher’s “Dark Ladies”: Showbiz Liberation

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pp. 143-172

In June 2002, Cher seemed to be beginning a long adieu to her career as a pop music performer. It was long since time to depart, she thought; as she exclaimed to one audience that protested loudly when she announced her plans, “Give me a frigging break. I’ve been a diva for 40 frigging years. This is the last time I’m going to do this.”1 ...

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7. Crossing Over with Dolly Parton

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pp. 173-208

The 1990s and first decade of this century were an unquiet time for Dolly Parton. She had been a celebrated star, an icon, ever since she moved from the world of country music into mainstream pop in the 1970s, and on into film, television, and related showbiz endeavors in the 1980s; but by the early 1990s Parton’s ground seemed to be shifting beneath her. ...


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pp. 209-230

Works Cited

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pp. 231-240


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pp. 241-248

E-ISBN-13: 9780520955059
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520242852

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2013