The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research 9781501330452, 9781501330483, 9781501330469

The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock is the first comprehensive academic survey of the field of rock music as it stands today

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Table of contents :
List of Figures
List of Tables
Notes on Contributors
1 Introduction: Rock Music’s Emergence, Censorship, and Perceived Death Paul Carr and Allan Moore
2 Rock Historiography: Music, Artists, Perspectives, and Value John Covach
3 Serious Writing about Rock Sarah Hill
4 The Definition of “Rock” and Stylistic Overlaps Taylor Myers and Brad Osborn
Part I Practice, Analysis, and Recording
5 Rock Voice Katherine Meizel
6 “The Rock Instrumentarium” Steve Waksman
7 Analyzing and Interpreting Song Forms Ralf von Appen
8 Convention and Invention in Harmonic and Melodic Theories for Rock Music Brett Clement
9 Rhythmic and Metric Theorization in Rock Music Nicole Biamonte
10 Computational Musicology in Rock Trevor de Clercq
11 Function and Construction of Rock Lyrics Dai Griffiths
12 Rock Music Engineering and Production Samantha Bennett
13 Sonic Space and Texture in Rock Olivier Julien
Part II Rock Theories
14 Authenticity, Creativity, Originality Theodore Gracyk
15 Categorization: Genre, Style, Idiolect, and Beyond Nick Braae
16 Personas in Rock: “We Will, We Will Rock You” Stan Hawkins
17 Rock Hermeneutics Katherine Reed
18 Narrativity and Rock Music Alexander C. Harden
19 Sliding Scales and Slippery Slopes: Representations of Autonomy and Mediation in the “Radial Mainstream” of UK-Based Pop/Rock Damon Minchella
Part III Rock Environments
20 Studio Practice and Organization in Rock Music Simon Zagorski-Thomas
21 Rock Music Pedagogy in the UK and USA: Ignorance or Elitism? Paul Carr
22 The Rock Press Paula Hearsum and Martin James
23 Rock and Time-Based Visual Media Laura Niebling
24 Rock in Time-Based Events Andrew Blake
25 Rock Live Performance Sergio Pisfil
26 Marketing and Commodification of Rock Roy Shuker
Part IV Social and Cultural Issues
27 Rock, Popular Culture, and Power:Politics and PolicyShane Homan
28 Understanding Gender and Sexuality in Rock MusicLori Burns
29 Race and Racialism in Rock Jon Stratton
30 In the World: Beyond theEnglish-Speaking West Motti Regev
31 Global Rock as Postcolonia lSoundtrack Jeremy Wallach
32 Rock Music and Place Geoff Stahl
33 Fans and Consumption Mark Duffett
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The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research


The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research Edited by Allan Moore and Paul Carr

BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC Bloomsbury Publishing Inc 1385 Broadway, New York, NY 10018, USA 50 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3DP, UK BLOOMSBURY, BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC and the Diana logo are trademarks of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published in the United States of America 2020 Volume Editors’ Part of the Work © Allan Moore and Paul Carr, 2020 Each chapter © of Contributor For legal purposes the Acknowledgments on p. xviii constitute an extension of this copyright page. Cover design: Louise Dugdale Cover image © fabio formaggio / Alamy Stock Photo All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. Bloomsbury Publishing Inc does not have any control over, or responsibility for, any third-party websites referred to or in this book. All internet addresses given in this book were correct at the time of going to press. The author and publisher regret any inconvenience caused if addresses have changed or sites have ceased to exist, but can accept no responsibility for any such changes. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Moore, Allan F. editor. | Carr, Paul, 1959- editor. Title: The Bloomsbury handbook of rock music research / edited by Allan Moore and Paul Carr. Description: New York : Bloomsbury Academic, 2020. | Series: Bloomsbury handbooks | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2020001963 | ISBN 9781501330452 (hardback) | ISBN 9781501330469 (pdf) | ISBN 9781501330476 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Rock music–History and criticism. | Rock music–Social aspects. Classification: LCC ML3534 .B6325 2020 | DDC 781.66072–dc23 LC record available at ISBN: HB: 978-1-5013-3045-2 ePDF: 978-1-5013-3046-9 eBook: 978-1-5013-3047-6 Typeset by Integra Software Services Pvt. Ltd. To find out more about our authors and books visit and sign up for our newsletters.


List of Figures  viii List of Tables  x Notes on Contributors  xi Acknowledgments  xviii

1 Introduction: Rock Music’s Emergence, Censorship, and Perceived Death Paul Carr and Allan Moore  1

Prefatory 2 Rock Historiography: Music, Artists, Perspectives, and Value  John Covach  25 3 Serious Writing about Rock  Sarah Hill  37 4 The Definition of “Rock” and Stylistic Overlaps Taylor Myers and Brad Osborn 47

Part I  Practice, Analysis, and Recording 5 Rock Voice  Katherine Meizel  61 6 “The Rock Instrumentarium”  Steve Waksman  77 7 Analyzing and Interpreting Song Forms Ralf von Appen 91 8 Convention and Invention in Harmonic and Melodic Theories for Rock Music  Brett Clement  107



9 Rhythmic and Metric Theorization in Rock Music Nicole Biamonte 129 10 Computational Musicology in Rock  Trevor de Clercq  149 11 Function and Construction of Rock Lyrics Dai Griffiths 165 12 Rock Music Engineering and Production Samantha Bennett 179 13 Sonic Space and Texture in Rock  Olivier Julien  195

Part II  Rock Theories 14 Authenticity, Creativity, Originality Theodore Gracyk 209 15 Categorization: Genre, Style, Idiolect, and Beyond Nick Braae 225 16 Personas in Rock: “We Will, We Will Rock You” Stan Hawkins 239 17 Rock Hermeneutics  Katherine Reed  255 18 Narrativity and Rock Music  Alexander C. Harden  269 19 Sliding Scales and Slippery Slopes: Representations of Autonomy and Mediation in the “Radial Mainstream” of UK-Based Pop/Rock Damon Minchella 277

Part III  Rock Environments 20 Studio Practice and Organization in Rock Music Simon Zagorski-Thomas 297 21 Rock Music Pedagogy in the UK and USA: Ignorance or Elitism?  Paul Carr  307


22 The Rock Press  Paula Hearsum and Martin James  327 23 Rock and Time-Based Visual Media Laura Niebling 345 24 Rock in Time-Based Events  Andrew Blake  367 25 Rock Live Performance  Sergio Pisfil  381 26 Marketing and Commodification of Rock Roy Shuker 395

Part IV  Social and Cultural Issues 27 Rock, Popular Culture, and Power: Politics and Policy  Shane Homan  413 28 Understanding Gender and Sexuality in Rock Music Lori Burns 431 29 Race and Racialism in Rock  Jon Stratton  445 30 In the World: Beyond the English-Speaking West Motti Regev 459 31 Global Rock as Postcolonial Soundtrack Jeremy Wallach 469 32 Rock Music and Place  Geoff Stahl  487 33 Fans and Consumption  Mark Duffett  497 Bibliography  507 Index  613



  7.1 Proportion of AABA and verse/chorus forms among no. 1 hits on the Billboard Top 100, 1952–1982  97   7.2 Example for a timeline, created with Variations Audio Timeliner (Alice Cooper, “No More Mr. Nice Guy”)  103   8.1

Graph of “Strawberry Fields Forever”  109

  8.2 Stephenson’s chord palettes: (a) major system and (b) chromatic minor system  112   8.3

Biamonte’s pentatonic systems  113


Functional analysis of Bobby Darin’s “Dream Lover”  117


Summary of neo-Riemannian transformations  118


Graph of the Beatles’ “Nowhere Man”  120


Melodic sketch of The Icicle Works’ “Don’t Let It Rain on My Parade”  120


Revised sketch of The Icicle Works’ “Don’t Let It Rain on My Parade”  120


Graphs of Tori Amos’s “Crucify”  121

  8.10 Transcription of Jane’s Addiction’s “Jane Says”  123   9.1 Michael Jackson, “Billie Jean” (Thriller, 1982), opening vocal melody (upper staff) and Temperley’s rhythmic regularization (lower staff)  131   9.2 Michael Jackson, “Billie Jean” (Thriller, 1982), vocals and accompaniment at beginning of verse  131   9.3 The Temptations, “My Girl” (The Temptations Sing Smokey, 1965), introduction  133   9.4

Van Halen, “Jump” (1984, 1983), synthesizer introduction  136


London’s cyclic representation of meter  137


Yust’s representation of metric and rhythmic structure  138

10.1 Kern encoding for the first measure of J. S. Bach’s Two-Part Invention No. 1 in C Major, BWV 772  151 10.2 One possible transcription of the vocal melody from Bonnie Raitt’s 1991 recording of the song “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” mm. 16–19  152 10.3 An alternate transcription of the vocal melody from Bonnie Raitt’s 1991 recording of the song “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” mm. 16–19  152


10.4 Absolute time, form, and harmony for “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (recorded by the Shirelles, 1960), as encoded in the McGill Billboard corpus  155 10.5 Form and harmony for “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (recorded by the Shirelles, 1960), as encoded by David Temperley in the Rolling Stone corpus  156 10.6 Progressive versus retrogressive root motion in a corpus of common-practice music  160 10.7

Progressive versus retrogressive root motion in a corpus of rock music  160


Screenshot from ReVamp, “Nothing,” lyric video  439


Screenshot from ReVamp, “Nothing,” lyric video  440


Screenshot from ReVamp, “Nothing,” lyric video  441



  7.1 Form Chart (Supremes, “You Can’t Hurry Love”)  100 10.1 Average Chord Durations (in measures) per Song in a Corpus of 200 Rock Songs, for Songs with Both Verses and Chorus Sections  162


Ralf von Appen is Professor for History and Theory of Popular Music at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, Austria. He holds a PhD in musicology from the University of Gießen, Germany, where he worked as a teaching and research assistant from 2004 to 2019. Ralf von Appen has published widely about the history, psychology, aesthetics, and analysis of popular music, and is coeditor of Song Interpretation in 21stCentury Pop Music (2015). He has been chairman of the German Society for Popular Music Studies since 2008. Samantha Bennett is Professor of Music at the Australian National University. She is the author of two monographs, Modern Records, Maverick Methods (2018) and Peepshow, a 33 1/3 series edition on the album by Siouxsie and the Banshees (2018). She is also a coeditor of Critical Approaches to the Production of Music and Sound (2018) and Popular Music, Stars and Stardom (2018). Samantha is widely published on the technological, sound recording, and production aesthetics of recorded popular music. Nicole Biamonte is Associate Professor of Music Theory at McGill University. Among her publications are articles and book chapters on pitch structures, form, and meter and rhythm in popular music (in Music Theory Spectrum, Music Theory Online, and elsewhere); exoticism in the music of Rush; musical representation in the video games Guitar Hero and Rock Band in her own edited collection Pop-Culture Pedagogy in the Music Classroom (2010); and historicist aspects of nineteenth-century art music (in Beethoven Forum and Intégral). She recently completed a three-year term as the editor of the journal Music Theory Online. Andrew Blake teaches at the University of the Arts London, and is a visiting fellow of the University of Winchester. He has written widely on literature, sport, and music, with books including The Music Business (1992), The Body Language: The Meaning of Modern Sport (1996), The Land Without Music: Music, Culture and Society in Twentieth Century Britain (1997), Living Through Pop (1999), and Popular Music in the Age of Multimedia (2007). Nick Braae is an academic staff member in Music at the Waikato Institute of Technology in Hamilton, New Zealand, where he teaches music theory, composition, songwriting, cultural studies, and music history. He completed a PhD on the idiolect of British rock band Queen, and he has since published widely on the group, as well as on New Zealand



popular music and cultural identity. Outside of teaching, Nick is active as a session pianist, a musical theatre composer/arranger, and a musical director and conductor for shows including, recently, We Will Rock You, Sweet Charity, The Last Five Years, and Sister Act. Lori Burns is Professor and Director of the School of Music at the University of Ottawa. Her research merges cultural theory and musical analysis to explore representations of gender in popular music. In addition to her published articles and monograph (Disruptive Divas: Critical and Analytical Essays on Feminism, Identity, and Popular Music, 2002), she has coedited two collections: The Pop Palimpsest: Intertextuality in Recorded Popular Music, with Serge Lacasse (2018) and The Bloomsbury Handbook to Popular Music Video Analysis, with Stan Hawkins (2019). She is coeditor of the Ashgate Popular and Folk Music series with Justin Williams. Paul Carr is Professor in Popular Music Analysis at the University of South Wales, UK. His research interests focus on musicology, widening access, the music industry, and pedagogical frameworks for music-related education. His most recent publications include an edited collection on Frank Zappa (2014), two chapters in the Oxford Handbook of Music and Virtuality (2016), a monograph on Sting (2017), and a special edition of the journal Popular Music History on lost musical histories (2020). He also works as a forensic musicologist on a consultancy basis, with recent activities including work for Warner Chappell and Universal Music on copyright infringement cases. Brett Clement is Associate Professor of Music Theory at Ball State University. His research focuses on repertoires that fuse elements of popular and classical music, including progressive rock and the music of Frank Zappa. His work has been published in Gamut, Music Theory Spectrum, Music Theory Online, Music Analysis, Perspectives of New Music, and Journal of Music Theory. John Covach is Director of the University of Rochester Institute for Popular Music and Professor of Theory at the Eastman School of Music. He has published dozens of articles on topics dealing with popular music, twelve-tone music, and the philosophy and aesthetics of music. He is the principal author of What’s That Sound? An Introduction to Rock Music (2018) and has coedited Understanding Rock (1997), American Rock and the Classical Music Tradition (2000), Traditions, Institutions, and American Popular Music (2000), Sounding Out Pop (2010), and the Cambridge Companion to the Rolling Stones (2019). Trevor de Clercq is Assistant Professor in the Department of Recording Industry at Middle Tennessee State University, where he coordinates the musicianship curriculum and teaches coursework in audio theory and music technology. His research focuses on the ways that contemporary popular music departs from traditional theoretical frameworks, developed primarily within the context of common-practice-era music, especially as shown through computational methods. He holds a PhD in music theory from the Eastman School of Music.


Mark Duffett is Reader in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Chester. He is an Oxford-educated, Gales-listed popular music scholar who specializes in music fandom and Elvis Presley. His publications include Understanding Fandom (2013) and Counting Down Elvis (2018). He has been a keynote speaker at events in Finland and the UK, and also been an invited participant at conferences in several places such as Moscow and Rotterdam. His current projects include a volume coedited with Beate Peter called Popular Music and Automobiles (2020), plus another edited volume titled Rethinking Elvis (2020). Theodore Gracyk is Professor of Philosophy at Minnesota State University Moorhead and (since 2013) the coeditor of The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. He is the author of four philosophical books on music, including Rhythm and Noise: An Aesthetics of Rock Music (1996) and On Music (2013). Another of his books was corecipient of the 2002 Woody Guthrie Award (the 2002 IASPM/US Book Award). With Andrew Kania, he coedited The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Music (2011), and with Lee B. Brown and David Goldblatt, cowrote Jazz and the Philosophy of Art (2018). Dai Griffiths is Senior Lecturer in Music at Oxford Brookes University, and author of books on Radiohead and Elvis Costello. He has also published many papers on popular music, including on the history of pop music since punk, the role of words in songs, elevating modulation, and the rock critic Robert Christgau. He lives in Oxford, England. Alexander C. Harden is a researcher in narratology and popular music analysis. He is a recent graduate of the University of Surrey for his doctoral thesis “Narrativity, Worldmaking, and Recorded Popular Song” and received an International Association for the Study of Popular Music (UK & Ireland Branch) Andrew Goodwin Memorial Prize for his essay “A World of My Own.” Stan Hawkins is Professor of Musicology at the University of Oslo and the University of Agder, Norway. He is author of Settling the Pop Score (2002), The British Pop Dandy (2009), Prince: The Making of a Pop Music Phenomenon (co-authored with Sarah Niblock, 2011), and Queerness in Pop Music (2016). He has edited numerous articles on the topics of space and place, audiovisuality, critical musicology, gender, and listening. He was coeditor of the Ashgate Popular and Folk Music series (with Derek Scott and Lori Burns) from 2010 to 2019. In 2016 he was elected to the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Sarah Hill is Senior Lecturer in Music at Cardiff University and coordinating editor of the journal Popular Music. She has published on Welsh-language popular music and cultural identity, female vocality, progressive rock, and politics and popular music in 1968. Her most recent book is San Francisco and the Long 60s (2016). Shane Homan teaches media studies at Monash University, Melbourne. His most recent book, coauthored with Martin Cloonan and Jen Cattermole, is Popular Music Industries and the State: Policy Notes (2016). He is currently project leader on the Australian Research




Council grant Interrogating the Music City: Pop and the Cultural Economy of Melbourne; and a project member on the Australian Research Council grant The Economic and Cultural Value of Australian Music Exports at Newcastle University, Australia. Paula Hearsum is a principal lecturer in Music and Media at the University of Brighton. Her professional background includes a decade as a staff music journalist for Vox. She also has written for The Times, NME, Everywoman, and Sounds, and published Manic Street Preachers: Design for Living (1997). Her research considers the dominant social discourses and narratives through the mediation of popular musicians’ deaths and the intersecting arenas of popular music, journalism, gender, and death studies. She is currently working with the British Library on an oral history of UK popular music scholars. Martin James is Professor of Creative and Cultural Industries at Solent University, Southampton. His research interests include music journalism and the printed and digital music press; music and cultural cities; and hidden histories of late twentieth-century alternative musics including punk, post-punk, and electronic music. He coauthored Understanding the Music Industries (2013) and has contributed to journals including Popular Music, Celebrity Studies, and Punk & Post-Punk. He has published a number of acclaimed books, including State of Bass: Jungle—The Story So Far (1997, 2020). Martin is also an internationally published music critic who has contributed to numerous music magazines and newspapers. Olivier Julien lectures in the history and musicology of popular music at Sorbonne University, Paris. He is the editor of Sgt. Pepper and the Beatles: It Was Forty Years Ago Today (2009) and Over and Over: Exploring Repetition in Popular Music (2018) with Christophe Levaux. Katherine Meizel is Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology at Bowling Green State University. Her book Idolized: Music, Media, and Identity in American Idol was published in 2011. Most recently she coedited the Oxford Handbook of Voice Studies (2019) with Nina Eidsheim and authored Multivocality: Singing on the Borders of Identity (2020). Damon Minchella is Course Leader and Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Creative Industries at the University of South Wales, with his research centering on the representations that popular music practitioners make in regard to the messy world of creativity. He is a Brit Award nominee and has achieved professional success in a musical career that includes performing with the Who, Paul McCartney, Amy Winehouse, Paul Weller, Oasis, Jimmy Page, and Dr. John, among others. Damon is currently recording and touring with Richard Ashcroft and contributed a chapter to Critical Approaches to the Production of Music and Sound (2018). Allan Moore is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Music and Media at the University of Surrey. He is best known for his work on the analysis and hermeneutics of popular music, particularly in major monographs, in more than sixty academic papers


and seventy (mainly BBC) broadcasts, and also in overseeing various edited collections. A longtime editor of Popular Music and cofounder of Twentieth-Century Music, he is series editor of Routledge’s recently commissioned series Music’s Interdisciplines. He has particular interests in rock music theory, progressive rock, the recorded folksong of northwestern Europe, modernist concert music, and late tonal piano miniatures. Laura Niebling is a media scholar at the University of Regensburg, where she teaches the history of film and digital media. She has worked extensively on popular music and (documentary) film in German and Anglo-American history and is the author of Rockumentary—Theorie, Geschichte und Industrie (2018) and the coeditor of Populäre Musikkulturen im Film (2016). Her current research has shifted the focus to the material history of sonic media and telecommunication, with work on the history of sound carriers in Germany after 1945 and a comprehensive project on the history of German telemedicine. Taylor Myers is a PhD candidate in music theory and a part-time lecturer at Rutgers University, where she obtained a master’s degree in 2015. Her dissertation is a theoretical approach to the analysis of genre in popular music. She has presented work at local, national, and international conferences and has a forthcoming coauthored chapter on the function of form in Beyoncé’s protest music. While focusing on genre in popular music, Taylor continues to pursue other research interests including feminist theory and opera studies. Brad Osborn is Associate Professor of music theory and a faculty affiliate in American Studies at the University of Kansas. He is the author of the monograph Everything in Its Right Place: Analyzing Radiohead (2017). Osborn’s other research on post-millennial rock music is published in Music Theory Spectrum, Perspectives of New Music, Music Analysis, and Music Theory Online. Brad writes and records shoegazey post-rock as the artist D’Archipelago. Katherine Reed is an assistant professor of musicology at California State University, Fullerton. Her research interests include musical semiotics, the use of preexisting music in film, and British popular music, particularly David Bowie’s works of the 1970s. Reed’s work has appeared in Popular Music and Society, Music and the Moving Image, Musicology Now, and the Society for American Music’s Digital Lectures series. She is the coeditor of the forthcoming collection Music in Twin Peaks: Listen to the Sounds, and is at work on her current book project, Hooked to the Silver Screen: David Bowie and the Moving Image. Motti Regev is a cultural sociologist. His work on popular music focuses on the case of Israel and on the globalization of pop-rock music. His books in English include Popular Music and National Culture in Israel (2004, with Edwin Seroussi) and Pop-Rock Music: Aesthetic Cosmopolitanism in Late Modernity (2013). He is Professor of Sociology at the Open University of Israel.




Roy Shuker is Adjunct Professor in Media Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. He is the author of Understanding Popular Music Culture (1994), Popular Music: The Key Concepts (1998), and Wax Trash and Vinyl Treasures: Record Collecting as a Social Practice (2010). Geoff Stahl is Senior Lecturer in media studies at Victoria University of Wellington, Aotearoa/New Zealand. His research areas include scenes and subcultures, urban studies, semiotics, and food studies. His publications include coauthoring Understanding Media Studies (2009), editing Poor, But Sexy: Reflections on Berlin Scenes (2014), and coediting Made in Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand: Studies in Popular Music (with Shelley Brunt 2018), as well as articles on urban musical culture in Berlin, Montreal, and Wellington. He has recently begun researching food and drink cultures in the city and has published on mock meats. Jon Stratton is an adjunct professor in the School of Creative Industries, University of South Australia. Jon has published widely in cultural studies, Australian studies, media studies, Jewish studies, and on race and multiculturalism. He is the author of When Music Migrates: Crossing British and European Racial Faultlines 1945–2010 (2014) and coeditor of Black Popular Music in Britain Since 1945 (with Nabeel Zuberi, 2014). Steve Waksman is Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman Professor of American Studies and Professor of Music at Smith College, Massachusetts, USA. He is the author of Instruments of Desire: The Electric Guitar and the Shaping of Musical Experience (2001) and This Ain’t the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk (2009), and coeditor of the Sage Handbook of Popular Music (with Andy Bennett, 2015). Currently, he is writing a book on the history of US live music. Jeremy Wallach is Professor of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University. An anthropologist specializing in popular musics, he has written or cowritten over two dozen research articles; coedited an issue of Asian Music (2013); authored Modern Noise, Fluid Genres: Popular Music in Indonesia, 1997–2001 (2008; Indonesian translation, 2017); and coedited Metal Rules the Globe: Heavy Metal Music Around the World (with Harris M. Berger and Paul D. Greene, 2011). Wallach is cofounder and former chair of the Society for Ethnomusicology Popular Music Section and has presented his research in many countries around the world. Sergio Pisfil is a postdoctoral research fellow at Sorbonne University, France. His research interests include the history, aesthetics, and philosophy of popular music and he has published in various edited collections and specialized journals of popular music. His PhD, gained at the University of Edinburgh under the supervision of Simon Frith and Sean Williams, focused on the history of live sound and its connection to rock music between 1967 and 1973. He is currently coediting Researching Live Music: Gigs, Tours, Concerts and Festivals (2021).


Simon Zagorski-Thomas is Professor at the University of West London and founded and runs the 21st Century Music Practice Research Network. He edits the Cambridge Elements series and Bloomsbury book series on 21st Century Music Practice and is exchairman and cofounder of the Association for the Study of the Art of Record Production. He worked for twenty-five years as a composer, sound engineer, and producer. His most recent publications include Musicology of Record Production (2017) and two coedited books: The Art of Record Production (with Simon Frith, 2012) and The Bloomsbury Handbook of Music Production (with Andrew Bourbon, 2020).



First and foremost, the editors would like to thank all of the contributors who have engaged so productively with this collection. Without their enthusiasm, breadth of knowledge, and world-leading expertise, this book would simply not have been possible. We would also like to thank Bloomsbury, in particular Leah Babb Rosenfeld, who has nurtured the project over the time of its production. Thank you to one and all. Paul: I would like to thank Allan for giving me the opportunity to participate in what was, originally, very much his idea. As one of the most influential writers to contribute toward my own analytical thinking, it has been a great privilege to edit a book with Allan, and I thank God for the contribution he has made to popular music studies. I also want to thank my employers, the University of South Wales for giving me the time, space and finance to complete the book. I also want to thank Jeremy Wallach, for “going beyond the call of duty” when checking the bibliography. Last but by no means least, I want to thank my amazing family, who have nurtured my creativity over many years. All I can say is Deb, Harriet, and Rory—I love you, and I want to dedicate my contribution to you. Allan: Thanks to Derek and Leah for the original idea and motivation; many thanks to Paul for picking up the reins when energy finally failed me; and thanks to the many colleagues who entertained the idea seriously, even if some finally weren’t able to contribute.

1 Introduction: Rock Music’s Emergence, Censorship, and Perceived Death Paul Carr and Allan Moore

In the life of the academic, there are few better experiences than the excitement of receiving the first draft of chapters for an edited collection you have, with some trepidation, agreed to take on. Not only is there so much you can learn from chapters with as wide a disciplinary base as gathered here, but there’s the immense respect owed to authors who have agreed to fall in with your plan for the volume. Indeed, the sheer number of authors willing to participate in this extensive collection in many respects reflects the strength in depth of the academic community now surrounding rock music—which has grown significantly since the early attempts of authors such as Laing (1969), Gillett (1970), Hamm (1971), Belz (1971), Mellers (1973), and Frith (1978),1 who of course stood on the shoulders of rock-focused magazines such as Crawdaddy!, Rolling Stone, International Times, and New Musical Express. Focusing broadly on musicological, historical, aesthetic, sociological, industrial, and cultural perspectives, in many respects these authors set the foundations for the approaches that were to follow, with Hamm’s essay being a particularly noteworthy example of the then perceived (lack of) academic importance placed on the serious study of “vernacular” music in the early 1970s. After publishing his concern that artists such as Jimi Hendrix were not considered in American Music Society publications and how the society’s methods and aesthetics needed to be broadened in order to engage with this “more varied body of material,”2 Hamm received the following response from noted early music expert, Denis Stevens: The gist of [Hamm’s] argument is that one of the best musicological journals in the world …, should be censured for failing to give publicity to jazz, pop, rock, folk and trick music …. We are told that “many younger people today … understand only too well the artistic, historical, and sociological value of this music.” Younger than whom? Perhaps this sentence should read: “many immature quasi-illiterates understand perfectly the atavistic, hysterical and social appeal of this noise.” For noise most of it is.3


The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

As outlined by Cusick,4 the American Music Society had a similar exclusionary philosophy regarding the inclusion of women when establishing the organization three decades earlier in the mid-1930s, and it is gratifying to note that nearly half a century after Stevens’s article, not only is rock scholarship pervasive but so too are feminist approaches to rock analysis, via authors such as Susan McClary, Mavis Bayton, Norma Coates, Arlene Stein, and Sheila Whiteley.5 It is also interesting and perhaps ironic to point out that many of the “younger people” referred to in Stevens’s article were not only rock music’s audience but also some of its earliest academic writers, with Dave Laing’s pioneering Sound of Our Time (first published in 1969) arguably being the most notable example of this relationship.6 Written when he was still in his early twenties, Laing’s book foreshadows numerous debates that were to be taken up by later scholars, discussing factors such as the tensions of autonomous creativity vs music industry “restrictions”; relationships of rock to broader society;7 the emergence and conception of songs as “records”; impacts of technologies on creativity and “product”; the development and importance of the producer; the significance of semiological meaning as an analytical method; interrelationships of lyrics and musical sounds; the position of place in music making; the relationship of live and recorded environments; the emergence of “youth culture”; and innovations in production and distribution. Many of these discussions have been revisited by scholars to a greater or lesser extent over the last fifty years and are pervasive strands in this current collection. Attention relating to the scholarship of rock music has of course grown significantly in the years since Laing’s book, with the genre now having a number of key academic texts by authors such as Moore, Zak, Covach, and Walser—all of which have influenced critical engagement with the genre.8 Whereas these writers discuss rock music musicologically, authors such as Frith,9 Longhurst,10 Schippers,11 Hebdige,12 Gracyk,13 Kearney,14 and Berger have examined the genre (or its subgenres) more sociologically, culturally, philosophically, and ethnographically.15 The texts dealing directly with rock music, whatever their philosophical foundations, have of course been complemented by the more general expansion of popular music scholarship, which has gained particular momentum since the inauguration of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) and the journal Popular Music in 1981, published by Cambridge University Press. These initiatives, which were preceded by the first popular-music-related journal—Popular Music and Society in 197116— have been followed by journals such as The Journal of Popular Music Studies, The Journal of World Popular Music, Journal on the Art of Record Production, Popular Music History, and more recently, The Songwriting Studies Journal.17 Although all of these journals examine rock music alongside other popular music genres, to date Rock Music Studies is the only journal to deal exclusively with the genre, considering subjects such as the etymology of the name “Heavy Metal,” rock journalism, gender branding, and rock authenticity, since launching in 2014. In addition to the texts already mentioned, a few select academic publishers have also provided a “home” for single volumes on rock scholarship, in some cases over many years. Commencing in 2003, Bloomsbury’s ​33 1 ⁄ 3 series is the most comprehensive sequence


of books to specifically engage cr itically with album analysis, and although not dealing exclusively with rock music, the majority of its current 139 titles feature rock albums, ranging from the iconic—for example, Pet Sounds (1966) and Electric Ladyland (1968)—to more niche recordings—for example, Forever Changes by Love (1967) and Entertainment! (1979) by Gang of Four. To complement this series, Bloomsbury also launched their Music and Sound Studies series, consisting of a broad range of texts on subject matters such as the recording industry;18 songwriting;19 rock subgenres such as heavy metal, punk, and progressive rock;20 rock history;21 genre;22 place;23 music festivals;24 and individual artists.25 The series also includes numerous more generic popular music–related texts, such as The Bloomsbury Handbook of Popular Music Education; An Architectural History of Popular Music Performance Venues; Popular Music in the Post-Digital Age; and Popular Music and the Awareness of Death, all of which allude in some way to rock music.26 Similarly, Ashgate’s Popular and Folk Music series (now published by Routledge) has commissioned 159 books since its inception in 2000.27 Like Bloomsbury’s series, rock music is directly and indirectly addressed via topics such as songwriting,28 subgenre,29 place,30 music festivals,31 modernism,32 rock reception,33 individual artists,34 gender,35 and stardom.36 In addition to these exemplar traditionally academic texts, a fascination with the history of rock music and stardom more generally, has resulted in a plethora of books designed for the mainstream market,37 complemented with magazines such as Classic Rock and Q,38 TV series such as Classic Albums and Rock ‘n’ Roll Britannia,39 and the emergence of rock tribute artists,40 reunion tours,41 museum exhibitions,42 and film biopics on artists such as the Doors, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and more recently, Queen and Elton John.43 Indeed it could be argued that settings such as the David Bowie and Pink Floyd exhibitions, showcased at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2013 and 2017 respectively, are signifiers that rock music is finally being considered part of the music “Establishment”—an Establishment that musicologists such as Denis Stevens, educationalists such as Brian Brocklehurst,44 and later commentators such as Roger Scruton have been intent on ring-fencing.45 However, as outlined below, the acceptance of rock by institutions such as museums, school curricula, and indeed academia are ironically factors that can also signal its “death,” by stripping it of its anti-establishment rhetoric. Due to the sheer number of texts already published,46 this is not the place to document a detailed history of rock music, although we deem it important to very briefly highlight the speed at which the genre developed stylistically, technologically, socially, and culturally, especially during its formative and consolidatory years. For example, when examining the decade between the mass emergence of rock ‘n’ roll in the late 1950s and the early 1970s, one can appreciate how developments in studio technologies impacted the creative practices of musicians, producers, and engineers. When speaking about Pink Floyd’s interface with studio technologies throughout the band’s time together, Nick Mason believed that “at every stage in this [technological] evolution there has been a need to improvise with whatever the current technology provides,”47 a dialogic process that led authors such as Albin Zak and Virgil Moorefield to consider the emergence of “producers as composers.”48 This



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

resonates strongly with Richard Middleton’s observations, that “technology and musical technique, content and meaning, generally develop together, dialectically.”49 Moorefield notes not only how record producers such as Phil Spector and George Martin progressed from “technical” to “artistic” skill bases during the emergence of rock music, but also how the emphasis on record production changed from what he describes as the “illusion of reality” to the “reality of illusion”—where close replication of a live music setting was no longer the aesthetic objective.50 This environment, in which the creation of recorded “virtual spaces” became possible, was the context in which rock music matured.51 It is important to remind ourselves that during rock music’s “incubation” years in the 1960s and early 1970s, Mason’s “improvisation” and Moorefield’s “studio-based creativity” were usually only available to those who had the financial resources to access it. Despite the “authenticity issues” associated with this creative environment being financed by a capitalist system,52 the resultant products of this experimentation can be considered to have changed the expected “skill base” of rock music’s practitioners, in addition to the aesthetic experience of its listeners, not only in sound quality but also in the emergence of the album as an aesthetic object. Indeed, if one compares a particularly innovative exemplar recording from 1966, the Beatles’ Revolver, to a snapshot of albums released in 1959, the difference over a seven-year period is startling, it being easy, even for the casual listener, to hear the transition Moorefield refers to. Albums such as Chuck Berry on Top, Frank Sinatra’s Come Dance with Me, The Fabulous Little Richard, or Miss Rhythm by Ruth Brown, despite their influence on rock and popular music more generally, all depict soundtracks of what one could describe as utopian live performances—an “illusion of reality.” Revolver, on the other hand, combines pioneering musical techniques such as mixing “exotic” sitar sounds (on “Love You To”) with rock,53 explicit “classical” influences (on “Eleanor Rigby”), and complex time signatures (on “She Said She Said” and “Good Day Sunshine”), with technical innovations such as “backwards guitars” (on “I’m Only Sleeping”), “over compressed” drum sounds (through Fairchild limiters, on various tracks), sound samples (on “Yellow Submarine”) and “Automatic Double Tracking—and its sister, flanging.”54 Sounds such as those introduced in “Tomorrow Never Knows,” the final track on Revolver, were of course “impossible to create live as a four piece” in the mid-1960s,55 a factor which ultimately led to the band focusing exclusively on studio work after 1966. In a statement substantiating the earlier remark from Nick Mason, Mark Cunningham is keen to point out that despite the “technical innovations” taking place from late 1965, the studio hardware used to forge such inventiveness largely remained the same as it had for some years, but now the control room teams were forced to wrack their brains to how they could push its capabilities to the limit and, in doing so, ignore virtually everything they had been taught as trainees.56

Despite their acknowledged acceptance as “trendsetters,” the Beatles were not the only artists to “push the boundaries” of technology, with tracks such as “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (the Rolling Stones, 1965) featuring “fuzz” guitar, “My Generation” (the Who, 1965) introducing “fatter” bass sounds, “Gimme Some Lovin’” (the Spencer Davis Group, 1966) including “overdriven” Hammond organ sounds, and the Small Faces’ “Itchycoo Park”


(1967) featuring phasing and stereo panning, techniques which were taken to the extreme by Jimi Hendrix on his first two albums, Are You Experienced (1967) and Axis: Bold as Love (1967). We could continue exploring key points in the historical development of rock, but moving forward to more recent times, in the preface to his 2002 monograph Sonic Cool: The Life and Death of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Joe Harrington makes a bold statement regarding the future of rock, asserting that “it’s probably about time that the word Rock be retired and come to signify music of the past.”57 This statement is largely based on how, according to Harrington, rock’s once anti-hegemonic way of life eventually “became perhaps the ultimate bastion of conformity, … fragment[ing] into so many subcategories … there [was] no longer any consensus even as to what ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ actually was.”58 It is noticeable how opinions concerning the “death” of rock music were pervasive well before and after Harrington’s comments, with writers asserting tropes that it has now been eclipsed by pop, hip-hop, and EDM; is now irrelevant;59 is too bureaucratic and pedagogized;60 has been negatively impacted by “museumification”;61 or was “murdered” by file sharing, technology, and lack of “value” placed on recorded music.62 Some would also argue that this “death” is verified by scarcity of chart presence; deficiency of blues influences and “human” elements;63 commodification of musical sounds and rebellion;64 death (or impending death) of iconic rock stars;65 or the demise of mainstream rock press outlets such as Melody Maker and Sounds.66 Considering this retrospectively, most of these opinions are arguably the result of Bill Clinton’s 1996 Telecommunications Act, as it was this that opened the way for mega-media corporations to form oligopolistic markets, where radio, news, television, and the music industry became dominated by a small number of corporations, offering what has been argued as an homogenized “illusion of choice” for consumers.67 This emerged simultaneously of course with the rise of the Internet, in addition to software packages such as Pro Tools, Cubase, and more recently, Apple’s Logic, all of which allow mechanisms such as autotune and quantization to correct “performance errors,” in addition to numerous presets that, as outlined below, can be regarded as threatening the skill base of established studio practitioners. According to Stevens, it is factors such as these that assisted the transition from mainstream rock musicians writing and producing their own material to what he describes as “pristine … soulless, perfection.”68 As outlined by Strachan, the increased use of the personal computer, web technologies, and the transfer of hardware to software from the mid-1990s drastically impacted traditional creative roles such as performers, engineers, songwriters, and producers, as they became even more intertwined than before, with digital work stations (DWSs) becoming a “locus for creativity” that was not dependent on geographical location.69 In addition to changing what music makers do and where they do it, these technological changes are seen to have also impacted how creatives conceptualize music, as “the lines between composition, production and performance have become progressively more blurred.”70 We would suggest that many of these changes don’t always resonate with the traditional role of a rock musician, which also feeds into the narratives concerning rock music’s “death.” For example, Greg Milner reported on how a number of rock musicians, including the Kaiser Chiefs’ keyboard player Nick Baines, believed that although Pro Tools was “convenient,” it had the potential to result



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

in musical laziness,71 with below-standard performances simply being “corrected” digitally as opposed to performatively. Similarly, and again related to notions of authenticity in performance,72 Arditi discusses how digital record production has impacted the sound and previous rhythmic complexity of music, outlining two consequences: lack of “real time” interaction between musicians and the “increasing workload of producers and engineers in the production process.” He continues: There is no longer a reason for drummers to record takes repeatedly to get the “perfect” track because no matter how many times they record the song, the producer will still edit the song. The quicker a producer can get drummers out of the studio, the more money that can be saved in the production process.73

The affordability of digital technologies can also be seen to blur the lines between professional and amateur, with rock producer Nick Raskulineez outlining how he considered his skills to be undermined: Making it in the record business back in the old days was that you could do something that nobody else could do. Pro Tools has enabled people, any average ordinary person, to achieve those results now …. It’s kind of enabled people who have no business being in the music business to become stars.74

Thirty years ago, Simon Frith prophetically outlined some of the changes that had taken place from the late 1970s in rock music over a ten-year period, all of which are related to perceptions of “the death of rock” and as discussed above, can be seen to have accelerated subsequently. In the last ten years or so the organization of popular music production and consumption has changed sufficiently to invalidate most of the assumptions on which rock culture rests. Commercial popular music no longer depends on the sale of records; it can no longer be understood in terms of a fixed sound object; it is no longer made in terms of a particular sort of audience, rebellious youth. In short, the rock system of music making no longer determines industry activity.75

Although the relationship between rock music and generic mainstream “industry activity” is indisputable, when considering comments such as those made by Arditi, Raskulineez, and Frith, we have to consider them in terms of the changing perceptions of authenticity in music and most importantly, as outlined by Kelefa Sanneh, the importance of avoiding “rockist” perspectives of music making, which are seen to: reduce rock ‘n’ roll to a caricature, then [use] that caricature as a weapon. Rockism means idolizing the authentic old legend (or underground hero) while mocking the latest pop star; lionizing punk while barely tolerating disco; loving the live show and hating the music video; extolling the growling performer while hating the lip-syncher.76

Although it is easy to fall into this “trap,” these are perceptions that this current collection has attempted to avoid. Before concluding this introduction and briefly introducing the chapters, we need to ask one final question—what is rock, as we now enter the third decade of the millennium?


