History Professor Shuffle

The History Professor Shuffle III: Professor Hardin

Today we continue with our third installment of “The History Professor Shuffle.” This time, Professor Hardin explains what her shuffle came up with.

I’ve had iTunes since my mom gave me an iPod as a gift for starting grad school. At the time I had a 5-CD changer (and before that mixtapes my friends made by recording songs off the radio). While writing my master’s thesis and studying for the preliminary qualifying exams, I made an iTunes playlist for reading and one for writing in which the songs either didn’t have lyrics or were in Portuguese, since I don’t speak it and wouldn’t get distracted. I’ve added a few new albums since then, but still have mostly older ones.

1) Cocteau Twins, “Cherry-Coloured Funk” (1990)

The Cocteau Twins came up since I copied four of their CDs onto iTunes. It’s beautiful music that I put on the reading playlist since you often can’t understand what the vocalist is singing, which is their intentional effect. They were popular amongst my friends in college at UT–Austin.

Historical connection: Wikipedia says the singing style resembles traditions of speaking in tongues.

2) Lucinda Williams, “Essence” (2001)

I have all of her CDs. This song comes from a more recent one. She was the first musician I ever saw live when I was back in high school. La Zona Rosa was one of the few music venues that had all-ages shows. Her father was a poet and you can tell the influence in her lyrics.

Historical connection: The song is about drug addiction, which is definitely a wide-spread historical phenomenon.

3) Baaba Maal, “Demgalam” (1989)

He is one of the few major Senegalese artists who consistently sings in Pulaar more than Wolof.

Historical connection: The title, also spelled “demngalam,” means “my language,” and thus asserts pride in the Pulaar language and in Fulbe (Fulani) identity, which is based in part on pastoralism. My album’s version has a cow mooing at the end! Even though as a historian of Africa I don’t like to say this, I have to admit that agropastoralism has been fundamental to life in the Sahel “for thousands of years.” Today people still make it work, despite many challenges, just as they dealt with other changes in the past.

4) Raï’n’B Fever (113, Mohamed Lamine & Magic System), “Un Gaou a Oran” (2004)

Raï and Zouk were popular in France a few years ago.

Historical connection: Watch the music video. Isn’t it obvious? I could tell you, but it might take a while. There’s so much to say! Note the soccer match on TV and the magic teapot.

5) Caetano Veloso, “O Leãozinho” (1977)

A beautiful Brazilian song.

Historical connection: I don’t know. Let’s ask Professor Silvia Shannon!

The History Professor Shuffle II: Professor Dubrulle

This post is the second installment in our ongoing feature, the History Professor Shuffle, in which we ask a professor from the History Department to put his or her  playlist on shuffle and then explain what’s going on with the first five songs that come up. This time around, it’s Professor Dubrulle who has to explain himself.

Because it cost money, I didn’t get in the habit of using iTunes. Instead, I use Spotify (which my thirteen-year-old son says is for “losers”). If you don’t get the premium service (which also costs money—do you see a pattern here?), and you don’t have wifi, your Spotify playlist goes automatically into shuffle mode. I created one playlist consisting of 614 songs which amounts, apparently, to 41 hours and 27 minutes of music. I went into shuffle mode, and this is what I picked up.

1) The Pretenders, “My City Was Gone” (1983)

When I was in high school, The Pretenders were not cool the way other bands were: the Violent Femmes (who have dropped off the face of the earth since then),  U2, (remember, this was a long time ago), Def Leppard (our school had an official “smoker’s corner,” and everybody there listened to Def Leppard), or the Talking Heads (required listening for everybody who wanted to look like an intellectual). The Pretenders were never my favorite band in the way that, say, The Clash or Led Zeppelin at different times were my favorite bands. But I always liked The Pretenders, and I never got tired of them. And Chrissy Hynde had a great voice. This song has always stuck with me because among other things, it says that you never can go home again which is the situation I find myself in. As some of you might know, the beginning bass line served as the opening theme for Rush Limbaugh’s show. Apparently, he liked the bass line, and he was tickled pink about using a song by Hynde who was a well-known liberal, environmentalist, and animal-rights activist. Hynde and Limbaugh apparently got in some sort of dispute about his use of the song which was eventually resolved when he started paying a fee for it, and she donated the proceeds to PETA. In the end, somewhat surprisingly, everything was settled amicably between the two, but I think Hynde kind of won that one.

Historical connection: Not one that I can think of, aside from the fact that the song chronicles the disintegration of America’s Rust Belt (primarily Akron, Ohio).

2) Kasabian, “Fire” (2009)

I originally ran into this song because an instrumental version was the official theme song for the English Premier League from 2010 to 2013. Every time I watched game highlights or recaps, this song would come on. It’s kind of catchy. With vocals, it’s not that bad either, but the video is so dumb, it makes me cringe. The instrumental EPL version is below.

