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Popular Music
by Don Robertson (2003)


Popular music has been with us, is with us, and will continue to be with us. It comes to us via musicals and shows, from stage and screen, and from the pens of prolific American and British songwriters such as Irving Berlin, Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein, Paul McCartney, George and Ira Gershwin, Leonard Cohen, Bernie Taupin and Elton John, Brian Wilson, Jerry Goffin and Carol King, and Diane Warren. 

Popular music is multifaceted, and its arms reach into many directions. The country music genre based in Nashville, Tennessee in the USA has spawn many lasting songs -- songs that continue to be sung and will continue to be sung for many years, songs from the pens of great songwriters like Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Victoria Shaw, Vince Gill, Matrica Berg, and Alan Jackson. Songwriting is alive in the R&B genre as well.

Folk music is also a popular music genre. In fact, it is the original popular music genre. American folk tunes, with roots in England and Ireland, are still well known and sung today, just as are the spirituals of the black man. And folk music is found in all parts of the world, and this music is important as it often speaks more clearly from the soul than music created in the ivory towers of the academy. The founding country group, the Carter Family, sang many folk tunes from the Appalachian mountains.

Jazz, although considered by many to have advanced beyond its roots in bars an brothels to a higher cultural status of tuxedos and evening dresses, is based in popular music. In fact, most of the jazz standards are popular tunes.

Each nation has a popular music genre, and some of the songs from these genres have become international hits such as Nel Blu, Dipinto Di Blu from Italy, Skokian from South Africa,  and La Mer (Beyond the Sea) from France (a country with an amazing popular music culture).

As far as America's own popular music. A high point was reached during the mid-1950s with the super romantic music of that time. This was followed by the great early rock and roll records. But then the music of the UK took over in the 1960s, topped by amazing groups like the Beatles and the Moody Blues. 

During the 1970s, popular music began it's downturn as heavy drugs began influencing the music, and during the last twenty years of the century the market was besieged by music of lower quality. Popular music remained steady in Europe, however, even with the onslaught of Grunge, Heavy Metal, and Rap. In the UK, we find artists such as the Bee Gees, Phil Collins, and Sir Elton John who have continuously created popular music that is more memorial and "popular" than any of the tunes created by the grunge, punk and heavy metal groups.

Canadian-born popular artists Brian Adams and Celine Dion have maintained international careers. Celine's French albums, made in collaboration with the great French songwriter Jean-Jacques Goldman have sold more copies in France than those of any other singer. The fantastic singer Mariah Carey has achieved world-wide status and former singer with Take That, Robby Williams, has become a super star, except in the US where he is almost unknown.

Pop music is pop music, even though it may wear different labels, and crossover is proof of that. The country hits I Swear and I Can Love You Like That by John Michael Montgomery were covered by All-4-One, entering the R&B charts.  Diane Warren's songs have reached the top position on pop, R&B, and country charts. The great Irish boy band Boyzone has made hits of several US country tunes.

In Sweden the group ABBA has influenced many popular musicians with their memorable songs as well as fellow countryman Max Martin, who wrote the first great tunes for the Backstreet Boys. 

The Backstreet Boys really reintroduced popular music to the USA, which had plunged so far into alternative styles of music that many people laughed at the group's sweet-sounding harmonies and Max Martin's beautiful melodies. Many in the US thirty-something generation made comments such as "The Backstreet Boys are ruining music!" The opposite was true, however, as this group brought back into the US the pop music that was thought to be "too uncool." Considered to be mearly a teenage girl group, this was general assesment was really unfair. The sound of the Backstreet Boys came from R&B, influenced primarily by the incredible R&B group Boys II Men, by Brian McKnight, and the harmony groups Jodeci and Shai.

When they first began singing, the Backstreet Boys, hailing from the US, could not even get airplay on their own grunge- and heavy metal-laden radio stations and had to go to Europe instead, where boy groups, such as Ireland's Boyzone, were already major hits. The Backstreet Boy's first hits with Max Martin in Sweden became major hits in Europe, but it would be two years before they could get airplay in their native country.

Ireland is a pop music haven. With its roots so tied into its own beautiful folk music, this country has produced some major pop stars who sell millions of records in other countries, but whose music fall on deaf ears in the US. Chris De Burgh's famous tune Lady In Red did manage to become a hit in the US, but few people in the US realize what a pop star he is in Europe. Westlife, is a young Irish boy band of incredible talent and who have recorded a great number of fantastic songs, and the fabulous Corrs, a young Irish family group produced by LA's David Foster, have sold -- it has been said -- 26 million records in Europe, while being rarely accepted in the country of their producer.

The fabulous French singer Lara Fabian move to Canada to attempt entry into the North American market, and began a struggle that has lasted for years. Gradually, the strong-hold that the alternative forms of music have had over the American public will probably loose its grip and it is hoped that there were be a reemergence of popular music in the US. Already the signs are there, with the emergence of the phenomenal young Josh Groban in 2001.

There are many people who believe that popular music and classical music should be considered two different genres that can never mix. Arguments continue to go on among classical music aficionados trying to separate there music into the category of Art, and placing popular and folk music into a category of "fleeting music that appeals to the masses." No one need to be this narrow minded. Often these kinds of ideas are developed by people who need to feel that what they are doing is above the mass consciousness, and by enjoying popular songs, they are somehow lowering themselves. There is talk of "Three chord" songs, song with just three chords, as if that is something that is retarded. But classical music with three chords is not hard to find. Wagner's overture to Das Rhiengold has only one. The chart-topping song Amazed sung by the country group Lonestar is written using three different keys, a different key for different sections. 

Just to show the thin line that separates classical from popular music, during the 1940s and early 1950s there was a prominent crossover from the lighter side of classical into popular music: The tunes for the popular Broadway musical Kismit for example (Stranger in Paradise and Baubles, Bangle's and Beads) were all based on melodies from Russian composer Alexander Borodin, and themes from Rachmaninoff's wonderful 2nd piano concerto not only was used as the main theme for Full Moon and empty arms, a 1940s hit tune, but also in the 1970s as the inspriation for Eric Carmen's wonderful All By Myself. Also during the early 1950s, pop tunes reached the airwaves based on melodies from Greig, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, and Franck.

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