Fornäs, in a paper written five years prior to the millennium, notes how rock, like any genre, is difficult to define, depending on which rules are used and,77 as Grossberg points out, who is using them and for what purpose.78 Rock can be defined by the various combinations of sounds, the tradition and perceived authenticities of the sounds and performers, in addition to the social and cultural conditions surrounding them. Indeed, this lack of agreement as to the object of study is fundamental. Some scholars are primarily interested in “music,” namely in the traces of sonic decisions held on some medium of reproduction, and their potential consequences.79 Some are primarily interested in musical “artifacts,” for instance, instruments, slabs of vinyl, recording technologies, and the like. Some are primarily interested in “people,” namely in the subjectivities who engage with these traces at some level, from musicians through to listeners and all the industry-located stages in between. Some are primarily interested in “institutions,” for instance, in those concepts, legal apparatuses, organizations, or egregores to which individual listeners cede some aspect of their agency. To a degree, these different objects of study parallel differences of disciplinary adherence on the part of respective scholars; although the binary “musicology”/“sociology” still seems operative (to cover those who address music as opposed to those who address everything else) as a crude weapon, the chapters in this volume will demonstrate that such a simple model is no longer sustainable (if it ever really was). Probably the best approach to answering the question “What is rock?” is to accept that the term operates discursively rather than definitionally. It cannot be encompassed by means of dictionaries but needs to be observed in the very particularity of its usage. Thus, each of our authors was asked to observe how the term was employed in relation to the topic they were asked to address and to accept this as the operative meaning of the term for the duration of their chapter. And, bearing in mind that a dictionary cannot tell us what a word means, but only what it did mean, in certain specific geographical and historical locations, as a guide to how contemporary users might want to make it mean now, recognizing the necessary fluidity of the term can only help us recognize the fluidity of language, and of music as a body of semiotic systems, itself. Once it was realized that rock ‘n’ roll may not be a passing fad, the Establishment began to focus on the “problematic” nature of both the music itself and the “negative” impacts it had on society. Psychiatrist Francis J. Braceland represented an early example of this trend, calling it a “communicable disease” which is “cannibalistic and tribalistic,” in a 1956 edition of the New York Times.80 As indicated by Brackett, this type of description was congruent with several other media publications at the time, providing an example of Time magazine reporting on an anonymous policeman’s perspective of a 1956 Elvis concert: “If he did that in the street we’d arrest him.”81 This negative perspective of rock ‘n’ roll was famously acted out on national TV the following year, when it was decided to only show Elvis Presley “from the hips up” when performing on the Ed Sullivan Show, although as indicated by Martin and Segrave, censorship of the media was a pervasive practice in 1950s America, which the authors see as being fueled by factors such as the generation gap, race, juvenile delinquency, and problematic “leerics.”82 As the music matured, these perceptions were still prevalent ten years later, most notably in the right-wing writings of David Noebel, and as indicated at the start of this introduction, in some educational and



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academic circles. Noebel’s writings were particularly extreme, with his arguments often simultaneously encompassing both the “primitive” quality of the music and its “negative” impacts on society. Paraphrasing Hermina Eisele Brown, the director of the music therapy department at New Jersey State Hospital, he commented: Primitive rhythms are rarely good as they arouse basic instinct in the emotionally insecure person. Rock and roll has a direct bearing on delinquency since all delinquents are emotionally insecure.83

In 1969, Noebel, who tended to specifically target the Beatles, returned to the theme of rock music’s negative impact not only on society but the human body. Based on the perspectives of rock bass player and right-wing evangelist preacher Bob Larson, he observed: The low frequency of the bass guitar, coupled with the driving beat of the drum, have a decided effect on the cerebralspinal [sic] fluid. The fluid in turn affects the pituitary gland which directs the secretion of hormones, resulting in an abnormal balance of primarily the sex and adrenalin hormones. … Since the brain is nourished exclusively by blood sugar, it ceases to function properly, causing moral inhibitions to either drop to a dangerous low or be wiped out altogether.84

In addition to being a musician and preacher, Larson has also written a number of books on the problematic nature of rock music,85 and is still documenting his thoughts regarding the negative influence of rock music on society.86 By the mid-1980s, the formation of the Parents’ Music Resource Center (PMRC) was perhaps the most widely publicized manifestation of a specific pressure group petitioning for state control of rock music, in that it was deemed to promote violence, encourage drug taking, be satanic or overtly sexual. The group, which was led by Senator Al Gore’s wife Tipper Gore, eventually persuaded the Senate to hear testimony on what Cateforis describes as “the questionable content and escalating influence of contemporary rock music and MTV videos.”87 Although Tipper Gore positioned the initiative as one of “mak[ing] information available for parents and consumers [who were] concerned about the contents of the records that their children were purchasing,”88 it heralded a well-reported backlash from musicians such as Dee Snider (from Twisted Sister) and Frank Zappa, who strongly opposed any form of music censorship. Zappa eventually published extracts of the Senate hearings in The Real Frank Zappa Book.89 Interestingly, the main focus of the Senate hearings were on rock lyric content that was deemed to be inappropriate for public consumption, although country music, with its pervasive narratives of drinking, sex, and violence, remained largely untouched. In many respects, this confirmed that the PMRC’s issues were not only lyrical but related to perceived lifestyles, image, and of course, the supposed negative impacts of specific sounds and rhythms on American society.90 When reflecting on the Senate hearings, Mark Sullivan made an important observation regarding the impact of time on our critical judgments, when stating “[it is] the same Beatles whom Noebel finds so offensive that Tippor Gore [sic] cites as rock’s idyllic past.”91 A similar observation could of course be asserted regarding the aforementioned Elvis


performance on the Ed Sullivan Show, which by today’s standards is incredibly “tame.” So, as Western society becomes more permissive, it is interesting to consider how relatively recent reportings of “extreme” music and/or performances (such as the 1994 Criminal Justice and Disorder Act’s impact on “acid house” rave culture in the UK;92 the arrest of Russian punks Pussy Riot;93 the backlash of the country music fraternity in the United States to the Dixie Chicks’ critiquing then president George Bush;94 or the gang violence related to the “drill”-based rap genre95) may be regarded in thirty years’ time.96 It is important to highlight how the abundance of social-media-related content accessible over the last two decades places most of these more recent examples in a context that is distinct from those of the 1950s and 1960s, making it more difficult for news to “rise to the surface,” let alone remain in the public consciousness. This then begs the question as to whether the backlash to John Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” comment, for example,97 would stand out today, let alone be historicized in the way it has. All of the governmental issues with rock referenced thus far are overwhelmingly mainstream and are well reported in Western media, so it is also important to mention some instances that are less well publicized, from countries outside of the United States and the UK. The prosecution of Adam Darski, from extreme metal band Behemoth, is an interesting first example. In 2007, Darski was accused of blasphemy in his home country of Poland because of his satanic lyrics and political views. After the case was taken to the European Commission in 2012, it was ruled that Darski, a self-confessed Satanist, “was entitled to offend people,”98 resulting in an interesting “contemporary” parallel to the aforementioned PMRC Senate hearings. Despite winning the case, Darski was back in court as recently as 2018, when he and his promoter were charged with mocking the Polish coat of arms via band merchandise.99 Another, more generic occurrence against the rock genre, perhaps having closer resonances with the PMRC philosophy and writers such as Noebel, was the announcement in 2011 by Uzbekistan state television that all rock and rap music was evil—a “western liberal excess” that was “created by evil forces to bring youth in Western countries to total moral degradation.”100 Regarding “extreme” and “death” metal, similar instances can be found in nations such as Malaysia,101 Turkey,102 and Egypt.103 Although all of these occurrences regarding opposition to rock are distinct in terms of chronology and style, the problematic nature of album covers, band publicity, artist image, and associated behaviors are pervasive. While we not making a moral judgment on any of the music or its transactions, these examples raise questions surrounding the relationships between broader society and emerging subcultures, whether governments should have the capacity to suppress freedom of expression, and how these opinions change over time. These dialogues are ongoing and rock music, in its various forms, has a long tradition of being central to this debate.104 Returning to “the death of rock,” if we were to accept the narrow essentialist definition of the genre as comprised of young, marginal, rebellious long-haired Western white males, playing electric guitars, composing their own material, which record companies gleefully develop and release, then the death of rock music would arguably be welcomed. However, the reality is far more complex. As outlined by Fornäs, who predicts that rock’s death,



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

will not at all be like its first breakthrough, where it in some ways seemed to replace [the criticism allocated to] jazz. It is rather like a diffuse process of fragmentation and hybridization, in which rock will in fact not die (any more than jazz died in the 50s), but only become one of several elastic threads in the increasingly motley web of popular music.105

Therefore, Fornäs considers it important to not look for homologies in the construction of rock but heterologies, where one examines “contradictions and tensions within cultural phenomena.”106 So, as opposed to looking for “clear” distinctions between pop and rock, for example, he regards it as “one single, continuous genre field, … moving within certain similar economical and social frames and circuits.”107 This is similar to the view of Myers and Osborne in this current collection, who look to a rhizomatic as opposed to an arborescent approach to genre formation. As opposed to a “rock family tree” approach, Myers and Osborne provide the following example: In an arborescent model, if we consider Brit-pop to be a branch of the parent genre “rock,” and “neo soul” to be a branch of the parent genre “hip-hop,” then the model would not recognize any similarities between Brit-pop and neo soul. A rhizomatic model, on the other hand, recognizes the possibility of any artist, song, or genre borrowing a musical trait from another, perhaps unrelated, genre.108

Fornäs provides a succinct synopsis of what this broader perception of the future of rock may look like: As long as various Others (“Afro-American” soul, reggae and rap, “female” pop, non-AngloAmerican voices …) want and manage to fight stylistic wars with the male, white, western rock heroes for the right to rock, the genre survives as an open and unpredictable field. No-one yet knows the result of its discursive struggles. They are decided by no single actor, but in a polyphonous process among unpredictable alliances among listeners, subcultures, musicians, journalists and the music industry professionals.109

Interestingly, although stylistic fusions may be one aspect of the future of rock, one must not underestimate the influence of its past. In the UK, at the time of completing this introduction, young rock artist Sam Fender’s debut album, Hypersonic Missiles, went straight in at number 1 on September 20, 2019. Fender, whose sound textures are overtly influenced by the music of his hero Bruce Springsteen, only remained there for one week, being replaced by Liam Gallagher, an artist well known as being heavily influenced by the Beatles. Ironically, one week later, on October 4, 2019, Gallagher was himself superseded by a fiftieth anniversary release of the Beatles’ Abbey Road. Although only one market, this small snapshot reveals that the popularity of a more traditional perspective of rock is still significant. However, one has to accept that a genre principally originally rooted in rhythm and blues, then rock ‘n’ roll, has subsequently expanded to a plethora of substyles, all of which have specific fashions, expressions of identity, associations with place, musical practices, audience expectations, and of course, sounds. If we are to accept the rhizomatic definition of rock, even if the genre may never have the popularity it once had, its “traces” will live on via style indicators, genre synecdoches, and clichés,110 all of which are inherent in the hauntological sounds of artists such as Belbury Poly,111 the Soundcarriers, and


Ariel Pink.112 This ever-expanding genre has been paralleled with an equally diverse range of critical perspectives, with the present collection presenting a multitude of analytical approaches to investigating this musical phenomenon, including the musicological, historical, sociological, cultural, psychological, computational, technological, industrial, pedagogical, semiological, postcolonial, and hermeneutical. Regarding the present and future of rock, this begs one final question: do collections such as this signal rock music’s “death,” as it is accepted even further into the Establishment, or will future generations simply regard rock academic discourse as an exemplar of Fornäs’s heterologies, one of Gramsci’s “infinity of traces” as the genre lives on and moves forward?113 We will leave this for the reader to decide, but what is clear is that we are now looking back on over half a century since the release of the first “classic” rock albums, making the current time in many respects an ideal opportunity to reflect upon both the genre and its academic engagement. The collection consists of thirty-three chapters, written by an international array of scholars from the UK, North America, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Canada, Norway, and Israel. The chapters, which reflect a range of complementary perspectives on a common subject, are subdivided into four “parts,” focusing broadly on rock practices, analysis and recording, theoretical perspectives, rock environments, and finally, on social and cultural issues. As the book is constructed thematically rather than chronologically it is possible to access it at any point, with no chapter dependent on another.114 These sections are preceded by three prefatory essays, the first by John Covach, who introduces the reader to the history of rock criticism. After outlining how histories of rock in the UK and USA originated principally via journalists, broadcasters, music industry veterans, and academics (both music-related and sociological), Covach proceeds to document a fascinating snapshot of the development of rock historiography, from those of pioneer writers to later histories, including those that were presented in “alternative formats” such as reissue CD booklets and video miniseries documentaries. In addition to presenting the reader with a sense of the history of rock scholarship, Covach also reminds the reader that it is acceptable to embrace the subjective nature of many rock narratives, which have the potential to provide us with a multitude of multifaceted perspectives, from biographies of single artists, histories of record labels, to studies of specific time periods and styles—all from a variety of critical perspectives. The second essay of the prefatory section is by Sarah Hill, who surveys some of the key themes in academic writing about popular music in general and rock music in particular, considering the commonalities and ruptures that have emerged in the past forty years, and the variety of disciplinary approaches that constitute popular music studies. After outlining how the Beatles garnered positive critical attention in the late 1960s, Hill verifies how rock music entered the realm of academic discourse fairly late in its history—with the genre not fully solidifying until the early 1970s, after the first dedicated peer-reviewed journal, Popular Music and Society, was established in 1971. After the formation, ten years later, of both the International Association for the Study of Popular Music and the peer-reviewed journal Popular Music, popular music studies is regarded as having gradually become established into a recognizable field of ideas and approaches. Hill discusses how much of the early scholarly



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writing about popular music concerned not only “perimeters” (what is popular music?), but the very groundwork of the field, with definitions of genres, audiences, styles, histories, and cultural interactions emerging. These early publications of the field’s discursive fabric, alongside their interdisciplinary dialogues and critical reassessments, are regarded as underpinning the academic study of popular music today. The third essay is provided by Taylor Myers and Brad Osborn, who initially examine the music theory, musicological, and cultural studies literature that has emerged relating to rock scholarship over the last thirty-plus years. Myers and Osborn then assert that a rhizomatic as opposed to arborescent approach is a more appropriate way of philosophically considering the genre formation of rock, which is regarded not as a “family tree” with development branches but as a nonhierarchical construction, with multiple entry and exit points. The essay subsequently provides a chronology of the literature that has helped define rock’s stylistic parameters, ranging from the work of Fabbri and Tagg in the early to mid-1980s, through to more contemporary scholarship. In Part I, Rock practice, analysis, and recording, authors explore a variety of analytical perspectives that are pertinent to rock music theory, instrumentation, vocalities, and recording. In a chapter focusing on rock vocalities, Katherine Meizel points out how the ways in which rock vocalists sing vary not only between subgenres but from performer to performer. Meizel highlights how singers and listeners use particular sonic cues in the voice to identify music as rock: because those sounds index specific ideas and ideologies of authenticity that matter to them. The chapter, in addressing the production of the rock voice and the scholarship in which it features, investigates how the sounds associated with rock voices correspond not merely to superficial aesthetic values but rather to concepts grounded in a culturally authenticated, genred, gendered, racialized, classed, and dis/abled framework of singing. They are rock values that celebrate imperfection and flawed individuality, and that at once resist and reinforce white cultural power through the appropriation of vocal sounds associated with black American singing. Considering all rock instruments as a type of technology, Steve Waksman surveys the fundamental components of rock music instrumentation—namely guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, and wind instruments. In addition to providing an historical evolution of the individual instruments, his essay concentrates on the variety of playing styles as well as accompanying styles of physical stage performance where applicable. Waksman frames the chapter throughout by also considering the small but growing literature on musical instruments as cultural artifacts, in connection with rock and popular music. The chapter provides not only a useful overview of the scholarship and contributions of practitioners and instrument designers, but also how these combined innovations shaped the history of the genre. After rationalizing the late emergence of literature related to rock song analysis in popular music studies and musicology, Ralf von Appen provides an historical review of the development of (sometimes oppositional) textual and sociocultural approaches. Appen proceeds to examine ways that the “sections” of popular song have been categorized and perceived, and most importantly, how these psychological perceptions have


changed historically. This is followed by a discussion surrounding the potential meanings of song forms, showing how theories of gesture or embodied cognition can support such interpretations and how song forms can be read semantically, historically, symbolically, or functionally. The chapter concludes with a consideration of potential methodological approaches and points toward directions future research might take. Brett Clement surveys the scholarship devoted to theories of harmony and melody in rock music. With the former regarded as the most established of the two because of scholars’ previous engagement with tonal classical music, Clement examines a range of perspectives on the relationship of melody and harmony, both individually and collectively. This is initially undertaken through the lens of Schenkerian analysis, before focusing on more “rock-centric” approaches to harmonic modal analysis, classifications, syntax, chord relationships and listener expectations. Clement then progresses to discuss the less pervasive scholarship surrounding melodic analysis, with contour and pitch collection regarded as the most frequently emphasized topics, particularly melody-harmony interactions. Complementing the melodic and harmonic analysis undertaken by Clement, Nicole Biamonte surveys and evaluates five distinct theories of rhythm and meter, specifically those initially developed for Western art music. This is succeeded by a consideration of more recent theories developed to analyze common rhythms in popular music, with musical examples including Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” the Temptations’ “My Girl,” and Van Halen’s “Jump.” Biamonte’s chapter is also accompanied by a number of useful figures that effectively demonstrate to the reader the analytical techniques under consideration. Trevor de Clercq surveys how computer-based statistical approaches to musicology can and have been used to understand rock music. His chapter begins with a philosophical examination of the implications of taking a non-notated musical style such as rock and converting it into a format that can be interpreted by a computer. Following this, de Clercq discusses specific issues associated with creating a corpus, such as how the song selection or encoding format can shape the statistical results. The chapter concludes with a consideration of the types of findings one can expect, as well as those we should not expect, within the context of existing rock corpora. Dai Griffiths’s chapter opens with an analysis of the second verse of “A Day in the Life” by the Beatles from 1967, after which a comprehensive series of historical models for the examination of words in rock music is considered. This includes general discussions around the relationships of words and poetry, to content analysis, to words in song from a musicological perspective, which are examined against notions of diction, grammar, meter, and rhyme. Sam Bennett examines what she describes as the space existing between performance and reception—recording and production. After arguing that the history of rock music can be considered one of technological and processual development, Bennett analyzes discourses surrounding recording and production workplaces; recordist agencies; and recording and production technologies. While dealing with these broad themes, Bennett’s chapter also touches upon many other relevant factors such as the canonization of processes; issues of gender; the mythologization of studio space; analogue—digital aesthetics; and studio space curation.



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

In the last chapter of Part I, Olivier Julien draws on the thinking of academics such as Allan Moore, Albin Zak, and Theodore Gracyk, to outline the now common distinction between notation-and recording-based musical transmissions. Julien discusses how in the years after the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll, recording emerged as not only an important creative device to songwriters such as Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, but also as a distinct analysis object for musicologists. The chapter subsequently deals with the history of the analysis of rock recordings from the perspective of texture and sonic space. After highlighting the importance of the early work of Moylan in facilitating researchers to discuss sound recording,115 it proceeds to discuss vocal staging, “sound boxes,” and what Mikkel Vad described as a “spatial turn” in popular music studies.116 In Part II, contributors focus on both common and more infrequent approaches to rock theories. Theodore Gracyk introduces the section by discussing how the concept of authenticity pivots on the idea that some relationships, especially community traditions, are more legitimate than others and, most importantly, how there are many competing standards of authenticity. Despite the skepticism surrounding the possibility of authenticity, the chapter outlines how its concepts remain in wide use, challenging musical appropriation and affirming boundaries between cultures and subcultures. Gracyk’s chapter also considers the ways in which the concepts of originality and creativity are related to authenticity in opposite ways by different intellectual traditions, with some regarding them as opposed, while others see them as closely related. Nick Braae addresses the act of categorizing music, with a primary focus on the concepts of genre, style, and idiolect as utilized in rock music research. After presenting brief definitions of these and several other related concepts, Braae explores the different ways in which one can understand the relationships between the primary categories. Although much literature posits hierarchical relationships between genre and style, and style and idiolect, Braae suggests that comparatively independent relationships between these concepts may yield fruitful analytical results, allowing one to understand in greater nuance the ways in which rock artists sit within broader musical contexts. In the final section of the chapter, Braae promotes several areas of enquiry requiring further research, especially as pertaining to the historical dimensions of styles—namely, what is meant and implied when we add temporal qualifiers to existing style and genre labels. After initially providing a reading of Mick Jagger’s recording of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” as an example of the complexities surrounding musical personae, Stan Hawkins proceeds to theorize how all artists wear a mask to some degree, which in turn evokes a wealth of interpretive responses from audiences. Although looking at a range of interpretive models, Hawkins accentuates the primacy of singing and personal narratives, when forming and communicating the complexities of an artists’ personality. The chapter poses important questions concerning the intricate formation of the rock persona audiovisually, including engagement of the listener and the intersection of collaborators, such as producers, audio engineers, and songwriters. Hawkins then proceeds to present an in-depth model of four interpretive pathways: personal narrative; proxemics; intertextuality; and temperament, which via a range of “case study” examples, assist us in ascertaining who the rock artist is and what their “persona strategies” are across a range of medias.


Katherine Reed surveys the variety of approaches taken when engaging with hermeneutic analysis of popular music, ranging from the foundational work of Simon Frith and Dick Hebdige, to those working in performance studies (such as Phillip Auslander) and, more recently, musicologists such as Susan McClary, Robert Walser, Allan Moore, Philip Tagg, and Jacqueline Warwick. Given the growth of the field of popular musicology in the last twenty years, and the changes to rock music production, distribution, consumption, and discourse, Reed more specifically engages with the paratextual developments of rock music hermeneutics, addressing new methodologies, particularly in areas of online engagement. Alexander C. Harden considers the relationships between narrativity, storytelling, and rock music. Beginning with an overview of the capacity of rock music to resonate with these facets, Harden progresses to review three main themes that have emerged: narrative analysis of prose; sonic narrativity; and broader aspects such as Alex Jeffery’s concept of “narrascape.”117 Harden addresses in greater detail the presuppositions of existing work and areas that are at present, under-theorized, in order to highlight considerations that have the potential to inform further study, such as the role of the interpreter and the challenges of engaging with different narrative formats (for example, songs/albums/videos). In the final chapter of Part II, Damon Minchella draws upon interviews with leading UK music practitioners to reveal a set of preoccupations regarding the impact of industry mediation and how this may impinge upon any ideals of autonomous music making. Underpinned by phenomenological inquiry, the chapter argues that these professionals operate in a conditioned freedom, brought about by the structural contradictions intrinsic to industry-bound practice. How such “questions” impact upon the music that is created and why musicians continue under these less than perfect conditions highlights the central importance of the creative act itself and sheds some light on previously unseen backstage stories in the making of rock music. In Part III, authors investigate a variety of rock environments, including logistics and technologies of recording studio practice, rock pedagogy, music press, audiovisual media, use of rock in public and private social spaces, live music, and marketing. The section commences with Simon Zagorski-Thomas, who investigates the economics, logistics, and technologies of recording studio practice, from the perspective of the recording studios themselves and the working practices surrounding them. The former investigates the impacts of technology and various forms of ownership that have existed in “rockbased studios,” including how ownership models and technologies have varied over time, in distinct geographical spaces, and in different economic, stylistic, and social spaces. Zagorski-Thomas then outlines the various ways in which working practices in rock music have changed over the history of the genre, including how emerging technologies have impacted working practices, how in turn studio technologies have been influenced by the practices and sounds of rock music, and how these changing practices influence notions of authenticity. Paul Carr initially reviews and critiques the existing literature that has been written over the last fifty years on rock pedagogy in the UK and the United States. Then, after briefly reviewing rock education’s expansion and cultural contexts, Carr proceeds to explore a



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

number of “issues” facing academics, students, and institutions who teach, study, and facilitate the subject today. Mainly focusing on pre-university education, the chapter outlines how current elitist perspectives of the genre have historical precedents, which can not only result in critics, government bodies, and examination boards using misjudged evaluative criteria when discussing and assessing rock music, but also negative subliminal messages regarding its value. Paula Hearsum and Martin James’s initial focus is on the history of the music press, charting the development of the “music critic” and the emergence of publications such as Sounds, New Musical Express, and many others. They outline how writing about popular music within the press and its commodification traditionally drew on sociohistoric and industry studies, intersected by related disciplines such as literary criticism, journalism studies, and various types of textual and discourse analysis. Through its open and multidisciplinary approach, the emergence of popular music studies in the 1980s is regarded as supporting this field of research. The chapter ultimately takes stock of the various lenses through which rock criticism has been understood, the methodological rigor of analysis undertaken, and new challenges to historiographies, suggesting that this is an opportune and pertinent point to take stock. Laura Niebling addresses the varying intersections of rock music and audiovisual media forms. The relationship of music and audiovisual images in aesthetic, sociological, historical, and technical as well as industrial terms is discussed, covering a spectrum from music as a content of films, games, or mobile media to music being itself a modal parameter of media (re)presentation. Andrew Blake overviews current research into rock music and time-related experiences such as sports and shopping. The chapter compares research methods and objects of study from the inception of cultural studies approaches, to more recent psychological and psychosocial methods which are seen to privilege individual experiences, while simultaneously branding spaces and events. Arguing that the 1990s saw significant shifts in the workings of capitalism toward an experience-based and mediatized economy, Blake proposes further research to re-examine the private-public experience of music in these circumstances. Sergio Pisfil initially displays how research into live music and festival culture has expanded in recent years and how popular music has provided a number of rich case studies to understand the different practices that bring these events together. By focusing on rock, Pisfil’s article reviews some of the emergent topics that have been influential in live music research, arguing that academic inquiry has often focused on industry-related issues and the consumption of live music events. With the production of live music regarded as an under-researched area, to address this imbalance, Pisfil draws attention to the production spaces and crews of live music, the role that live sound plays in our understanding of music, and the benefits of understanding live music as moving productions. Roy Shuker draws Part III to a close, addressing the important role that marketing has come to play in the circulation of cultural commodities, outlining the centrality of product positioning and imbuing cultural products with social significance in the music industry. In relation to rock music, this is regarded as centering on the marketing of


genres and stars, which have come to function in a similar manner to brand names. Historically, since its emergence as “rock” in the 1960s, a prominent narrative has been the tension between the frequently associated radical potential of the genre and its commodification, which is examined through three case studies: the marketing of the Rolling Stones across a fifty-year career; “Brand Elvis”; and the marketing of reggae star Bob Marley. The chapter also investigates the contemporary prominence of reissues and box sets, all of which suggests that commodification has been, and remains, a central part of rock music. In Part IV contributors explore a range of social and cultural issues related to rock, including the impact of government policies, gender and sexuality, race, “non-anglophone” rock, and resonance with place. Drawing on a range of popular music studies debates, Shane Homan examines how rock has helped us understand how power is used and deciphered socially, and in turn, how power structures are maintained or challenged within rock’s industrial structures. Homan examines the central theories and debates about rock and politics in addition to the ways in which governments inhibit or encourage rock music through direct and indirect policies, including the formulation of “music city” status and the changing roles of the state. Most importantly, the chapter explores rock’s cultural and political power within different popular cultural and national contexts and inside the industrial politics of popular music. How and where the #MeToo movement has impacted upon rock (and other genres) is also offered as a useful case study in assessing contemporary capacities for structural change. Lori Burns explores a number of analytic approaches to gender and sexuality in scholarly writings about rock music, with the aim of offering a critical review of the primary concepts raised in the interpretation of gendered subjectivities and representations in popular music. After discussing pioneering scholars in the field such as Barbara Bradby, Brian Torode, and E. Ann Kaplan, Burns offers a critical reflection on the state of gender and sexuality studies, identifying a range of analytical tools relating to symbolic meanings (semiotics), identity positions (subjectivities), discursive empowerment (agency), storytelling (narrative), performance gestures and expression (performativity), axes of identity (intersectionality), and cultural discourses (genre). The chapter finishes with a case study of the ReVamp song “Nothing,” sung by Floor Janson, which allows Burns to place the aforementioned analytical techniques into practice. Jon Stratton considers the raced nature of rock music. Recognizing throughout that race is a culturally constructed category, the chapter traces the history of the connection of rock music with whiteness, focusing specifically on the origin myths related to Bill Haley and Elvis Presley. Stratton argues that the black origins of rock were obscured in the United States by the whiteness of the British Invasion groups, who often interpreted black songs for white audiences. In addition to considering “anomalies” in rock’s classification such as Jimi Hendrix, Stratton also identifies the power relations between whiteness and rock’s history, asking the important question of why the genre tends to be considered as “white music.” Motti Regev’s chapter is the first of two related chapters focusing on rock produced beyond the music’s anglophone-based “center.” Regev offers a short survey of scholarly work, opening with an historic overview of what he describes as “pop-rock,” in the



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

former Eastern bloc, China, and Latin America, before progressing to review research on specific genres such as metal, alternative, progressive, and ethnic pop-rock in various countries. Research of this type, it is suggested, serves to assert that pop-rock music functions as an existing, practiced reality of musical cosmopolitanism, which is often strongly related to expressions of local identity. Jeremy Wayne Wallach highlights how music culture in the Global South has previously only been documented in piecemeal fashion by scholars. His contribution subsequently demonstrates the necessity for a more unified consideration of rock music. A source of irritation for governments in the Global South over the entire sixty-odd years of its existence, Wallach outlines how despite rock music being characterized as a virulent, particularly seductive form of Western cultural imperialism in the decolonized world, it has not resulted in meek submission to US hegemony. Instead, rock performers around the world have voiced resistance, extolled the right of free expression, and even challenged repressive governments and neocolonialist practices. This chapter then provides a broad outline of rock’s worldwide impact, drawing upon case studies from East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, covering mainstream rock as well as rock-based genres such as heavy metal, punk, and indie. Geoff Stahl illustrates the many ways in which places can provide inspiration for musicians as lyrical tropes or song settings, as well as offering a range of contexts and infrastructures for producing, performing, and consuming music itself. He highlights the ways in which certain places in turn can be the beneficiaries of a successful artist, scene, or song, with cities in particular often laying claim to being the birthplace of particular genres, sounds, and scenes. The relationships between Detroit and soul, Nashville and country, or New Orleans and jazz are offered as indicative examples where genres become inseparable from urban identities. Similarly, Seattle’s “grunge scene” and the “Dunedin Sound” have become a kind of shorthand, referring to dense cartographies of musical activity that put these cities on the map. Stahl outlines the many ways in which the local is often held up as a marker of authenticity and the manner in which many cities have come to see their rock histories as a set of cultural resources. Stahl verifies how some of these histories might be deemed of archival value, with numerous cities now creating museums or similar institutions dedicated to collecting rock memorabilia and cataloguing ephemera, as part of the recent boom in heritage tourism in cities around the globe. To conclude the collection, Mark Duffett surveys a variety of ideas from popular music studies, fan studies, and associated areas, to explain how “the rock audience” has been perceived. Duffett outlines four theoretical perspectives that can be associated with rock audiences, with the first suggesting that our understanding is a consequence of rock’s extended reaction against elitist criticism. The second outlines how rock has created a kind of community, or at least a communality. The third argues that mainstream media representations have hidden significant fan productivity, with the final perspective arguing that “the rock audience” is actually a composite, housing a variety of discrete experiences based on the social identities of its individual participants. The chapter reasons that a critically nuanced approach is required, so in every instance, we need to ask by whom and for what purpose is “the rock audience” being defined.


Notes   1. See Laing, The Sound of Our Time; Gillett, The Sound of the City; Hamm, “Music and Higher Education in the 1970’s”; Belz, The Story of Rock; Mellers, Twilight of the Gods: The Beatles in Retrospect; and Frith, The Sociology of Rock.   2. Hamm, “Music and Higher Education in the 1970’s.”   3. Stevens, “Lower Music and Higher Education in the 1970’s.” As Carr notes in his chapter in this collection, this aversion to “vernacular music” and the disdainful aesthetic value attributed to rock music in particular, also permeated discussions in educational circles on both sides of the Atlantic in the late 1960s—a debate that, to some degree, is still taking place today. For a detailed discussion of the “pop-classical split”, see Moore, Rock, 18–22.   4. Cusick, “Gender, Musicology and Feminism.”   5. McClary, Feminine Endings; Bayton, Frock Rock; Coates, “(R)Evolution Now?”; Stein, “Rock Against Romance”; and Whiteley, Women and Popular Music.   6. Laing, The Sound of Our Time.   7. Specifically via the lens of Theodor Adorno.   8. Moore, Rock; Zak, The Poetics of Rock; Covach and Boone, Understanding Rock; and Walser, Running with the Devil.   9. Frith, Performing Rites. 10. Longhurst, Popular Music and Society. 11. Schippers, Rockin’ Out of the Box. 12. Hebdige, Subculture. 13. Gracyk, Rhythm and Noise. 14. Kearney, Gender and Rock. 15. Berger, Metal, Rock and Jazz. 16. Published by Taylor and Francis. 17. Published by University of California Press, Equinox, Association of the Study of the Art of Record Production, Equinox, and Songwriting Studies respectively. 18. Hodgson, Understanding Records; and Bennett and Bates, Critical Approaches to the Production of Music and Sound. 19. Williams and Williams, The Singer/Songwriter Handbook. 20. Fletcher and Umurhan, Classical Antiquity in Heavy Metal; Coggins, Mysticism, Ritual and Religion in Drone Metal; Rombes, A Cultural Dictionary of Punk; and Hegarty and Halliwell, Beyond and Before. 21. Sneeringer, A Social History of Early Rock ‘n’ Roll in Germany. 22. Brennan, When Genres Collide. 23. Hill, San Francisco and the Long 60s; and Mišina, Shake, Rattle and Roll. 24. Mckay, The Pop Festival. 25. Calhoun, U2 and the Religious Impulse; Renza, Dylan’s Autobiography of a Vocation; Vogel, This Thing Called Life; Womack, Long and Winding Roads; and Kirby, Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll. 26. Moir, Powel, and Smith, The Bloomsbury Handbook of Popular Music Education; Kronenburg, This Must Be the Place; Mazierska, Gillon, and Rigg, Popular Music in The Post Digital Age; and Partridge, Mortality and Music. 27. Sixteen of these titles have been published by Routledge.



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

28. Marc and Green, The Singer-Songwriter in Europe; and Van Appen et al., Song Interpretation in 21st Century Pop Music. 29. Heesch and Scott, Heavy Metal, Gender and Sexuality; Dale, Anyone Can Do It; Encarnacao, Punk Aesthetics and New Folk; Strong, Grunge Music and Memory; Hecker, Turkish Metal; and Cope, Black Sabbath and the Rise of Heavy Metal. 30. Hill, “Blerwytirhwng?” 31. Anderton, Music Festivals in the UK; and Robinson, Music Festivals and the Politics of Participation. 32. Faulk, British Rock Modernism 1967–1977. 33. Jones, The Rock Canon; and Weglarz, Political Rock. 34. Carr, Frank Zappa and the And; Dalziel, Cultural Seeds; Brocken, The Twenty-FirstCentury Legacy of the Beatles; and Faulk, Punk Rock Warlord. 35. Leonard, Gender in the Music Industry. 36. Strong and Lebrun, Death and the Rock Star. 37. For example Trynka, Starman (David Bowie); Goldburg, Serving the Servant (Kurt Cobain); and Bloom, Deep Purple. It is also important to point out that some of these texts are self-penned. Indicative examples include Sting, Broken Music; Harry, Face It; and Springsteen, Born to Run. 38. Published by Future PLC and Bauer Media Group respectively. 39. Produced by Isis Productions and the BBC respectively. 40. For example, at the time of writing, Kofi Baker (son of Ginger Baker), Malcolm Bruce (son of Jack Bruce), and Will Johns (Eric Clapton’s nephew) were undertaking a “50th anniversary” world tour to celebrate the music of Cream. See Homan, Access All Areas; and Gregory, Send in the Clones, for more examples. 41. For example the reunion tour by the Police in 2007–08 and more recently the Eagles in 2019. 42. Indicative examples include Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains (which was showcased from May 13 to October 15, 2017, at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London) and David Bowie Is—a touring museum of Bowie artifacts that commenced at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in March 2013, before visiting cities such as Toronto, Melbourne, and Tokyo. It concluded in New York in March 2018. 43. The Doors (1991), Yesterday (2019), I’m Not There (2007), Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), and Rocketman (2019) 44. Brocklehurst, Music In Schools. 45. Scruton, “Rock Around the Classroom.” 46. For example, Gillett, The Sound of the City; Marcus, The History of Rock & Roll in Ten Songs; Ward, The History of Rock & Roll Volume 1; and Scaruffi, A History of Rock Music 1951–2000. 47. Mason, “Technology, the Studio, Music,” 214. 48. Moorefield, The Producer as Composer; and Zak, The Poetics of Rock. 49. Middleton, Studying Popular Music, 90. 50. Moorefield, The Producer as Composer. According to Cook, although overdubbing technology had been around since the late 1940s, multitrack recording from around 1970, now consisting of sixteen or more channels, “took things a stage further: musical textures could [now] be built up from layers recorded at different times, with reverberation and other effects being used to generate an acoustic which, … didn’t necessarily exist in reality” (Cook et al., “Introduction,” 4).


51. See Whiteley and Rambarran, The Oxford Handbook of Music and Virtuality for a comprehensive series of essays on this phenomenon. 52. See Barker and Taylor, Faking It. 53. Originally used on “Norwegian Wood” from Rubber Soul. 54. Cunningham, Good Vibrations, 145. 55. Ibid., 146. 56. Ibid., 108. 57. Harrington, Sonic Cool, v. 58. Ibid., vi. 59. Ozzi, “Rock Is Dead, Thank God.” 60. Fornäs, “The Future of Rock: Discourses that Struggle to Define a Genre.” 61. Brooks, Donnelly, and Mills, Mad Dogs and Englishness. 62. Kreps, “Gene Simmons: ‘Rock Is Finally Dead. It Was Murdered’.” 63. See Beato, “What Killed Rock ‘n’ Roll,” at watch?v=T0ycwnJArHQ. Regarding the “negative impacts of technology,” see Fornäs, “The Future of Rock: Discourses that Struggle to Define a Genre.” 64. Dylan Clarke discusses how images of rebellion, so pervasive in rock, have become “one of the most dominant narratives of the corporate capitalist landscape …, when it became the object of social inspection and nostalgia, and when it became so amenable to commodification.” He notes how ironically, a style whose authenticity was based on antiestablishment anger, including the commodification of rock ‘n’ roll, was to itself become commodified. See Clarke, “The Death and Life of Punk, the Last Subculture,” 223, 224. For an early academic account of the death of rock ‘n’ roll, see Grossberg, “Is There Rock After Punk.” 65. After reporting on the multitude of artists rock has already lost, Damon Linker reported on how in the coming decade or so, there will be a “tidal wave of obituaries to come,” with artists such as Paul McCartney, Pete Townsend, Jimmy Page, and Neil Young already well into their seventies. See Linker, “The Coming of Death of Just About Every Rock Legend.” Regarding the relationship of age and the death of “classic rock,” also see Hyden, Twilight of the Gods. 66. Leath, “So Rock’s Dead? Oh Well, It Was Always the David Brent of Musical Genres.” 67. Lutz, “These 6 Corporations Control 90% of the Media in America.” 68. Stevens, “How the Music Industry Works Like a Factory.” This has resulted in what Damon Linker has described as “robot music.” See Linker, “Taylor Swift and the Rise Of Robot Music.” 69. Strachan, Sonic Technologies, 1. It could be argued, however, that laptops have now replaced the “personal computer” as the main vehicle of music creation. 70. Ibid., 7. 71. Milner, Perfecting Sound Forever. 72. Moore, Authenticity As Authentication. 73. Arditi, “Digital Downsizing,” 508. 74. Quoted in Strachan, Sonic Technologies, 28. 75. Frith, Facing the Music, 129. 76. Sanneh, “‘The Rap Against Rockism’,” 152. 77. Fabbri, “A Theory of Musical Genres.” 78. Fornäs, “The Future of Rock”; and Grossberg, “Is There Rock After Punk.”