Historical connection: Nothing, aside from the fact that it was the EPL’s theme song for three years.

3) Camper van Beethoven, “Tania” (1988)

I have no idea how or when I first heard Camper van Beethoven. They were headquartered in Santa Cruz for a spell, so they were sort of local for me, and I know they were very popular on the college circuit in California when I was an undergraduate. But I am positive that I bought Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, the album on which “Tania” appears, as a cassette in 1988. I remember listening to it on my Walkman (!) while hanging out with a girlfriend on the beach that summer. Camper van Beethoven was an iconoclastic band that mixed all sorts of styles together. For a long time, they had a violinist, too (you can hear him on this track). I really like the duet between the violin and the guitar in this song. David Lowery, the lead singer for Camper van Beethoven, later went on to form Cracker which had several fairly big hits, including “Euro-Trash Girl” and “Low.”


Historical connection: This song has the best one of all. It’s about when Patty Hearst (granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst, the fabulously wealthy newspaper publisher) was kidnapped from her Berkeley, California apartment in 1974 by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), an organization devoted to the overthrown of capitalism. The SLA wanted Hearst’s father to use his influence to free some of their people from jail and distribute food to the needy. Meanwhile, they brainwashed Hearst, and she joined the group under the code name “Tania” (hence the title of the song). She participated in a number of crimes, including a bank robbery. She was arrested, tried, and convicted. President Jimmy Carter eventually commuted her sentence. The image above was part of some SLA propaganda that showed Hearst had joined the organization as Tania. The song refers to the “seven-headed dragon” behind Hearst which was a symbol of the SLA.

4) Black Sabbath, “War Pigs” (1970)

Am I glad this showed up on the shuffle. Ozzy Osbourne is a joke now, but there was a time when he was really cool, and this might be the best song he ever did. This song came out when I was a toddler, but it wasn’t the kind of thing you heard on the radio. I had to wait until high school to hear things like “Iron Man” and “Crazy Train” (which actually was from Osbourne’s first solo album). But something like “War Pigs” was a bit different, and I don’t remember hearing that until I was in college. I’m thankful that many of my college friends were in rock bands, so I received quite a musical education. Say what you want about this video, which is as over-the-top as the song, but it has a certain tableau vivant quality that I enjoy.

Historical connection: Geezer Butler, the bassist and chief songwriter for Black Sabbath, claimed the song was a protest against Vietnam. Ozzy Osbourne argued the band knew nothing about Vietnam and that the song was just anti-war in a general sort of way. I wonder who has the better memory here?

5) Gorillaz, “19-2000” (2005)

“DARE,” “Feel Good, Inc.” and “19-2000,” all of which are by the Gorillaz, are among my daughter’s favorite songs. She really likes the videos, and the one for “19-2000” is definitely her favorite, but it’s clear she thinks the songs are a lot of fun. Every year, her elementary school has a father-daughter dance. Every year, we’d go, and she’d ask the dj to play “DARE.” And every year, the dj would just keep playing Katy Perry instead. So every year, we’d come back home, play “DARE” on YouTube, and dance to it at the house. The video kind of gives me the creeps (a gigantic moose by the freeway–what’s up with that?), but my daughter doesn’t seem to mind.

Historical connection: I can’t think of any, can you?

The History Professor Shuffle I: Professor Masur

And now, as Monty Python says, for something completely different. Today witnesses the inauguration of a new series on One Thing after Another. It’s called The History Professor Shuffle. We accost a professor from the department and ask that lucky person to put his or her iPod (or Spotify account or whatever else he or she has) in shuffle mode. Then the professor writes a little something about the first five songs that come up. This idea is not terribly original: One Thing after Another has a faint recollection that The Boston Globe used to run a series like this—except the newspaper used celebrities.

We have no celebrities; all we have right now is Professor Masur. Let’s see what he came up with in the shuffle lottery.

The original plan was to open my iPod, put it on shuffle, and see what came up. Unfortunately, I left my iPod on the airplane when we took a family vacation, so now it’s criss-crossing the U.S. on a Southwest plane. But I still have my iPad, which was synched to my iPod. So here we go!

1) Silentó, “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” (2015)

Ummm, let’s just skip ahead and pretend this one never came up.

1b) John Mark Nelson, “Reminisce” (2012)

I guess the title of this song calls to mind the past, though “reminiscing” is far different from the study of history. I don’t know a whole lot about this song. I started hearing it a few years ago on the Minneapolis Public Radio station (“The Current”) that I sometimes stream at work. Nelson is a young musician from outside of Minneapolis, and I think he wrote and recorded this when he was eighteen. It’s a really pleasant song—it has moments when it seems like an entire orchestra is playing, and then moments when it is just the singer and a guitar. I really like the xylophone hook.

