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Saying It With SongsPopular Music and the Coming of Sound to Hollywood Cinema$
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Katherine Spring

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199842216

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199842216.001.0001

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Plugging a Song

Plugging a Song

The Discrete Charm of the Popular Song, from Broadway to Hollywood

(p.69) 3 Plugging a Song
Saying It With Songs

Katherine Spring

Oxford University Press

Chapter 3 shows how Hollywood's earliest sound films adapted conventions of the musical stage in order to privilege the discrete presentation of songs over norms of narrative coherence. Through the 1910s and 1920s, vaudeville and Broadway shows featured live star vocalists who presented songs as accentuated, discrete moments of performance within narrative contexts, and whose repeated song presentations across a given show resulted in the vocalists becoming associated with particular songs. The “star-song attraction” translated into contemporaneous studio advertisements and was bolstered by the cross-promotion of motion picture songs with sheet music, phonograph records, and radio. It also was made manifest by early sound films whose narratives were engineered in ways that highlighted discrete, modular units of song performance. Extended analyses of Applause (1929) and Weary River (1929) demonstrate how such films could capitalize on the cachet of (allegedly) singing stars: Helen Morgan in Applause, and Richard Barthelmess in Weary River.

Keywords:   film, popular songs, narrative, advertising, Broadway, sheet music, phonograph records, radio, Weary River, Applause

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