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  79. Namely some form of electronic recording, or marks on paper, or the human memory.   80. See Brackett, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Meets the Popular Press,” 101. The pages that follow this quote all describe a similar phenomenon.   81. Ibid.   82. See Martin and Segrave, Anti Rock. For further information on “leerics,” see Prinsky and Rosenbaum, “‘Leer-ics’ or Lyrics,” which asserts that teenagers don’t necessarily see the same anti-social messages as their “conservative” parents.   83. Noebel, Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles, 25.   84. Noebel, The Beatles, 29–30.   85. For example, Larson, Rock & Roll and Hippies, Hindus and Rock & Roll.   86. In 2011, The Phoenix Times reported him performing an exorcism on the bass player of black metal band Mayhem. See Escoto, “Bassist From Black Metal Band Mayhem to Have Exorcism Performed in Phoenix.” Larson also regularly contributes to a blog— Bob Larson, “Bob Larson the Real Exorcist: The World’s Foremost Expert on Cults, the Occult, and Supernatural Phenomena.”   87. Cateforis, “‘The Cult of Violence’,” 227. Many of Gore’s ideas were portrayed in her book, Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society.   88. Ibid.   89. Zappa, The Real Frank Zappa Book.   90. For further information on the Parents’ Music Resource Center, see Hill and Savigny, “Sexual Violence and Free Speech in Popular Music”; and Chastagner, “The Parents’ Music Resource Center.”   91. Sullivan, “‘More Popular Than Jesus’,” 321.   92. Gillett, “‘My Home Got Raided Seven Times.’” Also see Thornton, Club Cultures.   93. Michaels, “Russian Punks Pussy Riot Arrested Over Putin Protest.”   94. Smith, “Is Country Music Ready to Forgive the Dixie Chicks?”   95. Virk, “Drill Music ‘Adapting and Evolving.’”   96. See Peters, The Use and Abuse of Music, for a thorough examination of the relationships between music and crime, including sections on perceived homophobia, misogyny, and violence in heavy metal music.   97. See Runtagh, “When John Lennon’s ‘More Popular Than Jesus’ Controversy Turned Ugly.”   98. McGreevy, “Behemoth.”   99. Camp, “Charges Against Behemoth’s Nergal Dismissed in Controversial Merch Case.” 100. Anonymous, “Uzbekistan.” 101. On, “Malaysia.” 102. Osterlund, “Turkey’s Death Metal Scene Thrives Despite Government Repression.” 103. Fouad, “How Heavy Metal Music is Causing a Stir in Egypt.” 104. The authors would like to thank colleagues from the IASPM mailing list, who, on October 3, 2019, provided many interesting perspectives related to this debate. 105. Fornäs, “The Future of Rock,” 123. 106. Ibid., 122. 107. Ibid., 112. 108. See Myers and Osborne, Chapter 4 in this volume. 109. Fornäs, “The Future of Rock,” 121. 110. Tagg describes style indicators and genre synecdoches as those musical structures that enables listeners to instantaneously know the musical style they are listening to. While


the former “lays down the basis of the ‘home’ style,” the latter is regarded as “a set of musical structures imported into a musical ‘home’ style that refer to another (different foreign,’ ‘alien’) musical style by citing one or more elements supposed to be typical of that ‘other’ style when heard in the context of the ‘home’ style” (see Tagg, Music’s Meanings, pp. 523–524; emphasis in original). Similarly, Echard describes clichés as “those sounds that, even if the feature appears elsewhere, … will still function as a reference to its own tradition” (see Echard, Neil Young and the Poetics of Energy, 45). 111. For example “The New Harmony” from New Ways Out (2016). 112. For example the Soundcarriers album Entropicalia (2014) and Ariel Pink’s House Arrest (2006), both allude to rock of the 1960s. Rock music is also of course “alluded” to via samples on tracks such as “You and I” (Lady Gaga, 2011 which samples Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” 1977) and more recently “Get Ready” by Pitbull (2019), which quotes and samples “Black Betty” by Ram Jam (1977). 113. Gramsci, Selections From the Prison Notebooks, 324. 114. Although the collection is comprehensive, we were unable to incorporate some commissioned chapters on subject matters such as cognitive theories, industry intermediaries, rehearsal practices and copyright, contracts, and other legal issues. This was unfortunately beyond the editors’ control. 115. Moylan, Understanding and Crafting the Mix: The Art of Recording, 1st edn. 116. Vad, “Perspectives from the Spatial Turn on the Analysis of Space in Recorded Music.” 117. Jeffery, “The Narrascape of Gorillaz’ Plastic Beach.”



2 Rock Historiography: Music, Artists, Perspectives, and Value John Covach

Theorists of historiography generally agree that all historical narratives contain an irreducible and inexpungable element of interpretation. The historian has to interpret his materials in order to construct the moving pattern of images in which the form of the historical process is to be mirrored. And this because the historical record is both too full and too sparse.1

With these remarks, historiographer Hayden White identifies some basic problems with how history is written. “On the one hand,” White continues, “there are always more facts in the record than the historian can possibly include.”2 The historian must select. “On the other hand, in his efforts to reconstruct ‘what happened’ in any given period of history, the historian inevitably must include in his narrative an account of some event or complex of events for which the facts that would permit a plausible explanation of its occurrence are lacking.”3 The historian must fill in the gaps, and it is this selecting and filling in that opens the door to multiple interpretations among historians. As we shall see, the history of rock is rich in divergent interpretations, and these divergencies arise—not entirely but in part— due to the perspectives in which various rock historians ground their interpretations. Each approach is a kind of lens that focuses the attention while excluding or obscuring some aspects of the object of study. Such focus allows for close and sophisticated readings—a kind of magnification facilitated by the lens in use—while also relegating other dimensions to the margins, rendering them fuzzy, distorted, or even invisible. Writing on rock’s history originates in both the United States and the UK, with distinctions between these communities being more significant in the 1970s and 1980s than later. These writers on both sides of the Atlantic can be divided roughly into two types: the first are music journalists, critics, broadcasters, or music-industry veterans, while the second group is made up of academics and scholars. This second group can be further divided up into scholars and academics within musicology (considered broadly to include musicology, music theory, and ethnomusicology) and those who come to the music from other academic fields (English, sociology, cultural studies, etc.). As we survey the history of writing on rock’s history, it is clear that the music journalists and critics were mostly the first to engage the topic, producing book-length treatments in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with scholars and academics outside of musicology


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coming on the scene in greater numbers slightly later (by the end of the 1970s) and music scholars generally being the last to join in (mostly in the early 1990s). The focus of rockhistorical writing can be quite traditional, centered primarily on the music and artists, on establishing important works and events, and on providing detailed information in support of these concerns. Other orientations seek to understand rock’s history from the point of view of sociological and cultural concerns, machinations and practices of the music business, or in terms of the media or means of production (in the recording studio or live performance). This chapter will survey the ways in which rock’s history has been explored over the past fifty or so years. Our survey will unfold chronologically, but as we shall see, it will also expand in terms of compass as it progresses and as a greater number of perspectives are introduced and pursued. Many aspects of this expansion will be considered in detail in the chapters that follow; here we will merely attempt to map the territory without dwelling on any particular perspective. The emphasis will be on tracking the variety of approaches that have developed since the late 1960s and considering how (or if) seemingly contradictory, partial, or even complementary accounts, approaches, and methodologies can be reconciled.4

The Early Histories of Rock It is common to locate the birth of rock and roll in 1955, and while scholars may debate the merits of this date, it at least provides us with a rough sense of where the rock era begins. It is thus interesting to note that the first accounts of rock’s history appear already in the late 1960s. Carl Belz’s The Story of Rock and Lillian Roxon’s Rock Encyclopedia were both published in 1969.5 Belz was a Princeton-trained art historian teaching at Brandeis—and thus an academic from outside musicology—and his book casts rock music as folk art, tracing its stylistic roots and practices and comparing it to other forms of art.6 Roxon was an Australian journalist reporting from New York who became fascinated with the 1960s pop scene. Her encyclopedia is probably the first of its kind and is not a history, strictly speaking. It offers instead a reference source containing more than 500 pages of entries, from “acid rock” to “the Zombies,” while also adding an appendix listing Cashbox top albums and singles as well as a list of Billboard #1 hits.7 Belz’s serious-minded approach to rock’s history and Roxon’s cataloguing of historical information mark a starting point for rock historiography, especially in the United States. Arnold Shaw’s The Rock Revolution (1969) can also be included as an important starting point for American rock historiography.8 Shaw was a veteran of the music business who wrote a series of books on popular music, and while his book is not scholarly, it does provide a comprehensive and at times insightful account of rock’s history. In the UK, Dave Laing’s The Sound of Our Time probably marks the beginning of British rock historiography.9 While Laing’s brief book is not devoted exclusively to issues of rock history, a significant portion of it is given over to tracing the development of the style. Laing’s 1971 study of Buddy Holly’s music appeared in the short-lived Rockbooks series, edited by Phil Hardy and marking the first monograph series devoted to rock.10 Other Rockbooks

Rock Historiography

volumes included studies dedicated to the music of Motown, the Drifters, and the Who, and while these books are not primarily histories nor rigorous in the strict academic sense, they are sophisticated efforts that go beyond fan books, making use of footnotes, indexes, and appendices, and providing information on their subjects that would have been difficult to find elsewhere.11 More informal but also more historical in a strict sense is Nik Cohn’s Rock: From the Beginning (1969), which traces a path of rock’s development from early 1950s pop to the Who’s Tommy.12 Charlie Gillett’s The Sound of the City (1970) is the most significant historically oriented book to emerge from these early years of rock writing in the UK.13 Gillett places his emphasis on how the business of popular music interacts with music and artists, with this interaction sometimes playing a determining role in the way styles develop, and devotes especial attention to American record labels, both majors and independents. Gillett traces the development of rock from its origins in rhythm and blues in the post–Second World War years, through the first era (1954–58), which Gillett refers to as “rock ‘n’ roll,” and through the subsequent years leading up to the end of the 1960s. The Sound of the City grew out of Gillett’s master’s thesis at Columbia University and the writing is detailed, supported throughout by endnotes and useful lists of artists and the record labels they recorded with. Gillett’s next book focused on Atlantic Records and provided a model for the subsequent work of others dedicated to the history of specific labels.14 Wilfrid Mellers’s 1973 study of the music of the Beatles marks an important moment in the development of rock scholarship.15 Mellers approaches the Beatles’ work in much the same way as musicologists traditionally approach the music and career of a classical composer: he explores the music for historical influences, stylistic developments, and important contributions to the development of the style overall, also employing technical musical analysis and notated examples. Mellers writes that “some people seem to find it inherently risible that pop music should be discussed in technical terms at all,” but adds that “this is curious, for there is no valid way of talking about the experiential ‘effects’ of music except by starting from an account of what actually happens in musical technique.”16 Written by a professor at the University of York, Mellers’s book not only elevated the standing of the Beatles music within academia but it also encouraged other musicologists to consider taking the plunge into rock scholarship.17 Simon Frith’s 1978 book, The Sociology of Rock, introduced another academic angle to rock scholarship.18 Frith writes that he has “tried to write a book which will make sense simultaneously to sociologists who know nothing about rock and to rock fans who know nothing about sociology,” adding “the result is bound to irritate both.”19 Frith’s focus is indeed sociological, but he also devotes considerable attention to the role played by the business of music in how rock music functions in pop culture. While neither Mellers nor Frith undertakes a rock history, the approaches each employs would serve as the basis for later rock histories and historically based studies. By the mid-1970s Rolling Stone magazine had begun a series of publications that would dominate writing on rock history into the 1980s, especially for the general music fan and informal student of rock in North America. Jim Miller’s Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll (1976) was a hefty oversized volume that brought together dozens



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

of essays by top rock journalists writing on both specific styles and individual artists, buttressed by a rich array of photos.20 The essays are arranged chronologically, making this volume a hybrid of a coffee-table book and rock history tome. Subsequent and muchexpanded editions followed in 1980 and 1992. The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll appeared in 1983 and then in revised and expanded editions in 1995 and 2001.21 In 1986, Rolling Stone published its history of rock. Entitled Rock of Ages, the book was the work of three veteran music journalists: Ed Ward covered the 1950s and before; Geoffrey Stokes focused on the 1960s; and Ken Tucker tackled the 1970s and beyond.22 The writing is engaging and historically informed, but also selective. There are no reference notes nor bibliography, making the writing markedly journalistic. The emphasis is squarely on storytelling and this focus in many ways anticipates a similar approach in the rock history video documentaries that would follow in the 1990s.23 At about the same time as Rolling Stone was rolling out its rock-history volumes in the United States, the New Musical Express published its own rock encyclopedia in the UK, and Dave Laing and Phil Harvey published their three-volume Encyclopedia of Rock.24 The Laing and Harvey encyclopedia would ultimately become The Faber Companion to 20th-Century Popular Music (1990), more than doubling the length of Roxon’s 1969 volume in presenting entries from Abba to ZZ Top.25 By the early 1990s, there were several competing rock encyclopedias on the market in both the United States and the UK, indicating that there was a growing interest in rock’s history among general readers. In a parallel to Mellers’s book on the Beatles, American musicologists were also beginning to turn their attention to rock in the late 1970s and 1980s. One of the first North American academic musicologists to engage rock’s history was Charles Hamm. His 1979 book, Yesterdays, places rock music in the context of the history of American popular song.26 Hamm’s 1983 book, Music in the New World, considers rock within the context of American music in general, including classical, jazz, blues, folk, and other styles.27 While Mellers and Frith had examined rock in ways that were academic but not primarily historical, Hamm explores the music in an academic manner that is primarily historical but not limited to rock. A sign of the changes brewing in American musicology at this time is indicated by revisions in two of the most often-used textbooks devoted to the history of American music. The revised third edition of Gilbert Chase’s America’s Music (1987) includes a final chapter devoted to rock music, while the third edition of H. Wiley Hitchcock’s Music in the United States also adds material on rock.28 Neither book had included much on rock in previous editions.29 Another sign of change in musicology in both the United States and the UK was the inclusion of rock music in the New Grove Dictionary (1980). Though coverage of rock would be greatly expanded in the second edition (2001), the first edition contains a lengthy section on rock history under the heading “Popular Music” (authored by Charles Hamm) and individual (but brief) entries on figures such as Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and the Beatles.30 The early 1980s also saw the emergence of an academic journal devoted to popular music. In the Preface to the first issue of Popular Music, editors Richard Middleton and David Horn state that the journal will be “a multi-disciplinary publication, aiming to encourage and respond to serious interest in the area of popular music among both the academic and lay audience.”31

Rock Historiography

Rock Documentaries and the Rise of the Rock History Industry During the second half of the 1980s, the popular music industry experienced a crucial shift from vinyl records to the compact disk (CD), a shift that would affect the growth of rock history in a fundamental way. In an effort to convince listeners to replace their vinyl records with CDs, the industry touted the superiority of digital sound as well as the CD’s scratch-free surface and durability. To enhance the deal, labels offered “bonus tracks” with the new CD versions, providing listeners with unreleased or rare tracks, often enhanced by detailed liner notes. CD box sets typically featured booklets that also provided detailed biographical and historical information, including dates and places of recordings and otherwise difficult-to-access data. By the late 1980s, the classic rock radio format had begun to develop in the United States, as stations across the country played the top tracks from the late 1960s through to the early 1980s, sometimes even dipping into “deep tracks”—album tracks that were less often played in the past. This rise of rock’s historical repertory via CD reissues and radio format paved the way for video documentaries, and by the mid-1990s three of these played a central role in establishing a strong interest among the general public and scholars alike in rock’s history. The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll was a ten-episode mini series produced by Time-Life Video and created by filmmaker Andrew Solt and musician/producer Quincy Jones. Released in March 1995, this mini series chronicled the history of rock from its origins in late-1940s and early-1950s country and rhythm and blues through to the early 1990s. At about the same time, WGBH in Boston partnered with the BBC to produce a separate ten-episode series devoted to rock’s history called Rock & Roll (the UK title was Dancing in the Street: A Rock and Roll History). This second mini series debuted in the United States in the fall of 1995 (summer of 1996 in the UK) and is primarily based on Robert Palmer’s book on rock’s history.32 Further stoking the public interest in rock history was The Beatles Anthology video documentary, which aired in November 1995 in the United States in six episodes.33 The marketing of the Beatles documentary was highlighted by two new songs by the band, “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love,” both tracks that employed earlier recordings of John Lennon with new material added by the three surviving Beatles. Others were quick to pick up on the excitement for rock’s past—a past seemingly becoming more golden by the minute. The cable network VH-1 introduced their Storytellers series in early 1996, following up with VH 1 Legends in late 1996 and Behind the Music in 1997. Meanwhile in the UK, series such as Classic Albums delved into the close study of individual recordings.34 These documentaries generally provided reliable information, but as products of “edu-tainment,” many tended to emphasize the aspects of the topic at hand that were sensational, often with a focus more on biographical issues of success and failure, love and loss, and tragedy and recovery than on issues such as stylistic development or other topics that might be considered primarily of scholarly interest. In spite of this, the increase in interest in rock’s history prompted by CD reissues, classic rock radio, and video documentaries further reinforced



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the idea that rock music could be taken very seriously (especially among the general public) and even treated with a kind of respect previously reserved for classical music and jazz. Courses in rock music began to become more common on North American college campuses in the 1980s and textbooks began to appear to support such teaching, especially in the United States. Charles T. Brown’s The Rock and Roll Story (1983) was among the first to organize the history of rock music for pedagogical purposes, along with David P. Szatmary’s Rockin’ in Time: A Social History of Rock and Roll (1987).35 Perhaps reflecting differences of perspective similar to those of Mellers and Frith several years earlier, Brown’s approach was focused more on the music while Szatmary laid greater emphasis on the sociological dimension. Textbooks by Joe Stuessy and Katherine Charlton followed in 1990, both focussing on the music, while books from Paul Friedlander (1996) and Reebee Garafalo (1997) engaged sociological perspectives.36 By the time this author’s textbook was published in 2006, there was a well-developed and robust market for history-of-rock textbooks, reflecting the ever-increasing interest in rock history on American college campuses since the early 1980s, both in courses offered by music departments and in those offered by departments in other disciplines.37

Historical Approaches Directed by a Particular Focus The early approaches to rock’s history evince some divergence of focus (Frith’s on sociology, Gillett’s on record labels, Mellers’s on music and stylistic development, for instance), but much of this writing hewed fairly closely to the traditional model of historical account, perhaps with a special concern for biography. The task early on, it seems, was often to provide information on the music, artists, and styles, and this was especially true of the rock encyclopedias, and video documentaries. It is worth noting that in the pre-internet era, even some of the basic facts about artists and the recordings were difficult to secure. The late 1980s and 1990s witnessed an increased variety of perspectives on rock and its history, as interest in that history expanded among scholars, on college campuses, and with the general public. Broad historical accounts of rock have appeared over recent decades, including Allan Moore’s (2012) consideration within the larger context of analyzing and interpreting popular music and Bob Stanley’s (2013) sweeping narrative tracing the development of the style from Bill Haley to Beyoncé.38 The majority of writing engaging rock’s history, however, has not been cast as a broad historical narrative. While space does not allow a comprehensive survey of all of the work that appeared in the last thirty years or so, it will nevertheless be useful to consider a representative sample of this writing in order to suggest the richness and diversity of the perspectives on rock’s history that have appeared during this time. Much writing that engages historical aspects of rock is focused on a single artist or group, and perhaps none has been more often written about than the Beatles. We have already noted Wilfrid Mellers’s significant early contribution to the study of that band’s

Rock Historiography

music and career. Probably the worthiest successor to Mellers’s subject and method is the two-volume The Beatles as Musicians (1999 and 2001) by Walter Everett.39 Everett’s work is based on careful study not only of the music but also of the band’s biography, songwriting practices, and recording processes as well as Everett’s knowledge of the many bootleg recordings that document early stages in a song’s development. While Everett’s focus is mostly on the Beatles during the 1960s, Gordon Thompson explores the larger music scene in London during the same period, taking into consideration musicians, songwriters, producers, and more, providing a broad context into which the activity of the Beatles (or the Stones or the Who) can be placed.40 Mark Lewisohn chronicles every Beatles recording session in his The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions (1988).41 His very narrow focus on one aspect of a single band’s activity provides detailed access to how the music was recorded, as does the incredibly detailed study of the technical end of the Beatles recordings provided by Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew.42 Andy Babiuk’s Beatles Gear identifies and considers the actual instruments used by the band, often with a history of how each came into the group’s possession.43 Yet a different kind of detail arises when a study focuses on a single album, as does Allan Moore in The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (or Alan Clayson with the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet).44 Recalling Hayden White’s remarks that opened this chapter, this sampling of scholarship, largely centered on the Beatles and mostly traditional in methodology, suggests that history is indeed “too full.” Not all of these books are histories, of course, but they are all structured according to historical chronology, and together they provide a rich and multifaceted historical account. Another approach to rock’s history is to focus on a single style, chronicling its development, often from its roots to its first emergence to its point of greatest impact, and finally perhaps to its retreat from view and influence on later artists or stylistic developments. Robert Cantwell’s 1996 study of the American folk revival of the late 1950s and 1960s serves as a particularly fine example of this approach.45 With regard to the rise and fall of punk in the second half of the 1970s, Jon Savage (1991) explores this on the UK side of the scene, while Clinton Heylin (1993) covers it from the US side.46 Theo Cateforis’s 2011 study of new wave in the late 1970s and 1980s complements the writing of Savage and Heylin, adding a focused view on a closely related style.47 Similarly Sarah Hill’s (2016) historical writing on psychedelia in the latter 1960s blends with William Echard’s topictheory-based study (2017) of the style to create a fuller understanding, especially when DeRogatis’s broad survey of psychedelia across the decades is added to the picture.48 Such parallel accounts need not always align in every way; in fact, often they will not. But even when narratives conflict, they still serve to present the reader with the potential for a more deeply nuanced understanding of a style or era than any single narrative would taken alone. Just as Gillett’s focus in the early 1970s had been on record labels, Colin Escott would offer a detailed study of Sun Records (1991), Rob Bowman would deliver a hefty tome on Stax Records (1997), and John Collis (1998) and Nadine Cohodas (2000) would each chronicle Chess Records, while Gary Marmorstein (2007) would provide a broad history of Columbia Records.49 Following on Morse’s 1971 book on Motown that appeared as part of the Rockbooks series, further work devoted to Motown would include books from Nelson George (1985), Gerald Early (1995), Gerald Posner (2002), and Andrew Flory (2017).50



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These books provide a range of perspectives, from biography to cultural studies and from traditional history to journalism; all are anchored in the study of a single label and its music, practices, artists, and impact, demonstrating that one way to trace rock’s history is through the record business. A related approach is tracing the history of record production, as Mark Cunningham does in his 1996 study.51 One can also employ a methodology that focuses on the recordings themselves and how they were produced, as outlined by Steve Jones (1992), Albin Zak (2001), and most recently by Simon Zagorski-Thomas (2014).52 While such a methodology is not restricted to historical writing, Zak demonstrates its application in his 2010 historical exploration of pop music in the 1950s.53 A recent collection entitled The Relentless Pursuit of Tone suggests that a focus on timbre—a topic broader than recording production—can be a useful focus for understanding pop music, and historical work can be a part of that as well.54 Following the model offered by Frith for engaging the dual concerns of rock and sociology, Robert Walser (1993) explores a single style (heavy metal), Steve Waksman (1999) examines the role of a single instrument in pop’s history (the electric guitar), and Susan Fast (2001) focuses on a single band (Led Zeppelin).55 All three consider how the music engages with the culture in which it was created and received. In terms of rock’s history in a broader sense, Philip Ennis (1992) and Glenn Altschuler (2003) both chronicle rock and roll’s emergence (and disruptive role) in 1950s American culture and society, capturing aspects of stylistic development and the larger historical impact.56 Issues of race and gender have played an important role in rock’s history and also directed the focus of rock scholars and writers as well. Gillian Gaar (1992) and Lucy O’Brien (1995) have each provided histories of women in rock music, providing distinctive narratives that parallel the more common male-dominated ones, while Jacqueline Warwick has focused more specifically on the girl groups of the early 1960s.57 Aspects of race in the study of black popular music figures centrally in books by Peter Guralnick (1986) on soul music in the 1960s, Tricia Rose (1994) on hip-hop, and Maureen Mahon (2004) on rock, as well as in studies of black music and culture more broadly in the work of Brian Ward (1998), Arthur Kempton (2003), and Guthrie Ramsey (2003).58 Here again, the historical narratives largely parallel the more common chronicles of rock’s history but with the perspective shifted to focus on black culture and experience. Other points of focus have emerged over the past thirty years as ways of tracking rock’s history. John Jackson’s books on Alan Freed (1991) and Dick Clark (1997), for instance, encourage us to consider the role played by broadcasting and the business (and politics) associated with it.59 The role of radio in rock history of the 1950, 1960s, and 1970s is a central part of the story, as explored by Philip Eberly (1982), Ben Fong-Torres (1998), and Richard Neer (2001).60 Crucial as well is the rise of MTV on American cable television in the 1980s.61 Rock’s history can be viewed through the lens of powerful business figures such as Larry Parnes, Allen Klein, or Morris Levy.62 And the role played by the rise and expansion of rock journalism is yet another perspective on rock’s development.63 This all-too-brief survey of writing on rock’s history over the past thirty years illustrates the expansion of perspectives emerging and developing during this time.

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Perspectivism and Rock’s History At the beginning of this chapter, I highlighted Hayden White’s claim that “all historical narratives contain an irreducible and inexpungable element of interpretation.”64 The idea of “perspectivism” may help us to address the issue of multiple interpretation. Based on various remarks of Friedrich Nietzsche, perspectivism in the sense I am employing it here acknowledges that any object may be understood from many angles, with no single angle having an exclusive claim to primacy.65 Rock history is multidimensional: like sculpture, there is no single perspective that provides a full view and no perspective that can claim a privileged angle. The deepest understanding of rock history resides in the dynamic tension between perspectives, in an embrace of the incomplete and an acknowledgment that there is always more to know than can be contained in any single interpretive act. Rock history, following White, is both too full and too sparse, and the selecting and filling that produces variant interpretation exists within any single historical work (as each historian builds their particular narrative) as well as between works (as we are presented with narratives on the same historical subject from differing perspectives). Perspectivism suggests that an understanding of rock’s history thus arises from between and among interpretations. Starting out in the late 1960s when almost nothing had been written about rock’s history, rock historiography developed over the decades to include myriad interpretive perspectives. Some fifty or so years after the books by Carl Belz, Lillian Roxon, Dave Laing, and Charlie Gillett were published, rock historiography has produced a sophisticated, intellectually diverse, and substantial body of work that continues to expand while remaining traceable to its sources. Indeed, it has become enough of a tradition and consistent practice over the decades that one might even attempt a history of rock history.

Notes   1. White, “Interpretation in History,” 51.   2. Ibid.   3. Ibid.   4. The primary focus in what follows will be on books rather than articles, essays, or encyclopedia and dictionary entries. “Rock history” will be broadly construed as work that engages historical concerns in rock music in some important way, even if history is not the primary concern. The literature on rock music is vast, especially in the period since 1980, and so the sources considered here will necessarily be incomplete and are meant to be representative of the development of writing on rock and its history.   5. Belz, The Story of Rock; and Roxon, Rock Encyclopedia.   6. For a review of Belz’s book that compares it with several other books on rock that were published at about the same time, including the writing of Greil Marcus, Richard Goldstein, and Paul Williams, see musicologist Gilbert Chase’s (mostly dismissive) review in Notes 28, no. 1 (1971): 38–41.   7. For a fuller discussion of Roxon and her influence on rock journalism, see Milliken, Lillian Roxon.



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  8. Shaw, The Rock Revolution. Gilbert Chase reviews both the Roxon and Shaw books, generally praising them while remarking on the informal and at times somewhat hyperbolic language. See Notes 28, no. 4 (1972): 694–697.   9. Laing, The Sound of Our Time. 10. Laing, Buddy Holly. 11. Morse, Motown and the Arrival of Black Music; Millar, The Drifters; and Herman, The Who. 12. Cohn, Rock. Also noteworthy in the context of early writing on rock at about this time is Melly’s Revolt into Style, which includes a lengthy section devoted to a historically oriented account of pop music. 13. Gillett, The Sound of the City. 14. Gillett, Making Tracks. 15. Mellers, Twilight of the Gods: The Beatles in Retrospect. 16. Ibid., 15. 17. See also Mellers, A Darker Shade of Pale. 18. Frith, The Sociology of Rock. Frith’s book was published in a somewhat different form in the United States as Sound Effects. 19. Frith, The Sociology of Rock, 7. 20. Miller, The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. 21. Pareles and Romanowski, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. 22. Ward, Stokes, and Tucker, Rock of Ages. 23. The Rolling Stone volumes were ubiquitous in bookstores in the United States during the late 1980s and well into the 1990s. It often seemed that if a bookstore had only a few books on the shelves devoted to rock, at least one of these Rolling Stone books would be among them. 24. Logan and Finnes, The NME Book of Rock; and Laing and Harvey, Encyclopedia of Rock. 25. Laing and Harvey, The Faber Companion to 20th-Century Music. 26. Hamm, Yesterdays. 27. Hamm, Music in the New World. 28. Chase, America’s Music: From the Pilgrims to the Present; and Hitchcock, Music in the United States. 29. Previous editions of Chase’s book had appeared in 1955 and 1967, thus too early to expect much discussion of rock in a textbook. Earlier editions of Hitchcock’s book appeared in 1969 and 1974 and one can trace the expansion of material on popular music from edition to edition, from a couple of paragraphs, to a section within a chapter, to sections within three chapters. It is worth noting in this context that Mellers’s Music in a New Found Land discusses jazz and the musical, but not rock. 30. Sadie, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 31. Middleton and Horn, “Preface,” 1. Writing in 1990, and echoing Mellers from more than ten years previously, Middleton observed that musicology “is clearly a science that should study popular music. With a few exceptions (mostly recent), it has not done so. As a general rule works of musicology, theoretical or historical, act as though popular music did not exist” (Middleton, Studying Popular Music, 103). In the pages that follow this remark, Middleton considers the relationship of musicology to the study of popular music in some depth. See also his discussion of pop’s history earlier in the same book, pp. 11–16. 32. Palmer, Rock & Roll.

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33. The release of Anthology on video includes additional material and consists of eight episodes, while the accompanying book includes yet more material. 34. For a more detailed survey of rock documentaries in the UK, see Evans, Rock & Pop on British TV, esp. 229–270. 35. Charles T. Brown, The Rock and Roll Story; and Szatmary, Rockin’ in Time. Subsequent editions of Brown’s book would be retitled The Art of Rock and Roll. 36. Charlton, Rock Music Styles; Stuessy, Rock & Roll; Friedlander, Rock and Roll; and Garofalo, Rockin’ Out. 37. Covach, What’s That Sound? With regard to the discussion of Hamm, Chase, and Hitchcock above, it is worth noting that Larry Starr and Christopher Waterman’s textbook on American popular music—published a few years before mine in 2003— devotes considerable attention to the history of rock music in that broader context. See their American Popular Music. 38. Moore, Song Means, esp. 119–162; and Stanley, Yeah Yeah Yeah. Note in connection with the discussion of record production below (Jones, Zak, Zagorski-Thomas) that Moore specifies “recorded” popular music in his title. 39. Everett, The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver through the Anthology and The Beatles as Musicians: The Quarry Men through Rubber Soul. 40. Thompson, Please Please Me. 41. Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. See also his The Complete Beatles Chronicle for an almost day-by-day account of the band’s activities and his recent Tune In: The Beatles, All These Years, Volume 1 for the most detailed Beatles biography to date. Lewisohn’s session chronology paved the way for similar works. See Heylin, Bob Dylan; Elliott, The Rolling Stones; Hjort, So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star; and Jorgensen, Elvis Presley. 42. Kehew and Ryan, Recording the Beatles. 43. Babiuk, Beatles Gear. See also Babiuk and Prevost, Rolling Stones Gear. 44. Moore, The Beatles; and Clayson, The Rolling Stones. Bloomsbury’s 33 & 1/3 series focuses on single albums and currently lists 135 titles published since 2003. 45. Cantwell, When We Were Good. 46. Savage, England’s Dreaming; and Heylin, From the Velvets to the Voidoids. 47. Cateforis, Are We Not New Wave? 48. Hill, San Francisco; Echard, Psychedelic Popular Music; and DeRogatis, Kaleidoscope Eyes. 49. Escott with Hawkins, Good Rockin’ Tonight; Bowman, Soulsville, U.S.A.; Collis, The Story of Chess Records; Cohadas, Spinning Blues into Gold; and Marmorstein, The Label. 50. Morse, Motown; George, Where Did Our Love Go?; Early, One Nation Under a Groove; Posner, Motown; and Flory, I Hear a Symphony. 51. Cunningham, Good Vibrations. 52. Jones, Rock Formation; Zak, The Poetics of Rock; and Zagorski-Thomas, The Musicology of Record Production. 53. Zak, I Don’t Sound Like Nobody. 54. Fink, Latour, and Wallmark, The Relentless Pursuit of Tone. 55. Walser, Running with the Devil; Waksman, Instruments of Desire; and Fast, In the Houses of the Holy. 56. Ennis, The Seventh Stream; and Altschuler, All Shook Up. 57. Garr, She’s a Rebel; O’Brien, She Bop; and Warwick, Girl Groups, Girl Culture. Wilfrid Mellers’s Angels in the Night is also noteworthy in this context.



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58. Guralnick, Sweet Soul Music; Rose, Black Noise; Mahon, Right to Rock; Ward, Just My Soul Responding; Kempton, Boogaloo; and Ramsey, Jr., Race Music. 59. Jackson, Big Beat Heat and American Bandstand. For writing on other broadcast figures, see also Maguire, Impresario; and Podelski, Don Kirschner. On the development of pop music on television, see Weingarten, Station to Station; Austen, TV a-Go-Go: Rock on TV from American Bandstand to American Idol; and Evans, Rock & Pop on British TV. 60. Everly, Music in the Air; Fong-Torres, The Hits Just Keep On Coming; and Neer, FM. 61. See McGrath, MTV; Banks, Monopoly Television; and Marks and Tannenbaum, I Want My MTV. 62. Rogan, Starmakers and Svengalis; Goodman, Allen Klein; and Carlin, Godfather of the Music Business. 63. See Long, The History of NME; and Draper, Rolling Stone Magazine. 64. White, “Interpretation in History,” 51. 65. I discuss perspectivism at greater length with regard to musical analysis in my “Analyzing Texture in Rock Music,” 53–72.

3 Serious Writing about Rock Sarah Hill

Rock music entered the realm of academic discourse fairly late in its evolution. Although the Beatles had garnered positive attention in the late 1960s for their songwriting and musicianship,1 the academic study of postwar popular music did not solidify until the 1970s. Popular music criticism, by contrast, had already enjoyed a long and healthy existence, with a new phase of commentary and insight heralded by the underground and rock press in the late 1960s.2 Any history of writing about rock necessarily includes both of these perspectives, the critical and the academic, for there is a great deal of common ground in the work of rock critics and scholars. An interest in the rock “generation,” in “popularity,” in the popular music industry, in audiences, and in cultural meaning have all figured in the body of writing about rock over the last five decades. In this chapter I will consider two main themes in scholarly writing about rock, historiography, and analysis, survey the methodologies underlying both, and provide an overview of developments in the field of popular music studies over its first half-century. In order to understand academic writing about rock, it is important to define the term itself. “Rock” is by now understood to describe a particular kind of music dating from sometime in the late 1960s. If over the years that music moved through cultural and political change, morphed and hybridized, it was generally always understood, if nothing else, as not “pop.” And what we understand as “pop” has also undergone a change in meaning since the “popular music” of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These definitional problems are clear in both academic and critical writing about rock, but it is in the latter tradition that the terms “pop” and “rock” were first formalized. The distinctions between them are necessary for the delineation of audience and readerships, and these terms are the basis for critical and academic discourse.

