Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Music (MMUS)




The 1960's were very turbulent times in American society. The Vietnam War created battle lines on the home-front between the young and the old, and patriots and the counter culture. During these years, protest songs were evidence of the discontent of American youth. This thesis explored the message content and message structure of popular Vietnam War related protest songs from 1963 - 1970. A sample of sixteen songs were studied through lyrical analysis, structure and style evaluation and an examination of their musical elements. Lyrical analysis revealed that all the sample songs introduced listeners to perceived problems in the status quo. A wide range of societal issues were presented as problems such as cultural conformity, the generation gap, draft resistance, and the morality of war. Problems were presented in an expressive, simplistic manner that did not provide listeners with solutions. Folk and country western style songs focused on a limited number of societal concerns. Rock song lyrics were more complex and referred to numerous social issues. Fifteen of the sixteen sample songs were classified as first stage protest songs that promote ideology. One song, 'The Times They Are A-Changing' was classified as a second stage protest song, used to recruit individuals to a cause. Song message structures and styles blended with the popular music styles of the era. The sample included folk, rock and country western style songs. The songs had high inscriptive values associated with their use of major chords, traditional instrumentation and intrinsic and extrinsic redundancy devices. An examination of the melodic and rhythmic elements revealed a correlation between basic syntactic structure and folk songs and an embellished syntactic structure and rock music.


A Thesis Presented to the Department of Communication and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha. Copyright 1997 Holly Kingsley Miller.

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