In this Musical Talmud edition of the Overthinking It Podcast, Mark Lee analyzes a series of songs called “American Girl” and discovers the true nature of American greatness.[audio:http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/traffic.libsyn.com/mwrather/mt-american-girl.mp3]
→ Download The Musical Talmud, Audio Edition: “American Girl” (MP3)
This is a bit of an experiment, so definitely let us know what you think about this format!
Songs included in the analysis:
- “American Girl” by Tom Petty, 1977
- “Xxx’s and Ooo’s (An American Girl)” by Trishia Yearwood, 1994
- “American Girl” by Brooke Valentine, 2005
- “American Girl” by LL Cool J, 2008
- “American Girl” by Bonnie McKee, 2013
Song called “American Girl” that were not included in the analysis:
- “All American Girl” by Carrie Underwood, 2007
- “American Girls” by Rick Springfield, 1974
- “American Girl” by Homie (Rivers Cuomo of Weezer), 1998
- “American Girl” by Triumph, 1979
- “Last of the American Girls” by Green Day, 2010
You missed American Girls by Counting Crows.
I liked the Podcast. I like the thematic approach. The theme didn’t seem to come through as strongly on all of the songs discussed as much as others and I think that’s because you drew from VERY different songs. Perhaps limit your pool of songs to one sub-genre or one 5 year frame, or the development of one artists’ message over time.
Please do more.
I always enjoy the Musical Talmuds; I understand how much more effort it is to make the video than write your script and insert the musical excerpts in post, so I can’t really complain, but the visual jokes and video analysis were always nifty as well. Worked particularly well for 22.
The ‘American Girl’ seems to be something of a soft-power projection of the ‘fun’ and ‘free’ side of American culture, I wonder if there is a musical equivalent of other sides of America. I’m sure Tom Waits has something.
Also causes me to wonder if an equivalence exists for other countries?
@Tom suggests limiting your field of inquiry, I would suggest going the other way. Overthinkingit seems to go best either when focusing intently on one thing (i.e. single issue articles, single songs), comparing and contrasting two things(i.e. Musical Talmud: Suit & Tie vs. Thrift Shop), or having a meandering free-association session (i.e. majority of the podcast). That being said, the evolution of an artists ‘message’ or ‘voice’ over time in contrast to historical confluence, time period, or life events could prove interesting. Probably a lot more work however.
Nice historical background about signing with X’s and O’s, but I think if you had asked anyone else what that meant, they might have told you it means “hugs and kisses.” (Which is what I really think that line in the song means.)
I really liked this experiment. The episode length was about right for the more focused topic.
A question though, is this declaration of American Girl-ness a uniquely American thing? I’m English and nothing comes to mind as far as English Girl, British Girl or anything along those lines. Also being English I’m ignorant of the rest of the world as we don’t own it any more, so I’m not sure if there’s an equivalent for a French Girl, Indian Girl and so on.
Are there such songs and do they represent similar ideals or vastly different ones?
the new format is nice. Video might be even better, as it would allow you to both play the music and show the lyrics clearly (with subtitles.) I had no difficulty understanding the lyrics in this entry, but with some songs it might be tough. You guys did great work with Eurovision, but I understand that producing that kind of video is tough.
As the Floridian among the Overthinking commentariat, I feel obliged to highlight the thing you overlooked in the Top Petty song.
The second verse is about the eponymous American Girl standing out on a balcony along US 441 (one of the major roads through Petty’s hometown of Gainesville, as well as the western suburbs of West Palm Beach where I grew up) on a “kind of cold” night (which, assuming she’s in Florida, means it’s winter and somewhere around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, i.e. not very cold by non-Florida standards). Hearing the cars roll by reminds her of waves on the beach (at least an hour’s drive from Gainesville, which is on the interior of the peninsula) – and also of painful memories of an unspecified male and something that is “so close but still so far out of reach”.
That male might be an ex, he might be her father – or he might be a symbol. But the thing that is so close but so far out of reach is most likely the thing that the cars on the highway and the beach symbolize – the American Dream, and specifically the dream of escaping not only class but place. The same dream that was being contemporaneously examined by Bruce Springsteen in songs like “Thunder Road” and would later by taken up by another band of ex-Gainesvillains in the band Against Me! in songs like “We Laugh at Danger and Break All The Rules”.
Also, there was a popular urban legend that this song was actually about a University of Florida student who committed suicide by jumping off a dorm building along 411, but Petty has strenuously denied it and also said it was written after he himself had left Gainesville for the bleeding edge of America, Los Angeles, which supports my theory that this American Girl is about longing for escape from the boonies to the centers of culture.
(Of course, it can still be about the suicide if you want, death of the author and all. But that seems unnecessarily morbid.)
Fantastic insights. I did feel like I gave the Tom Petty song short shrift in this episode, so thanks for this!
A lot of the insights that were made by Mark could also be applied to Australia such as the diversity aspect and impact on the world stage versus age of the nation. Although Australia may not have the same amount of power as America, they do still have quite a lot of influence more so for some countries that America would not and has been around (as the nation it is now) less than America. Just thought it was something to point out.
I think this was good, but it misses what I like most about Overthinking It. Without a second voice to pass ideas between it lacks that key Overthinking It dialog. I would like to hear more with more Overthinkers talking about it.