Historiography “Popular music” has meant many things at different points in history,3 but in postwar USA it increasingly became synonymous with the music marketed to, and consumed by, teenagers—that is, rock ‘n’ roll. In the early critical sources on popular music, “rock ‘n’ roll” had a relatively wide-ranging meaning, yet while most people now would know


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intuitively what the term “rock ‘n’ roll” signifies, it has been invoked in enough different ways to be confusing in and of itself. Take, as one example, Charlie Gillett’s definition in his comprehensive Sound of the City: In tracing the history of rock and roll, it is useful to distinguish rock ‘n’ roll—the particular kind of music to which the term first applied—both from rock and roll—the music that has been classified as such since rock ‘n’ roll petered out around 1958—and from rock, which describes post-1964 derivations of rock ‘n’ roll.4

This periodicity is fairly neat, delineating rock ‘n’ roll (c. 1954–58) from rock and roll (1958–64) from rock (1965–). It defines stylistic change and technological advancement, and leaves that final, contemporary designation, “rock,” generic enough to encompass the many hyphenated forms that ultimately derived from it. But the idea of a definite beginning and clear ending to any genre or movement is difficult to sustain. Why did Gillett choose those years? What signaled the break from an old style and a turn to the new? The idea of rupture, of a sudden shift from one way of being to another, echoes what popular music scholar Richard Middleton later theorized as “three ‘moments’ of radical situational change”: the “bourgeois revolution”; the emergence of mass culture in the 1890s, marked by “the impact of ragtime, jazz, Tin Pan Alley songs, new dance form, and so on”; and finally what he calls “the moment of ‘pop culture,’” heralded by the “advent of rock ‘n’ roll”: the first significant encroachment on music-production resources by the working-class young, and accompanying this is the opening up of a new youth market, … structurally less tied to established class roles than older generations. This group, with its “margin for rebellion,” looks to new musical sources, notably in black American rhythm and blues, many aspects of which are predisposed to connotations clustered around feelings of “oppression,” on the one hand, and relatively non-alienated use of the body (potentially subversive of capitalist work disciplines) on the other.5

Middleton’s moments are not tied to an absolute chronological event—the bourgeoisie did not just appear one day; rock ‘n’ roll was not devised in a boardroom and announced via press release—they are blurry around the edges, much like Gillett’s.6 The fact that Middleton, in a book exploring “popular music,” cites a 1950s moment as the most recent rupture, suggests that our present-day musical relationship to that moment is worth exploring further. The first edition of The Sound of the City coincided with a general nostalgia for rock ‘n’ roll, with its palpable suggestion of the passing of an era.7 So Gillett’s periodicity might coincide with a popular narrative that marks the “death” of rock ‘n’ roll with Elvis’s induction into the Army in 1958 or the 1959 plane crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper;8 the Beatles and the British Invasion supplanting all other pop music, rock ‘n’ roll included, in 1964, thus changing the course of musical history;9 followed by the youthful idealism of the 1960s, which was “killed” at the Altamont Festival of 1969.10 In this formulation, one genre inevitably supplanted another, generations grew up and moved on, and a new youth movement began. But that is to assume that genre labels are unimportant to the audiences, that it was all “rock ‘n’ roll,” that meaning does not derive from the consumption of the music.11 The generic descriptor, “popular music,”

Serious Writing about Rock

is often preferred in scholarship for the very reason that it lacks all ideological and stylistic baggage except that which distinguishes it from “high art.”12 Amid that mid-century nostalgia was the growth of rock journalism in the late 1960s. Some of the earliest extended studies of the first phase of post–Second World War popular music were written by critics, who were often fans and not much older than their readership. The determined preference for “rock ‘n’ roll” over “pop” was intended to distinguish contemporary music from all popular musics that preceded it; but for a twenty-first-century audience, the liberal use of the term “rock ‘n’ roll” to define a swath of recordings released across a decade or more can be somewhat confusing. In Michael Lydon’s Rock Folk, for example, figures such as Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, and their antecedent B. B. King are profiled alongside the less likely Smokey Robinson, Janis Joplin, and the Grateful Dead, none of whom would normally be classified as “rock ‘n’ roll” either at that time or today, any more than Smokey Robinson or B. B. King would be classified as the titular “rock.” Lydon’s intention was simply to provide “a sense of what rock ‘n’ roll is and where it came from,” defining rock ‘n’ roll as “that especially precious kind of music designed to entertain, music whose form springs from the desire to please the people.”13 In avoiding the term “popular music” Lydon is implicitly reinforcing its contemporary negative associations with the Top 40 and the old-fashioned hit parade, and maintaining the sense of rock ‘n’ roll (or rock) as generational “other.” Although books such as Lydon’s were meant for a general readership, some were marketed to a more academic audience;14 and despite their lack of bibliographic apparatus, most are present in the references lists of early popular music scholarship. And while articles on popular music and popular musical styles had not yet infiltrated the pages of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the scholarly turn toward rock and its meanings was undeniable. Sociological interest in rock had occasionally been expressed in journals of popular culture, but it was not until 1971 that popular music was given a dedicated scholarly space. The first peer-reviewed journal in the field, Popular Music and Society, surveyed popular music from within its broadest cross-disciplinary environment. Then with the establishment ten years later of both the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) and the peer-reviewed journal Popular Music, the field of popular music studies soon solidified into a recognizable mass of ideas and approaches. In these journals is the field’s discursive fabric, the interdisciplinary dialogues, critical reassessments, and analytical interventions that still underpin the academic study of popular music today. In the early issues of Popular Music and Society, one finds contributors pushing against their disciplinary boundaries, recognizing the limitations of the approaches taken to popular culture in its broadest sense, and stressing the importance of looking beyond song lyrics and popular opinion for musical meaning.15 The early volumes of Popular Music traverse much the same territory, but from a predominately British perspective. The job of those first volumes of Popular Music was to ask the fundamental questions:16 Is it pop or folk? What kind of pop? Whose folk? How do we define genre? What is style? Who’s listening? Is old “popular music” still popular? What about country, jazz, and the blues? What role does class play in the production and consumption of popular music? What is the best way to analyze this music?



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

At the same time, the cultural-studies and musicological bases for much early academic writing about rock could be found in the first monographs in the discipline. In Pop Music & the Blues, for example, Richard Middleton draws on anthropological and sociological studies of early African American music, but rejects the suggestion that his work contributes to those fields; rather he insists it is “the response of a musician to a musical phenomenon, and his attempt to unravel its meaning.”17 This statement at once elevates popular music as a cultural form and places the author on the inside of a visceral experience. This negotiation between the “high” art interpretation of a “low” musical form is at the root of much of Middleton’s writing and, as I have suggested, is a central tension underpinning popular music studies. Following from the fundamental blues scholarship of Paul Oliver,18 Middleton argues that pop “lies within an historical process” the beginning of which was the development of the blues.19 His summation is that the pluralism of 1970s rock is “global and allencompassing … [excluding] nothing (even ‘classical’ Western music on occasions)”; and that “the point of the blues” is in retrospect to distinguish between the ultimate separation of hybrid-rock genres into “blues-based” and “non-blues-based” forms.20 Leaving aside the definitions of these genres, the relationship between the blues and rock is at the base of a certain kind of value judgment, around the “authenticity” of performers and their music.21 Early value judgments in rock criticism often enforced a relative “high/low” distinction, whereby commercial pop is “low,” and the “high” is represented by “recordings that bypass traditional restrictions on time, treatment, outlook and even language”;22 between the kind of music played on AM radio and that played on the “progressive” underground stations servicing the late 1960s hippie communities.23 Because underground radio was not restricted by format, disc jockeys were free to play an eclectic mix for their “hip” audience, as their programming was directed by “taste, not sales.”24 One assumption here is that the audience’s taste was for music that reflected their new consciousness, that spoke to countercultural ideals of peace and love, that was “authentic” not only musically but also politically.25 The industry marker “progressive” was at that time not one of style but of intent,26 and “rock” was now a distinct formation.27 In the same way that “progressive” music at the end of the 1960s was distinguished from the commercial “pop” music of AM radio, the generic “rock” carried with it the suggestion of sincerity and art, “an ideological suffix.”28 In Keir Keightley’s formulation, there was also a clear generational distinction: pop was aimed at the teen market, but rock was aimed at “youth,” and “youth” signified seriousness and maturity.29 In purely market terms, “pop” suggested commerce, and “rock” suggested a less mass appeal, though it is an unavoidable truth that rock was always a part of the same industrial mainstream as pop, making “authenticity” a relative term at best. The industrial mainstream was problematized by scholars as well as critics. In the preface to his Mystery Train Greil Marcus admits that he is writing, a book about rock ‘n’ roll—some of it—and America. It is not a history, or a purely musical analysis, or a set of personality profiles. It is an attempt to broaden the context in which the music is heard; to deal with rock ‘n’ roll not as youth culture, or counterculture, but simply as American culture.30

Serious Writing about Rock

This echoes Richard Middleton’s ultimate definition of popular music as music “of the people.”31 But what is not noted in these foundational texts is a recognition that the construction of “rock authenticity” generally privileged the male rocker, with women often simply relegated to the status of fan or groupie. If popular music is music “of the people,” and rock (‘n’ roll) is American culture, it is curious that half of “the people” within that culture were initially left unrepresented.32 Since the 1980s the historiographic approach to rock music has generally balanced, if not genders, at least the social with the industrial, the musical with the personal—studies of place, of genre, of the music industry, of gender, all of which traverse chronological time and musical style, revealing important historical detail along the way.33 The sustained study of one moment, one scene, one genre, can offer a richness of experience for scholars and readers alike; yet for all of the musical and cultural developments in the history of popular music since the Second World War, and since the rock ‘n’ roll moment, there have been comparatively few in-depth explorations of a single point on that timeline. Indeed, although the critical mass of literature on the “rock ‘n’ roll moment” might have promised otherwise, the first full-length study of a single genre was Dave Laing’s book on punk rock, One Chord Wonders.34 As with those earlier studies of rock ‘n’ roll, most readers would have had an idea what “punk” meant. By the time One Chord Wonders was published in 1985, Popular Music and Society had published four articles on the cultural meaning and political content of punk.35 These are probably not the best-known or most often-cited studies on punk, but they are the earliest treatments of the genre in an academic music journal. Popular Music, in its first five years, before the publication of One Chord Wonders, had mentioned punk and its offshoots as part of the musical climate, but not as a headline focus. There was an immediacy to Laing’s book, therefore, not only because it was a retrospective glance at the touchable past but because resonances from that cultural moment were still audible in popular music of the time. Laing’s approach to the genre was clear and exemplary. He drew punk’s boundaries by identifying “a complex of artefacts, events and institutions” (recordings, fanzines, visual style), and provided an institutional framework (record labels, clubs, shops; promotion or lack thereof by radio stations, music press, etc.). Within his 1976 to 1978 bubble he could explore the ways in which punk rock was essentially different to other, “more conventional,” types of popular music,36 and by focusing exclusively on London he was allowed to engage in a kind of musical archeology unusual for the discipline. One Chord Wonders is a model for historiographic writing about rock: Laing explores the sociological meaning of a music, contextualizes it within its wider culture, balances industry data with reflections on lasting impact, and maintains an authoritative yet candid narrative voice. Sociological studies such as Laing’s are accessible to an academic and general audience alike. Contemporary musicological studies, by contrast, were not. In Studying Popular Music, for example, Richard Middleton surveys the cultural meaning of a wide range of popular musics, but his analytical treatment of popular and folk songs involve transcription and language borrowed from the “high” musicological tradition. While this was an important intervention, it privileged the song as musical text in a way that the early



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sociological studies of Laing and Simon Frith did not.37 This highlights a central tension in the academic study of popular music: while Middleton and Frith both dealt with music and the interpretation of meaning, a larger argument maintains that popular music is not inherently a written form; that the “text” at issue is the performance or recording of a song. This delivers us to the analytical methodologies that have been developed alongside the sociological framework for the study of popular music.

Analysis The “high analysis” of popular music has its own rich tradition and its own relationship to the category “rock.”38 As I have already mentioned, the early volumes of the journal Popular Music served to lay the groundwork for the field, from a multiplicity of disciplinary perspectives. Some of these early analytical interventions confidently laid claim to musicological technique, while others sought a balance between sociological and musicological methodologies. In Philip Tagg’s first article in the journal, for example, he acknowledges that analysis of musical detail needs also to take into account a song’s extramusical factors: [It] should be stated at the outset that no analysis of musical discourse can be considered complete without consideration of social, psychological, visual, gestural, ritual, technical, historical, economic and linguistic aspects relevant to the genre, function, style, (re-)performance situation and listening attitude connected with the sound event being studied. The disadvantage is that musicological “content analysis” in the field of popular music is still an underdeveloped area and something of a missing link.39

A gesture toward such methodology was proposed by Allan Moore in Rock: The Primary Text.40 Moore’s deliberate use of the generic descriptor, “rock,” is noteworthy, as he illustrates his argument with excerpts from a broad cross-section of popular music, Little Richard and Cliff Richard alongside Jethro Tull and Public Image Ltd. And though Moore embeds a fair degree of musical detail throughout, Rock: The Primary Text is not intended for only the musically literate; his transcribed examples are there to illustrate his explanations of rhythmic patterns, melodic shape, and harmonic context, not to substitute for them. The “high” analysis of popular music is perhaps most comprehensively applied in Walter Everett’s two-volume study of the Beatles.41 There are undoubtedly more books, journalistic and scholarly, written about the Beatles than any other band, and Everett’s volumes are detailed with a musicological richness to parallel the depth of cultural analysis in titles such as Ian MacDonald’s crucial Revolution in the Head.42 Across the two volumes, Everett divides the band’s output into stylistic periods, adopting analytical approaches “suggested by the musical materials themselves”:43 Roman numeral analysis, Schenkerian graphs, transcriptions of compositional drafts from Anthology, descriptions of audio placement on the recordings. It could be argued that Everett’s sustained “high” theoretical approach to the ultimate “pop” group is problematic, but an erasing of the high/low binary is at the

Serious Writing about Rock

basis of a great deal of the scholarly literature, whether sociological or musicological.44 And this is not to suggest that formal musical analysis is the only means of expressing sonic detail and structural coherence;45 Everett has also applied analytical methodology for a nonspecialist readership, in the same vein as Moore’s Rock: The Primary Text.46 But whatever the readership, musical detail such as harmony, voice leading, timbre, rhythm, and form can be successfully balanced by broader contextual issues, much as Philip Tagg had once suggested they should be.47 Such a balance between the musical-cultural and analytical approaches was struck by Sheila Whiteley in her formative The Space Between the Notes, an exploration of the psychedelic encoding of rock music, from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, via Jimi Hendrix, to Pink Floyd. As Whiteley’s book shows, the analyses of musical affect, of “authenticity,” and of rock’s communicative powers, are dependent upon effectively captured sound, which she illustrates via narrative description and musical transcription. There is a first-person authenticity in Whiteley’s analyses, as she suggests ways to connect audible musical events with personal consciousness. While not autoethnographic in any formal sense, The Space Between the Notes was revolutionary for attempting to make tangible the ineffable, and to explain what it is we hear when we listen to music.48 In this chapter I have summarized the development of, and arguments within, two main strands in academic writing on rock. But I do not mean to suggest that these are the only, or the most important, strands in the discipline. On the contrary, they represent the foundations from which many other strands have been drawn. At the heart of all of the literature I have mentioned here is the desire to understand meaning and affect, to hear rock music as a reflection of its sociocultural environment. Whether that is achieved via the deep analytical approach of Walter Everett’s Beatles studies or by tracking the popularity of a single band in the pages of New Musical Express or Rolling Stone, the intent is the same. Popular music studies is now a vast, multidisciplinary field. While Popular Music and Society and Popular Music continue to publish current research on a wide range of topics, the US-based Journal of Popular Music Studies has adopted a publishing model that invites contributions from both academics and critics; and genre-specific titles such as Metal Music Studies, Rock Music Studies, and Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture have brought necessary depth and breadth to the field. From those foundations stream full-length studies of genres, historical moments, audiences, scenes, and formats, which continue to fill library shelves and inspire further dialogue about the place of rock in modern life.

Notes   1. Notably Mellers, “The New Music in a New World,” and Rorem, “The Music of the Beatles,” both anthologized in Jonathan Eisen, The Age of Rock; and Mellers, Twilight of the Gods: The Music of the Beatles.   2. In Britain, Melody Maker (1926–2000) was largely focused on jazz and dance-band music, initially resisting the encroachment of rock ‘n’ roll; New Musical Express (1952–2018) reported on current charts, aimed initially at the teen market. In the United States, music



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criticism found a home in underground papers such as the LA Free Press and Berkeley Barb, before the foundation of rock magazines such as Crawdaddy (1966–79), Rolling Stone (founded 1967), and Creem (1969–89). For more on genre tensions in music criticism see Brennan, When Genres Collide.   3. For a thorough overview see Hamm, Yesterdays.   4. It should be noted that this is the first sentence of Gillett’s The Sound of the City, 3.   5. Middleton, Studying Popular Music, 12–15.   6. Indeed, Gillett openly acknowledges the many cultural factors that led to what became codified as “rock ‘n’ roll”—“five distinctive styles, developed almost completely independently of one another.” See The Sound of the City, 23, and chapter 2, “Five Styles of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”   7. The Sound of the City was first published in 1970. Contemporary rock ‘n’ roll nostalgia is apparent in the musical Grease (1971), Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” (1972), the film American Graffiti (1973), and the US television series Happy Days (1974–84). See Gloag, Postmodernism, 39–52.   8. This is covered in some depth in Dettmar, Is Rock Dead?   9. The period in between rock ‘n’ roll and the British Invasion is persuasively defended by Keightley, “Reconsidering Rock.” A slightly different view of this period may be found in Wald, How the Beatles. 10. Most chronicles of the 1960s cite Altamont as the end of an era, or the ugly flipside to the peaceful Woodstock Festival. See for example, Coates, “If Anything, Blame Woodstock”; Selvin, Altamont; and Hill, San Francisco. 11. Franco Fabbri explored this terrain in “What Kind of Music?.” 12. While normally distinguishing “classical” from “pop,” this ideological distinction was often made between jazz and rock ‘n’ roll, as can be seen in a cursory glance through back issues of Melody Maker, jazz being “relatively high” culture as compared to the “low” rock ‘n’ roll. 13. Lydon, “Introduction,” in Rock Folk. 14. The back cover of Rock and Roll Will Stand, a collection of critical pieces on 1960s rock, for example, notes that it should be filed under “Music—Sociology.” See Marcus, Rock and Roll Will Stand. 15. In other words, there was a concerted motion in early popular music studies away from the star biography and lyrical focus of critical rock writing. From Popular Music and Society see, for example, Lewis, “Popular Music and Research Design”; Mooney, “Rock as an Historical Phenomenon”; Doughty, “Rock”; Hesbacher, “Contemporary Popular Music.” 16. Popular Music was an annual publication for its first five years, moving to three issues per volume in 1987. Popular Music and Society began by publishing four issues per volume, increasing to five in volume 28 (2005). 17. Middleton, Pop Music & the Blues, 9. Hatch and Millward covered similar ground in their From Blues to Rock. 18. See, for example, Oliver, Bessie Smith, Blues Fell This Morning, and The Story of the Blues. 19. Middleton, Pop Music & the Blues, 144. This is also the only known instance where the emancipation of slaves and the origins of blues are contextualized in the same published breath as the composition of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. 20. Ibid. Hybrid genres have their own etymological problems. In The Rock Revolution, Arnold Shaw offers a “Glossary of Rock,” including acid rock; aleatory rock

Serious Writing about Rock

(“Chance composition with a beat. Also rock music in which non-musical sounds and nonharmonic material, as we traditionally understand them, are the basis of a composition”); latin [sic] rock (“An intermarriage of Afro-Cuban sounds and the beat of r&b”); modal rock (“Modes are the Greek ancestors of our major-minor scales. … Just as jazz went modal at one point, so rock is exploring this area”); psychedelic rock; shlock rock (“Music that is uninspired and noncreative, even if it is well performed”); shock rock (“another term for psychedelic rock”); and studio rock (“Not a style but a procedure”) (pp. 231–40). For popular music historians, this list of subgenres provides an insight into what people listened to as well as how they perceived the music itself, even if the categories themselves have been lost to the ages. 21. The idea of “authenticity” runs throughout rock journalism as well as pop scholarship, with critics distinguishing the “real” from the “phony” in no uncertain terms. See Lester Bangs’s collected writings in Marcus, Psychotic Reactions. In his guise as rock journalist Simon Frith also covered this territory in, for instance, “The Real Thing.” Allan Moore identified three types of authenticity in Rock: The Primary Text, discussed below. 22. Shaw, The Rock Revolution, 9. 23. KMPX in San Francisco is often cited as the first underground radio station. It garnered industry interest for its authentic “hip” programming, described at the time by local jazz critic Ralph J. Gleason as “throbbing with the same kind of life-energy one sees in other enterprises appealing to the young. … Listening to KMPX for an hour you are likely to hear tracks from the Decca album by Frankenstein, English albums not generally available in the U.S., advance dubs of U.S. groups, 20 minutes of Ravi Shankar, tapes by local rock bands, and other fascinating things” (see Gleason, “Something New,” 41). Needless to say, KMPX inevitably fell prey to commercial interests. For a full and forensic history of the station, see Krieger, Hip Capitalism. 24. Gleason, “Something New,” 41. 25. The assumption that hippies were uniquely political creatures is one I debunk in San Francisco. For more on hip politics of the time, see Kramer, The Republic of Rock. The connection between political impulse and rock music is covered extensively in John Street’s Rebel Rock; Politics and Popular Culture; and Music and Politics. 26. The descriptor “progressive” in this sense does not map easily onto the roughly contemporaneous emergence of the genre progressive rock, for which see Macan, Rocking the Classics; Holm-Hudson, Progressive Rock; and Hegarty and Halliwell, Beyond and Before. 27. Lawrence Grossberg’s term “rock formation” invokes music and its culture, the sociopolitical context that gives rise to subcultures and their ideologies. See his We Gotta Get Out, esp. 131–243. 28. This is a point made by Frith in Sound Effects, 10–11. 29. Keightley, “Reconsidering Rock.” 30. Marcus, Mystery Train, 4. 31. Middleton, Studying Popular Music. 32. The field has changed since then, of course. See, for example, Bayton, Frock Rock, a sociological and ethnographic study of women instrumentalists in female and mixed bands; Reddington, Lost Women of Rock Music; and Leonard, Gender in the Music Industry. 33. See, for example, Finnegan, The Hidden Musicians; Cohen, Rock Culture; Thornton, Club Cultures; and Fast, In the Houses.



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34. Laing, One Chord Wonders. 35. See Turner, “Pop, Punk and Subcultural Solutions”; Dixon et al., “Cultural Diffusion”; Tillman, “Punk Rock and the Construction of ‘Pseudo-Political’ Movements”; and Fryer, “Punk and the New Wave of British Rock.” 36. Laing, One Chord Wonders, 2. 37. See Tagg, “Analysing Popular Music”; and Wicke, “Rock Music.” Of course, the sociological study of popular music was being formalized in Popular Music at the same time. See in particular Hamm, “The Fourth Audience”; and Shepherd, “A Theoretical Model for the Sociomusicological Analysis of Popular Musics.” 38. The clear reference here is Griffiths, “The High Analysis of Low Music.” 39. Tagg, “Analysing Popular Music,” 40. 40. Moore, Rock. 41. Everett, The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver through the Anthology (1999) and The Beatles as Musicians: The Quarrymen through Rubber Soul (2001). 42. MacDonald, Revolution in the Head. 43. Everett, The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver through the Anthology, ix. 44. In particular see Frith, Performing Rites. 45. See, for example, Moore, Analyzing Popular Music, which deals with lyrics, style, function, audience, and genre from a number of disciplinary interrelationships (ethnomusicology, cultural studies, musicology) and methodologies. 46. See Moore, Rock; and Everett, The Foundations of Rock. In his preface, Everett muddies the terminological waters somewhat in explaining his decision to focus on the period 1955–69: “This, after all, is the golden age of rock music—of Elvis Presley, the Beatles, … Ray Charles, the Beach Boys, … Aretha Franklin, The Doors, … Janis Joplin, Chuck Berry, … Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, the Yardbirds, and the early Led Zeppelin. That this is considered the greatest rock music of all time is argued in major polls and critics’ lists appearing right to the present day” (v–vi). 47. An important development in this regard is the sustained analysis of the recorded output of a single band, or of a single album. See, for example, Osborn, Everything in Its Right Place; Reising, “Speak to Me”; Moy, Kate Bush; Moore, The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s; and Holm-Hudson, Genesis. 48. The craft of record production underpins every analytical account of rock music and is an enormous component of popular music studies. The fields of sound studies and the art of record production therefore provide necessary balance to the work outlined above, whether these studies are genre-specific or address “popular music” more generally. For examples on the deep focus on recording and on the creative process behind record production see Zak, The Poetics of Rock; and Zagorski-Thomas, The Musicology of Record Production.

4 The Definition of “Rock” and Stylistic Overlaps Taylor Myers and Brad Osborn

Introduction The definition of “rock,” as well as its splintering, disintegrating, and combining into various subgenres, has been a constant presence in popular music studies.1 As a result, in this chapter, we agree with recent consensus in genre theory focusing on the rhizomatic, as opposed to arborescent, conception of genre.2 In an arborescent model, if we consider Britpop to be a branch of the parent genre “rock,” and “neo soul” to be a branch of the parent genre “hip-hop,” then the model would not recognize any similarities between Britpop and neo soul. A rhizomatic model, on the other hand, recognizes the possibility of any artist, song, or genre borrowing a musical trait from another, perhaps unrelated, genre. But it took a while to get here. In this chapter, we survey a selection of literature surrounding definitions of rock. All perspectives are of course, by definition, partial and subjective. Our backgrounds as North American music theorists limit our knowledge of sources from sociology and other disciplines that do not appear in publications largely devoted to music. We also, as North American music theorists, perceive a difference between music theory and musicology that might hardly register for a European scholar. At the same time we see a greater difference between either of these music fields (theory and musicology) and a “something else” that we lump together as “cultural studies,” but which a person trained in cultural theory, media studies, media theory, or communication studies might identify as something more specific. Part I of this chapter addresses attempts that arise in the earliest contributions to popular musicology. Beginning in the early 1980s, these first attempts at defining rock utilized semiotic methods. In Part II we turn our attention to the proliferation of edited collections published in a five-year period beginning in 1997. These essays expand on previous definitions to address a concept known as “stylistic overlap,” wherein two presumably distinct genres—one of which is usually rock—begin to display shared characteristics. In this, we can see a move toward a rhizomatic conception of genre. Resonating with a contemporaneous disciplinary split between music theory and musicology, we can witness two relatively


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distinct approaches emerging or continuing in this period: one from cultural studies, the other from musicology and music theory. Part III surveys some approaches to defining the multitude of rock’s subgenres that emerged after 2003. The proliferation of these subgenres, as well as the proliferation of scholarly attempts to define them, calls into question the very notion of any larger parent genre (for example, “rock”) that may organize them all.

Part I: 1981–96 Franco Fabbri’s “A Theory of Musical Genres: Two Applications” states that a musical genre is “a set of musical events (real or possible) whose course is governed by a definite set of socially accepted rules.”3 Until this definition was published, few in the fields of music theory or musicology had taken seriously the concept of genre in popular music. Fabbri’s paper was published in the conference proceedings of the first meeting of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM). This coincided with the first issue of the journal Popular Music in 1981. Despite the term “rock and roll” being used to various degrees throughout the twenty-first century, the history of defining rock within music theory and musicology begins in the early 1980s. Fabbri presents a key argument: genre is semiotic. Musical and visual signs point the listener to the implied genre, and the signs in rock songs are different to those in pop songs. Additionally, each listener interacts with these signs in unique ways. Fabbri is most descriptive when discussing the canzone d’autore, an Italian folk genre: The canzone d’autore has been pushed so close to rock (as it was years before to political song) that in economical terms it has felt the consequences of its competition (during the year of a world comeback of rock) and in technical terms feels the need to redefine the confines and ideology of the genre.4

This suggests that Fabbri believes in degrees of rock (“pushed so close to rock”) and therefore a rock spectrum. The canzone d’autore has garnered so many rock signifiers that it now sounds more like rock than its original genre. In “Musicology and the Semiotics of Popular Music” (1987) and “Towards a Sign Typology of Music” (1992), Philip Tagg also takes a semiotic approach to genre.5 He argues that signs are crucial to genre production and identification. Tagg’s work, especially his vocabulary for the semiotic identification of genre, is crucial for nearly every source that follows. For Tagg, the electric guitar is a genre synecdoche for rock. This single sign helps to define an entire genre, bringing the listener to conclude that the genre is present. Two of the earliest monographs on the analysis of popular music, Richard Middleton’s Studying Popular Music (1990) and Allan Moore’s Rock: The Primary Text (1993, 2001, 2018), encouraged readers to practice their own analyses of rock music.6 Middleton’s book continued Fabbri’s work in the link between semiotics and genre. Moore, on the other hand, begins to excogitate the idea of rock as a style rather than a genre, drawing from Gino Stefani’s article “Theory of Musical Competence.”7

Definition of “Rock” and Stylistic Overlap

Despite these important contributions, the 1980s and 1990s were largely a coming-of-age story for rock scholarship. Though the founding of the IASPM and Popular Music provided scholarly outlets for musicologists, most work on rock was undertaken by cultural theorists studying popular culture. True music-theoretical analyses of popular music were few and far between until the early 1990s. Like the rock aesthetic itself, rock scholarship in popular music studies has evolved greatly throughout its history. In tandem with what Fornäs calls the “oedipal rebellion” of rock’s aesthetic, rock scholarship similarly found tension with previous generations of music academia.8 Nowhere is this more true than with North American scholars associated with the Society for Music Theory. Early scholarship consistently refers back to art music scholars, as an attempt to validate the new work. For example, Walter Everett uses Schenkerian methodologies to analyze the Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home.”9 This analysis was one of the first of its kind in popular music and stands out as an attempt to legitimize scholarship on popular music. Without alienating traditional musicologists and theorists, Everett manages to create a space for rock analysis. On the other hand, scholars such as Robert Walser make a point of connecting the rock music canon to the classical, making direct comparisons between a heavy metal concert and a conservatory in the opening lines of his 1993 book Running with the Devil.10 Peter Kaminsky also titles his study by harkening the analysis back to something more palatable for more traditional theorists. His 1992 article “The Popular Album as Song Cycle” immediately informs the reader that they should be comfortable reading this article whether or not they subscribe to the idea that popular music merits scholarly attention.11 Despite the simultaneous rebelling against the canon of common-practice art music in both musicology and music theory, rock scholars were inadvertently creating a canon of their own. In these early publications, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and other classic rock artists comprise most of the scholarship. This focus on white, male youth was a good tool for legitimizing the act of rock analysis but quickly became problematic vis-à-vis inclusivity. Black artists were quickly name-checked in historical introductory paragraphs and never reemerged as examples. Fornäs notes that women were usually mentioned only if the author’s definition of rock included pop.12 Non-English-language rock music was never analyzed in these early texts, passed off to ethnomusicologists, musicologists from non-English-speaking countries, or cultural theorists.13 Because rock scholarship emerged alongside hermeneutics and cultural responsibility, it was never held accountable in the early waves of identity politics. Despite trying to escape the canon of white, masculine figures, rock scholars created their own. To an outsider, the definition of rock during this time period would have looked homogenous, despite many examples to the contrary in reality. Following this proliferation of scholarship in the 1990s, a few “state of the field” essays attempted to take stock on what had been done and what had yet to be. Johan Fornäs provided such a survey in 1995.14 Though he describes some common features of rock music, Fornäs also admits there are “innumerable variants” that could still be considered rock. He also recapitulates Fabbri’s idea of a rock spectrum, stating that “some artists emerge as individual soloists … backed by more or less anonymous musicians. Others



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

appear as small and tight ensembles—particularly but not exclusively at the rock end of the spectrum.”15 Fornäs attempts to reconcile what we know about rock—that it requires an electric guitar, drums, and a bass—with the realization that contemporary technology was seeping into music. If a song contains a synthesizer, is it still rock? For Fornäs that answer is yes, but that means one must then include pop music in the definition of rock.16 In Theodore Grayck’s 1996 book Rhythm and Noise: An Aesthetics of Rock, technological development goes hand in hand with the evolution of rock. He argues that rock is not a style of music or instrumentation, but an aesthetic. For him, defining rock is a careful gesture: I want to make it clear that I never try to isolate features unique to rock. I never claim that any specific features are necessary or sufficient for a piece of music to be rock. I point to no essence of rock music, nor offer a strict definition of it.17

Toward the end of the 1990s, it became clear that the field of rock scholarship needed some guidance. As Susan McClary wrote in a review of Richard Middleton’s Studying Popular Music, while a considerable amount of work on popular music has been published over the last twenty years, those of us who study popular music still have not arrived at any consensus about what we should be doing.18

Of course, this haphazard progress is true for many interdisciplinary fields, but in this particular case, it seemed to shape the contour of the field going forward.

Part II: 1997–2002 Popular music scholars got serious about the analysis of pop and rock music around 1997, leading to the publication of four major edited collections over the next five years. Many of these scholars, especially those trained in the United States, applied music-theoretical tools to the definition of rock music. Dave Headlam’s essay in the Understanding Rock collection, for example, suggests that the analysis of both timbre and rhythm can help distinguish blues from rock. In analyzing rock covers by Cream and Led Zeppelin, he suggests that their highly syncopated riffs, and “the[ir] increased variety of and focus on timbre” distinguish them from their original blues versions.19 Understanding Rock was the first of its kind—a collection of essays on popular music with a distinctly music-theoretical bent. Expression in Pop-Rock Music, published three years later (a second edition was published in 2008), contains three essays that use such tools to analyze “stylistic crossover” between rock and at least one other style. Jonathan Bernard distinguishes between rock and “ACE” (acoustic classical ensemble) versions of Frank Zappa’s songs largely on the basis of instrumentation.20 Jocelyn Neal examines timbre and studio recording practices to distinguish between rock and country elements in a Shania Twain record.21 John Covach’s essay “Jazz-Rock?” distinguishes between stylistic crossover and chart crossover. For Covach, stylistic crossover determines “how pieces refer simultaneously

Definition of “Rock” and Stylistic Overlap

to at least two styles that are usually thought to be distinct from one another.”22 While this is clearly an analytical endeavor, chart crossover is objective and was important in earlier eras when a single song might make it onto both “black” and “white” charts.23 The culmination of this music-theoretical approach to defining rock is certainly Ken Stephenson’s 2002 monograph What to Listen for in Rock: A Stylistic Analysis. Though not a textbook per se, Stephenson’s book aims to define a set of stylistic norms for rock music similar to those found in music history textbooks for classic-era music, romantic music, etc.24 His definition of rock ties directly into this aim. Applying music-theoretical tools to the domains of both pitch and rhythm, Stephenson attempts to demonstrate that many diverse styles of music can all be represented as “rock” due to their shared similarities: In this book, the term rock refers to the mainstreams of popular music since 1954, whether they be classified as rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues (R&B), soul, country rock, folk rock, hard rock, and so on … I argue that a number of systems, structures, and relationships in the realms of pitch and rhythm both tie the members of this body together and distinguish it from other bodies of music. If my argument is successful, rock could then be defined as the body of music that does what is described here.25

Published one year after Expression in Pop–Rock, the 2001 Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock is one of two edited collections that exemplifies a palpable divide between these aforementioned music-theoretical approaches and the broader aims of scholars trained in Canada, the UK, Europe, and elsewhere. As John Covach noted in 1997: These two disciplines [music theory and popular music studies], however, have tended to ignore each other: theorists have been occupied almost entirely with the analysis of music within the European art-music tradition, and popular music scholarship has tended to focus its attention more on cultural, social, and economic contexts and less on the musical texts themselves.26

With regard to the definition of rock music, this difference manifests in an increased attention to the cultural factors that help define genres. Barry Shank goes so far as to associate the entire “rise and development” of rock music with a “white fascination with black music.”27 Shank’s definition of rock is notable for its foregrounding of people of color throughout rock’s history, not just in the opening decades (see especially his treatment of the Black Rock Coalition in the 1980s led by DC-based thrashers Bad Brains). Richard Middleton similarly problematizes any definition of rock based on whiteness: “if, for most commentators, rock ‘n’ roll coheres around such figures as Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, things may look different to Los Angeles Chicanos, whose rock ‘n’ roll hero … was Ritchie Valens.”28 Keir Keightley’s “Reconsidering Rock” is a thorough attempt at reconstructing a definition of rock music according to “dynamic cultural processes rather than static musical-stylistic features.”29 After presenting a long list of incredibly diverse artists that have all been described as “rock,” including Otis Redding, Kraftwerk, Bob Dylan, Run-DMC, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Keightley concludes that “if this eclectic set of performers and sounds can be grouped under the heading ‘rock,’ it is not because of some shared, timeless, musical essence; rather, specific historical contexts, audiences, critical discourses,



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

and industrial practices have worked to shape particular perceptions of this or that music or musician as belonging to ‘rock.’”30 Popular Music Studies, another collection penned mainly by UK and European scholars, focuses on this cultural definition of “rock” as well, though a notable exception can be found in Jason Toynbee’s essay, whose music-analytical approach echoes that of Headlam and other American scholars: “from the start the timbre range of its standard ensemble defined rock: electric guitar, bass and drums, sometimes augmented by organ or piano.”31 For Toynbee, this focus on timbre separates rock as the second hegemonic strand of popular music in the twentieth century. Unlike the first hegemonic strand (Tin Pan Alley/ Hollywood music), rock is defined by timbre. This unique timbre would later be enhanced by the “gestured space” created through studio practices, including multitrack recording, vocal modification, and double-tracking.32 David Brackett prefers to remain musicologically agnostic regarding the definition of rock, deferring instead to stable chart markers from the Billboard Hot 100, Top-40 radio, and music video playlists on MTV and VH1.33 Like Covach, he is focused on chart crossover and, like Shank, on the distinction between “black” and “white” charts. Brackett zeroes in on a rift in the early 1980s, when MTV initially refused to screen videos by African American artists.34 The difference between rock and non-rock (at least on MTV) is therefore culturally constructed. For Motti Regev this cultural constructivism, taken to its logical conclusion, makes a definition of rock completely untenable. In “The ‘Pop-Rockization’ of Popular Music” he takes a similar approach to Keightley, listing all manner of artists considered “rock” (his artists are slightly more recent than Keightley’s, including Metallica, Oasis, Khaled, and Aphex Twin) and identifies “an institutional convention that gathers genres such as rap/hip-hop, electro-dance, mainstream pop, heavy metal, alternative rock, reggae, ‘classic’ rock, and others into one web or meta-category called ‘pop/rock.’”35 This brings to the fore another point resounding throughout these two European collections: the separation, or perceived separation, between pop and rock. Rock’s relatively high level of authenticity plays a role in this distinction for several authors. Middleton sees a potential for this divide in pop’s—especially dance music’s—increased focus on the body relative to rock’s disembodied idealism.36 Simon Frith’s essay on pop music aims to separate pop from the many styles with which it has been conflated, especially rock. One of Frith’s distinguishing features is pop music’s relative lack of authenticity: Elton John is a pop not a rock star because his authenticity—the authenticity of his expressed emotions—is not an issue. “Candle in the Wind” is not a song of self-exposure; it was not written to mark off John’s difference, his unique artistic sensibility. It was, rather, a pop song, designed for public use.37

Keightley complicates this argument by separating rock’s authenticity into two opposite forces: romantic authenticity and modernist authenticity.38 Elton John’s connection to populism and tradition represents the former. What John lacks is the modernist sense of authenticity, the experimentation and avant-garde techniques we normally associate with white, male rock bands. For Keightley, this bifurcated definition of rock predicated on authenticity,

Definition of “Rock” and Stylistic Overlap

serve[s] simultaneously to position rock against the mass pop mainstream and to create and organise internal differences within rock culture. Many rock fans will reject those performers or genres who highlight Modernist authenticity as being somehow “artificial”, while other fans might dismiss Romantic rock as being simplistic or compromised by its populism. Rock’s dual versions of authenticity may thus contribute to the formation of diverging scenes, communities, and taste cultures within rock.39

Keightley’s essay is also among the first to describe one of rock’s most identifiable traits: its stratification into subgenres (discussed below). After 2002 the scholarly literature surrounding definitions of rock begins to devote more attention to what exactly constitutes these subgenres.

