THE SOUND OF BLUE COLLAR DETROIT
How did Rock and Roll serve as an expressive tool for the working-class youth of Detroit?
Like a stout heart within the city is Detroit industry, the vital pulse beat of technology and resources, which has put the world on wheels. Detroit’s strategic location, its reservoir of know-how, its ability to deliver manpower, places it in the vanguard of choice spots in which to build, manufacture, and expand.
-- Promotional film for the city of Detroit, 1965
They were down river boys. They were guys who lived in the disused parts of Detroit, the industrial parts. And really, when you grew up in Detroit in those areas, you had one of two ways to go. College wasn’t the option. It was usually, were you gonna work the [assembly] line, or were you gonna work in a tool and die shop, and how many fingers were you gonna lose by the end of your career?
– Musician David Was on the band MC5
Few places represented the prosperity of the postwar United States and the allure of the American dream better than Detroit in the 1950s and early 60s. Home of the thriving American auto industry, Detroit and its legendary assembly lines reflected the nation’s command of industry and its international economic dominance. But for many of the thousands of young people growing up in Detroit’s blue-collar neighborhoods, the city was less about progress and prosperity than the prospect of a life with few options beyond the monotony of a factory job.
As happened in so many other contexts, the young people of Detroit in the postwar era turned to music to express their frustrations and to challenge society’s expectations for them. Bands such as MC5 and the Stooges eschewed the feel-good music long associated with Detroit through the success of Motown, producing instead a hard-edged, proto-Punk sound that managed to address both the limitations of working-class life and the general frustrations of youth.
Video pages: The Stooges - 1969 (1969) | BBC's Motor City's Burning - MC5 | BBC's Motor City's Burning - The Stooges | Detroit: City on the Move (1965) | Sammy Davis Jr. - Hello, Detroit (1984) | MC5 - High School (1970)
Upon completion of this lesson, students will:
1. Play the short clip from the 1965 promotional video about the city of Detroit and discuss:
2. Play the short clip of the 1984 song “Hello, Detroit,” by Sammy Davis Jr., and discuss:
3. Display the graph of employment in the automotive industry in the Detroit area and discuss:
4. Play the first short clip from the 2008 BBC documentary Motor City's Burning: Detroit from Motown to the Stooges and discuss:
5. Play the second short clip from the documentary Motor City's Burning, of the Stooges’ Iggy Pop explaining his musical influences, and discuss:
Discuss with the class as a whole:
College and Career Readiness Reading Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 for Literature and Informational Text
College and Career Readiness Writing Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening for Grades 6-12
Core Music Standard: Responding
Select: Choose music appropriate for a specific purpose or context.
Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.
Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators' and/or performers' expressive intent.
Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.
Core Music Standard: Connecting
Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.