Its been my opinion that there are only three genres of music:
Classical, Jazz, and Pop.
I’ve written before about this idea, and that music genre within these three is defined by the social contract of the audience’s expected behavior. During classical performances, the audience sits quietly and applauds only after the set is finished. At jazz concerts the audience is expected to clap after solos as well as the end of pieces, and at pop concerts, the audience is allowed to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants. 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. So let me explain myself.
Slayer and Johnny Cash are more similar than dissimilar. Jason Mraz and Mushaga should be friends, and AC/DC and Dashboard Confessional fans should make nice and sit quietly on the bus ride home from school.
- In our musical tradition, a one octave (eight note) scale lays out the foundation for composition.
- Chords are built on top of each one of these notes
- 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.
- Pop music is composed with the basic combination of guitar, bass, drums, and vocals.
Eric Clapton knew it, Death Cab for Cutie knows it, and now you know it.
The big illusion between sub-genres of pop music is all about surface level texture and marketing. The only difference between the Ramones and Taylor Swift is a mini skirt and a distortion pedal.
If all of this still doesn’t sell my idea, here is my final point.
Rick Rubin has successfully produced the following albums:
- Slayer – Reign in Blood
- The Black Crowes – Shake Your Money Maker
- Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik
- Sir Mix-a-Lot – Mack Daddy
- Johnny Cash – Unchained
- Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
- Rage Against the Machine – Renegade
- Macy Gray – The Id
- Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros – Streetcore
- Jay-Z – The Black Album
- Dixie Chicks – Taking the Long Way
- Justin Timberlake – FutureSex/Love Sounds
- Linkin Park – Minutes to Midnight
- The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You
- Gogol Bordello – Trans-Continental Hustle
Upon first glance this about as eclectic a list of artists as you can try to compile.
It’s also probable that Rick Rubin is the only person on the planet who listens to Jay-Z and the Dixie Chicks in one move.
But still, if these artists were in fact as different as it might look on paper, it would be harder for any one producer to do justice to this variety of work.
I’ll leave you with this.
Those Who Dig was at Sars-Stock in Toronto a few years back. You may remember this as the music festival hosted by Dan Aykroyd that tried to bring tourism back to Canada after the Sars scare. At one point in the day Justin Timberlake performed a set after the Flaming Lips and before AC/DC. To say that the fan mix in the crowd was perse is an understatement, but it reached its boiling point when someone hit Timberlake in the face with a bottle during one of the lamest beat boxing solos on record. After this happened Keith Richards ran from back stage and yelled at the audience for being disrespectful.
This act of solidarity seemed strange when I first saw it, but now I understand. Pop music is Pop music, and it’s always embarrassing to get tanked in the face with a bottle in front of thousands of people. You dig?