Part III: 2003–Present A new post-millennial generation of essay collections built on ideas captured in the 1997–2002 collections and applied them to increasingly more specific subgenres of rock. These include Allan Moore’s 2007 Critical Essays in Popular Musicology, Mark Spicer and John Covach’s 2010 Sounding Out Pop, and the 2015 collection Song Interpretation in 21st-Century Pop Music, edited by Ralf von Appen, André Doehring, Dietrich Helms, and Allan Moore. The preface to Sounding Out Pop posits: The analysis of popular music has now been a part of scholarly discourse for more than twenty years. One consequence of the increased growth and continued expansion of this kind of writing is that a younger generation of scholars has fully joined the conversation along the way, raising new kinds of questions, developing fresh approaches, and focusing on different repertoires and artists.40

The editors suggest here that as long as there are new generations of popular music scholars, there will always be room for these kinds of edited editions. Von Appen and colleagues concurred in their 2015 edited volume, asking their readers to pay attention to the mode by which each piece was analyzed. Their goal was to set forth a book that challenged the idea that there is one “correct” analysis of any piece of music, instead providing readers with a toolbox of different approaches. The book “brings together researchers from different spatial and cultural backgrounds and encourages them to compare their individual hearings and to discuss the ways they make sense of specific songs.”41 This aligns with the growing number of definitions of rock, each necessitating its own style of analysis. Any book on the history of rock must, almost necessarily, confront the definition(s) of rock. Two such books were published in 2009: Walter Everett’s The Foundations of Rock and John Covach’s What’s That Sound? An Introduction to Rock and Its History. The latter is a textbook designed for the classroom and defines rock as “popular music that is produced specifically for a youth audience.”42 A renewed interest in genre theory also began to surface during this time, leading to works by David Brackett, Fabian Holt, and Michael Rings. Brackett’s article, “Questions of Genre in Black Popular Music,” addressed the production and categorization of black



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popular music. Though he does not define rock as a black genre, he does categorize Michael Jackson, Prince, and Jimi Hendrix as pop/rock.43 Holt’s book asks different questions, using specific examples to highlight borders between genres in American popular music. In relation to rock, he investigates how it interacted with other genres, namely jazz and folk. According to Holt, this interaction between elements from separate genres was not always a beneficial exchange. To describe how genres changed as a result of modernization, Holt breaks down that process into three categories: disruption, outreach, and resistance. Rock played important roles in each genre by completing those processes.44 First, rock disrupted traditional categories and infiltrated established categories such as folk (disruption). Then, it amalgamated with these genre categories to create new hybrid genres, such as folk rock (outreach). Finally, rock was disentangled from the original genre through processes of revivalism or conservatism (resistance), leaving only the pure genres behind. Holt intentionally leaves these processes vague so the future analyst can utilize this model in other contexts. Similarly, Brackett traces the interactive impact of genres throughout the twentieth century.45 However, rock is noticeably absent throughout the text. Instead, Brackett focuses most of his energy on the lineages of R & B and country in the United States. Rightfully, he is more concerned with the neglected history of these genres, correcting years of underrepresentation of people of color and women in the narratives of these genres (especially country). Another growing research trend in the early twenty-first century is the corpus study. Using increasingly efficient computer processing methods, corpus researchers are able to create databases that catalog discrete elements such as harmony and tempo. David Temperley and Trevor de Clercq’s “Statistical Analysis of Harmony and Melody in Rock Music” catalogued rock songs from Billboard’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” in an automated database to find common harmonic progressions.46 As these tools continue to be developed, more questions in the early scholarship can be answered with quantitative answers. However, under the guise of objectivity, these corpus studies use problematic data sets such as Billboard’s list, which were not meant for any objective goals. The lists themselves reflect songs and artists at the top of charts, factors which are subject to the sexism and racism of society. These lists and their subsequent usage in such studies reinforce existing definitions of rock. As these approaches to analyzing popular music matured, they produced even more refined definitions of rock. This increased specificity led, inevitably, to a consideration of the distinction between mainstream rock and something else, namely its subgenres. Keightley’s 2001 essay is one of the first to describe rock’s stratification into subgenres. For Keightley, it is this stratification itself, along with the continued mainstream presence of all its subgenres, that defines rock after 1964: As rock developed over time, it would eventually spawn styles and genres that moved away from mainstream rock and become part of true subcultures, such as hardcore punk or death metal in the 1980s. Elements of these subcultures might subsequently be incorporated into the mainstream, revitalizing rock with their subcultural credibility and cachet (the case of grunge is exemplary here). However, these rock-spawned subcultures contribute to a

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process of internal stratification that rock experiences only after it has begun to dominate the mainstream. … At its very birth, rock is already a component of that mainstream.47

Arguably, the increased focus on what exactly constitutes the boundaries between rock and its subgenres represents the most significant development surrounding definitions of rock after 2003. Such emic works did not merely introduce a subgenre to otherwise etic academics but usually focused on one aspect of that music in particular (e.g., rhythm, timbre), honing in on the subgenre’s unique contribution to the standard rock palette. David Easley’s article “Riff Schemes, Form, and the Genre of Early American Hardcore Punk (1978–83)” takes one subgenre of rock (hardcore punk), from one geographical area (America), isolates one time frame (1978–83), and tackles one problem within those parameters. Hardcore, for Easley, drew upon the fast tempos and concise song forms of the Ramones and Wire and the dense textures and riff-driven songs of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple in the creation of a new genre. In addition to these musical features, many participants describe hardcore as reflecting intensity, energy, and aggression, particularly in the performance and reception of the music.48

While one could argue rock itself is intense, energetic, and aggressive, Easley and others would likely assert that hardcore displays these qualities in a more distinct way. His article argues that the guitar riffs themselves help exemplify these qualities to solidify the subgenre.49 Similarly, David Blake’s 2012 article “Timbre as Differentiation in Indie Music” builds on previous scholarship in both music theory and ethnomusicology to make claims about the importance of timbre to indie music.50 Indie, for Blake, is a catch-all term for independent pop, independent rock, and independent folk. Rock’s presence is an aside in this definition, yet all of Blake’s examples fit within the rock canon (My Bloody Valentine, Neutral Milk Hotel, the Shins), implying for the reader that “indie” is a coded subgenre of rock. Other recent work applied music-theoretical analysis of a single parameter to other subgenres. Nicole Biamonte challenges the idea that classic rock must maintain a 4/4 meter.51 Brad Osborn challenges the idea that rock songs must follow a standard verse/chorus form, instead describing some songs as terminally climactic, adding to the definition of what a rock song can do.52 The level of specificity in these contributions represents a maturation of this growing post-millennial trend, but this was only possible with the efforts of previous scholars. Inevitably such works not only aid the research of the specific subgenre but can be applied to other subgenres of rock and thus begin a sort of positive feedback chain.

Conclusion We have attempted to highlight three scholarly trends that emerge in distinct eras of defining rock. In so doing, we have undoubtedly pigeonholed these authors into “genres” of scholarly thought that we have ourselves created. Rest assured, this was no clever demonstration of a fact. Rather, the act of organizing any phenomenon, be it scholarship or music, into discrete, semi-discrete, or fully overlapping categories, seems essential to



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the human thought process. Rock endures as a useful category for comparing the Breeders, Björk, and Sonic Youth, either from a music-theoretical/musicological standpoint (electric guitars, backbeat) or a cultural studies standpoint (countercultural, Billboard charts). We also understand the musical and cultural utterances of those individual artists not on their own, but through the larger historical understanding of “rock.” In other words, “rock” and its various subgenres do not only organize artists into categories, they color how we understand those artists in the first place. It would seem then that despite all hysteria to the contrary, genre cannot be “dead.”53 No matter how blurred the lines between rock and pop, hip-hop and pop, or hiphop and electronica become, we still need categories (if not these, then we will invent others) by which to sort individual songs, albums, and artists. “Rock” remains a powerful organizational force precisely because of its malleability, its ability to encompass a great diversity of unique music, and there is no evidence to suggest that it will abate.

Notes   1. Throughout the article we use the term “popular music studies” broadly to connote the study of popular music from any disciplinary angle. We will, at times, need to direct sharper disciplinary focus to three somewhat separate disciplines: “music theory,” practiced largely in North America by scholars aligned with the Society for Music Theory; “musicology,” the broader study of music from music-specific disciplines other than music theory; and “cultural studies,” including all disciplinary approaches from outside of music entirely.   2. See Lynskey, “Going Underground”; Warnes,“Tricky’s Maxinquaye”; and Johnson, “#genre.” Warnes draws on the conception of rhizomes found in the work of Deleuze and Guattari. Lynskey and Johnson each map genre using rhizomatic shapes, namely a map of the London Underground and a Spirographic representation of Spotify’s metadata, respectively.   3. See Fabbri, “A Theory of Musical Genres.”   4. Ibid., 80.   5. See Tagg, “Musicology and the Semiotics of Popular Music” and “Towards a Sign Typology of Music.”   6. See Middleton, Studying Popular Music; and Moore, Rock.   7. See Stefani, “A Theory of Musical Competence,” 7–22.   8. See Fornäs, “The Future of Rock,” 111–125.   9. See Everett, “Text Painting in the Foreground and Middleground of the Paul McCartney Song, ‘She’s Leaving Home,’” 5–22. 10. Walser, Running with the Devil. 11. See Kaminsky, “The Popular Album as Song Cycle,” 38–54. 12. See Fornäs, “The Future of Rock.” 13. Examples of these can be seen in early issues of Popular Music. From the first issue alone, see: Baily, “Cross-Cultural Perspectives in Popular Music,” 105–122; Kubik, “NeoTraditional Popular Music in East Africa Since 1945,” 83–104; and Harker, “The Making of the Tyneside Concert Hall,” 27–56.

Definition of “Rock” and Stylistic Overlap

14. Fornäs, “The Future of Rock.” 15. Ibid., 112. 16. Ibid. 17. See Gracyk, Rhythm and Noise, xi. 18. See McClary, “Review of Studying Popular Music,” 237. 19. Headlam, “Blues Transformations,” 88. 20. Bernard, “Musical World(s?).” 21. Neal, “Country-Pop Formulae,” 306. 22. Covach, “Jazz-Rock? Rock-Jazz?,” 94. 23. On racial crossover music of the 1950s, see Shank, “From Rice to Ice,” 256–257. 24. Stephenson, What to Listen for in Rock, xiii. 25. Ibid., xiv–xv. Why exactly such a body of music should be termed “rock” is unclear from Stephenson’s argument—it would seem that “popular music” would do just as well. 26. Covach, “We Won’t Get Fooled Again,” 76. 27. Shank, “From Rice to Ice,” 256. 28. Middleton, “Pop, Rock, and Interpretation,” 223. 29. Keightley, “Reconsidering Rock,” 110. 30. Ibid., 109. 31. Toynbee, “Mainstreaming,” 152. 32. Ibid. 33. Brackett, “(In Search of) Musical Meaning,” 68–69. 34. Ibid., 70. 35. Regev, “The ‘Pop-Rockization’ of Popular Music,” 252–253. Lacasse casts a similarly wide net: “In the context of this study, the expression ‘rock music’ is taken in a rather general sense and therefore includes a wide range of musical styles associated with rock music (rock ‘n’ roll, progressive rock, heavy metal, techno, hip hop, etc.)” (Lacasse, ‘“Listen to My Voice’”). 36. Middleton, “Pop, Rock, and Interpretation,” 219. 37. Frith, “Pop Music,” 94. 38. Keightley, “Reconsidering Rock,” 131ff. 39. Ibid., 137. 40. Spicer and Covach, “Preface,” in Sounding Out Pop, ix. 41. Von Appen et al., “Preface,” in Song Interpretation in 21st-Century Pop Music, 1. 42. Covach, What’s That Sound?, 3. 43. Brackett, “Questions of Genre in Black Popular Music,” 74. 44. Holt, Genre in Popular Music, 59. 45. Brackett, Categorizing Sound. 46. Temperley and de Clercq, “Statistical Analysis of Harmony and Melody in Rock Music.” 47. Keightley, “Reconsidering Rock,” 127. 48. Easley, “Riff Schemes,” 1.1. 49. Ibid., 6.1. 50. Blake, “Timbre as Differentiation.” 51. Biamonte, “Formal Functions.” 52. Osborn, “Subverting the Verse-Chorus Paradigm.” 53. Robinson, “Pop, Rock, Rap, Whatever”; and Drott, “The End(s) of Genre.”



Part I Practice, Analysis, and Recording


5 Rock Voice Katherine Meizel

In May 2018, the website for the Recording Academy awards,, offered a poll: “Which classic rock lead singer has the most iconic voice?” The eleven choices included nine men and two women: Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell, Roger Daltrey, Mick Jagger, Freddie Mercury, Stevie Nicks, Steve Perry, Robert Plant, Axl Rose, Steven Tyler, and Ann Wilson, plus a twelfth “other” option.1 As of January 2019, the overwhelming favorite, at 82 percent of votes, was Freddie Mercury. Though the 2018 biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, starring Rami Malek as Mercury, had recently won two Golden Globes and was at the forefront of the public musical imagination, the celebration of Mercury (né Farrokh Bulsara) as ultimate rock vocalist was not new. Rolling Stone positioned Mercury in eighteenth position on a 2010 list of the “100 Greatest Singers,”2 and LA Weekly placed him first out of twenty in 2016.3 This discourse was pervasive enough to compel a team of Czech and Swedish researchers to study the acoustics, and guess at the biomechanics, of Mercury’s voice. Christian T. Herbst and colleagues’ subsequent 2017 publication provoked an explosion of Internet headlines declaring that “Freddie Mercury Was the Greatest Singer Ever, According to Science.”4 Of course, Herbst and his team were not concerned with the impossible task of proving Mercury’s relative greatness beyond a doubt, but instead with identifying and examining the sounds and techniques that have piqued the ears of millions of fans since Queen’s 1973 debut album. The team, including two vocal pedagogues and two phoniatricians conducting what they termed “fan science,”5 listened to Mercury’s speaking voice in a set of interviews from the 1980s, his singing voice in the context of Freddie Mercury: The Solo Collection (2000), and twenty-three further commercial recordings. About Mercury’s speech, they concluded that despite his broad singing range, his median fundamental frequency speaking indicated a vocal range comparable to that of a “baritone” (a Western classical vocal category typically applied to medium-low, but not the lowest, male voices). In his singing, they identified Mercury’s mean vibrato rate as “surprisingly high” at 7.0 Hz (cycles per second),6 his average vibrato extent (how far up and down the cycle extends) as comparable to “values previously reported for non-classical singing,” and the overall irregularity of both its rate and extent as greater than that of operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti’s voice.7 The speed and unevenness of Mercury’s vibrato, they write, may have contributed to the singer’s “eccentric and flamboyant stage persona.”8


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One especially complicated aspect of the researchers’ work involved their analysis of vocal production, using—for lack of access to Mercury’s own working larynx—a voice performing in imitation of Mercury’s. In singer and coauthor Daniel ZanggerBorch’s impersonation of Mercury’s voice, they saw that the ventricular folds produced subharmonics—harmonics below the fundamental frequency, or visualized in a power spectrum, smaller peaks occurring between two regular harmonic peaks9—perceived as “growl” or “distortion.”10 Spectrograms, Herbst et al. explain, show similar subharmonic patterns in acoustic analysis across Zangger-Borch’s and Mercury’s voices. They suggest that vocal subharmonics help to create “the impression of a sound production system driven to its limits, even while used with great finesse,” and that combined with the 7.0 Hz irregular vibrato, they “might have helped create Freddie Mercury’s eccentric and flamboyant stage persona.”11 It should be noted that the use of an impersonator may not necessarily provide accurate details. Though the researchers here see similarities between the spectra of Mercury and the impersonator, preliminary research elsewhere by Meizel and Scherer suggests that singing impersonators may rely more upon broader aural landmarks such as the occasional precise modeling of vowels, the styling of key musical phrases, even a vibrato rate at certain melodic points particularly identifiable by listeners, than upon a consistent acoustic structure perfectly synced with the original artist’s.12 Herbst et al.’s research serves, again, not to provide evidence of objective superiority but rather to show that Mercury’s voice (and the imitation of it) matches the aesthetic values that listeners like the researchers have conventionally associated with rock singing— it is a voice with: (1) a pitch range coded toward the lower, masculine end of a genderbinary spectrum, but with the ability to extend upward in the extreme; (2) “growl,” “roughness,” or other forms of distortion drawn from rock’s rhythm and blues foundations; and (3) a strong presence but some irregular, unpredictable characteristics linked to an equally unconventional stage persona. A rock voice is expected to be as virtuosically expressive as an operatic voice, without conforming to its aesthetic of perfection (though, of course, Mercury invited comparisons in his duetting with Montserrat Caballé in 1987’s “Barcelona”). This chapter, in addressing the production of rock voice and the scholarship in which it features, demonstrates that the aforementioned are not merely sonic values but rather concepts grounded in a culturally genred, gendered, racialized, classed, and dis/abled framework of singing. They are rock values that celebrate imperfection and flawed individuality, and that at once resist and reinforce white cultural power through the appropriation of vocal sounds associated with black American singing.

Approaches to Rock Voice The study of voice in popular music has been undertaken from multiple perspectives, including those of voice practitioners, trainers, and pedagogues, of researchers in physics, medicine, voice and speech science and communication disorders, of researchers in cultural studies and media studies, musicology, ethnomusicology, and music theory. Voice is so central to popular music that George McKay has observed that for many listeners, the

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presence of voice is a defining quality of popular music, in opposition to classical music (which many are unaware may include singing).13 In Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music, Simon Frith exhorted those studying popular music to consider voice “as a musical instrument, as a body, as a person, and as a character.”14 As a musical instrument, its structures, processes, and practices may be examined. As a body, voice is embodied, physiological. McKay, after Frith, notes that the possession of a body is the most important shared characteristic of both musicians and fans—we all have them, “throats and stomachs and lungs,”15 and when listeners sing along, our bodies acoustically combine.16 As a “person” voice is closely tied to individual and cultural identity—“it is in real, material, singing voices that the ‘real’ person is to be heard,” writes Frith17—and as a character it is performative. And because the personal identity of a singer, Allan Moore writes, is the “central aspect of the interpretive process” in listening to popular music,18 the cues heard in voices are also central. Melanie Strumbl, in her discussion of Janis Joplin and the affective capacity of vocal timbre, argues that singing styles cannot be studied ahistorically, but because they develop and change in social context, they may be “comprehended as ‘vocal historiographies’ or ‘vocal biographies.’”19 She continues: On the one hand, singing voices also reveal the social, the personal, the individual—they become a signifier for personal, social or political hardship. On the other hand, vocal practices also follow social norms. Therefore, the materiality of a voice is always the product of an oscillation between “ideologies” or normative practices and the individual or the social.20

Kate Heidemann proposes a four-pronged, perception-based model for describing voices in popular music, taking into consideration the relative vibratory process of the vocal folds, the shape or position of the vocal tract, the bodily location of sympathetic vibrations, and the degree of muscular involvement in support of the airflow.21 Allan Moore suggests that a singing voice, in the context of popular music, should be examined positionally: in terms of register; the apparent primary vibrational cavity—using descriptions such as “head” or “chest” voice, which McKay also notes are embodied descriptions;22 the singer’s heard attitude to rhythm; and the singer’s heard attitude to pitch.23 This emphasis on hearing and listening is also a pervasive theme in voice studies; musicologist Nina Eidsheim has argued that the voice is created by the listener as much as by the singer.24 Elsewhere, the author of this chapter has suggested a focus on the idea of vocality— referring to ways of singing, or to borrow Cathy Berberian’s term, “ways of being” for voice.25 Vocality, as I’ve written previously,26 has been defined across disciplines in myriad ways. For example, Feld, Fox, Porcello, and Samuels have studied voice as a “metaphor for difference” and as a “key representational trope for identity, power, conflict, social position, and agency,” positioning vocality not only as a musical practice but also as a social practice “understood as an implicit index of authority, evidence, and experiential truth.”27 Feld and colleagues also identify vocality as a site where music and language intersect, and where an individual first begins to aurally separate their own voice from others’.28 And, importantly for rock music—a culture that privileges experiential authenticity—Holly Patch and Tomke



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

König observe that vocality particularly comprises lived experience.29 Discussing the voices of transgender singers, they explain vocality as “the phenomenon that encompasses yet is irreducible to the following (non-exhaustive) intra-acting aspects of the vocal: physical, physiological, biological, representational, constructed, embodied, performative, and lived.”30 Importantly, vocality is always constructed through intersubjectivity: the subjectivities that inform an individual singer’s identity, and especially, as Nina Sun Eidsheim argues, a listener’s.31 In this chapter, I understand vocality as “both an embodied act and a constructive process—as a way of singing inscribed and reinscribed with the lived experience of vocal sounds (linguistic and extralinguistic), practices, techniques, and meanings that factor in the making of culture and identity, and in the negotiation of power.”32 Rock vocality, like rock as a genre, cannot be approached as monolithic or singular, but as Herbst and colleagues’ study suggests, a number of sonic and ideological characteristics are valued and devalued consistently enough to talk of certain generalities. The rest of this chapter first examines the contextualization of rock vocalities within frameworks of authenticity, and within ideologies of race and disability; in the following sections, it discusses the production and perceptions of certain vocal effects associated with rock aesthetics.

Voice and Rock’s Ideology of Authenticity Discourse about rock vocalities has been heavily shaped by ideas about music genre and “authenticity”—a nationalist, gendered, classed, and raced notion. Though the borders between popular music genres have been continuously blurred, erased, restructured, and reinvented in the twenty-first century, the concept of rock music is still deeply undergirded by a traditional binary construct positioning two categories called “rock” and “pop” as polar opposites. What Simon Frith has called “rock ideology,”33 which some journalists in the mid-2000s also referred to as “rockism,” has assigned values such as truth, authenticity, and artistic worth to the music of working-class white men (who appropriate from black men in their need to express social struggle), while pop has been dismissed as feminine, artificial, and centered on capitalistic pursuits. Kelefa Sanneh summarizes it as an attitude that “means idolizing the authentic old legend (or underground hero) while mocking the latest pop star; lionizing punk while barely tolerating disco; loving the live show and hating the music video; extolling the growling performer while hating the lip-syncher.”34 Both Frith and Keir Keightley35 find in rock ideology remnants of folkloric and Romantic discourses on art, authenticity, and sincerity. The fetishization of rural and nonwhite musics in Romantic nationalism has also fed into the US music industry and its recurrent interest, during times of cultural, financial, and wartime crisis, in the history/ies of white and black southern US musics. Additionally, one might consider the prominence of masculinity and male adolescence in Romantic narratives, as in the male Bildungsroman and related nineteenth-century musical works (for example, Goethe’s seminal novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, or the poetry of Wilhelm Müller set to music by Franz Schubert). Lisa Lewis has pointed out the ways in which MTV contributed to a gendering of rock as male in the

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channel’s early years, combating critique of its fundamentally commercial (and therefore not “rock”) practices by demonstrating other central aspects of rock ideology—particularly illustrated through a white male bias.36 For Allan Moore, the concept of rock authenticity is to a degree located in the voice, represented through a privileging of the “‘untrained’ (‘natural’) voice,”37 capable (even extraordinarily) but imperfect, uncontaminated by the artifices of elite culture. It’s significant, too, that classical singing discourse has often espoused an inverse perspective, emphasizing the freeing of one’s “natural” voice through technical training rather than in spite of it. But regardless of genre, the idea of an intrinsic individual voice has limitations—though physiology (vocal fold length, for example) may restrict the range of a voice’s possibilities, vocal quality is largely culturally constructed through linguistic and ideological influence, and sometimes chosen consciously by the singer. Bob Dylan’s is perhaps a quintessential example of such a voluntary vocality. He delivered his early folksong-derived style in the 1960s in a cultivated imitation of his hero Woody Guthrie,38 though he was later celebrated for his ability to absorb multiple stylistic elements as the aesthetic climate shifted.39 Andrea Cossu identifies one of Dylan’s early sonic qualities as an acquired “rough” sound.40 Cossu links the roughness of Dylan’s vocality to the lack of amplification in his coffeehouse venues,41 to Woody Guthrie’s style and the folk origins of Dylan’s songs, and to the aesthetic category of country music inscribed with authenticity that Richard Peterson has titled “hard-core,” based in the Old Time, country blues, and precountry music that Dylan borrowed.42 In other words, the roughness in Dylan’s voice, like that in Woody Guthrie’s, served as a sonic signifier of rural, lower-class American vernacular music culture, along with its “untrained” and perceived “nasal” qualities.43 Cossu also cites Dave Van Ronk’s observation that this roughness could be associated with a gendered urban blues revivalism (arguably still rooted in rural blues, however) that similarly prized the notion of authenticity. In his memoirs (with Elijah Wald), Van Ronk wrote: It was a cultural lag: the boys had discovered Dock Boggs and Mississippi John Hurt, and the girls [like Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and Carolyn Hester] were still listening to Cynthia [Gooding] and Susan Reed …. So whereas the boys were intentionally roughing up their voices, the girls were trying to sound prettier and prettier and more and more virginal.44

Notably, Dylan, goaded in a famously odd Time interview into comparing his singing with long-deceased opera star Enrico Caruso’s, boasted, “I happen to be just as good as him—a good singer. You have to listen closely, but I hit all those notes. And I can hold my breath three times as long if I want to.”45 His vocality, he implies, is as virtuosic in its cultivated roughness as an opera singer’s in its cultivated smoothness.

Roots of Rock Vocality: Race and Disability One of the most notorious references to imitation and appropriation in US music history may or may not have actually been made, but has been repeatedly attributed to Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis. Marion Keisker, Sun’s office manager, recalled that when she



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

gave a recording of Elvis Presley to Phillips in 1953, she was thinking of his often-stated desire to “find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel.”46 (Other accounts of the recording and Phillips’s statement have varied in their degree of overt racism and/or been denied by either or both Phillips and Keisker47). It is commonly acknowledged that the vocal aesthetics of rock owes a great deal to African American practices, as appropriated by white musicians. Rhythm and blues, the basis for white rock ‘n’ roll, drew heavily from the mutually influential sounds of blues and the new gospel style (not uncontroversially) from the 1930s on. Both blues and gospel traded on the sometimes-indistinguishable para- and extralinguistic vocalization of suffering and ecstasy—bodily, emotional, or spiritual—and this transferred to rhythm and blues and ultimately, in reconfigured, racially reimagined ways, to rock. Andrew Legg summarizes the study of gospel vocal gestures and qualities focusing on timbre, pitch, rhythm, lyrics, and structures; gospel timbres include “gravel and grunts,” “screams and shouts,” “song speech and vibrato,” and “timbre/register shifts”: pitch manipulation includes “glides, slides, wails,” “blues inflection,” and “passing tones, bends, neighbor tones and gospel gruppettos.”48 Earl L. Stewart counts such sounds of gospel and of soul (the 1960s offspring of rhythm and blues) as constitutive of an ancestral “African vocality,” whose attributes include, among other practices, “guttural effects,” “falsetto,” and “Afro-melismas.”49 Music marketed as “rock,” typically racialized as white, has tended to appropriate in some way nearly all of these vocal elements but to downplay the last one; while vocal melisma may be minimally present in rock,50 it is typically singers marketed as “soul,” “neo soul,” or “R & B”—who are more often black singers—whose stylistic choices have included pervasive runs.51 This may call back to the early years of rock ‘n’ roll and its appropriation of rhythm and blues—neither black nor white singers then showcased runs in the ways they would later feature in gospel, or soul and its offshoots. The gravel, grunts, and growl of rock are, fundamentally, ways of embracing, of cultivating something irregular and frequently coded as disordered in the vocal sound. Sometimes the externalization of emotional pain is accomplished through extremes of pitch range (the strain of high notes, the depths of low ones), or the sound of a voice breaking as in sorrow (a sudden change in register), or scratching in pain; deploying breathy voice, fry (also called creaky voice) as indices of sensuality or, alternately, of psychological exhaustion; ecstatic shouting; or sonic references to aggression. Some of these may also index physiological damage (whether actually present or not) through an implied relationship to addictive disease and the destructive impact of its materials—cigarettes, alcohol, illegal substances—on health. Some studies of singing and disability frame voice as a process of externalizing internal states,52 as the emitting of damaged sounds from a damaged psyche and/or body. In Shakin’ All Over: Popular Music and Disability, George McKay examines how disabled voices, and disabled bodies singing, are heard as authentic. Citing Simon Frith, he explains that the singing voice in popular music is fundamentally understood by listeners as the sonic expression of a “real” singer, as the “corporeal truth” of an artist, and as a performance deeper than merely the performative. When he writes about voices that sound in audibly pathological (or pathologized) ways, understood as containing a singer’s “autopathography,”53 he coins an apt term: mal canto, as opposed to the bel canto preferred in classical contexts.54

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Laurie Stras, in her essay “The Organ of the Soul: Voice, Damage, and Affect,” highlights the role played by sounds of damage in popular musics. She connects rock vocalities to their historical ancestors in blues, attributing the damage celebrated in blues voices to the demanding performance conditions faced by early urban blues singers—especially the difficulty of making oneself heard above nightclub socializing—and the need for blues artists to create and transmit the suffering “blue” affect for their audiences.55 The advent of the microphone in the 1930s, permitting quieter singing, allowed the “moderately damaged voice” to “[come] into its own.”56 Recording technologies have extended the possibilities of vocal nuance in popular music, as well, so that the intimacy of the studio supports sounds that illustrate an intimacy between singer and listener.57 The damaged voice continues to be accepted, even preferred, in many genres within popular music, to the point of optimum levels of damage appearing suitable for different types of singing: the gravel-voice of the rock singer is not interchangeable with the subtle hoarseness of the jazz vocalist. Many singers have learned to simulate or manipulate damage in the voice, so further revealing the affective value of the sound; and in a reversal of what might be considered normate associations, damage here seems to be linked with concepts of authority, authenticity, and integrity.58

One sound often interpreted as damage is noise. In medicine, voice science, and classical vocal pedagogy, voices with a high ratio of aperiodic (irregular) to periodic (regular) vibrations are understood as noisy, or containing too much noise—sometimes heard as hoarseness or breathiness—disordered or undesirable qualities. These devalued vocal qualities are often attached to the devaluing of particular human lives, marginalized sounds for marginalized bodies. Elias Krell, writing about transmasculine folk/Americana singer Joe Stevens (formerly of the band Coyote Grace), examines the noise in his hoarseness and breathiness as part of what they term transvocality, as the sound of a “literal grating of life upon the body.”59 Until recent years, the literature about transgender voices largely emerged from research in speech therapies, with the goal of eliciting the desired perception of a speaker’s gender identity. But in the study of singers in popular music, several key authors have developed new approaches to transvocality. For Holly Patch and Tomke König, transvocality (“trans* vocality”) is “embodied trans* being in and of the world …. There is no ontological trans* voice,” they assert, “but in trans* people enacting singing—and thereby determining the phenomenon of trans* vocality—the trans*ness of the singing comes to matter and trans* singers become subjects.”60 Shana Goldin-Perschbacher’s work on Jeff Buckley’s voice (particularly in his cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”) considers Buckley’s “transgressive” vocality as multiply gendered or transgendered, a voice that “resists” identification with his presumably cisgender, heterosexual male identity.61 And Krell studies transvocality in the context of affective experience and as a theoretical framework that “asks how and why we hear sound as sexed, gendered, sexualized, raced, and so on— and allows sound to speak back to enculturated practices of hearing/seeing identity.”62 Krell theorizes Stevens’s voice as both desirable and undesirable—his white masculine privilege and the rasp in his vocality create “white noise,” Krell writes, allowing his voice



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

to be read as desirable by fans; but his vocal noise is also read as undesirable, as damaged by transition and the disability of addiction.63 Given the intertwined conceptual and oppressive histories of race, gender, and disability, something not unrelated can certainly be seen in white approaches to the noise and distortion of black noises throughout the history of popular musics—but in the appropriation of black vocalities, the undesirable becomes the desired. The perceived vocal ravages of substance use and addiction, from the smoking of tobacco and marijuana to alcoholism to cocaine and heroin use, have been associated with minoritized populations and popular musicians—and particularly black singers—since race records began to fly off the shelves. As Daphne Duval Harrison notes, the black women who made “classic” (jazz-influenced, Vaudeville-style) blues records sell in the 1920s had been initially rejected from the recording industry due to their “less-polished vocal styles, their southern diction, and the coarser timbres of their voices.”64 Those sounds were related not only to cultural practice but also, as Harrison notes, to venue; men and women blues singers such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Ma Rainey, and Bessie Smith first made their livings traveling to perform outdoors or in tent shows, in saloons or at house parties,65 where one had to be heard either across a space or over a good deal of rowdy noise—and where illicit activities often took place.66 Many “classic” and “country” blues songs were recorded in the 1920s (during the US period of Prohibition, it should be noted). For example, Ma Rainey’s “Booze and Blues” (1924), Victoria Spivey’s “Dope Head Blues” (1927), and Luke Jordan’s “Cocaine Blues” (1927)—explicitly lamented and/or celebrated illicit or illegal substances, and their relationship to mental health, the incarceration system, injustice, and poverty. As rhythm and blues replaced blues in the music industry, then became a touchstone for the path of rock’s development in the 1960s, bars, parties, and stadiums replaced the saloons and tent shows, and the associations of music, experience, mental illness, injustice, and substance misuse continued. George McKay observes that this reflects a long-term “creative/ destructive musical template,” tracing a line from the disordered lives of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century art music composers to those of jazz musicians and ultimately rock musicians.67 One important artist whose vocality was also undergirded by struggles with alcohol may have had a particularly deep impact on the future of rock singing. Maureen Mahon suggests that Elvis Presley’s racially transgressive vocality owed a great deal to Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, whose records he heard along with the work of other black artists. In “Hound Dog,” she writes, “he put what he heard into his performances: the snarl in Thonton’s voice and the way she snaps off the words in the song’s opening … he imports her swagger and her forceful vocals, following her practice of ‘hollering it out’ in a deep husky voice.”68 Mahon argues that Presley’s performance of masculinity is derived partly from “Thornton’s confrontational black femininity” or, she notes, what Judith Halberstam has called Thornton’s “female masculinity.”69 Mahon connects another iconic rock singer to Thornton’s influence as well, hearing her unconventional persona and her vocal aesthetics in the singing of Janis Joplin. Melanie Strumbl, at the University of Bern, has discussed Joplin’s voice using both scientific and humanistic approaches. She investigates Joplin’s sound in her final recording, “Mercedes Benz,” by contextualizing the results of spectrographic

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analysis in affect theory, proposing that voice cues that are “rough, distorted, [or] raspy,” as in Joplin’s vocality, may “possess a distinct affective and emotional capacity.”70

Growl and Screaming The rough voices of 1960s rockers such as Joplin laid the groundwork for one of the next generation’s defining musics: heavy metal. The vocalities propagated in many subgenres of heavy metal are associated with effects such as growl, aggressive falsetto, and screaming. Growl is also known by a slew of other names including “death growl,” “unclean vocals” (as opposed to “clean” or undistorted sounds, though the religious connotations of the term “unclean” also fit well with metal’s antinormative philosophical framework), and sometimes “Cookie Monster vocals” after the growly Sesame Street Muppet of that name. Florian Heesch observes that growl’s typically low pitch means that it tends to be read as a male practice, regardless of a singer’s gender identity. He also suggests that its characteristic loudness, and therefore much of its association with aggression and anger, are due entirely to the amplification of the distorted sound.71 Falsetto use in metal has been referred to as “reinforced falsetto,” which Guzman and colleagues describe as a register in which vocal fold adduction (closure) is greater than in untrained falsetto, with a wide jaw opening and spread lips, a narrowed pharynx, and the vocal tract shortened by positioning the larynx vertically higher than usual.72 For both growl and reinforced falsetto, Guzman et al. support the idea that though the sounds are perceived as “vocally stressful,” they in fact are produced using relatively “low phonatory effort”—with the help of careful, often studied technique and (as Heesch also proposes for growl73) external amplification.74 Falsetto has been understood in varying ways in voice discourse, but in popular music it tends to be heard as an extension of the male vocal range and associated with transgressive negotiations of masculinity—not only in metal but in the intimate falsettos and gospel screams of soul and R & B, glam rock, emo, etc. Its roots are also tangled in the history of race and music in the United States, where, as Simon Ravens writes, black singers at least as early as the 1830s were employing falsetto in solo and minstrel-group performance, and were widely imitated by white minstrel singers.75 In rock, Sheila Whiteley has written of falsetto use by Justin Hawkins of the Darkness, and the relationship between his falsetto and Freddie Mercury’s. She argues that this falsetto, in moving beyond the pitch range and registers perceived as heteronormatively male, “traverses sonic possibilities, vocalizing inadmissible sexualities and engaging with the erotics of risk and defiance, a desire for desire itself.”76 Notably, Ravens observes that Mercury chose to use falsetto in Queen’s recordings far more often than in live performances.77 Significantly, many of the rock sounds and techniques identified by researchers are perceived as symptoms and sources of vocal damage: diplophonia in metal, for example— the production of a fragmented sound perceived as a double or multiple tone—is often associated with pathologies of the vocal folds. But many metal vocalists do not sustain any injury and assert that there are healthy ways to create such sounds. One study in particular has been cited in recent public discourse about metal singing. In 2017, Krzystztof Izdebski



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(founder and chair of the Pacific Voice and Speech Foundation) and colleagues presented a paper for the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers examining the intentional use of scream, growl, scratchy voice, ingressive phonation (sound on inhalation), whistle, and diplophonia, using high-speed digital phonoscopy to display the physiological process of each. Izdebski et al., wondering how a singer might perform using these effects for two or three hours at a time, repeatedly, without incurring damage to the vocal folds, noted that during growl and scream, the true vocal folds move but do not actually meet; rather, the sound is generated by the vibration and adduction of structures above the glottis, such as the false vocal folds, aryepiglottic folds, arytenoids, and epiglottis. Because the true vocal folds do not fully participate, Izdebski explains, they remain uninjured.78 In a video for Inside Science,79 Izdebski wonders whether the sounds Vikings made, that terrified Arab merchants recording their travels centuries ago, might have been the origin of metal vocality. But more empirically, he describes the processes he filmed as similar to infants’ aggressive but not unhealthy vocalizations—leading to headlines such as “Science Shows: Singing Heavy Metal Makes You A Big Baby.”80 Women-identifying metal artists have been at the forefront of discourse about screaming and vocal health. New York vocal coach and former punk artist Melissa Cross, who has worked with singers from metal bands Slayer, Lamb of God, Bullet for my Valentine, Disturbed, Arch Enemy, and Slipknot, has produced a series of DVDs and CDs titled The Zen of Screaming. In an interview with VICE News, she associated metal singing with a kind of authenticity inherited from earlier rock: I love the sincerity of the music. It’s so non-tainted by media, and crap, and money, and it’s just so real. It’s just straight from the heart. I mean, I was a hippie, and we lost the way. And these kids, they know the way. They got it for real.81

Screaming predates metal, of course, in its ecstatic soul and gospel contexts, and, in an extreme form, in the work of Yoko Ono (notably in her 1961 “instruction painting” titled Voice Piece for Soprano). Though metal-style screaming has often been coded as masculine, it is certainly used by women-identifying metal artists—even if the associations with masculinity are retained. Angela Gossow, formerly of Swedish metal band Arch Enemy, posted a discussion of metal singing and screaming online in 2006, citing emails from fans seeking advice. “I love your vocals,” one email began, “You’re a woman with balls!!!”82 Screaming is also hardly the sole property of metal and is also an important element in women’s punk rock, as part of a vocal aesthetic positioned against aural expectations of femininity, particularly in the Riot Grrrl scene. Simon Frith and Angela McRobbie describe female punk voices as “shrill, assertive, impure, individual voices,”83 and screaming contributes significantly to this aural image. It is especially disruptive of not only sonic silence, but political silencing. Bikini Kill drummer Tobi Vail has said, “For girls to pick up guitars and scream their heads off in a totally oppressive, fucked-up male-dominated culture is to seize power.”84 Her screams in Bikini Kill’s “Tell Me So,” and Kathleen Hanna’s in numerous tracks (“Speed Heart” offers a prime example), are iconic in Riot Grrrl punk and helped to define rock feminism in the 1990s.

