ROCK VS POP
Who Will Win This Historic Showdown
of Battling Genres for
All The Marbles?
YE OLDEN TIMES: CLASSICAL AND FOLK
Meanwhile, classical music and folk music, which are what came before any of our other more currently popular styles, is neither superior nor outside the bounds of this generalization. Most classical seeks to please an audience which would actually riot if something got too challenging! It seems funny that what we imagine were staid folk going out to the stuffy opera were often just as down home, garrulous and disdainful of bullshit as any one of us today. And like us they often had a hard time distinguishing what was what. Meanwhile, the folks singing for the supper were not going to piss off their fellows with the food, per se, though it is sometimes delightful to be challenged somewhat in an ultimately safe way, like someone singing a murder ballad. It affirms that murder is indeed wrong and everyone gets their roast beast in the end.
That's why the work I do here is so important and relevant. Just like it was back then, on first listen today a lot of music is decent enough that it's hard to tell what is hype and bullshit and what is groundbreaking and delightfully quirky. That's where I come in, with my depth of knowledge and experience listening to music and judging the hell out of it swiftly and decisively (if not divisively). Using our ratings and guides, you can find the music you love and indulge your senses faster and more efficiently, exfoliate your earholes, massage your mind, and enjoy those harmonically pleasing essential oils in the day spa of humankind's best, rather than wasting time scratching your delicate skin with sonic sandpaper and wasting all that that candle wax like you were doing carelessly in the past.
I ask the hard questions so you don't have to: are they really challenging you and will they barge in and demand to alter the canon forever with the force of their personality and fresh sense of songcraft? Or are they --like Billy Idol-- just posing as if they might do that because they have the audacity of spiky hair? Sometimes, just like in ye olden times, something fresh and innovative hooks every ear that hears it. Other times it takes some getting used to and an underground groundswell of support when the suits do something stupid.
Over time, history has probably rewarded innovation more than it has the ability to please because innovators become the new standard upon which empires are built and their reputations are the new names ringing out off the marble walls of the hallowed halls built in their memory. Meanwhile, the pleasing but less interesting stuff never survives several generations though it can be fairly popular and successful in its time. (Even worth a jam while you're on your way to Glamis, like a Sammy Hagar track, though after three swigs on that bottle and you gotta put on something else because the kitsch factor evaporates while the wave function collapses to zero on the probability of enjoyment).
That is why Mozart has given us the ABC song and Salieri only gave us a movie where he plays the jealous villain. I mean, what child is taught Salieri to sing on the playground? Yet Salieri got the decent job in the King's cabinet during his day and Mozart died poor and was thrown in a pauper's grave with ten others and a sackful of lime. Such is the pop music game, kids!
A SHOT FROM THE CANON
Thus it seems that as each generation of humans is alive and making the music of their moment, the pleasing and the challenging are often pretty much neck and neck in terms of how they're treated, and it's often hard to tell the difference due to the hybrids. That's why the Black Eyed Peas make the charts and Fergie sings at some basketball games but, when all is sung and done, it will be Prince whose name will be shouted out several centuries from now on some cyberstagemindmeldcast somewhere.
Still, challenging artists are neither any better nor worse than those who seek to please. Both have their place in the canon for various important reasons. Both have their technique, their clever constructions and their crafty word brews. But the idea of the canon, of the history of human endeavors being a yardstick for today's efforts? That makes sense to me. Works can be judged both as what they are and how they stack up against the best. Beauty is not in the eye of just one beholder as much as it is in the eyes of us all over time. No one really cares that Beauty Jr. was a little less boring when you saw them live in that one dive bar that one drunken evening. The record still sucks and face it, the original Beauty was a better band back in the day.
To be fair and slightly snobbish (I hope; if not why bother?) I will say that generally classical music demands more of the composer and the listener than does today's popular music. This is true often especially because ye olden music had to be written on paper and performed live if anyone at all was ever going to hear it, so your first audience was your mostly demanding musical peers (unless you could pay them enough). As a sign of where we're at these days, classical music is something that most people don't like or listen to very often anymore. Is it because we've been dumbed down and anything that demands some intelligence or education from the listener is called "pretentious" with a derisive lol, gimmie more circus freaks while I get my swerve on? Maybe.
It's true that there has always been folk music, too, minstrels and motley troupes, jesters and snake oil salesmen shaking their daughter's tambourines. Those bawdy little tales are amusements in their own minor right, and they sometimes tapped the tenor and protest of the times as well just like rock and its modern soul counterpart hip hop often does. Perhaps there can be all kinds of music for all kinds of people, and all of it should be appreciated on its own merit. None of it is pretentious, nor is any kind of music too twee or too commercial in the end. At least we can say that is true a song should not be judged based simply on the category into which it falls. In the end, pretentious is as pretentious does. That's why I don't like Lou Reed. Or even Vivaldi that much, honestly. (He's kind of a sell-out, that guy). Selling out is not automatically bad, but when commercial interests trump any kind of authentic artistic content, then (Whitney) Houston, we have a problem.
While the fact that something like classical is demanding does not make it naturally superior to something like Don't Worry Be Happy, for example (because that is a genius bit of simplicity and melody and production), it can often give a work of art a leg up or a little head start in the race vs some lousy basic garage rock or bad rap to a Roland pre-set drum beat on a hissy fire mixtape. The expertise is obviously greater, the orchestration larger, and the traditions rich and complex. That counts for something.
Thus, most classical music gets a kind of mulligan in terms of points on our grading scale to some small degree, let's be honest. Nonetheless, just because it comes from the past doesn't give a musical work any particular greatness. The timelessness is in the tones, the creative craft, the finesse, the shivering timbre, the vocal evocation, the wise or whipping wordplay, the well tempered synclavier sound, the tunesmithing hammered home, the delightfully simple or rewarding experiences that great works often demand or deliver. But it's all just rock or pop in the end. Challenge or soothe, there is no try.