Historical connection: Nothing I can think of.

2) The Beastie Boys, “High Plains Drifter” (1989)

This is a good one. It’s from Paul’s Boutique, which I think I owned on cassette or CD when I was younger. (I know I had License to Ill on cassette—I got it for my thirteenth birthday.) At this point, the trajectory of Paul’s Boutique is pretty well-known. When it was first released a lot of people panned it and sales were lackluster. Over time, though, it earned a reputation as one of the great albums of the eighties (Pitchfork.com placed it at #3). “High Plains Drifter” is a fun song about an outlaw, his misdeeds, and his brushes with the law. It’s a good enough song that I can forgive the Beasties for using a sample from the Eagles (which I think they did quite a bit on this album). Plus the Eagles sample is balanced out by references to the Band and the Ramones.

Historical connection: It does sound a bit like it could be a true story, but that’s about it. Maybe it has something to do with the Clint Eastwood movie, High Plains Drifter (1973).

3) Michael Jackson, “Break of Dawn” (2001)

This is interesting. When I was younger my older brother had Thriller on record, but I don’t remember ever being interested in Michael Jackson after that. Then at some point a few years ago I got a bunch of music from my younger brother’s computer. One of those songs was Michael Jackson’s “Break of Dawn.” I wouldn’t say I was immediately enamored of it, but it did remind me of another song that I liked—De La Soul’s “Breakadawn,” from their 1993 album Buhloone Mindstate. De La Soul’s song has a hook that sounds like Michael Jackson singing “break of dawn,” which I always assumed they had sampled from his song of the same name. But now that I look at it I realize that Michael Jackson’s song didn’t come out until 2001—eight years after Buhloone Mindstate. It appears that the sample of the words “break of dawn” actually comes from a Smokey Robinson song, which Michael Jackson was presumably imitating in 2001. If that’s not confusing enough, De La Soul’s “Breakadawn” does sample a different Michael Jackson song—“I Can’t Help It” from the album Off the Wall.

Historical connection: Other than my brief history of the sampling, nothing.

4) The Clash, “Spanish Bombs” (1979)

This is a great one. I mean, everyone loves The Clash, right? At some point when I was in college (ca. early-1990s) I was in Madison, Wisconsin and I picked up The Story of the Clash, a double CD “best of” collection. I still have the CDs in a box in my basement, but at some point I transferred the songs onto my computer and then onto my iPad. I’m not going to pretend I was a big Clash fan when I was younger. I knew “Rock the Casbah” because it was their big crossover pop hit when I was about eight, so I heard it on the radio and saw the video on MTV (when I visited friends—my parents refused to get cable, and they still don’t have it to this day). But I probably only knew a few Clash songs when I purchased the double CD. Even now I only know the songs in this collection, plus a hanfdul of others. I’m pretty sure if I had to play “Name that Clash tune” with Professor Dubrulle I’d get smoked.

Historical connection: The Spanish Civil War, right? Well, sort of. According to this unassailable Wikipedia page, the song juxtaposes the Spanish Civil War with British tourism to Spain in the 1970s. It also includes allusions to Basque separatist terrorists. I’m not sure I understand all of this, but that’s okay—I just like the song.

5) The Clash, “Washington Bullets” (1980)

Two Clash songs in a row? I guess that’s okay—they are sometimes referred to as “the only band that matters.” This song is not on the double CD I purchased back in Madison. I actually purchased it a couple of years ago on iTunes. I don’t think this is considered to be one of the great Clash songs (which probably explains why it isn’t on the double CD. But that doesn’t explain why “Rudi Can’t Fail” was also left off.). It’s from the album Sandinista!, which I think gets mixed reviews (partly because it is so long—thirty-six tracks). I happen to like “Washington Bullets,” in part because it’s another song that features the xylophone (or I guess the marimba, but I’m not an expert on percussion instruments). I also like the organ at the very end of the song. Like “Spanish Bombs,” the song includes what sounds like an attempt to sing in Spanish (in this case, a yelling interlude at the end). I don’t think the members of the Clash actually knew Spanish.

I actually purchased “Washington Bullets” specifically so I could play it in my class on U.S. foreign relations. The song is a nice artifact from the late Cold War. At first listen it sounds like an indictment of American neo-imperialism in the late 20th century. The refrain of “Sandinista” (also the title of the album) refers to the left-wing party that overthrew the American-backed Somoza government in Nicaragua. The song also mentions the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Chilean coup against Salvador Allende, both of which involved the CIA. But I like the song because its message is actually a little more complicated. The last verse suggests the British, the Soviets, and the Chinese also kill and subjugate other people to preserve or expand their own power. In other words, the song is not so much about American crimes as it is about the crimes that great powers perpetrate on the weak.

Historical connection: see above.