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Other disruptive sounds feature in female rock voices, as well. Qu Shuwen explores the use of non-semantic, non-melodic vocal sounds by female Chinese rock singers in the 1990s, calling them “feminine noises” after de Kloet85 and reminding readers of Attali’s assertion that “with noise is born power and subversion.”86 Qu terms these sounds “secondary vocalizations”87—such as “growling, yelling, babbling, croaking, screaming, grunting, yodeling, and loudness”88—and notes that they are nonnormative and understood as undesirable in mainstream commercial music. Karina Eileraas wrote in the 1990s of “ugly voice” as an instrument of women in rock, of Riot Grrrls and other ultimately feminist musicians—Siouxsie Sioux, Courtney Love, Tori Amos, Björk, Patti Smith, Sinéad O’Connor—who have pushed the sonic materiality of their voices to extremes. Women’s voices have disrupted language, expectations of silence, the control of women’s bodies: The persistent scream/howl/wail/moan/shriek of girl-band music signals an aggressive, antidecorum presence. This is politically significant in a culture that has historically socialized women to doubt the authority of their voices and to soften or silence them altogether; a culture which has at least partially contributed to women’s experiences of voicelessness in violent situations such as domestic abuse and rape.89

Eileraas observes that women’s self-defense classes teach women to scream. “Girl bands use their voices as weapons. Ugly voice delivers an in-your-face body.”90

Onsets and Offsets Some types of vocal effects in rock disrupt beginnings or endings—the onsets or offsets of pitches. When Cranberries vocalist Dolores O’Riordan died in 2018, nearly all media coverage mentioned the sound of her voice, with its whisper-to-shout dynamics, Limerick accent, and broken offsets, as unique to her. Those almost yodeling offsets, breaking from a heavy register into a light one between notes and especially at the ends of words or phrases, are often attributed to O’Riordan’s cultural inheritance of the Irish mourning tradition known as keening (from caoineadh).91 Keening, a women’s practice retained from pre-Christian tradition, is an exquisitely and sometimes extreme expression of emotion, historically discouraged and suppressed by the Catholic Church in Ireland. The appearance of the wailing, sobbing broken tone in O’Riordan’s voice during a peak moment in the Troubles caught the world’s attention and became an identifying characteristic of the singer’s style. Another disruptive effect, vocal fry, has been one of the most pervasively gendered qualities in public discourse, at least in recent years. Fry is a rough, croaky sound often linked historically to California “valley girl” speech92 and surf rock culture93—these are also contexts racialized as white, though it is not necessarily restricted this way in the music of the 2010s. For Standard American English speakers, it tends to occur at the ends of sentences or phrases, when pitch and airflow fall. But in music, it is most often heard at the onsets and sometimes offsets of phrases, positioned as an index of sensuality or sexual pleasure, or used to highlight a sensual or sexual intention behind lyrics (writer Elfy Scott



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notes that in speech, it can be seen as “sexually-incentivized” as well94). It is another stylistic touch made possible by amplification technologies; according to John Nix, the (low pitch and) low intensity of fry prevents it from carrying across large spaces or orchestral backing in the way the louder, higher elements of (unamplified) operatic singing can.95 In recorded voices, it can serve as a symbol of the intimate relationship between singer and listener. Vocal fry is sometimes conflated with the notion of “creaky voice,” though many voice researchers actually distinguish the two; these hear fry occurring at a low fundamental frequency, and creak at higher frequencies and characterized by subharmonics.96 In this chapter, because the journalistic and social media sources I reference tend to make the conflation, I will not make the distinction. Like many vocal qualities, fry can indicate disorder, or simply habit, or a conscious expressive choice. In the twenty-first century’s second decade, social media and journalism have seen periodic waves of criticism targeting an increased use of vocal fry in young American women’s speech practices, blaming it for “making young women ‘less hirable,’”97 and identifying female singers—particularly Kesha (formerly styled Ke$ha) and Britney Spears, citing the initial “oh baby, baby” of “(Hit Me) Baby One More Time”—as potential sources for the habit.98 Public awareness of vocal fry tends to be traced to a 2011 piece on Science magazine’s website,99 summarizing a then-recent study of American college students’ speech by Wolk et al.100 It is important to note that though the phenomenon may have accelerated in the 2000s, it was not entirely new then either in speech or song; as Elfy Scott observes, music from twenty years earlier such as Alanis Morissette’s 1995 album Jagged Little Pill contains multiple incidences of fry (though I would not say it is truly pervasive on that album).101 Some authors have critiqued the critique of young women’s use of vocal fry, pointing out that it is also common in American men’s voices but is rarely attacked in that context,102 and noting that the negative focus on women’s voices is attached to misogyny, and to gendered and classed power structures.103 In 2018, for example, after Christine Blasey Ford testified that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had assaulted her, perception of her voice figured prominently in social media response; the presence of vocal fry in her testimony was mocked and taken as a sign that she was not credible.104 MacKenzie Parrott and John Nix, at the University of Texas, San Antonio, conducted an experiment regarding the perception of vocal fry in popular music. The study was intended to investigate how vocal fry impacted the perception of expressivity in popular music, and to find out whether there was a difference according to the gender of the singer. They played examples recorded by a female and male singer, with and without vocal fry, and asked listeners to rate how expressive they found each performance. The songs recorded varied in terms of style, including for the female singer Britney Spears’s “(Hit Me) Baby One More Time,” the Band Perry’s “If I Die Young,” and the US national anthem, and for the male singer Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud,” George Strait’s “Amarillo By Morning,” and the national anthem again. Parrot and Nix determined that listeners tended to rate the female singer’s performances with vocal fry onsets as more expressive than those without, but, conversely, listeners rated the male singer’s performances without vocal fry as more expressive than those including it. Though the study was limited in scope, it highlighted the kinds of questions researchers should be asking regarding the perception of vocality.105

Rock Voice

Beyond the Human Voice While the sounds analyzed above highlight the presence and expression of the human body, a discussion of voice in rock is incomplete without touching on synthesized voices—which are in their own way also associated with ideas about disability and the body. As Mara Mills has noted, the voice synthesizing devices adapted into popular music typically arrived there from the realm of “assistive technologies” and prostheses such as the artificial larynx, which led eventually to the development and incorporation of the vocoder into popular music.106 In the early 1970s, “robot” voices invaded popular music through various technologies, beginning with the talk box, which allows the modulation of a guitar’s sound to imitate the acoustic structures of human speech (or really, filters the guitar’s sound through the unvoiced modulation of the human speech instrument).107 In the talk box’s classic form, a pedal is used to guide a guitar’s sonic output through a tube into a singer’s mouth, where the shape of the mouth—the upper end of the vocal tract—can be modified as in speech, but without vocalizing, and the signal is transmitted through the vocal microphone. Though the device’s origins have been told in different ways, according to Dave Tompkins in How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder from World War II to Hip-hop: The Machine Speaks, Doug Forbes was inspired by the synthetic voice of a disabled man who entered his workplace to make a bagpipe prototype in 1963,108 which was reworked by others as a guitar-based apparatus. One of its most famous proponents, Peter Frampton, popularized and expanded the possibilities of the talk box’s sound through his innovative work in the studio and in live performances (as exemplified in his live 1976 album Frampton Comes Alive!). Other voice synthesis processes have become ubiquitous across popular genres, such as the vocoder and Auto-Tune—which modulate vocal input, in distinct ways—but these are more commonly associated with genres outside of rock; sometimes, they have become part of the divisive discourse splitting rock and pop, their conscious artificiality and dependence on synthesizers reinforcing pop’s perceived inauthenticity.109

Conclusions The totality of research in rock vocalities to date points to a broad but consistent variety of sounds understood as nonnormative, an assessment embedded in entwined frameworks of race, gender, and disability. These sounds—gravel, growl, screaming, creaking, breaking, falsetto, even mechanical—are positioned in opposition to the discursively normalized aesthetics of beauty in art music and perceived instead as sonic indicators of authenticity, struggle, and lived, embodied experience. Significantly, the authenticity assigned to such sonic symbols, largely appropriated from African American vocal practices, has historically been afforded far more generously to white singers in rock than to black singers in other popular genres, further reinforcing the discursive rock–pop binary. As that binary erodes along with others in the progression of the twenty-first-century music industry, and as new musical categories and subcategories spring up to dominate the charts, the origins



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and generative social meanings of the sounds may slip away. But recognizing the sources of popular vocalities anchors rock music in the historical context of oppressive systems still in place today and reminds listeners that the way they hear voices depends upon far more complex influences than simple aesthetic preference. The choices that determine the sounds of voices are not only made by singers, but are forged in intertwined processes of cultural engagement; rock musicians sing with vocalities shaped by the power structures of lived realities.

Notes   1. McPhate, “Mick Jagger, Stevie Nicks, Axl Rose, Kurt Cobain.”   2. “100 Greatest Singers,” also cited in Herbst, Hertegard, and Lindestad, “Freddie Mercury Acoustic Analysis,” 1.   3. “The 20 Best Singers of All Time.”   4. Herbst, Hertegard, and Lindestad, “Freddie Mercury Acoustic Analysis.” For example, Huff, “Freddie Mercury Was the Greatest Singer Ever.”   5. Herbst, Hertegard, and Lindestad, “Freddie Mercury Acoustic Analysis,” 37.   6. Ibid., 29.   7. Ibid., 31.   8. Ibid., 37.   9. See Omori et al., “Acoustic Characteristics of Rough Voice.” 10. Herbst, Hertegard, and Lindestad, “Freddie Mercury Acoustic Analysis,” 37. 11. Ibid. 12. Meizel and Scherer, “Fluid Voices.” 13. McKay, Shakin’ All Over, 55. 14. Frith, Performing Rites, 187, emphasis in original. 15. Ibid., cited in McKay, Shakin’ All Over, 55. 16. McKay, Shakin’ All Over, 55. 17. Frith, Performing Rites, 186. 18. Moore, Song Means, 178. 19. Strumbl, “Voice, Affect, Grain,” 208. 20. Ibid. 21. Heidemann, “A System for Describing Vocal Timbre in Popular Song.” 22. McKay, Shakin’ All Over, 55. 23. Moore, Song Means, 143–144. 24. Eidsheim, The Race of Sound, 187. 25. Berberian, “The New Vocality in Contemporary Music,” 47. 26. Meizel, Multivocality. 27. Feld et al., “Vocal Anthropology,” 341. 28. Ibid. 29. Patch and König, “Trans* Vocality.” 30. Ibid., 32, my emphasis. 31. Eidsheim, The Race of Sound. 32. Meizel, Multivocality.

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33. Frith, “‘The Magic That Can Set You Free’.” 34. Sanneh, “The Rap Against Rockism.” 35. Keightley, “Reconsidering Rock.” 36. Lewis, “The Making of a Preferred Address,” 39. 37. Moore, Rock, 45. 38. Cossu, It Ain’t Me Babe. 39. Ibid., 22–23. 40. Ibid., 23. 41. Ibid., 24. 42. Ibid. 43. Ibid., 23; Peterson, Creating Country Music, 151. 44. Van Ronk, The Mayor of MacDougal Street, 167, cited in Cossu, It Ain’t Me Babe, 23. 45. Interview included in D. A. Pennebaker’s 1967 documentary Don’t Look Back. 46. Hopkins, Elvis: A Biography, 66, cited in Birnbaum, Before Elvis, 1. 47. See Birnbaum, Before Elvis, 1 and 381n. 48. Legg, “A Taxonomy of Musical Gesture in African America Music,” 106. 49. Stewart, African American Music: An Introduction, 5, emphasis in original. 50. Often called “runs” or “riffs”—some singers I’ve spoken with reject the term “melisma” as part of the colonizing vocabulary of classical music. 51. See Meizel, Idolized. 52. McKay, Shakin’ All Over; and Mills, “Media and Prosthesis.” 53. McKay, Shakin’ All Over, 55–57. 54. Ibid., 71. 55. Stras, “The Organ of the Soul,” 179. 56. Ibid., 180. 57. Allison McCracken writes about the history of mic’d singing in Real Men Don’t Sing: Crooning in American Culture, and discusses singers Vaughn De Leath, Gene Austin, and Al Jolson as transitional figures in establishing this intimacy. See McCracken, Real Men Don’t Sing, ch. 2. 58. Ibid., 174. 59. Krell, “Trans/forming White Noise,” 154. 60. Patch and König, “Trans* Vocality,” 33. 61. Goldin-Perschbacher, “Not With You but of You,” 35. 62. Krell, Singing Strange, 13. 63. Krell, “Trans/forming White Noise.” 64. Harrison, Women in Blues, 450. 65. Ibid., 451. 66. Ibid., 453. 67. McKay, Shakin’ All Over, 162–163. 68. Mahon, “Listening for Willie Mae ‘Big Mama’ Thornton’s Voice,”10. 69. Halberstam, “Queer Voices,” 186, cited in Mahon “Listening for Willie Mae ‘Big Mama’ Thornton’s Voice,” 10 70. Strumbl, “Voice, Affect, Grain.” 71. Heesch, “Voicing the Technological Body,” 58. 72. Guzman et al., “Aerodynamic Characteristics of Growl Voice and Reinforced Falsetto in Metal Singing,” 1.



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  73. Heesch, “Voicing the Technological Body,” 57.   74. Guzman et al., “Aerodynamic Characteristics of Growl Voice and Reinforced Falsetto in Metal Singing,” 2.   75. Ravens, The Supernatural Voice, 191.   76. Whiteley, “Which Freddie?,” 32.   77. Ravens, The Supernatural Voice, 204.   78. Izdebski et al., “High Speed Digital Phonoscopy of Selected Extreme Vocalization.”   79. See “Heavy Metal Singers Are Just Big Babies.”   80. Kahansky, “Science Shows: Singing Heavy Metal Makes You a Big Baby.”   81. See VICE News, “This Trained Singer Teaches Metal Bands How to Scream.”   82. Gossow, “ARCH ENEMY Frontwoman Offers Free Singing Advice.”   83. Frith and McRobbie, “Rock and Sexuality,” 384.   84. O’Brien, She Bop, 158, cited in Eileraas, “Witches, Bitches & Fluids,” 125.   85. De Kloet, China With a Cut, 101, cited in Qu, “Her ‘Vocal Authority’,” 354.   86. Qu, “Her ‘Vocal Authority’,” 354.   87. Ibid., 355.   88. Ibid.   89. Eileraas, “Witches, Bitches & Fluids,” 125.   90. Ibid.   91. For example, Mullally, “The Memories in Dolores O’Riordan’s Fierce, Fragile Voice”; and McCormick, “Dolores O’Riordan’s Voice Will Linger Because You Can Hear Emotion in Every Note.”   92. Ouelette, “Vocal Fry Packs a Raw, Emotional Punch in Pop Music.”   93. Scott, “Heard of Vocal Fry?”   94. Ibid.   95. Ouelette, “Vocal Fry Packs a Raw, Emotional Punch in Pop Music.”   96. Chappell, Nix, and Parrott, “Social and Stylistic Correlates of Vocal Fry.”   97. Katz, “Vocal Fry, Made Famous by Kim Kardashian,” for example.   98. Chan, “Vocal Fry and Young Women”; Jaslow, “Are ‘Creaking’ Pop Stars Changing How Young Women Speak?”; and Gavilanes, “‘Celebrity Vocal Fry’,” among many others.   99. Fessenden, “‘Vocal Fry’ Creeping Into U.S. Speech.” 100. Wolk, Abdelli-Beruh, and Slavin, “Habitual Use of Vocal Fry in Young Adult Female Speakers.” 101. Scott, “Heard of Vocal Fry?” 102. Dunn, “What Is ‘Vocal Fry,’ and Why Doesn’t Anyone Care When Men Talk Like That?”; and Lebowitz, “A Speech Pathologist Says Men Use Upspeak and Vocal Fry, Too.” 103. Madill, “Keep an Eye on Vocal Fry.” 104. Solé, “Christine Blasey Ford is Being Shamed for Having Vocal Fry.” 105. Parrott and Nix, “Listener Ratings of Singer Expressivity in Musical Performance.” 106. Mills, “Media and Prosthesis.” 107. It is worth noting that rock guitar sonorities imitate other aspects of rock vocality, as well, including distortion. 108. Tompkins, How to Wreck a Nice Beach, 133. 109. See Oyola, “In Defense of Auto-Tune”; Pecknold, “The Politics of Voice in Tween Girls’ Music Criticism”; and Provenzano, “Auto-Tune, Labor, and the Pop-Music Voice,” for discussions of Auto-Tune and authenticity.

6 “The Rock Instrumentarium” Steve Waksman

More than Three The essence of quality in rock terms is to be found in the interaction of a guitar, a bass, and drums. —Joe Carducci, Rock and the Pop Narcotic

There is an ideological cast to the instrumentation that forms the kernel of a rock band. Joe Carducci, writing in 1990 and from a position deeply infused with his experience working for one of the most influential independent music labels of the foregoing era— SST Records—sought to boil the rock form down to a set of core ingredients. Carducci’s assertion is representative of a view that has held strong sway in many quarters where rock is perceived to be an entity distinct from “pop” —whether that be 1960s psychedelia, 1980s hardcore, or 1990s grunge. Carducci is clear that his definition of “rock” is not to be confused with “rock and roll” (or rock ‘n’ roll), the unruly transitional form that emerged some time during the first decade after the Second World War. Rock ‘n’ roll admitted more sounds, so the thinking goes, because it was not yet defined and so was still working through the sources and influences that informed it—jump blues, western swing, honky-tonk, mambo, etc. Rock was a more self-conscious form within which the aesthetic orientation became more codified.1 That Carducci specifies not just a set of instruments but a number of players—a guitar, a bass, and drums—is integral to this outlook. The ideal type of the rock band is here construed as three individuals who come together to play collectively while maintaining their individuality, with two of those players (the bass and drums) working to create a solid foundation and one of those players given more agency to move freely within and on top of the support structure created by the others. As undeniably important as the near-holy trinity of guitar-bass-drums has been to the playing of rock, to define the medium through these instruments is to assume too narrow a perspective. Carducci’s judgment on this score, however, is not isolated. To the extent that there exists a literature on rock instrumentation, it reflects the biases that have grown alongside the form itself. Electric guitars have drawn by far the lion’s share of attention. Bass and drums have begun to be written about more in recent years, yet remain far from well studied. As for the rest—keyboards, horns, and other sound-making devices that


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have at different times figured in the soundscape of rock—they have drawn attention only in scattershot ways, the exception being the synthesizer and other varieties of electronic instruments that have generated a literature of their own, albeit one in which rock plays only a small part. This chapter offers an overview of rock instrumentation that breaks away from the purist vantage point. I will begin by briefly considering the primary roles of the three instruments typically viewed at the core of rock—drums, bass, and guitar. From there, I will examine two less frequently assessed branches of rock instrumentation, keyboards and wind instruments. Throughout, the goal will be to balance historical reflections on the instruments themselves and their evolution with consideration of playing style, technique, and where appropriate, prevalent forms of physical performance as well. A central organizing principle of the chapter is that all musical instruments are, effectively, technologies of a sort.2 The advent of the modern drum set was an innovation as crucial as the rise of sound amplification. Both predated rock as a medium and enabled its emergence and growth. Close observation of instrumental performance in conjunction with considerations of music technological development entails paying attention to the importance of sound to the medium of rock. Instrumental timbres are fundamental building blocks of any music and rock is an arena in which timbral innovation has often been assigned great significance as an index of “authenticity” and a vehicle for creative experimentation.

Give the Drummer Some The modern drum kit began to come together in the later nineteenth century and gathered significant momentum as a music-making outfit during the late ragtime and early jazz era of the 1910s and 1920s. Previously in marching bands, dance bands, and other ensembles in which drums were prominently used, bass drums, snare drums, and cymbals were played separately. Gathering together the multiple component drums and cymbals into a unit that could be played by a single individual fulfilled two critical functions: it reduced the number of musicians needed to be employed to create the desired range of drum effects, and it maintained and even expanded the available array of percussive timbres. Drum historians have put particular stress on one key development: the invention of the bass drum pedal, which allowed drummers to use their feet as well as their hands to strike the drum and so greatly facilitated the integration of multiple drums into a single kit that could be played by an individual drummer. The first patent for a foot pedal that was clearly dedicated to drum performance was granted to William Olney in 1887, while William Ludwig’s 1909 patent established the design that has remained largely in place to this day, striking the drum from the ground up to produce a loud, round “thump.”3 When an analogous foot pedal device was created in association with the high-hat cymbal combination in the 1920s, drum scholar Matt Dean observed, “Four limb drumming had arrived.”4 The backbeat is widely acknowledged as one of the signature elements of the rock and roll style and the most ready indication of how much drums and drumming played a definitive role in setting the stylistic template for the music. In its simplest formulation,

“The Rock Instrumentarium”

the backbeat comprises strong accents on the second and fourth beats of a standard fourbeat measure played on the snare drum. Articulating the beat so assertively with the sharp timbre of the snare marked a break from common practice of the time, while the evenness with which the backbeat was played distinguished it from the swing and shuffle rhythms that had been prevalent in popular dance music of the 1940s. Musicologist Garry Tamlyn, in a thoroughgoing survey of early rock and roll rhythmic qualities, has demonstrated just how widespread the snare backbeat became during the period 1954–60. According to Tamlyn, the backbeat could be found in more than 90 percent of the songs released by key artists such as Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Little Richard throughout this time frame.5 Domino and Richard shared a drummer, Earl Palmer, for the vast majority of their recorded work; Palmer’s significance to the cultivation of the backbeat cannot be overstated. Palmer began inserting the snare backbeat into the music he recorded with Domino as far back as 1949, following the lead of trumpet player and bandleader Dave Bartholomew. According to Palmer, as a drummer he was most drawn to bebop where the beat often fell with less regularity, but Bartholomew “didn’t want no bebop rhythm, the drummer dropping bombs—people were dancing out there …. The backbeat came about because the public wasn’t buying jazz, so we put something in that was simpler and that’s what made the difference.”6 Fats Domino’s work throughout the early 1950s is one of the most prominent bodies of song where one could hear the beat gaining greater currency. It was arguably in Little Richard’s band that the backbeat assumed its full force of impact, though, and Palmer’s description of how his approach to the beat was informed by Richard’s piano style is especially vivid: I’ll tell you, the only reason I started playing what they come to call a rock-and-roll beat came from trying to match Richard’s right hand. Ding-ding-ding-ding! … Little Richard moved from a shuffle to a straight eighth-note feel … with Richard pounding the piano with all ten fingers, you couldn’t so very well go against that.7

That straight eighth feel provided the solid, consistent foundation on top of which the backbeat took hold. From this starting point one might trace a succession of evolutionary touchstones. Drums come more to the foreground of the rock and roll soundscape in the instrumental surf music of the early 1960s, with the Surfaris’ “Wipeout” (1963) offering an especially pronounced departure, where drummer Ron Wilson eschews the snare and uses the deeper tones of the tom and bass drums to produce the song’s tumbling drum rolls. Charlie Watts’s drum break on the 1965 Rolling Stones hit “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” brought to the surface the Afro-Cuban rhythmic influence (1-2-cha-cha-chá) that had been an integral facet of rock and roll rhythms from the start.8 With the 1966 instrumental track, “Toad,” Ginger Baker of Cream made the drum solo into an increasingly standard part of the lexicon of rock performance. Fully exhibiting his expertise in four-limbed drumming, Baker provided a model of virtuosity that was deeply indebted to jazz predecessors such as Max Roach, Art Blakey, and Buddy Rich and that shifted the rock drummer’s role from that of timekeeper to orchestrator of percussive sounds within which the backbeat



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became but one option among many. Progressive rock drummers such as Bill Bruford, Carl Palmer, and Neil Peart also built upon the jazz influence while implementing an affinity for nonstandard time signatures, making the drum kit into a medium for reorganizing the basic structural principles of rock. In the funk realm, Clyde Stubblefield drew upon the rhythmic innovations of Earl Palmer and other New Orleans-based musicians to create the drum break for James Brown’s “Funky Drummer.” Detailed by musicologist Alexander Stewart, Stubblefield employs “running sixteenth notes on the hi-hat, accented snare backbeats and a syncopated bass drum part” to construct a compact but technically challenging break that has subsequently been sampled in literally hundreds of hip-hop tracks.9 Literature on drums and drumming in rock has not, on the whole, placed a priority on detailing stylistic and technical developments in a straight narrative fashion. John Mowitt’s provocative approach turns on a psychoanalytic understanding of the cultural significance of the beat and “beating” the drum, using the language of percussion performance to interrogate the relationship between the skin of the drum and the subjectivity of the drummer. Mowitt also raises critical questions about how the presumed influence of African rhythms upon rock and roll and adjacent musical styles has served as the basis for interpreting cultural encounters between Africa and “the West,” and blackness and whiteness, in popular music. Gareth Dylan Smith also prioritizes the relationship between drumming and identity, adopting a more empirical approach to study how playing the drums becomes a source of identification for drummers, and how matters of gender, race, and ethnicity, among other factors, shape the experience of being a drummer. Building upon the recognition that drums, like electric guitars, have been defined through an association with men and masculinity, Angela Smith reconstructs the careers of dozens of female drummers—such as Moe Tucker of the Velvet Underground, Alice de Buhr of Fanny, and Sandy West of the Runaways—to counteract their usual omission from available narratives. Bill Bruford, the influential drummer turned musicologist, has offered an analysis of how drummers in rock, jazz, and classical music understand and experience creativity in their engagement with playing the instrument. Anne Danielsen’s work, meanwhile, is exemplary for treating the drums as one part of the fabric comprising the rhythmic grooves that drove the music of two pivotal funk bands, that of James Brown and George Clinton’s Parliament.10 More such work is needed with regard to rock proper and associated genres such as metal, punk, or improvised psychedelic rock where the drums and the rhythm are no less fundamental but are not typically treated as being of central importance.11

The Low End Theory Early rock and roll coincided with the earliest years of development of the electric bass guitar. Although efforts to amplify the bass can be traced back to the 1930s, the instrument only gained significant currency in 1951 with the release of the Precision Bass by the Fender Musical Instrument Company. The Fender Precision Bass built upon the design innovations implemented by Leo Fender in his solid-body electric guitars, most prominently the Telecaster. With a shape that largely emulated that of the Telecaster, the Precision Bass was

“The Rock Instrumentarium”

far different in sheer physical terms from the commonly used stand-up acoustic basses of the time, and its amplified sound cut through the surrounding instruments with a clarity that acoustic basses had difficulty achieving even when played through a microphone. That Fender quickly followed his development of the Precision Bass with a newly designed amplifier made to accompany the instrument, the Fender Bassman, further accentuated its distinction.12 Although Fender himself initially tried to pitch the instrument primarily to country musicians—who had been early adopters of his guitars—the first notable electric bass player would be William “Monk” Montgomery, the bassist for Lionel Hampton’s early 1950s band, and so the instrument gained its initial foothold in jazz.13 Adoption of the electric bass was gradual. Almost all early rock and roll recordings feature an acoustic bass. As bass historian Roy Brewer has observed, the particular timbral and even physical qualities of the acoustic bass became especially integral to rockabilly musicians such as Bill Black (who played with Elvis Presley) and Clayton Perkins (who accompanied his brother Carl). Black, Perkins, and others employed a “slap” bass technique that involved snapping the string against the fretboard.14 The resulting sound stressed the higher frequencies of the instrument and also generated markedly percussive effects that filled the space left by the absence of drums in their bands, modeled as they were after Southern white string bands, where the use of drums was generally off-limits. Despite the importance of acoustic bass to the sound of early rock and roll, however, electric bass became far more widely used by the later 1950s. Bill Black first began to play the instrument in 1957, and many of his counterparts in rockabilly, rhythm and blues, and other branches of rock and roll made the same choice. The factors that motivated the change to electric bass were several. Amplification made the volume level of the instrument more predictable and consistent than the acoustic bass and also allowed it to keep pace with the rising volume of the amplified ensembles of the time. Many reported that the smaller scale and the placement of frets on the neck made it easier to play, and its size also made it more convenient to transport while touring than the large stand-up bass.15 The role of the bass in rock came into sharper definition in the 1960s. Most typically treated as a complement to the drums in setting the rhythmic foundation for the rock ensemble, the bass also fulfilled an important role in defining the harmonic and melodic contours of a song. Much of the impetus for the treatment of the bass as a relatively autonomous voice came from the work of studio bass players such as James Jamerson and Carol Kaye. As a primary on-call bassist for Motown, Jamerson’s work has been unusually well documented thanks to the efforts of Alan Slutsky, aka Dr. Licks, who characterizes Jamerson’s departure from the standard vocabulary of bass playing of the time as follows: Gone were the stagnant two beat, root-fifth patterns and post-“Under the Boardwalk” clichéd bass lines that occupied the bottom end of most R&B releases. Jamerson had modified or replaced them with chromatic passing tones, Ray Brown style walking bass lines, and syncopated eighth-note figures.16

Kaye entered studio work on the West Coast as a guitarist performing with Sam Cooke and others in the late 1950s and then shifting more toward the bass in 1963. As guitarist



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and bassist Kaye played on nearly every record produced by Phil Spector at Gold Star studios, the only woman who was part of the fabled LA “Wrecking Crew”; and her precise, contrapuntal bass lines were integral to the highly orchestrated music crafted by Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys on Pet Sounds and its follow-up single, “Good Vibrations.”17 A more assertive sort of electric bass performance emerged with John Entwistle’s commanding presence on the Who’s 1965 recording, “My Generation.” Along with his bandmate, drummer Keith Moon, Entwistle pushed an instrument usually construed as part of the rhythm section to the foreground, taking up the solo space that would usually be granted to the electric guitar. Although bass solos would never quite gain the currency accorded to drum solos within the standard rock band, many bassists cultivated a highly dexterous and refined technique within the full band context. Jack Bruce of Cream vied for solo space with Ginger Baker and guitarist Eric Clapton, turning the band into the paradigmatic ensemble of virtuoso players. In the progressive rock band Yes, Chris Squire used the bass as a principle melodic voice, influencing later players such as Geddy Lee of Rush and, in heavy metal, Steve Harris of Iron Maiden. Funk bassist Bootsy Collins developed a flamboyant colorful persona that was complemented by a playing style that fused the rhythmic solidity of James Jamerson with florid soloing that bore the influence of guitarist Jimi Hendrix. Also in funk, Larry Graham of Sly and the Family Stone and later Graham Central Station pioneered a distinctive “slap” technique analogous to that used by rockabilly bassists in the 1950s but adapted to solid-body electric instruments, using the thumb to generate a highly percussive timbre that heightened the capacity of the bass to amplify the statement of the beat.18 Much more so than either the drums or the electric guitar, women have filled the bass player’s role in rock. Carol Kaye is just one in a long line of notable female bass players. Suzi Quatro achieved considerable notoriety in the 1970s as a solo artist who sang and played the bass, personifying with her musicianship and her physical bearing a sort of “female masculinity” that went very much against the grain of conventional constructions of rock femininity.19 The emergence of punk in the later 1970s opened more space for women to enter rock as instrumental performers, sometimes in all-female bands (the Runaways, the Slits), and sometimes in bands of mixed gender. Gaye Advert of the Adverts broke ground as a female bass player in the British scene of the 1970s, and Tina Weymouth assumed especial prominence as bassist for the Talking Heads. The 1980s and 1990s were truly a time of proliferation for female bass players in “indie” or “alternative” bands of the period, with Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth and Kim Deal of the Pixies two of the most widely recognized and adventuresome players. Investigating this trend, Mary Ann Clawson finds several factors at work: the relative ease with which a modicum of skill can be acquired on the bass, crucial for women who typically begin playing rock at a later age than their male counterparts; the usual assignment to the bass of a “supportive” function more aligned with cultural constructions of feminine identity; and the accompanying undesirability of the bassist’s role as compared with that of guitar or drums.20 Despite the sometimesstereotyped associations made between the bass and femininity, the instrument has functioned as an essential tool through which women have claimed space in a medium otherwise continually dominated by men.

“The Rock Instrumentarium”

Enter Axman Whereas the electric bass guitar grew alongside rock and roll, the electric guitar proper predated the style by a good two decades. Guitarists in jazz, blues, and country, and Hawaiian steel guitarists, had achieved significant notoriety playing the instrument starting in the mid-1930s. More recent was the effort to develop a solid body, “Spanish”style instrument. Early electric steel guitars developed by the Rickenbacker and National companies, among others—classified as “Hawaiian” because of the derivation of the steel guitar style—were built with solid or semi-solid bodies that were quite distinct from the hollow-body acoustic instruments of the era. “Spanish”-style instruments, however—those meant to be fretted with the fingers rather than played with a steel bar, and to be held upright rather than lying flat—tended to retain the hollow-body design. As a result, they were more subject to interference of the sort that has become known as “feedback,” which placed a limit on the volume threshold at which a guitarist could play. Throughout the 1940s, several figures worked to resolve this design issue and so to achieve greater clarity with increased output in the electric guitar’s amplified sound. Popular recording artist Les Paul produced the first of his prototype “Log” guitars in 1941, making a thin, solid piece of wood into a playable instrument while adding decorative wings to normalize its appearance. Southern California luthier Paul Bigsby crafted an ornate solid-body electric guitar at the request of country musician Merle Travis in 1948, responding to Travis’s desire for an instrument that had the sustain of the steel guitars then common on the region’s bandstands. Leo Fender pursued similar goals at his nascent instrument-manufacturing company in Fullerton, California, but further resolved to create an instrument that was not just a one-off creation but an item that would be affordable and accessible to professional and amateur players. The Fender Esquire, initially publicized in April 1950, was the first solid-body electric of its kind to be widely promoted and was quickly succeeded by the Broadcaster, renamed the Telecaster in 1951. Gibson issued its Les Paul guitar the following year and Fender issued another model, the Stratocaster, in 1954, by which time the solid-body electric guitar was entrenched as the new state of the art in amplified instrument design.21 During these same years the sound of the electric guitar was defined according to distinct, competing options. Guitarist Les Paul prioritized a clean, pure tone free of the sonic interference that had so often accompanied the electric guitar; and he employed that tone to stirring effect on a range of popular, technically groundbreaking recordings made during the late 1940s and early 1950s that featured multiple overdubbed layers of guitars and later, singer (and Paul’s wife) Mary Ford’s vocals.22 Among African American blues and rhythm and blues players, by contrast, a more coarse, distorted tone came to the foreground in recordings such as Muddy Waters’s “Rolling Stone” (1950) and “Rocket 88,” a record attributed to Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats but in fact capturing a band led by Ike Turner.23 Rock and roll guitarists such as Scotty Moore, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Cliff Gallup, Paul Burlison, and Buddy Holly staked out ground somewhere between these options, at times favoring a more clear, direct tone (Moore, Gallup), at other times pushing



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

the envelope on timbral distortion and aural experimentation (Burlison, Diddley). Among these guitarists, Chuck Berry arguably did the most to consolidate not only the sound of rock and roll guitar but also the image. His trademark introductory passages, featured on so many of his songs (“Roll Over Beethoven,” “Carol,” “Johnny B. Goode”), signaled the guitar’s role as a lead voice, his solos built upon the vocabulary of blues and jazz predecessors such as T-Bone Walker and Carl Hogan but used deftly placed double-stops to add rhythmic drive, and his distinctive duck walk suggested a kind of bodily fusion of the guitarist with his instrument that accentuated the association between virtuosic musical performance and flamboyant physical display.24 Further advances in timbral exploration came through a combination of technological development and trial and error. Link Wray reportedly achieved the snarling distorted tone on his instrumental recording “Rumble” (1958) by tearing the speaker cone of his amplifier with a pencil. Dick Dale, on the other hand, worked closely with Leo Fender to create a guitar amp that was far louder than anything available in the early 1960s and also provided a layer of thick reverb that suited Dale’s evolving surf guitar style. In England, Jim Marshall pursued parallel efforts to build amps that could generate far greater volume levels than was had been achievable before; and on both sides of the Atlantic, electronics engineers such as Roger Mayer, Glenn Snotty, and Ivor Arbiter used miniaturized transistors to create portable “stompboxes” that offered distortion and other tone-shaping effects with the click of a footswitch.25 The emergence of an expanded array of tonal options and dramatically heightened volume from electric guitar amplifiers converged with a changing rock aesthetic that placed greater value on extended solo improvisation. Cream with Eric Clapton, the Yardbirds with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, and the Grateful Dead with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir were just three of an expanding number of bands in which a recast, sonically inventive style of electric guitar virtuosity emerged by 1966–67. Jimi Hendrix epitomized this trend, treating the noise, volume, and feedback generated by electric guitars and amplifiers being played at the extreme limits of their output as a vehicle for musical exploration and experimentation. Hendrix’s grounding in the blues aesthetic made his innovations that much more powerful, allowing him to tap into an established strain of virtuosic expression and deform it through combined technical and technological effects, and also granting him perceived “authenticity” in a musical counterculture that valorized and objectified his blackness and masculinity.26 By the end of the 1960s the guitar solo had become fully institutionalized as a defining element of rock song structure and a running feature of the music in live performance. Rock guitar virtuosity placed greater priority on speed and precision of execution throughout the 1970s and 1980s, especially in the related genres of hard rock and heavy metal where players such as Ritchie Blackmore and Eddie Van Halen absorbed the influence of classical music but transposed it into a musical setting where volume and distortion were prevalent sonic markers.27 In progressive rock as well, guitarists such as Steve Howe and Robert Fripp cultivated a highly refined technique that was predicated on a combination of influences, blending rock’s vocabulary not only with classical music but also jazz, fingerstyle country, and global popular music from Africa and Asia.28 Wherever it appeared, the virtuosity associated with electric guitar performance typically had a strongly masculine cast to

“The Rock Instrumentarium”

it, drawing upon musical and bodily repertories that had been in place since the early nineteenth century, if not before, and that had established a cultural association between masculinity and musical mastery through technical display. Female electric guitarists have been active throughout the rock era, from pioneer gospel player Sister Rosetta Tharpe to June Millington of Fanny to Lita Ford and Joan Jett of the Runaways to Jennifer Batten, yet they have routinely been treated as footnotes to the instrument’s history and have rarely been assigned the role of innovator.29 The perception that virtuosity has an exclusionary aspect to it, not only with regard to gender but as a broader value that limits who is admitted into the ranks of rock musicianship and who is kept out, was one motivating factor in the rise of punk, where a critique of virtuosity has been put forth both explicitly and implicitly through the music of such artists as the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, the Slits, and Minor Threat.30

Don’t Shoot the Piano Player Although the piano was unquestionably foundational to the sound of early rock and roll, there is effectively no literature on the distinct connection between the instrument and the style apart from biographies of key musicians such as Little Richard, Fats Domino, and Jerry Lee Lewis.31 Most rock histories acknowledge the piano but accord it only passing significance as a thing unto itself. Piano histories are if anything even more egregious in their omission of any consideration of its place in rock and roll. To give one example, the Cambridge Companion to the Piano includes a single chapter, out of twelve, dedicated to the piano outside the world of classical music. Brian Priestley’s contribution takes up ragtime, blues, and jazz, and the closest it comes to rock and roll is a single paragraph addressing Ray Charles.32 That the piano has been central to the canonical history of Western art music is without question, as is the instrument’s importance to a distinct construction of middleclass domesticity that was hegemonic in European and American societies throughout the nineteenth century and into the middle of the twentieth.33 Yet there is a history of the piano as a counterhegemonic instrument as well, that has been told in part through histories of jazz and ragtime but that somehow has evaded substantive engagement with rock. The piano had a deep impact upon the rhythmic shape of early rock and roll. One need only recall drummer Earl Palmer’s explanation, cited above, of how his approach to the backbeat was informed by Little Richard’s piano style. Richard and other early rock and roll players like Lewis, Domino, and Johnnie Johnson with Chuck Berry fully embraced the percussiveness of the piano’s attack, and the boogie-woogie rhythmic patterns developed in the 1930s by pianists such as Meade Lux Lewis and Pete Johnson were a major source of the style’s rhythmic momentum.34 African American soul musicians from Ray Charles to Aretha Franklin to Stevie Wonder used the piano to import gospel-infused harmonic patterns and rhythmic cadences into their sound. Pianos remained a staple of the music generated by Brill Building songwriters and producers on the East Coast, by Phil Spector and the “Wrecking Crew” of studio musicians who worked with him on the West Coast, and in the studios of Detroit’s Motown and Memphis’s Stax. Even the guitar-oriented rock



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artists of the 1960s and 1970s, such as the Beatles (“Let It Be”), the Rolling Stones (“Ruby Tuesday”), and the Who (“Getting in Tune”) regularly turned to the piano, usually to convey an air of pathos or contemplation. In the 1970s the piano was a major part of the sound and style of singer-songwriters such as Carole King and Joni Mitchell, seeming to underscore the deeply subjective aspects of their music, especially when featured without additional accompaniment on songs such as “(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman” and “Blue.” Male singer-songwriters such as Elton John and Billy Joel strongly tied their identities to being “piano men,” using the instrument to pivot between more reflective material and up-tempo rock and roll that often had a strong retrospective cast.35 Although from the late 1960s forward the piano was most regularly associated with the “softer” styles of rock and pop then taking shape, other keyboard instruments became aligned with the era’s heavier sounds. Electric organs, especially those produced by the Hammond company, were prevalent in rhythm and blues and soul recordings from the 1950s onward, such as those by Ray Charles, Booker T. & the MGs, and others. They remained a favored instrument among blues-based keyboardists such as Greg Allman into the 1970s, and also significantly shaped the sound of psychedelic “acid rock” and protoheavy metal through their use by Goldy McJohn of Steppenwolf and, especially, Jon Lord of Deep Purple.36 More than any genre of the time, progressive rock assigned especial value to the role of the keyboardist. Rick Wakeman of Yes; Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer; and Tony Banks of Genesis were among those who defined a rich and at times flamboyant mode of keyboard musicianship that involved the incorporation of multiple instruments and timbres. The piano remained a part of the keyboardist’s arsenal in this setting, its alignment with Western art music supporting the efforts of progressive rock musicians to bridge the gap between “popular” and “classical” musical forms.37 Yet progressive rock keyboardists also regularly employed organ and electronic keyboard instruments including the Mellotron and the synthesizer, the latter of which typified the futurism that was also very much a part of the genre’s outlook. To call the synthesizer a keyboard instrument is in many ways a misnomer. Historians of the instrument have demonstrated that the first efforts at synthesizer design departed significantly from existing musical instruments. Early synthesizers resembled nothing so much as early computers; and they generated sound exclusively through electrical signals the size and shape of which could be modified using a range of components (oscillators, envelope generators, filters) internal to the electronic system. The decision made by electronic instrument designer Robert Moog and his namesake company to add a keyboard to their modular analog synthesizer starting in the mid-1960s proved pivotal to popularizing their product.38 The keyboard allowed novice users to perceive the synthesizer as a more accessible tool; it normalized both the appearance and to a degree, the function of the synthesizer in a way that would be further enhanced when analog instruments gave way to digital synthesis in the late 1970s and early 1980s.39 Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s “Lucky Man” (1970) was a breakthrough in the use of the Moog synthesizer as a rock instrument, with Emerson’s solo making especially dramatic use of the instrument’s thick bottom-end timbre. In concert, Emerson used the synthesizer as a vehicle for virtuosic display, taking particular advantage of an add-on device called

“The Rock Instrumentarium”

the ribbon controller to heighten the physically demonstrative aspects of his performance in a way that evoked the style of electric guitarists.40 Stevie Wonder, with the assistance of synthesis designers Malcolm Cecil and Bob Margouleff, used the massive TONTO system to orchestrate many of the sounds—bass lines, melody lines, chordal accompaniment—on a string of albums from Music of My Mind (1972) through Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974).41 By the later 1970s, artists such as Kraftwerk and Gary Numan were using synthesizers to create music that was designed to draw attention to its grounding in modern technology, framed by conceptual and lyrical concerns that pondered the social relationship between man and machine. Synthpop of the sort created by 1980s bands such as the Human League, Soft Cell, and Depeche Mode further normalized the synthesizer while also seeming to critique, more or less explicitly, the electric guitar as an icon of an outmoded rock aesthetic.42 A certain antagonism between guitars and synthesizers ran throughout the 1980s, but as digital music tools became more standardized and common, the boundaries between these instruments and the modes of performance they embodied became notably blurred.

