Perhaps the biggest change to music itself has come with the advent of recording technology, natch. In the era before recording was available, obviously music was only listened to when performed live. It had to be worthwhile for the musicians to play and for people to enjoy.
Then Edison and that damn record player came along. Suddenly, challenging music could be produced by anyone anywhere at anytime and then reproduced a thousand times over for anyone else without worrying about the criticism (unless you were a perfectionist like Brian Wilson).
And a lot more bad stuff and average stuff could be made too. Amateur stuff. Stuff designed to be ingratiating or sell amazing hamburger grilles. It could be recorded privately, bought discreetly in a paper bag and brought home to enjoy in the quiet of your own home, like a sex toy or ketchup-mayonaise or any other illicit good.
Suddenly there were markets for music that had not existed before, including the teen market and the radio listeners of very specific genres. Stations could feature different songs exclusively for those of narrow tastes. Meanwhile, other radio stations were was trying to wink and be all things to everyone via blandness and predictability. (Guess which mode won out with the help of Clearchannel?)
The soothsayers got better and more pleasing and the challengers bubbled up in the underground until the 1950s volcano erupted. Thus, the technology itself reinforced the trend of music being either pleasing or rebellious in nature. TV kept the pleasing part and, by the 1960s, radio and records were offering music lovers the pleasures and energy of those willing to challenge the orthodoxy without shame or fear.
By the end of that decade rock's challenge had been accepted by just about every musician in existence and the genre had swallowed everything from advertising and Madison Ave marketing machines (The Monkees) to classical music (Prog Rock) to soul (Funk) to electronic pop (The Silver Apples) and everything in between.
And that, kids, is how you and your mother, two people who loved each other very much, got together and gave birth to the modes you know and love today. Pretty much since the 1960s nothing has changed much. Modern pop music still seems about the same as it was in 1962.
The leap that pop took between the end of the big band era to the Nicky Minage era hasn't been replicated by any new mode of expression. We haven't lept from Nicky to CyberBrainPortOcculusHologram-spaceMutualTranmissions yet, for example. Which would be the analogy, I guess. (I have no idea how the hell that CBP is supposed to work but I am certain someone somewhere out there is working on it right now).
Hip hop, after all, is just funk and stripped down soul and talking blues. It's a whole culture and revolution to some in terms of the lyrics and it gives black people a space and a narrative, but certainly the music itself is not new as it is often is based on borrowing and prior structures. Electro dance is just John Adams crossed with disco (which was only Sly Stone and Chuck Berry with more high hat). In the end just throw in Brian WIlson, call it a day, and start reviewing albums instead of boring people with discourse about minor distinctions in musical styles. There's nothing new under the sun.
Yet, as we read the reviews, often what we're asking and evaluating is: does the music in the end add up to anything? Is it just catchy piffle, like Phil Collins' That's All? That's a very hummable song, great McCartneyesque pop, a radio hit without a doubt. But who cares? We only have so much time in our life. Why not spend it listening to and enjoying better, the finest the world has to offer?
Thus, we'll put on The Logical Song by Supertramp over Phil's treacle. That song is just as catchy, it has just as great a memorable pop sound from that Wurlitzer piano, great harmony choruses and ohhs and ahhs in the bridge, the whole nine yards. But it's also a rock song because the lyrics are more meaningful and evocative of a fundamental human experience. It's a more challenging work because it questions the typical capitalist narrative that one has to conform to be happy. And its pop as all-get-out, as they say. So win-win, everybody smiling.
In the end, Supertramp's music champions liberal humanist values and that's why it's worth more. Questioning, challenging, forceful and touching, light and dark at the same time, as they say. It survives repeated listens, it has depth beneath the sheen. The Logical Song puts pop sentiments and rock rebellion into a bottle that still tastes fresh and universal even now given its playful rhyme scheme and wonderful vocal performance that lets the tones of self-doubt and weakness crackle through the speakers along with those snappy castanet accents and sax solo for the ages.
So, sure, in the end a pop song can be as good as a rock song. Yet we have to draw a line in the sand and decide for the good of all mankind that the song That's All is "just" pop while The Logical Song is a rock tune for the ages, and in fact fun for all ages, too.
Keep that all in mind when our reviews are dismissive of a perfectly good pop song and effusive in our praise of a rock and roll song from some shmuck, or delirious about how much better Debussey is to anything ever produced in the rock and roll genre over the entire decade of the 1980s. Don't be surprised when we love a little ditty like Iko Iko because it sounds real and eternally young and takes us all back to the African motherland where humans find their roots.It's just a fact, as they say.
No one's opinion (riddled with holes and fallacies as that opinion must be, and as mine are too) could ever convince me of the fact that what I say is wrong. Cinderella over Daphnis and Chloe? Never in a million years. I don't care how many records CC DeVille has sold over his career vs. the big D.
ROCK VS POP
Who Will Win This Historic Showdown
of Battling Genres for
All The Marbles?