Posted in music

Popmusicology, Volumes 1 and 2


After creating some iPad film study guides for my GCSE students using iBooks Author, I wanted to do another project just for fun.

I decided to repurpose some of the material I’d accrued in teaching my “Musicology” 6th Form enrichment course, which was a survey of popular music from its origins. I’d done a lot of research and created presentations with embedded audio and video. Rather than just embed the presentations into an iBook, I decided to create a book from scratch, with both graphical elements and embedded sound files. Because I wasn’t happy with the included Apple templates and didn’t have time to create my own, I downloaded a template from iBooksAuthorTemplates.

The first volume (Origins) appeared on the iBooks store a couple of weeks ago, but will hopefully start to make more sense now that Volume 2 (Boom!) has appeared. Both of them are free of charge, and require an iPad and iBooks.

Volume 1 is concerned with where popular music came from: the regional folk musics that existed in the United States prior to the invention of the phonograph, which started to blend together due to proximity (especially in the Southern states), and later due to new media such as the radio and the phonograph. It’s fair to say that the horrors of the South (slave plantations, the Civil War, Reconstruction) were instrumental in creating popular music as we know it. Poor white people living alongside slaves and (later) poor black people had a shared love of music.


Popmusicology Volume 1: Origins (THE RED ONE) looks at the impact of new media (particularly radio), the ethnographic work of the Lomaxes, and has sections on the Blues, Jazz, and Country music. There are illustrative sound samples – either out of copyright, or limited to a 30-second length for illustrative purposes.

Volume 2 is concerned with what happened in the wake of Jazz. It was hard to decide upon an order. In the end I went for rock-soul-country, but it could have been in any sequence and made as much sense. There are longer books about the first rock record, but there’s a brief discussion of that and samples of the few of the main candidates. My conclusion is that the first rock record is a bit like a tree falling in a forest. What really matters is when were (most) people aware that there was this thing called rock? 

Popmusicology Volume 2: Boom! (THE YELLOW ONE) looks at the explosion in popular music across multiple genres in the 1950s. After the section on early rock, there’s another looking at how gospel and rhythm and blues turned into soul music. Finally, there’s a section on the horrors of the Nashville Sound in country and the reasons it came about.

So the next step is to write Volume 3, which will look at the 60s beat boom and the changes in the industry wrought by the new generation of artists who wrote their own songs. This will be the hardest volume to write for me, because there is so much to cover and yet I need to be aware of keeping the file size down to a reasonable level. The reason there are already two volumes is that it became clear that even with a 30-second limit on most of the samples, the file size soon balloons.


Would be great if you download and enjoy the Popmusicology books (or any of the film studies ones), if you would leave some feedback.

My next project is an updated electronic version of my MA dissertation on typography – this will be on the Kindle store.



World famous writer labouring in obscurity. My other blog is a Porsche.