Blow by Blow The title of Arnold Shaw’s now-classic history of rhythm and blues, Honkers and Shouters, is telling: the “honkers” in Shaw’s parlance are saxophone players who epitomized the stirring energy of the black urban sound that emerged in the years following the Second World War.43 Illinois Jacquet’s strenuous solo style, cultivated during his tenure with the Lionel Hampton band, set the template for this mode of performance, as Jacquet explored the extremes of his instrument, blowing his way toward high-frequency harmonics that had a quality at once abrasive and exuberant on songs such as the piece that would become his signature, “Flying Home.” Saxophonist Paul Williams would score a major instrumental hit with “The Hucklebuck” (1949), one of many late-1940s rhythm and blues songs that foreshadowed the crossover of black pop into the white market that gave rise to rock and roll. Another saxophone player, Louis Jordan, was arguably the leading black recording artist of the immediate pre–rock and roll era, conveying a spirit of fun and sly good humor while leading a band that typified the transition from big band swing to small-group, dance-oriented jump blues. One of the songs most frequently cited as a “first” rock and roll recording, “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats, features a potent honking saxophone solo, whereas the unique overdriven sound of Willie Kizart’s electric guitar is placed in the background, holding up the bottom end. African American rock-androll artists Fats Domino and Little Richard played with bands assembled by the critically important New Orleans trumpet player and bandleader Dave Bartholomew, in which sax solos rather than guitar solos—most often played by Herbert Hardesty or Lee Allen— provided the primary point of instrumental release. Ten years later, by the mid-1960s, saxophones and other wind and brass instruments were far less commonly heard in any music that fell under the rubric of “rock,” narrowly defined. To the extent that the emergence of rock—as opposed to rock and roll—after 1965 involved a degree of resegregation of white and black popular music styles, it could be



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heard in the increasing prominence of the electric guitar as a defining rock instrument and the corresponding diminution of horns, which remained common in rhythm and blues, soul, and funk.44 The divide of course was never absolute. Rock bands that foregrounded a deep soul influence—Sly and the Family Stone, the Electric Flag, Blood, Sweat, and Tears—featured horn sections and soloists. In the 1970s, rock artists with a strong “roots” orientation such as Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen employed the saxophone to evoke their connection to an earlier mode of rock-and-roll expression. Clarence Clemons, longtime member of Springsteen’s E-Street Band, was arguably the single most visible rock saxophone player from the early 1970s until his death in 2011, his style clearly indebted to the R & B “honkers” of years past. There is an alternative history of rock horn playing as well that has a markedly experimental and even avant-garde cast. Captain Beefheart played saxophone and bass clarinet on Trout Mask Replica (1969) and other albums that fused raw blues, dissonant jazz, and Dada-esque lyrics, composing one of the most dedicated experimentalist bodies of work in the rock canon. Progressive rock bands with a more pronounced jazz influence (Colosseum, Soft Machine, King Crimson) presented the saxophone in a musical setting that favored long-form improvisation on such albums as Valentyne Suite from 1969, and Third and Lizard, both from 1970. That same year, proto-punk band the Stooges included saxophonist Steve Mackay throughout side two of their album Fun House, using the instrument to heighten the sense of abandon, of music pushed to the edge of noise. During the punk era proper of the later 1970s, Lora Logic added her own brand of honking sax noise to the charging power chords of X-Ray Spex, providing an instrumental analog to the wail of vocalist Poly Styrene. Saxophonist James Chance emerged as one of the leading figures in the late-1970s “no wave” scene that arose in New York City in the wake of the city’s punk scene, fusing rock, jazz, and disco with his band the Contortions and later projects such as James White and the Blacks. In the work of these artists and others, the saxophone in particular functioned as an instrument that encouraged an assertive sort of musical and cultural eclecticism, standing for the capacity of rock to always push beyond its own established boundaries.45

The Shape of Sound That the saxophone in rock has the capacity to signify, in different modes of use, rootsoriented traditionalism on the one hand and avant-garde innovation on the other is indicative of the flexibility of musical instruments as transmitters of musical and cultural value. Its relative marginality to the field of rock production and performance since the mid-1960s, meanwhile, suggests just how powerfully norms and conventions can define choices about which instruments and which sounds are more or less desirable. No instrument is ever fully fixed in its meaning or its uses. Yet instruments do carry their histories with them, and those histories are infused with ideological assumptions about how music should be played. Any electric guitarists choosing to play rock in the twentyfirst century will have to decide, on some level, whether or not to perpetuate a tradition of

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guitar heroism, with all its gender-exclusive associations, or to join with the anti-virtuosity of punk, which began in opposition to rock in its most hegemonic form but has become a tradition of sorts in its own right, and one that may not be markedly more inclusive when judged by long-term effects. Probably the single biggest change to the field of rock music instrumentation in recent decades has been the widespread digitization of so many musical functions. Writing about this transition in 1997, at what now appears an early moment of digital music development, Paul Théberge emphasized that digital music instruments changed the relationship between two fundamental aspects of musical practice. First, they blurred the line between musical production and consumption, because to purchase and play digital instruments was to acquire a pre-programmed array of sounds that became the basis for musical creativity. Second, they blurred the line between production and reproduction, insofar as digital tools were increasingly equipped with substantial storage capacity, sampling capabilities, and ultimately, functions that made them into miniaturized recording studio consoles.46 Among the three core rock music instruments, the rhythm section components—drums and bass—have both been widely transformed by digital technologies, in large part because they are also central to a wide range of other, dance-oriented genres in which the use of electronic tools has been put in the service of creating rhythmically propulsive music. Electric guitars—and guitarists—have been comparatively more resistant to digitization, but even here, considerable change has taken hold, with digital modeling technology allowing guitarists to access a wide range of pre-programmed timbres that offer the illusion of “vintage” sound via decidedly contemporary means. Rock, on the whole, remains a realm in which the preference for “live” sound created using analog instruments is intact, and as such, it has staked out a more sonically and technologically conservative stance relative to pop, hip-hop, and electronic dance music. This may be one reason why rock no longer projects the cultural immediacy that it did a generation or two ago.

Notes   1. Carducci, Rock and the Pop Narcotic, 3–4.   2. For elaboration of this perspective, see Waksman, “Reading the Instrument,” 254–255.   3. Archibald, “Searching for the First Bass Drum Pedal,” 289–290; Avanti, “Black Musics, Technology, and Modernity,” 483–484; and Dean, The Drum, 198–199.   4. Dean, The Drum, 199.   5. Tamlyn, “The Big Beat,” 74–135.   6. Scherman, Backbeat, 74–75.   7. Ibid., 90–91.   8. Sublette, “The Kingsmen and the Cha-Cha-Cha,” 90.   9. Stewart, “‘Funky Drummer’,” 304–305. 10. Mowitt, Percussion; Smith, I Drum; Smith, Women Drummers; Bruford, Uncharted; and Danielsen, Presence and Pleasure. 11. Brennan, Kick It, promises to fill some of these gaps. 12. Smith, Fender, 106.



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13. Wright, “‘A Bastard Instrument’,” 283–288. 14. Brewer, “The Appearance of the Electric Bass Guitar,” 353. 15. Ibid., 356–362. 16. Dr. Licks, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, 12. 17. Hartman, The Wrecking Crew, 141–157. 18. Vincent, Funk, 95–96. 19. Auslander, “I Wanna Be Your Man,” 8–11. 20. Clawson, “When Women Play the Bass,” 193–210. 21. Wheeler, American Guitars; Tolinski and Di Perna, Play It Loud, 71–91; Waksman, Instruments of Desire, 39–53; and Smith, Fender, 73–88. 22. Waksman, Instruments of Desire, 53–60. 23. Palmer, “The Church of the Sonic Guitar,” 19–24. 24. Waksman, Instruments of Desire, 152–153; and Waksman, “The Turn to Noise,” 112. 25. Thompson, Stompbox. 26. Murray, Crosstown Traffic, 68–70, 80–91. 27. Walser, Running with the Devil, 57–107. 28. Covach, “Jazz-Rock? Rock-Jazz?” 29. Bayton, “Women and the Electric Guitar”; Bourdage, “‘A Young Girl’s Dream’”; and Wald, Shout Sister Shout. 30. Waksman, This Ain’t the Summer of Love, 259–274; and Waksman, “Contesting Virtuosity,” 122–124. 31. White, The Life and Times of Little Richard; Coleman, Blue Monday; and Tosches, Hellfire. 32. Priestley, “Ragtime, Blues, Jazz,” 220–221. 33. Leppert, The Sight of Sound; Parakilas et al., Piano Roles. 34. Birnbaum, Before Elvis, 111–122. 35. Laing, “Nine Lives in the Music Business,” 260. 36. Faragher, The Hammond Organ. 37. Macan, Rocking the Classics, 30–56; Stump, The Music’s All That Matters, 70–108; and Holm-Hudson, Genesis, 7–29. 38. Pinch and Trocco, Analog Days, 61. 39. Théberge, Any Sound You Can Imagine, 72–90. 40. Pinch and Trocco, Analog Days, 63–64. 41. Ibid., 171–186. 42. Cateforis, Are We Not New Wave?, 151–181; and Reynolds, Rip It Up and Start Again, 296–314. 43. Shaw, Honkers and Shouters, 168–176. 44. On the changing racial connotations of rock during the 1960s, see Wald, How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll, 235–239. 45. Bangs, “Of Pop and Pies and Fun,” 44–52; Marcus, Ranters and Crowd Pleaser, 123–127; and Moore and Coley, No Wave. 46. Théberge, Any Sound You Can Imagine, 200, 231. It is worth noting in this connection that one of the earliest digital synthesizers, the Synclavier II made by New England Digital, was also among the first Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs), its ability to store and sequence up to fifty-four minutes of music prefiguring the more widely used platforms that would emerge in ensuing years such as Pro Tools. See Milner, Perfecting Sound Forever, 316–317.

7 Analyzing and Interpreting Song Forms Ralf von Appen

Background: Why Study Song Forms? Compared to other aspects of popular music analysis, research on song forms has become established rather late and has not yet produced an unmanageable body of publications, for two reasons. Song forms in popular music have long been considered too simple to be worth deeper study, while a dominating stream of scholarship, fueled by sociological and cultural interests, would have deemed such research formalistic and thus useless. Both objections can be traced back to Theodor W. Adorno’s critique dating from the 1940s according to which popular music was highly standardized and pressed into schemas so that it could be consumed easily. He therefore considered it the opposite of art music, in which every detail had to be individual and original to prevent thoughtless reception. Hence, Adorno regarded a textual analysis of popular songs unnecessary, apart from the fact that a concentration on formal aspects contradicted his idea of analysis anyway. His aim was to analyze music as a key to the understanding of larger sociocultural contexts.1 This view has strongly influenced both musicology and popular music studies. Beginning in the 1970s, a few musicologists started to break away from this perspective and tried to demonstrate that the analysis of harmony, voice leading, and formal structures of popular songs can indeed produce relevant results and that popular music can actually be quite complex. To serve this interest, it was mostly the Beatles and progressive rock of the 1960s and 1970s that were explored rather than the Rolling Stones, blues, soul, or folk music.2 Other musicologists focused on the repertoire of canonical Tin Pan Alley songwriters.3 Of course, the scholars’ race, class, and gender played an important role, but they also chose this music because it contained complexities of the kind that matched the methodological tools developed to analyze classical music. This made it easier to gain acceptance for popular music as an object of study among their traditionally trained colleagues. Scholars following the cultural studies paradigm, especially in the UK, remained very skeptical of any kind of musicological analysis, though. This kind of research seemed unhelpful in understanding how listeners ascribed meaning to songs and how they


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used them for empowerment, to construct and represent their social, sexual, or ethnic identity etc., which led to a strong opposition between such scholars and music theorists from the United States, fought out in book introductions and reviews.4 However, British musicologists Richard Middleton and Allan F. Moore warned against seeing music as an enigmatic black box, whose powers we would never precisely understand if we did not study its inner workings. They suggested “bridging the gap” by studying the link between the attribution of meaning and the music’s inner structures.5 In this chapter, I propose that this conflict between musicological (“textual”) and cultural (“contextual”) research has passed and that a solid music theoretical base is necessary to answer many other important questions regarding, among others, afforded meaning, social usage, and individual attributions. There is no good interpretation without analysis and one should not be played against the other. In the following, I will first discuss studies that aim for a precise description and labeling of song sections and different types of song forms, because a solid foundation is necessary to avoid contradictions and ambiguities (Analysis). The vocabulary of musicians which often forms the basis for academic terminology is often contradictory and therefore not reliable for scholarly usage. Moreover, as music changes over the decades, terms also change their meaning. We have to document and describe the discourse of musicians, critics, and academics and its development in order to trace the historical changes in the concepts connected with these terms. Only if scholars document which kind of song forms are normative and which special in a given time, style, or genre, can we better understand individual cases, general trends, or changes that occur over time. In this way, corpus studies provide important contextual information for historical research. The analysis of song architecture should not stop at mere description and so the ensuing section turns to publications that deal with potential meanings linked to song forms on different levels (Interpretation). As most songs only use a handful of basic models and less than a dozen different kinds of sections, interpretations have to focus on the little details and deviations from the conventions that make a song special. Also, if new song types or sections appear and get established, this calls for a deeper cultural interpretation. The review shows how theories of gesture or embodied cognition can support such interpretations methodologically and how song forms can be read semantically, historically, symbolically, or functionally. The final part (Methodology and Future Research) discusses methodical issues and points toward directions future research studies might take.

Analysis: Describing and Categorizing Form Some early studies deal with the structure of American popular songs from the nineteenth and early twentieth century,6 but song forms in rock music were no topic for academic research before around 2000.7 Until then, section labels were adopted from the everyday language of musicians and fans, and just taken for granted. For example, both Moore and Walter Everett only use a few words to describe common song sections in their 1990s

Analyzing and Interpreting Song Forms

books.8 Moore leaves us with rather vague descriptions—for example, “Verses and choruses will commonly repeat: verses tend to use different lyrics on each occurrence, choruses tend to repeat the same lyric,”9 which suggest that there are many exceptions. Obviously, he sees no reason to stop the reader here with details, especially since he has no interest in selfserving, formalistic descriptions. In the first decade of the new millennium, a couple of authors published more detailed discussions of song sections and concepts for categorizing different song designs. Ken Stephenson and Everett both dedicate a chapter to form in their books,10 John Covach writes an introductory chapter,11 and Middleton is responsible for a total of seventeen form-related encyclopedia articles.12 Being explorative in nature, these authors do not present systematic studies with a refined methodology and a clearly defined corpus, but abstract their findings from their own lifelong experiences as expert listeners. For Stephenson and Covach, “rock” is a rather homogenous style beginning in the 1950s, any further differentiation is beyond the scope of their chapters. In congruence with the topic of his book, Everett confines himself to repertoire of the 1950s and 1960s, while Middleton is the only one with a decided interest in historical developments, trying to find origins in European and African traditions of the nineteenth century and earlier. Stephenson shows how our perception of form depends on events in the lyrics, rhythm, harmony, and instrumentation (playing down the role of melody). Giving many examples, he illustrates how each of these parameters influences our perception of form. He describes typical characteristics of introductions, verses, choruses, and bridges (thereby ignoring instrumental sections) and is the first author to develop categories for song form models: “strophic” (which for him oddly also includes repeated pairs of verse and chorus); “rounded binary,” which refers to songs that consist of either verses and bridges, or choruses and bridges that never end with the bridge section (ABA, AABA, AAABABA, etc.); “versechorus-bridge” as a hybrid of the two aforementioned; and “compound binary,” denoting songs that consist of two distinctive halves (or super-sections)—the first often in accordance with one of the three models mentioned first, the second half made up of completely new material, as for example the long coda in the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” Similarly, Covach seeks to identify the most common form schemes in rock and to designate names for them. His focus is not primarily on individual sections but rather on “formal types” of full songs. Apart from the twelve-bar blues that he sees as an “organizational scheme” used for verses and choruses alike, Covach holds AABA, verse/chorus, and “compound forms” to be the central song types, the latter being a combination of different types—most often of the other two, resulting in verse/chorus songs with a bridge after the second chorus. His terminological differentiation of “simple verse/chorus” songs that use the same harmonic pattern for verses and choruses from “contrasting verse/chorus” songs that don’t is helpful. Covach’s term for strophic songs without a chorus is “simple verse.” To avoid confusion, he suggests calling the introductory, non-repeated verses in Tin Pan Alley songs “sectional verse” and their 32-measure AABA section “sectional refrain,” which clashes with the terminology of most other researchers, who reserve “refrain” for a repeated line of text at the beginning or end of a verse or chorus section. Covach’s terms seem to have stuck and are quoted more often than Stephenson’s.



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Comparable to Stephenson, Everett describes typical characteristics of verses, choruses, refrains, bridges, instrumental breaks and solos, introductions, and codas, with countless song titles being dropped for reference. For him, phrases and cadences are most responsible for our perception of form. Often quoted is his observation that phrases frequently follow a four-phrase pattern that he refers to as SRDC. In this model an opening phrase (=statement) is repeated, sometimes with slight variations or cadencing differently (=restatement) before a contrasting passage begins (=departure) that finally leads to a closing gesture (=conclusion). The latter may either be a repetition or variation of the initial phrase (AABA) or present a new melody (AABC). Everett gives examples of how SRDC phrase structures are frequently used in the 1950s and 1960s for verses with a tail refrain but also for choruses following this structure. Also original is Everett’s description of short, one-phrase units that often signal the beginning of a new verse. He calls them “tattoo” if they are instrumental (as in “Something” by the Beatles or Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour”) and “motto” if they’re sung (as in the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer”). Unlike the other authors, Everett sometimes comes up with short semantic interpretations by linking his formal analyses to the song’s lyrical content: Sometimes, the tension that would come from hypothetical contrasting sections is just not desired, as in the Young Rascals’ ultrarelaxed “Groovin.” Sometimes, the goal-free nature of the repetition underlines the hopelessness of the text, as in Bob Dylan’s eleven-minute “Desolation Row.”13

As mentioned, Middleton’s encyclopedia entries employ a much broader historic and stylistic scope. Rather than trying to coin new terms, he describes how section names have been used differently throughout the decades and thus introduces a much-needed historical perspective, especially in the “Song Form” entry. Apart from the usual sections, Middleton also discusses form-related principles such as call-and-response and repetition and has entries on lesser-used terms such as overture, middle eight, outro, or finale.14 With these four contributions a foundation was laid for further, more detailed and more specific studies. Before turning to some of them, Trevor de Clercq’s thesis needs mentioning because it takes the task of providing a useful terminology to the next level.15 While the other authors seem to aim for a set of reliable definitions, but always have to use vague vocabulary, such as “tend to,” “often,” etc., to describe properties that are common but not essential for their categories, de Clercq argues that cognitive psychology has shown how the human categorization process relies on prototypes rather than on definitions. Therefore, it makes much more sense to describe prototypes or “most representative examples” instead of struggling to formulate definitions that will be obsolete as soon as one counterexample does not fit in: A prototype approach helps us appreciate that individual sections evoke form labels in various degrees of strength or weakness, harmony or dissonance, purity or mixture. Although theorists will, in all likelihood, continue to say that a particular section “is” or “is not” a verse, chorus, bridge, etc., a section may instead be viewed as manifesting qualities of one or more section types more or less prototypically.16

Analyzing and Interpreting Song Forms

Based on his listening experience, de Clercq gives very detailed descriptions of all the attributes typically associated with nine specific section categories (or “section roles” as he calls them). For instance, here is his summary (after many pages of discussing examples) for what he calls a “link.” It should be noted that none of these features is obligatory, and that just listing them cannot represent how we weigh them and how they might interact: Link: being an instrumental section; being 4–8 bars long; being subsidiary to the main section roles; occurring after a chorus section; occurring before a verse section; overlapping with the end of a chorus; providing cadential arrival for a chorus section; containing the main riff of the song; appearing as part of intro and/or outro material; sounding like both the beginning and ending of a larger grouping; acting on the same grouping level as main section roles.17

I recommend these prototype descriptions as a first reference or for classroom use. Where other authors look for definitive categorizations, de Clercq celebrates ambiguities and in a very detailed analysis shows how songwriters and performers achieve such “blends” by mixing typical attributes of different sections into one. He argues that it would be a “logical fallacy” to treat section roles as mutually exclusive because “our understanding and perception of many situations in rock songs can be adequately explained only by invoking multiple section roles.”18 As with Covach, de Clercq sees the twelve-bar blues as an “organizational scheme,” but puts both AABA and Everett’s SRDC into the same category as well. This allows him to show how each of these schemes can be converted from one section role to another. Quoting examples from 1951 to 2010, the study also touches upon questions of historic development as some song designs obviously evolved from older types by the means of the conversions de Clercq analyzes. With these achievements as a solid foundation, subsequent research became increasingly specialized. More articles and chapters have been published, and apart from de Clercq’s, several other dissertations on song forms have been completed since 2008.19 As I cannot review these in detail here, I will attempt to organize these texts in bundles, point out commonalities and differences, and indicate only the most important results. Mark Spicer, Albin Zak, and Bradley Osborn are less interested in Top 40 pop and rock and turn toward historic or current styles that exceed the combination of verses, choruses, and bridges covered so far. Spicer transfers the term “cumulative form” from the realm of classical music to describe songs whose texture gradually builds up over the entire duration or aim toward a climactic finale in which “two or more distinctive melodies that had previously been heard separately are made to sound in counterpoint against one another” as in Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping.”20 “Accumulative” is the term he uses for similar processes within a single section (often introductions). By linking the rise of such formal designs to advances in multitrack recording, the development of synthesizers and, later, sequencers and drum machines he shows how the architecture of pop songs can change with the introduction of new technologies. When Spicer closes his essay with the notion that these (ac)cumulative strategies “can be seen as perhaps the primary means by which pop-rock composers have been able to transcend the predictable boundaries of simple



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

verse-chorus patterns,”21 he seems to evoke the cliché that most pop is simple in structure and that progressive, more complex compositions are somehow more valuable. Similarly, Zak describes songs from the 1970s that have an epic character or consist of a number of different episodes. With examples ranging from Led Zeppelin and Stevie Wonder to David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen, he shows that this kind of artistic ambition, this “impulse to expand the pop song’s conventional frame,” was not confined to progressive rock in the narrow sense.22 He sees this trend as a result of the importance of FM radio stations and the album format in the 1970s, and states that the pendulum swung back to short singles in the 1980s. Osborn shows how common it is for post-millennial rock not to end with recapitulatory material (as strophic or verse/chorus songs do), but to culminate with a section that (1) presents completely new material, and (2) is the most memorable and climatic part of the song, taking over this role from the chorus.23 These songs may start as verse/chorus or strophic songs, but then finish with a “terminal climax” section, which often features the song title, thicker backing vocals, internal repetition, or all the other features typically attributed to a chorus (Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge” would be an early example). In another essay, Osborn studies through-composed songs—songs in which no section is recapitulated once contrasting material is introduced—in post-millennial experimental genres.24 He analyzes several examples and extracts four types (one-part and multi-part monothematic, one-part and multi-part polythematic). Osborn links these non-recapitulatory forms to the nonmainstream character of the genres depicted. The study is notable for its method of integrating interviews with band members to contextualize the analytic results. Meanwhile, German scholars took inspiration from US music theorists’ work. Ulrich Kaiser put forward a number of section definitions with a focus on the conceptual separation of chorus and refrain—a problem especially confusing in German, as the two terms are often used synonymously.25 Simultaneously, with Markus Frei-Hauenschild, I undertook the first large-scale study to investigate the historic development of song forms and of specific sections.26 We analyzed c. 3,000 songs from mid-nineteenth-century minstrel songs up to the 1980s, supporting our findings with statistical data based on the US Billboard Top 100 number one hits between 1952 and 1982, a corpus of 137 Tin Pan Alley hits from 1905 to 1949, and 1960s songs by Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles. The study shows how the AABA form surpassed the older ABAC design in popularity around 1920 and how the disappearance of the form’s introductory verse was accompanied by the emergence of AABA units with increasingly sophisticated interior structures. After the Second World War new methods for filling the A-section were explored in R & B ballads, country music, and doo-wop. We track how the closing refrain line evolved into a discrete chorus in blues and R & B as well as in AABA forms, which led into a new, more complex verse-(prechorus)-chorus form with optional discrete bridges in the 1950s. We also consider the evolution of the prechorus as a formal component and demonstrate that its origins lie in the AABA forms of doo-wop and Brill Building pop. It became established as a discrete formal component around 1962, now outside the AABA form entirely. AABA experienced a renaissance in the Beatles’ early songs (see Figure 7.1), but then, after dominating popular music for over forty years, subsequently declined, giving

Analyzing and Interpreting Song Forms

Figure 7.1  Proportion of AABA and verse/chorus forms among no. 1 hits on the Billboard Top 100, 1952–1982 (Ralf von Appen and Markus Frei-Hauenschild, “AABA, Refrain, Chorus, Bridge, Prechorus – Song Forms and Their Historical Development,” 73).

way to more experimental structures as, for example, promoted by Motown songwriters. More generally, we explain how the analysis of song structures can carry semantic and symbolic meaning and show how such historical studies help to understand the internal contradictions and incompatibilities observable in the analytical terminology. At the same time, Jay Summach surveyed Billboard’s annual Top 20 songs from 1955 to 1989 (a sample of 700 songs) and published a paper on the genesis of the prechorus (a section neither Stephenson nor Covach nor Middleton even mentioned) coming to basically the same results independent of von Appen and Frei-Hauenschild.27 Summach introduces the term “module” for what other authors call “section” or “section role” and suggests differentiating between primary (strophe or chorus), secondary (bridge, verse, prechorus, postchorus), and auxiliary (introduction, mid-song introduction, outro, coda, janus) modules.28 Modules are grouped into repeating “cycles” such as verse/prechorus/ chorus or AABA. Summach’s paper was published in an issue of Music Theory Online dedicated to song forms that also contained Mark Spicer’s response to some of the articles compiled there.29 In it he takes up Summach’s term “postchorus” (also mentioned by von Appen and FreiHauenschild) and illustrates it with a short analysis of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” Spicer describes this self-contained section as following the chorus and departing from it without being merely a transition to the ensuing verse and gives a few examples from 1970 onwards. The first to study postchoruses more systematically is Jeffrey Ensign.30 His dissertation starts where Summach’s ended, surveying 402 songs that charted in the Top 20 of the Billboard year-end charts between 1990 and 2009, a period when hip-hop and electronic dance music started to gain influence on mainstream pop. His statistical data show that verse/ chorus designs absolutely dominate (95 percent) with only 5 percent for strophic, AABA, and other forms. He detects twenty-six songs with a postchorus in his sample and gives



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a definition.31 What becomes obvious in Ensign’s sample is that, increasingly, pop songs are based on a repeating harmonic loop or no harmonic progression at all. Consequently, harmony loses importance for creating and identifying different sections while melody, rhythm, and timbre take over. Apart from the studies reviewed here that try to increase our knowledge on song forms in general, others concentrate on one genre or the work of one songwriter or band. First of all, the Beatles’ oeuvre has been combed through several times in this regard,32 while there have been analyses of Paul Simon, Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, Leiber/Stoller, Motown songwriters, Queen, U2, and Radiohead.33 There is also work on form in country music,34 rhythm and blues,35 heavy metal,36 and electronic dance music,37 while form in hip-hop tracks remains under-studied.

Interpreting Form It is primarily thanks to US music theory that we have learned so much about form in popular music over the past fifteen years. The studies described have aimed to develop a precise descriptive terminology and the increased sensitivity hereby gained enabled ensuing studies to look at historical change, to conduct quantitative surveys, and examine increasingly specific cases. But it is also important not to lose oneself in individual cases or more and more specific terminology, and not to become too positivistic. Form tables and statistics should not be an end in themselves but invite us to think ahead, take a bird’s-eye view from time to time, and interpret the results for deeper structures. In this section, I will therefore review some studies that have interpreted form from a more general, philosophical, or sociocultural perspective, thus providing an important complement to analytical-descriptive research. One would think that with increasing knowledge about song forms, the number of interpretive approaches should also have increased. Actually, that’s not the case at all. While some attempts were made in the 1990s, few authors have chosen this direction in recent years. The central author here is Richard Middleton, who addressed the issue in a number of texts.38 Basically, Middleton is looking for guiding principles behind the structures of different types of popular music, especially those of African American origin and what he calls bourgeois European. Building on work by Andrew Chester and Charles Keil, he tries to describe different approaches to structuring music with opposing terms such as syntactic/ processual, linear/circular, or sectionalism/additiveness. For example, he contrasts music that uses techniques to develop “unique, extended, sectionally articulated or throughcomposed structures”—the syntactic European classical tradition—from music starting with a framework and repeating it “with perpetually varied inflections to the details filling in”39—a processual approach he sees in music of African origin such as jazz or funk—and interprets these as mirroring different world views: Applications of this concept to Afro-diasporic music reveals how a liking for varied repetition within familiar frameworks is grounded in attitude to life—“what goes around, comes around”—that is radically at odds with the goal-directed trajectories familiar in

Analyzing and Interpreting Song Forms

hegemonic European modes of thought and cultural forms alike. The important role in this repertory of riffs … and of call-and-response … confirms the sense that form is felt here as “circular” rather than linear.40

Middleton sees the interplay of repetition and difference as central to any kind of music and contrasts a discursive and a musematic type. Discursive repetition often uses hierarchically ordered phrases (such as the Gershwins’ “Embraceable You”), which Middleton interprets as expressing a form of rational control and self-sufficiency. Drawing on work of Maróthy, he links these latter values to “a mode of subjectivity favored in traditional bourgeois culture.”41 Musematic repetition, on the other hand, iterates and varies a network of formulaic figures to create more unpredictable and open forms that allow for a lot of improvisation and variation on the spot, which Middleton connects with social collectives and the concept of signifyin(g) developed by African American literary theorists. Read from historical distance, these speculative ideas seem quite daring and not immune to clichés. On the other hand, it is refreshing to see how Middleton is not content with mere description and how he continuously wants to know why changes occur and what they might tell us about culture and society. To support his interpretations, Middleton employs a theory of gestures according to which our understanding of music and the emotions it may evoke is “organized through processual shapes which seem to be analogous to physical gestures.”42 Formal processes could thus be compared to and understood as gestures of, for example, closure, building up, release, boredom, surprise, etc. He illustrates this idea in two analyses of songs by Madonna and Bryan Adams but, unfortunately, his focus is more on rhythmic and melodic gestures so that little can be gained from them for a method of interpreting song forms. Of course, interpretations such as these that one might gain from participant listening (and dancing!) would necessarily involve subjective decisions that would need to be validated by comparisons with other listeners’ impressions. Moore built on ideas like these and insists that musicologists should not allow themselves to “inhabit a hermetic aestheticized space,” but should always try to explain the significance of what they describe: to ask what it might mean and why it is important.43 He refers to concepts from cognitive science such as embodied cognition and ecological perception to explain how the meanings we ascribe to musical phenomena depend on our embodied experience and our problem-solving in everyday life. As with Middleton, his illustrative examples do not focus on aspects of song forms, so we have to interpolate how these concepts might be transferable. But it is not hard to imagine that image schemata such as closure, balance, merging, arrival, release, departure, stasis, satisfaction, surprise, missing something, chaos, boredom, and the like are at work in our affective perception and open up a good way to understand the effect of song forms. Moore suggests that the succession of sections might only become meaningful when it does not satisfy our expectations, when he writes that song forms can “act as a sort of contract with the listener, a contract that will be delivered, but not necessarily in the simplest way.” When a song form contains some subtleties in its outline, he argues, these “do not in themselves necessarily carry an expressive force—it is only if the contract were not to be delivered that a strong affective charge would ensue.”44



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

The structure of the Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” allows us to elaborate on all this (see Table 7.1). After a short 4+2-measure introduction in which the horns seem to start too early, we hear an 8-measure section that is obviously a verse, followed by a 16-measure chorus that starts with the song’s title. Both feature the same open-ended chord progression and the same characteristic bass pattern that might make us expect a simple verse/chorus design, to use Covach’s term. But instead of a second verse the song rushes to a third section that features a contrasting harmonic rhythm, new lyrics, no song title, and a circle of fifths progression ending on a cadential V7—all prototypical characteristics of a bridge except that it appears way too early. What follows is another cycle of chorus and bridge (which behaves like a new verse as it has new lyrics) before the song comes to a halt by shortly quoting the sparsely textured introduction. The song seems to start anew with, finally, a second verse. And then we do not get our expected next chorus but yet another verse. And then another—that anticipates the chorus in the vibraphone melody—before the song ends with a final chorus. This very unconventional design invites interpretation and if we turn to the lyrics, some very clever parallels emerge. They are about a girl who cannot wait to find a partner but has to learn from her mother that she needs to be patient to save herself for the right one. Her youthful storminess is very well illustrated by the song rushing from section to section to section without caring for the conventions. But she seems to have learned her lesson after the second chorus. The song seems to hold its breath for the first time and then the protagonist takes her time and waits and waits and waits for the final Table 7.1  Form Chart (Supremes, “You Can’t Hurry Love”) Time






Section Role Intro A


Harmony I/I/IV – I/I

Notes/Lyrics I need love love …

iii – vi/vi/IV..V/V 0:17


B (=2A)


You can’t hurry … iii/ iii/ iii/ iii/






But how many …

IV/IV/IV/IV/ V/ V6/ V7/ V8/





You can’t hurry …





No I can’t bear …





You can’t hurry …















8+8 (fade)



No love love …


For that soft voice … I keep waiting …


You can’t hurry…

Analyzing and Interpreting Song Forms

chorus—anticipating it melodically while singing “I keep on waiting, anticipating.” Along with the very high tempo, these two gestures of rushing and being forced to withhold are nicely supported by a bass guitar that always jumps from IV to I and from iii to vi prematurely by playing it three quavers earlier than the guitar (while both syncopate the beginning of every other measure). In this song, the succession of sections is obviously meaningful and I would consider my interpretation a semantic reading. At the same time, the structure can also be read as typical Motown, for the label’s songwriting teams structured many of their songs in very individual ways—which is a historic reading of the song’s unusual form. Other examples could be read functionally: songs designed for dancing avoid linear, narrative structures and rather immerse the dancer in the presence. Electronic dance music to be used in clubs, for instance, starts with long introductions that allow the DJ to blend it with the preceding record and then gradually increase the energy, celebrate the “drop” or “core,” break it down, slowly build it up again, and most importantly never end, at least not in a discernible way. This aesthetic is already at work in 1970s funk (or even John Lee Hooker’s boogies): Anne Danielsen describes how funk is “nourished by two different traditions and relates to two different groups of listeners,” namely rock fans used to well-adjusted forms, choruses, and hierarchically ordered phrases, and dancers who want to be absorbed by the “eternal motion of the groove.”45 She analyzes how James Brown’s music handles both expectations and “negotiates between a song mode (of listening) and a groove mode (of participating).”46 Regarding more radical cases such as Brown’s “The Payback,” Danielsen stops talking of songs altogether and calls them “pure grooves”: There are no hints of a song structure in the traditional sense … the musical aspects that create large-scale spans in music are completely diminished.47

Apart from music for dancing, functional interpretation can also refer to the length and type of introduction, the density of lyrics, or the placement and frequency of refrains or choruses that allow us to draw conclusions about the uses of the song envisioned by the creators, for example on the radio, streaming services, or at political events. And then, song forms can also be understood as having a symbolic, culturally mediated meaning. At least, this is how Richard Ripani interprets the decreasing use of twelve-bar blues schemes in rhythm and blues. In his corpus study of Billboard R & B hits between 1950 and 1999 he notices that blues schemes decrease from an average 60 percent in the 1950s to zero in the 1990s, while what he calls cyclic forms (consisting of short repeated vamps or riffs, often without harmonic movement) increased from less than 10 percent to more than 70 percent. Ripani offers the following explanation for this development: I would suggest that the wholesale co-opting of the twelve-bar blues form by white rock ‘n’ roll musicians left many in the black community feeling as if their cultural property had been stolen … it should be remembered that 1965 was the year that major victories in civil rights were won …. Many African Americans may have associated the twelve-bar blues with a pre-civil rights way of life and turned away from the form. In any case, black musicians in the U.S., consciously or not, abandoned the twelve-bar blues form and focused on a different, perhaps even more African-influenced, construct, the cyclic form.48



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

This new meaning the blues scheme might have obtained has nothing to do with its internal or gestural qualities; it’s a mere symbolic meaning that can’t be understood without the cultural context. In the same way, AABA was used symbolically, as a nostalgic or ironic quote, after its heyday was over, for example in Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” or Frank Zappa’s “Fountain of Love.” Similarly, Bob Dylan only started to use it when he wanted to signal a complete change in style from his protest song days with 1968’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” having avoided it previously for its connotation with professional, commercial songsmiths.49 And the reason country music listeners had to wait more than twenty years longer than pop fans for their first prechorus is also of symbolic nature: prechoruses signaled pop and thus contradicted the desired authenticity in country until 1983’s countrypolitan “Islands in the Stream” aimed for just that.50 Interpretations of form are rarely undertaken today and the main theoretical contributions by Middleton and Moore already date back some years. Unfortunately, instead of building on each other, academic analysis and interpretation seem to drift away from each other. One recent publication that vigorously breathes new life into the interpretative approach is US philosopher Robin James’s book Resilience & Melancholy. She links current pop to neoliberalism and sexism, especially to the hegemonic ideology of resilience which, according to James, demands that we bounce back even stronger after crises, “capitalize on deficits,” and “turn damages … into surplus value.”51 She describes how song forms have changed in recent mainstream pop under the influence of instrumental EDM. Analyzing some examples, she describes how today’s pop songs often include a “soar”—a “weeping, upward/forward intensificatory gesture” —followed by a “drop” —a “climax of loud, highly distorted (often ‘wobbly’) bass and sub-bass synths”52—often after a short pause that further builds up tension. Without referring to Middleton or Moore—in fact, without quoting any author mentioned in this whole chapter—she interprets the effect of these gestures using what sounds like the idea of embodied cognition: The dubstep drop feels like a “hit” because a combination of the sudden deceleration of frequency and the increased physical force of loud bass and sub-sonic vibrations jolts our bodies. It’s similar to the experience of thrusting forward into your seatbelt when you suddenly slam on the breaks [sic] in your car.53

She asks how specific songs reflect and articulate, but also revise and critique the zeitgeist and interprets soar and drop as “musical manifestations of resilience discourse”: Transgressed audiological limits are metaphors for the listener’s transgression of their limitations …. Listening to and enjoying these sorts of songs, we practice the very sort of resilience MRWaSP [multi-racial white supremacist patriarchy] hegemony and neoliberal capitalism want us to exhibit in all aspects of our lives.54

James’s audacious interpretations are fascinating to read and of high musico-sociological relevance. It’s easy to write them off as unproveable and it is a pity that she ignores the music-theoretical discourse on song forms completely, which would have helped in her use of section labels. But the dilemma is that we always have to deal with subjectivism

Analyzing and Interpreting Song Forms

and speculation if we want our analyses to be more than mere formalism. The best way out seems to be the one Moore suggests: to celebrate interpretations founded in our subjective experience but then to do everything we can to make them plausible for others by reference to cognitive science, elaborate theories of gesture, image schemata, metaphor theory, and the like. Just presenting parallels between music and sociocultural phenomena is not enough; as Middleton had already written, quoting Randel, music is so semantically porous that “the difficulty with using such homologies is not that they cannot be produced. It is that they can always be produced.”55 That doesn’t mean James’s theses cannot be true or are not useful. They might prove a good starting point for further, more methodically sophisticated research.

