The Social History of Popular Music

MUSC 171/3.0

A survey of important trends in 20th century Western popular music. Topics include genres, individual artists and groups, record labels and stylistic trends, and sociological issues.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course, students will be able to

  • demonstrate a solid foundation in relevant musicological terms and concepts
  • understand and discuss the social and political context in which we experience pop music
  • understand and discuss raced and gendered approaches to the study of popular music
  • address the question; What does it mean to experience popular music?


Unit 1

The Theoretical Lens
Unit 2The Seven Elements of Music, the Hybrid Roots, and the Early Days of Popular Music
Unit 3Tin Pan Alley, Social Dance and Jazz
Unit 4Race and Hillbilly Music, The Swing Era and Post-War Pop
Unit 5The Birth (and death?) of Rock'n'Roll, American Pop, and the British Invasion
Unit 6Folk Music, The "Girl Groups", and the 1960s
Unit 7The Fragmentation of Pop and Voices from the Periphery
Unit 8Early Metal, 1970s Pop and Disco
Unit 9MTV and "Relief Rock", Metal and Hip Hop
Unit 10The Alternative Scene, Grunge, and Riot Grrrls
Unit 11Pop Music Post 911
Unit 12Into the 21st Century


Summer 2016
Course Dates: 
July 4 - Aug 12, 2016
Exam Dates: 


Assignment 1: Initial Song Review (no marks)

Assignment 2: Analysing of Popular Music Chart Spreadsheet (25%)

Assignment 3: Book review (25%)

Assignment 4: Song review (25%)

Chapter Quizzes (25%)

**Evaluation subject to change**


Robbie MacKay (

Instructor message

Quite some time ago now, I was a professional musician, always out on a cold road. I've done just about all the legitimate jobs one can do in the music industry, and even a few of the more questionable ones. I find myself now an Adjunct Lecturer at Queen's School of Music, and a Special Education teacher in the Limestone District School Board. My research focuses on the effects of gender in music education and on broader social justice issues in education. I have taught this course for Queen's on-campus and online many times, and I continue to enjoy it a great deal.

Robbie MacKay

Time Commitment

To complete the readings, assignments, and course activities, students can expect to spend, on average, about 15-20 hours per week (120 hours per term) on the course.

Course Resources


SOLUS is Queen’s Student On-Line University System. You’ll have access to a SOLUS account once you become a Queen’s student. You’ll use SOLUS to register for courses, add and drop courses, update your contact information, view financial and academic information, and pay your tuition.


Moodle is Queen's online learning platform. You'll log into Moodle to access your course. All materials related to your course—notes, readings, videos, recordings, discussion forums, assignments, quizzes, groupwork, tutorials, and help—will be on the Moodle site.

About Credit Units

Queen’s courses are weighted in credit units. A typical one-term course is worth 3.0 units, and a typical two-term course is worth 6.0 units. You combine these units to create your degree. A general (three-year) BA requires a total of 90 credit units.

Computer Requirements

To take an online course, you’ll need a good-quality computer (Windows Vista/7/8, Intel Core 2 Duo, or Mac OS X 10.8 or higher, Intel i5 processor, 2 GB RAM) with a high-speed internet connection, soundcard, speakers, microphone (or preferably a headset), webcam and up-to-date versions of free software (Firefox/Internet Explorer/Safari, Java, Flash, Adobe Reader). See also Preparing For Your Course.


The deadlines for new applications to Queen’s Arts and Science Online courses are in our Dates and Deadlines section.

Tuition Fees

Tuition fees vary depending when you start, your year, faculty, and program. Fees for 2014-15 first-year Distance Career Arts & Science Canadian students are as follows: for a 3.0-unit course, $605.31; for a 6.0-unit course, $1210.62. See also Tuition and Payment.

Grading Scheme

The information below is intended for undergraduate students in the Faculty of Arts and Science. Academic Regulations in other Faculties may differ.

Letter Grade Grade Point

GPA Calculators
Have your SOLUS grade report handy and then follow the link to the Arts and Science GPA calculators.

How does this affect my academics?
See the GPA and Academic Standing page.

Follow the link above for an explanation of how the GPA system affects such things as the Dean’s Honour List, requirements to graduate, and academic progression.

Frequently Asked Questions on the Grading Scheme
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Campus Bookstore

All textbooks can be purchased at Queen’s Campus Bookstore.

Non-Queen’s Students

All Queen’s Arts and Science Online courses are open to students at other universities. Before applying as a visiting student, request a Letter of Permission from your home university that states that you have permission to take the course and apply it to your degree. See also Apply.

Academic Integrity

Please see Queen’s policy statement on academic integrity for information on how to complete an online course honestly.