The Cup Song, Mainers Mountaineers, and The Lifecycle of a Pop Song


Are you guys familiar with “The Cup Song”? If not (or if you are but want to see a great version of it) check out this performance. I’ll wait…

Those kids are pretty good, eh? Anyway I’ll continue slowly meandering to my point. The expression what goes around must come around fits nicely here. Apparently this song is rapidly approaching 100 years old. Despite this fact, 3 of 5 teenage girls know all the words. (Authors note: I made that statistic up).
This is the oldest version I could find that is arranged in a similar fashion*. It is by the group Mainers Mountaineers and it’s pretty awesome.

The oldest recording I could find belongs to The Carter Family and it was recorded in 1928*. You will see why I decided to feature the Mainers version. This version, although sharing many of the same lyrics, doesn’t quite feel like the modern one.

So why am I writing about this? I think learning that a song that I first heard when my mother shared a link (that first video) on my Facebook wall, and then learned was a major plot arc from the movie Pitch Perfect, was actually an old-time country tune really threw me for a loop. Usually when that happens I want to share my newly found knowledge. That brings us pretty much up to the present.
Now that I think about it this really reminds me of a post our very own Dave wrote a long time ago. This [abridge] quote sums up my feelings.

“Its been my opinion that there are only three genres of music: Classical, Jazz, and Pop.
[…] For some reason it is easier to lump artists in the first two genres into their respective category and sleep soundly at night knowing that Franz Schubert and Iannis Xenakis are both Classical composers, and Charlie Parker and Ornette Colemen are both Jazz sax players.
On the other hand, when I make the argument that all pop is simply Pop, I’ve run into some static.” –Dave (Source)

So this explains some of it. This is a pop song. It always has been a pop song. Suddenly it’s return to the spotlight doesn’t seem so crazy. The textures have changed. The technology used to capture and fine-tune the performance have improved, but the song remains the same. I’m going to quote Dave again.

“The most important and therefore most frequently used chords are built on scale degrees 1 and 5 — These are called the Tonic and Dominant chords respectively
The second most used group of chords are called Predominant chords; they are built from scale degrees 4, 2, and 6.
When you combine Tonic Predominant and Dominant chords with lyrics and you have Pop Music.”

Anyone playing along at home care to guess the chord progression of this song? If you guessed 1 – 4 – 1 – 6 – 5 – 4 then you have won. This falls squarely into Pop music. (If you didn’t already realize that, you should go re-watch the first video.)
So what’s my point? I’m not sure entirely. I guess I’m just hoping that every tween** at home learning how to perform the cup song (which is awesome, music is for the people so go practice) to realize that the song they love is, in actuality, a dusty old country song. It’s easy to generalize and dismiss a genre of music, it is much harder to open up and expand your musical horizons. Think these girls would be interested in hearing the Mainers Mountaineers play this tune? [You can skip the below video ahead to 3:10, or watch the whole thing, whatever you choose].

Also you really should read Dave’s full article if you haven’t already. It is short, and you will honestly be smarter directly afterwards. Here is a link. Jay-Z And The Dixie Chicks.

* I didn’t do that much research, so someone go prove me wrong. Let me know in the comments. If you prove me wrong I’ll buy you a beer at a Pay The Devil show sometime. Or whiskey provided that it is bourbon, and by bourbon I mean Old Crow. Seriously.
** Is tween between being a teenager and a full fledged adult? Or between being a child and a teenager? I meant the child : teenager one, but really age doesn’t matter. If you are at home learning to perform the Cup Song you are allowed to realize this regardless of your age.