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Songs that Cross Borders

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Music has a way of getting stuck in your head. No matter who you are, or where you are, it seems to have this effect. We turn to the man behind all those catchy songs from "School House Rock," Bob Dorough, to get some insight into what it takes to make a hook. Conjunction-junction, what IS your function?

Then we hear about the song written by an Englishman about an American city whose promise of togetherness really yields loneliness sung by a white Parisian woman everyone thought was black. Sound obscure? You know it. You love it. You hate it. You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares, and go "Downtown!" The story of "Downtown" was produced by Alan Hall of Falling Tree Productions and originally aired on his series about pop songs, called "Repeat 'Til Fade."

Finally the phenomenon of American country music's popularity in places like Zimbabwe, Thailand, and South Africa is something we find quite surprising. Aaron Fox, an anthropologist of music at Columbia University, tells us to rethink our surprise... though he denies any kind of meaningful "universals" in music, he thinks that quite simply, country music tells a story that a lot of us get. Check out his book Real Country: Music And Language In Working-Class Culture to learn more.

Guests:

Bob Dorough, Aaron Fox and Alan Hall

Comments [9]

Julie Chandler from Nebraska

I have to share this segment with my son. When he was in the service he became a country-western music fan. It was not music we played much and really didn't like.
After he was out of the service I noticed he no longer listen to country-western and when I asked him about it he said, "I don't feel that bad anymore."

Mar. 22 2014 04:03 PM
Kacey Kelley from San Francisco

What is the name of the song or the artist who plays that song at the end of this segment? After the credits/sponsors are read there's this beautiful guitar music that plays. What is this?

Dec. 06 2013 01:45 PM
Lailee Soleimani from Toronto

Hi, Thanks for doing this episode. It is such a peaceful experience listening to this. What is the name of the track that plays at the end of story? Love it, it's magical.

Aug. 28 2013 12:04 PM
Jonathan Wolf from Omaha, NE

So Funny! After listening to this piece on NPR at lunch, I walked back into the office, whistling the first few notes...and from down the hall, I hear someone yell, "DOWN-TOWN!" He said he could name that song in three notes. Proof positive of the power of song.

Dec. 12 2012 01:50 PM
Celena from West Virginia

I've always wondered why people from other states, even other countries, loved this song as if it were their own. Now I know.
"Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, Country roads"

Dec. 10 2012 01:21 PM
emel from columbus, OH

I noticed when you were talking to Bob Dorough about "hooks," I noticed something. You should listen to the This American Life song contest, a particular song actually. Listen to the beginning of the song by "They were Pirates" (song remix #30) and compare it to the that Bob sings - "sittin' on the doorstep side-by-side..." Sounds like theres a stolen hook there!

Jun. 11 2008 02:47 PM
Len Lynch (lenlynch) from Chicago, IL

Ah Ha! While listening to this episode, I had the thought that Peter Gabriel's vocal style incorporates inflection, emotion, and narative elements that could be rooted in country and western music. Facinating!

Keep up the great work.

May. 12 2008 10:48 PM
David from Pittsburgh, PA

This was on of the best segments so far on Radiolab - it was super!

May. 01 2008 05:17 PM
Ellen Horne, Radiolab's Executive Producer from Radiolab

*Just a note for folks looking for the addition conversation between Radio Lab and Aaron Fox. At Mr. Fox's request, we've tabled that discussion.*

Apr. 22 2008 05:08 PM

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