Methodology and Future Research Most authors do not provide much information about the methods they use, if any. For years, the only way to analyze song forms has been to listen repeatedly and make a chart including columns for absolute time, number of measures, phrase structure, section label, harmonic progression, and maybe some further notes regarding instrumentation or lyrics. Beside the section label, it’s useful to have an extra column with letters to designate repetition or variation of modules (A, B, A’ …) as sometimes the same material is used for different section roles (see Figure 7.2). It is a good idea to make your first chart on paper, not on a screen: using pen and paper, you’re always able to see how you interpreted a section when hearing it first and, thus, how a casual listener might experience the song. If you change your mind and relabel sections after repeated hearings, you can later refer to these notes and try to find out what made you think otherwise, while all traces of earlier interpretations are deleted when working on a computer. Moreover, it is always good to work in a team of two or more and compare different hearings; not (only) to avoid mistakes but as a means to detect possible ambiguities. It is a shortcoming of any chart that the analyst is pressed to make decisions and iron out potential ambiguities. Hence, one should be careful and remind oneself to keep the ears open for other possible hearings. This gets really problematic when working quantitatively and decisions have to be made as to whether a section is counted as a solo or interlude, for example.56 A very helpful new tool is the Variations Audio Timeliner, free software programmed at Indiana University for audio annotation and analysis.57 It lets you create a horizontal visualization of a song very easily by just clicking to create a “bubble” every time a new section begins.

Figure 7.2  Example for a timeline, created with Variations Audio Timeliner (Alice Cooper, “No More Mr. Nice Guy”).



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

One can then group sections to cycles or super-sections, or subdivide them with little triangle markers. The bubbles can be colored and labeled, and the diagram can be exported into presentations or texts. What is most helpful is the possibility to quickly navigate from section to section and compare them. This way, it’s easy to hear if two sections are actually the same or how they differ, for example in texture. The only real shortcoming is that there’s no way to depict ambiguities, overlapping sections, or two different simultaneous interpretations.58 Sometimes it is also helpful to use waveform representations to depict a song’s dynamic development. For future research, it might be advisable not to study the twentieth-century rock canon again and again, but to broaden the horizon. While rock has also been documented pretty well, studies about form in hip-hop, electronic dance music, or popular musics from other corners of the world are highly needed, not only for comparison and the influence they have received from rock and pop. In any case, if corpus analyses continue to mushroom, their datasets should be provided online for anyone to use for peer verification and for reference. Currently, computational musicologists are trying to develop algorithms to detect section boundaries in music files automatically.59 So far, the results have not been very convincing compared to human experts. Of course, such programs can only apply the rules fed into them. But once trained properly they might be able to comb through very large corpora very quickly and presort the material for further close reading, which could be extremely helpful to discover historic developments. Large computer-based corpus analyses (“Big Data”) will probably be the direction future research will take. It is very important not to leave this field to computational musicologists and music information retrieval (MIR) alone, but to work together interdisciplinary in order to integrate as much expertise (and critical thinking) as possible. Because, as Robin James reminds us, “the facts never speak entirely for themselves – they require, to greater and lesser degrees, interpretation.”60 We cannot leave this to the computers.

Notes   1. Adorno, “On Popular Music.” For a critical discussion of Adorno’s position see Middleton, Studying Popular Music, esp. 45–56.   2. See, for example, Mellers, Twilight of the Gods: The Beatles in Retrospect; Porter, Rhythm and Harmony; Everett, “Fantastic Remembrance”; Everett, “Text Painting in ‘She’s Leaving Home’”; Josephson, “Bach Meets Liszt”; Macan, “‘The Spirit of Albion’”; and Covach, “Progressive Rock.”   3. Wilder, American Popular Song; and Forte, The American Popular Ballad.   4. To follow this dispute, see, for example, Covach, “We Won’t Get Fooled Again”; Middleton, “Introduction: Locating the Popular Music Text”; and Everett, “Review of Richard Middleton, ed., Reading Pop.”   5. Middleton, Studying Popular Music; Middleton, “Popular Music Analysis and Musicology”; and Moore, “Introduction,” in Rock.   6. Hamm, Yesterdays; Tawa, The Way to Tin Pan Alley; and Forte, The American Popular Ballad.

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  7. Exceptions being, expectably, studies related to the Beatles: Fitzgerald, “LennonMcCartney”; and Nurmesjärvi, “The Concept of Form.”   8. Moore, Rock; Everett, The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver through the Anthology, 15–17. See also Hennion, “The Production of Success,” for an early, very crude description of song sections in the vein of Adorno.   9. Moore, Rock, 48. 10. Stephenson, What to Listen for in Rock; and Everett, The Foundations of Rock. 11. Covach, “Form in Rock Music.” 12. Middleton, “Form,” in Shepherd et al., Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World. 13. Everett, The Foundations of Rock, 142. 14. At the time of writing, these entries are being revised, updated, and expanded by younger authors for an online version now called Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World. 15. De Clercq, Sections and Successions. 16. Ibid., 4. 17. Ibid., 116. 18. Ibid., 284. De Clercq elaborates these ideas in “Embracing Ambiguity in the Analysis of Form in Pop/Rock Music, 1982–1991.” 19. Endrinal, Form and Style; Stephan-Robinson, Form in Paul Simon’s Music; Osborn, Beyond Verse and Chorus; Summach, Form in Top-20; Nobile, “A Structural Approach to the Analysis of Rock Music”; and Ensign, “Form in Popular Song, 1990–2009.” 20. Spicer, “(Ac)cumulative Form in Pop-Rock Music,” 58. 21. Ibid., 61. 22. Zak, “Rock and Roll Rhapsody,” 345. 23. Osborn, Beyond Verse and Chorus; and Osborn, “Subverting the Verse-Choris Paradigm.” 24. Osborn, “Understanding Through-Composition.” 25. Kaiser, “Babylonian Confusion.” 26. Von Appen and Frei-Hauenschild, “AABA.” The English publication (2015) is a revised and expanded version of the earlier German publication (2012). 27. Summach, “The Structure, Function, and Genesis of the Prechorus.” 28. A janus module is a transitional passage that closes a preceding module, simultaneously introducing the next. 29. Spicer, “(Per-)Form in(g) Rock.” 30. Ensign, Form in Popular Song. 31. Ibid., 154. 32. Apart from Everett, The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver through the Anthology, and The Beatles as Musicians: The Quarry Men Through Rubber Soul; Fitzgerald, “LennonMcCartney”; and Nurmesjärvi, “The Concept of Form,” see Covach, “From ‘Craft’ to ‘Art’”; Nobile, “Form and Voice Leading”; and Krerowicz, Beatlestudy vol. 1. 33. Stephan-Robinson, Form in Paul Simon’s Music; Fitzgerald, “Creating those Good Vibrations”; O’Regan, “When I Grow Up. The Development of the Beach Boys’ Sound (1962–1966)”; Covach, “Leiber and Stoller”; Fitzgerald, “Black Pop Songwriting”; Braae, A Kind of Magic; Endrinal, Form and Style; and Osborn, Everything in Its Right Place. 34. Neal, “Narrative Paradigms.” See also Neal, Country Music, esp. Appendix A and the very useful index.



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35. Ripani, The New Blue Music. 36. Elflein, Schwermetallanalysen; and Elfein, “Ordung und Chaos”. 37. Butler, Unlocking the Groove; and Snoman, Dance Music Manual. 38. Middleton, “Form,” in Horner and Swiss, Key Terms; and the article “Form” in Shepherd et al. 39. Middleton, “Form,” in Horner and Swiss, Key Terms, 142. 40. Ibid., 143, italics in the original. 41. Ibid. 42. Middleton, “Popular Music Analysis and Musicology.” 43. Moore, Song Means, 214–215. 44. Ibid., 82. 45. Danielsen, Presence and Pleasure, 178. 46. Ibid. 47. Ibid., 179. 48. Ripani, The New Blue Music, 182. 49. See von Appen and Frei-Hauenschild, “AABA,” 74. 50. See Neal, Country Music, 339. 51. James, Resilience & Melancholy, 4, 6. 52. Ibid., 29, 36. 53. Ibid., 36. 54. Ibid., 38. 55. Middleton, “Introduction,” 8. 56. See de Clercq, Sections and Successions, 6–7 and 289–293, for a good discussion of methodology. See also Chapter 9 in this volume. 57. See Variations Audio Timeliner [Software]. 58. For examples, see Spicer, “(Per)Form in(g) Rock,” and Asaf Peres, Top 40 Theory [Blog]. A much more basic alternative is the software AnaVis, see Ulrich Kaiser and Andreas Hemlberger, AnaVis [Software]. 59. For examples see Bruderer et al., “Structural Boundary Perception”; and Peiszer, Automatic Audio Segmentation. 60. James, Resilience & Melancholy, 22.

8 Convention and Invention in Harmonic and Melodic Theories for Rock Music Brett Clement

Introduction This chapter offers a survey of the ever-growing scholarship devoted to theories of harmony and melody in rock music. Though these two topics are clearly interrelated (perhaps inseparable), harmony has to date received more comprehensive treatment from authors than has melody. Among the reasons put forth to account for this disparity, Allan Moore asserts that harmony is the “most easily systematized” aspect of music, in contrast to melody, which is “the hardest domain about which to generalize in rock.”1 Additionally, some authors have pointed to rock as a “harmonic style” in which musicians often conceive first of harmonic progressions, resulting in some songs “whose harmonic patterns are basic to the song’s identity.”2 Another hypothesis, and one that will prove important in my discussion below, is that the greater attention given to harmony is the result of rock scholars’ inevitable engagement with the wealth of established harmonic theories developed for tonal classical music. Since rock and classical harmonic practices overlap in various ways, one expects there to be some potential in exploiting this inheritance. However, doing so poses ideological questions regarding one’s purposes: does one develop theoretical concepts in order to emphasize the similarities, or does one orient the theorizing to highlight the aspects of rock that diverge from classical norms? Surveying the literature, certain comments indicate an embracement of this tradition, including Walter Everett’s statement that “many of the analytical systems devised over the past few centuries for the study of common-practice classical music are also applicable to [rock music]” and Brad Osborn’s declaration that “the majority of rock music … reflects the same voice-leading structures as those heard in common-practice classical music.”3 Others have argued against the terminology and assumptions of established theory, such as Philip Tagg’s conclusion that “notions like


The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

‘dominant’ and ‘perfect cadence’ are at best questionable, if not altogether irrelevant.”4 In truth, as I hope to show, scholars have responded in creative ways to negotiate between these two extremes. I will structure this discussion as follows: (1) an overview of scholarship that focuses specifically on harmony, with particular attention paid to Schenkerian concepts, modality/chord collection, and theories of harmonic succession; (2) a brief survey of the literature devoted solely to melody; and finally (3) a review of theories of melodyharmony interaction. For space reasons, my commentary focuses primarily on theorists’ interpretations of surface-level events, leaving discussions of large-scale tonal structure largely unexplored. Schenkerian analysis, the first of the theories to be discussed below, is perhaps the primary casualty of this omission, being particularly dependent on a specific conception of large-scale structure.

Schenkerian Approaches Aside from several early analyses of rock harmony—including Wilfrid Mellers’s 1975 book on the Beatles and Peter Winkler’s 1978 jazz-focused article5—Schenkerian concepts come into play quite early in the history of rock theory, largely through the pioneering work of Walter Everett. His “Fantastic Remembrance” is a notable early foray into the application of Schenkerian theory to rock, and Everett has since offered the most comprehensive evidence of its usefulness, the theoretical repercussions of its employment, and even the limits of its applicability.6 Leaving aside Schenkerian concepts of large-scale structure, and reserving Schenkerian treatment of melody for later, I shall focus on Schenkerian interpretation of rock harmonies. One issue at the forefront of the Schenkerian method is the role of the “dominant-tonic axis” (I–V–I): the foundation of the theory’s tonal hierarchy. Everett’s position, stated in various publications, is a conservative one, whereby “the structural progression I–V–I remains at the heart of the Schenkerian tonal system, whether it is articulated in any given song or not.”7 In other words, V–I is viewed as an essential principle of tonality, capable of asserting influence even when absent. In his 2004 article “Making Sense of Rock’s Tonal Systems,” Everett adds nuance to this position by dividing rock tonality into six systems, organized so as to become progressively more distant from Schenkerian norms. Therefore, the first categories (1a and 1b) are consistent with common-practice techniques, while the later categories may exclude the dominant-tonic axis from the surface. Nevertheless, Everett views the tonal system as being founded on conventional “fifth-based harmonic relationships” and “stepwise passing and neighboring functions.”8 Everett privileges V–I on the basis of its “harmonic drive,” specifically its descendingfifth root motion and the linear pull of its 7–1 voice leading.9 Consistent with Schenkerian practice, other harmonic relations play lesser roles. For example, the ubiquitous IV–I progression is classified as a “prolongation of tonic” and “more static and less dynamic” then V–I.10 More impactful, the IV chord does not participate in the Schenkerian bass arpeggiation (Bassbrechung) in Everett’s graphs. This issue arises in the graph of the Beatles’

Harmonic and Melodic Theories for Rock Music

Figure 8.1  Graph of “Strawberry Fields Forever” (Everett, “Fantastic Remembrance in John Lennon’s ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and ‘Julia,’” 372).

“Strawberry Fields Forever” (Figure 8.1), in which he shows the IV chord of the concluding plagal cadence as a neighbor (or “predominant”) to V, even though V does not actually occur; this decision is perhaps motivated by the fact that IV does not support a cadential upper-voice 2 in Schenkerian theory.11 Everett later clarifies that such orthodox graphing decisions are intended to highlight the interesting divergences from convention in the music, as indeed the prose accompanying the example makes clear.12 Nevertheless, in the Schenkerian tonal system, IV remains subservient to V, shaping Everett’s interpretation of other events such as the blues cadence (V–IV–I), whereby “V leads to I, but that I is at the same time ornamented by its prior neighboring IV chord.”13 A source of much subsequent theorization, several rock scholars question the primacy of the dominant-tonic axis. In Richard Middleton’s 1990 book Studying Popular Music, he recommends a “modified Schenkerianism” based on the concept of “tonicity,” one founded not on the V–I progression but on “structures of harmonic difference.”14 Middleton argues that this more flexible concept sidesteps the Schenkerian tendency to view other patterns as “distortions or surface transformations” of the dominant-tonic axis.15 Lori Burns’s essay (originally 2000) echoes these concerns, pushing back against the idea that progressions other than V–I are necessarily “static” or “nondirectional.”16 She similarly endorses a revision to Schenkerian techniques that elevates the “unique modal identity” of progressions.17 Other authors engage this issue by focusing on particular chords. Allan Moore’s 1995 article on the ♭VII chord, for example, highlights uses of this chord that contradict the idea that it should be understood as a substitute for V, specifically its role in cadences and in modulations.18 Similarly, David Temperley explores the increased status of the IV chord, illustrated through various types of sectional cadences: grand, deceptive, and the plagal-stop cadence.19 Therefore, he permits the IV chord to function at the same hierarchical level as the dominant-tonic axis. A related component of Schenkerian theory is to understand harmony from a linear standpoint. Everett mentions several situations that encourage this approach, including chord successions that give rise to stepwise linear progressions in a voice, where “intermediate verticalities have no harmonic function, but are instead driven by counterpoint,” and situations where a chord provides consonant support for a melodic



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

tone without displaying strong harmonic function.20 These comments impact several of the topics to be discussed in more detail below, including harmonic function, modality, and counterpoint. Some potential repercussions are evident in Brad Osborn’s discussion of harmonic systems in Radiohead, which deems all chord successions into the tonic other than V–I as “contrapuntal” rather than functional, including plagal, passing, and neighbor bass motions.21 Moore, on the other hand, argues that there are many progressions in rock that “encourage the identification of harmonies as discrete entities not subject to voiceleading processes.”22 Everett himself indicates a terminological problem with separating counterpoint and function, observing that the V chord itself “has a largely contrapuntal role” and that ♭VII is often tied to the dominant function.23 This suggests that counterpoint and harmony are best understood as complementary musical forces.

Modality and Chord Collection If rock harmonies can be described apart from voice-leading processes, what other theoretical concepts are appropriate? Moore offers one possible answer in his 1992 article “Patterns of Harmony,” which introduces a modal system for rock harmony.24 Using a complex alphabetic coding system indicating root distance and direction, he categorizes numerous examples of progressions within the diatonic modes. Though this activity may not seem an overt response to Schenkerian approaches, Moore’s elevation of modality does in fact propose a foundation from which rock harmonic practice can be separated from classical concepts. In Schenkerian theory, for example, modality plays a comparatively limited role, with major and minor tonality linked exclusively to the conventional Ionian and Aeolian modes. By using modal terminology, Moore aligns rock with non-classical styles such as folk and jazz, and further, references the practical language of rock musicians as exhibited in guitar/keyboard magazines.25 Regarding structure, he asserts that a modal system not only elucidates “tonally ‘strange’ harmonic sequences, but it does not assume them to be ‘abnormal.’”26 Before delving further, it is worth observing that authors often mean different things when they use the term “modal.” In Alf Björnberg’s 1989 article on Aeolian harmony, he requires that the harmonic pitch material be fully confined to the notes of the mode to classify it as such.27 Moore, on the other hand, clarifies that his method identifies the mode based on the roots of the chords in the pattern.28 He also permits chromatic modifications above the chord roots, such as when the tonic chord of an Aeolian pattern appears as a major triad. Christopher Doll, in a 2016 critique, observes that Moore’s modal system does not always work in this manner, since a consideration of non-root pitches is essential in modal identification.29 Perhaps it is more accurate to describe Moore’s method as a type of position finding in the diatonic scale. Everett’s use of the term modal is more complex, as evidenced in “Making Sense of Rock’s Tonal Systems,” in which modal systems (system 2) encompass fully diatonic harmonic progressions in the (non-Ionian) modes. In addition, Everett allows for modal mixture within a home major/minor mode (systems 1a, 1b, and 3a). Several other authors observe this distinction between “pure” modality and chromatic modal mixture.30

Harmonic and Melodic Theories for Rock Music

Another important issue suggested in Everett’s six systems is a “tonal vs modal” dichotomy or, put another way, an interest in terminology that conveys stylistic differences. This is evident in his distinction between minor-key harmony and modal Aeolian harmony. In the former category, one expects the V chord (with leading tone) to appear “at least in cadential situations,” while the latter category uses various diatonic approaches to the tonic (e.g., VII–i), which Everett judges to have less harmonic pull.31 While Moore’s modal assignment does not distinguish between these two situations, Everett’s categories indicate something of the degree of conventionality of the harmony, with the Aeolian category being the more rebellious of the two. (Similarly, pure Ionian harmony is not labeled as modal due to its conventionality.) Osborn’s terminology follows up on this notion, with conventional V–I patterns in major/minor dubbed “functional tonal,” less conventional V–I motions without the leading tone categorized as “functional modal,” and rock patterns such as VII–I labeled “contrapuntal”: the latter category eliminating the term “modal” entirely.32 As a contrary opinion, Tagg is quite critical of the tonal vs modal opposition, arguing that these terms should not be employed based on style, and he worries that excluding Ionian harmony from the realm of modality “prevents us from investigating which characteristics of that mode may have led to its importance” in European tonal music.33 Authors discussing modality are somewhat at odds about the modes they emphasize. Most agree with Moore regarding which modes are the most common: Ionian, Aeolian, Mixolydian, and Dorian.34 Reflecting their high status, Temperley proposes a “supermode” for rock that combines the scale degrees of these four modes, and Biamonte divides them into “expanded” major and minor modes, the former combining Ionian and Mixolydian and the latter combining Aeolian and Dorian.35 A common thread in such views is some suspicion regarding Phrygian and Lydian modes. Temperley states that one of the benefits of the supermode concept is that it treats♭2 and♯4 as “incompatible with [a particular] tonic,” hence unsupportive of Phrygian and Lydian tonics.36 Everett more readily accepts these modes but observes that they are rare and primarily the result of chromatic process.37 A smaller number of authors view these less-common modes as viable tonal resources. For example, my own work argues for a greater status of Lydian, though my criteria for “tonic” is less strict than most of the authors mentioned, as I employ the term “tonicization” and allow for a chord to function as a “secondary” tonic.38 Ultimately, the degree to which authors emphasize certain modes depends on what they intend to do with the modes. Authors with a pedagogical purpose understandably tend to focus on the four most common modes. For instance, Everett’s comprehensive 2009 overview of the modes in 1960s rock offers observations about the styles in which one is likely to encounter certain modes, the chord progressions that indicate a given mode, and how the modes are used in various songs.39 A second approach is to emphasize the semiotic potential of modes, following Tagg’s idea that “musical modes can relate to moods.”40 For example, Björnberg associates Aeolian with “suspension” and “alienation,” Moore hears Dorian as carrying “the illusory possibility of escape” compared to Aeolian, and I discuss “dreamlike states” and the Lydian mode.41 In general, authors with this approach tend to be more willing to accept the full range of modes, and they focus on what Tagg terms the “extended present” or “now sound.”42 On the opposite end of the spectrum, a third approach



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reflects a concern for Schenkerian middle-ground pitch structure, and such authors are generally the most resistant to accepting the nonconventional modes. As Burns explains, the Schenkerian method “would privilege the section of the work that articulates the tonal [i.e., Ionian] structure, and all other sections would be viewed as prolongational,” thereby asserting an monotonal interpretation of the music.43 An influential publication related to this third approach is Mark Spicer’s outline of different forms of weakened tonics in rock songs. His three types of tonic—fragile, emergent, and absent—rely on the backdrop of a conventional Ionian tonic (sometimes Aeolian), one that is rhetorically downplayed, withheld until an important moment, or completely absent.44 These categories support the view of some authors that certain passages analyzed as modal are better understood as withholding the true tonic. For example, Osborn states, “potentially modal centres may actually function as subordinate prolongations within larger spans of a tonal progression, as is often the case with Aeolian verses that function as submediant prolongations.”45 Contrast this statement with Burns’s “rejection of the notion of organicism” in such cases, or Tagg’s view that: Any sense of overall tonal process … derives not from modulation, nor from overriding tonal schemes, nor “deep structure” a la Schenker or Riemann, but from the juxtaposition of distinct harmonic constellations and from the organization of those different tonal states in terms of repetition, change, reprise and relative duration, as well as from the order in which the distinct elements are presented.46

Though this debate on large-scale tonality is somewhat outside the purview of my discussion here, the ideological issues identified above regarding harmonic drive and the dominant-tonic axis remain quite relevant. These disagreements expose lingering questions about the modes’ ability to account for the entire harmonic content of songs or to substitute for the traditional concept of “key.” Temperley concludes that the “role of modal organization in rock has been somewhat overstated,” even questioning the relevance of the major/minor distinction.47 Authors such as Chris McDonald observe various harmonic practices of rock that strain the easy application of modal labeling, including extensive modal mixture and the preference for major triads.48 Temperley and I account for some of these practices through the concept of scalar shifting, which Temperley models on the line of fifths and I with “signature transformations” (indicating the number of sharps or flats added to the key signature).49 Several other scholars develop concepts that downplay modal/diatonic associations, including Ken Stephenson’s concept of “chord palettes.” His “major system” (Figure 8.2a) features major or minor triads built on roots of the Mixolydian scale, while his

Figure 8.2  Stephenson’s chord palettes: (a) major system and (b) chromatic minor system.

Harmonic and Melodic Theories for Rock Music

“chromatic minor system” (Figure 8.2b) “uses major triads at the expense of purity of scale.”50 In the latter system, Stephenson permits either a major or a minor tonic triad, which he takes as the primary determinate of mode. Certain aspects of Stephenson’s approach—specifically the ambivalence regarding the major/minor duality, avoidance of overall modal assignment, and focus on chord roots— are also apparent in Everett’s idea of “pentatonic harmonic systems.” Observed earlier by Björnberg as “blues mediantic progressions,” Everett describes this system (system 5) as consisting of I–♭III–IV–V–♭VII, where “each member of the minor-pentatonic scale is treated as the root of a major triad, in effect doubling the scale.”51 As Moore did by linking the modal system to musicians’ knowledge as displayed in magazines, practical justification for pentatonic harmonic systems is easily found in the idiomatic fretting-hand motions employed by guitar players. In “Triadic Modal and Pentatonic Patterns in Rock Music,” Biamonte expands on Everett’s idea by offering five rotations (i.e., modes) of the pentatonic collection from which major triads can be built, the first being the familiar minor-pentatonic (see Figure 8.3).52 Given the overall reliance on chord roots, it is debatable whether these alternative systems truly supplant modal considerations. Biamonte observes that several modal progressions (such as the Aeolian♭VI–♭VII–I) are found within her pentatonic systems, and one might argue that it is simply too easy to assign pentatonic roots to chord patterns. As a final debate that puts into focus the issues discussed in this section, one observes that authors highlighting these alternative “non-modal” systems tend to have stricter criteria for employing the mode label “Dorian.” For example, Doll disagrees with Moore’s 2012 analysis of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Ain’t No Telling” as modified Dorian, preferring to understand it as an example of a pentatonic system.53 Contrast this with Tagg, who views the Dorian mode as “well suited” to harmonize a minor-pentatonic scale in the bass, with the uniform major triads being the result of altering the tonic (the “permanent Picardy third”) and dominant chords.54 Ultimately, it is unnecessary to come down firmly on either side of this debate, as both views of this song’s chord collection model different and equally essential musical aspects: the pentatonic description accounting for the guitar-derived compositional practice and the modal label being a representation of position finding. More importantly, these differences expose several stimulating questions for the consideration of future scholars. How does one distinguish between a major mode with modal mixture and a minor mode with permanent Picardy third, and what analytical relevance might this distinction have? Affective associations aside, what is the structural function of the modes? What are the theoretical repercussions of devising analytical concepts that account for compositional practice versus those that model aural experience?

Figure 8.3  Biamonte’s pentatonic systems.



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

Chord Succession and Harmonic Function Many of the issues uncovered thus far remain relevant in scholarship that investigates chord succession. As already established, the Schenkerian model tends to view chord successions as motivated by linear patterns. This is evident in Everett’s analysis of the “double plagal” progression (♭VII–IV–I), which he describes as a series of upper neighbors, each resolving down to the third of the ornamented triad (i.e.,♭7–6, then 4–3).55 But what about those authors mentioned above who voiced an interest in elevating common rock progressions to the level of the dominant-tonic axis, or those who wish to understand cadences such as IV–I and♭VII–I to be just as logical and conclusive as V–I? One analytical approach for understanding chord succession focuses on root interval motion. Stephenson identifies two general practices in rock, the first following patterns of classical tonality, with preference for descending fifth, descending third, and ascending step motions, and the other a “new standard” that reverses these preferences to descending fourth, ascending third, and descending second.56 The abovementioned I–♭VII–IV–I, with a descending second followed by two descending fourths, is an example of the new standard formula, the origins of which Stephenson locates in the blues cadence V–IV–I. To these two distinct practices, Carter’s 2005 dissertation adds the concepts of “progression” and “retrogression”: progressions being associated with the traditional practice, implying forward harmonic motion and dissonance resolution, and the new standard’s retrogressions described as “moving backward.”57 Therefore, Carter’s system analyzes♭VII–I as progressive due to its ascending second root motion, yet IV–I as retrogressive. To nuance this position, Carter ranks progressions and retrogressions from 1 to 3, with, for example, the strongest progression (P3) being descending fifth, the weakest progression (P1) being ascending step, and the strongest retrogression (R3) being descending fourth. According to this categorization,♭VII–I (P1) and IV–I (R3) differ only slightly in strength.58 The utility of these rankings aside, the use of the term “retrogression” is potentially misleading. For instance, Carter analyzes the ii–iv–I cadence of the Beatles’ “Nowhere Man” as consisting of two retrogressions: R2 and R3.59 But listeners likely experience this event as a highly “progressive” motion to a goal, indicating that root motion is somewhat limited in its ability to model harmonic strength. Additionally, rootmotion theories do not explain why certain successions are preferred over others; why are the descending fourths♭VII–IV and IV–I common but not vi–iii? Another approach to analyzing chord succession highlights harmonic schemata: characteristic chord patterns that appear in many songs across the rock repertory. Though not advertised as such, Moore’s 1992 “Patterns of Harmony” is an early contribution to this area of study, given its presentation of results from the analysis of a large musical corpus, revealing common schemas such as I–vi–IV–V, I–V–IV–V,♭VI–♭VII–i, and♭VII–IV–I. Several other scholars reference rock schemata, including Carter, who describes patterns through his progression/retrogression model, and Tagg, who classifies schemas into “shuttles”—repeated to-and-fro motions between two similar-duration chords—and “loops,” which are repeated successions of at least three chords.60 Tagg’s discussion focuses primarily on the modality (or bimodality) of schemas as well as affective associations.

Harmonic and Melodic Theories for Rock Music

The most exhaustive theorizing on harmonic schemata is found in the work of Christopher Doll, culminating in his 2017 book Hearing Harmony.61 Doll organizes schemas into categories of short, long, meta-, and extended. His commentary on chord loops focuses on similar aspects to Tagg’s—their rotations, their use in particular songs, etc.—with the notable difference being Doll’s lack of emphasis on modality. His metaschemas introduce a linear component, being defined by their harmonized scale-degree successions. Some of these meta-schemas are only subtly different, such as the “drooping” schema (1–7–♭7–♭6 –5) and the “dropping” schema (1–♭7–6–♭6–5). Conversely, since Doll does not factor mode into his definitions, one might argue that patterns such as the “dropping” schema actually spawn more than one schema depending on whether the mode is major or minor. Besides identifying the schemas of rock, Doll explains how new harmonic patterns can be generated from these schemas through “transformations,” employing techniques such as subtraction and harmonic substitution.62 For example, he demonstrates how different chords can be substituted for the V and IV at the cadence of the blues schema.63 This indicates some additional explanatory power of schemata theory, as it describes how listeners may understand a particular chord succession relative to an established norm. In general, then, the schematic approach conceptualizes rock harmony as a collection of distinct yet flexible harmonic patterns, each representing a semi-autonomous harmonic system unto itself. Artists acquire these patterns through experience and are free to vary them, but ultimately the schemas derive their meaning through a complex web of relations between an exemplar and other instances. Though schemata theory offers important insights into rock harmonic practice, it remains of limited use in explaining the logic behind many chord successions. As de Clercq states, “a collection of harmonic patterns does not a theory of harmonic functions make.”64 This, then, brings us to rock scholarship on harmonic function. Defining function as “a way to describe our general hearing of and expectations for chord successions,” de Clercq doubts that an all-encompassing theory of function can be developed for rock music, given the lack of an established syntax.65 Nevertheless, several noteworthy contributions have been made in this area. Of these, one approach references the traditional Funktionstheorie of Hugo Riemann (1849–1919), with the three main functions: tonic (T), dominant (D), and subdominant (S). The other, influenced by Schenkerian concepts, has the more exclusive pillars of tonic and dominant, with a subsidiary “predominant” (PD) function replacing Riemann’s S. As mentioned above, the latter approach is evident in Everett and Osborn’s use of the term “function,” which they reserve for the dominant-tonic axis. The Riemannian labels appear in the work of Biamonte and Doll, though the details of their theories derive from 1990s scholarship on classical functions by Daniel Harrison and Eytan Agmon, whereby functions are tied to scale-degree content.66 For Biamonte, T function is carried by 1 and 3, D function by 7 and 2, and S function by 4 and 6.67 Certain chords have the potential for multiple functions. For example,♭II may act as D given its  2, while it may also function as S due to its 4 and 6. Biamonte decides the function of such chords based on their resolution:♭II functions as D if it resolves to the tonic, or S if it resolves to a dominant. (One might argue that that Biamonte’s S function is better described as PD in this situation.) Her system also has explanatory power for the modal progressions



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

discussed above. Regarding the Aeolian progression♭VI–♭VII–I/i, her analysis S–D–T highlights its similarities with the Ionian IV–V–I, thereby offering a method with which to regard it as a highly functional progression.68 Ironically, however, modality is somewhat neglected in Biamonte’s system, as scale degrees function the same regardless of the mode. Doll’s scale-degree assignments are similar to Biamonte’s, though for him “subdominant” is assigned only to 6, and he adds a “mediant” function for 3.69 Modality plays a more limited role in Doll’s theory, though he accounts for some differences with terminology such as “upper subdominant” and “lower subdominant” (the latter containing♭6), and “lead dominant” and “rogue dominant” (the latter containing♭7). His system also describes voice leading with terms such as “hyper” (for dominant-like voice leading) and “hypo” (for subdominant-like voice leading).70 Of further potential are Doll’s functional concepts regarding chord syntax. Here, “pre-tonic” is a chord that predicts tonic function, while “pre-pretonic” is a “long range predictor.”71 In other cases, he uses more neutral terms based on the Greek alphabet to describe chord ordering: “alpha” is tonic, pre-tonic is “beta,” and so on. (This approach is akin to Tagg’s description of a four-chord loop, where the second chord is “outgoing,” the third “medial,” and the final chord “incoming.”72) Finally, Doll offers a collection of functions that describe less anticipatory chord employments, including “softening,” “delaying,” “departing,” “anchoring,” “passing,” and “neighboring” functions.73 Though Doll provides the analyst with ample tools for describing the function of a given chord, what remains lacking is a system that explains why a particular chord might function as it does. That is, what is the relationship between the pitch-oriented functions and the syntaxoriented functions? As its title suggests, Drew Nobile’s 2016 article “Harmonic Function in Rock Music: A Syntactical Approach” also addresses chord syntax but does so by referencing the Schenkerinfluenced functions T, PD, and D. Nobile adapts Steven Laitz’s classical “phrase model,” a phrase-spanning ordered succession that cycles through the functions T–PD–D–(T), which in rock may span a complete formal unit.74 In classical theory, PD and D are tied to specific chords (IV/ii and V, respectively), but Nobile recommends that rock analysts separate function and pitch content, identifying function instead according to the chord’s use in a formal unit. His theory therefore addresses shortcomings of the dominant-tonic axis in rock, as syntactical dominant-to-tonic function can now be relayed by progressions such as IV–I and ♭VII–I. For example, the ii–iv–I cadence of the Beatles’ “Nowhere Man,” analyzed as two retrogressions by Carter, is now a goal-directed PD–D–T in Nobile’s system.75 These allowances for rock practice aside, Nobile’s analytical use of the labels T, PD, and D is clearly intended to emphasize similarities between classical music and rock music. While these are nicely illustrated in songs such as “Nowhere Man,” other examples indicate that separating pitch content from function is not easily achieved. The term “dominant” certainly carries expectations of hierarchical status. In discussing the V–IV–I cadence of the twelve-bar blues, Nobile follows Everett by refusing IV the status of “dominant,” assigning D instead to the traditional V, with IV acting as a voice-leading “softener.”76 Elsewhere, the conventional association of IV with PD function is sometimes upheld even when the chord syntax might

Harmonic and Melodic Theories for Rock Music

suggest a different role. For example, in Bobby Darin’s “Dream Lover,” Nobile analyzes the IV chord prior to the cadential phrase as PD, causing the entirety of the remaining I–vi–IV–V to function as D (see Figure 8.4).77 His analysis is therefore based on the Schenkerian idea that certain functions can be prolonged. But by separating syntactical function and pitch content, one is naturally lacking a theory for asserting prolongation. Therefore, there remain unanswered questions about the role of pitch in syntactical functions. Before leaving the area of harmonic scholarship, it is worth briefly mentioning several publications that adopt the transformational model of Neo-Riemannian theory to describe rock’s chord progressions. Capuzzo’s 2004 article is among the first to explore these operations for rock music, focusing on parsimonious voice leading between triads, whereby one or two voices retain common tones and the remaining voice(s) move by half step or whole step: parallel (P), leading-tone exchange (L), and relative (R) being the three canonic transformations (see Figure 8.5).78 Capuzzo asserts that this approach is most useful in demonstrating coherence in otherwise bewildering successions containing modal mixture and/or root motion by third.79 For example, the Em–C–E♭–C–G succession of King Crimson’s “Dinosaur,” with its ambiguous tonic and various chromatic-third harmonic motions, is analyzed by Capuzzo as L–PR–RP–LR, indicating a consistent smooth voice leading and retained common tones (here, G is a common tone throughout). Neo-Riemannian transformations are also utilized by Timothy Koozin and David Forrest, but toward different ends: Koozin for modeling fretboard hand motions on the guitar and Forrest for discussing the tonally disorienting

Figure 8.4  Functional analysis of Bobby Darin’s “Dream Lover” (Nobile, “Harmonic Function in Rock Music: A Syntactical Approach,” 159).



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

Figure 8.5  Summary of neo-Riemannian transformations.

effect of PL and LP transformations.80 Much of this scholarship addresses rock music outside the mainstream, and it is often grounded in instrumental practices of the guitar and/or keyboards. Kevin Holm-Hudson applies neo-Riemannian concepts and voiceleading vectors to describe the “maximally smooth chromatic voice leading” of the progressive rock group Genesis, and David Heetderks discusses chromatic voice leading between triads and seventh chords in post-2000 indie rock, classifying them as either parsimonious, contrary-motion, or similar-motion progressions.81 As we observed in the section above, these publications display some ambivalence toward diatonicism, but most of these authors retain connection with conventional ideas such as tonics and functional harmony.

Melodic Theorization Regretfully, the above-described disparity between scholarship on harmony and melody is reflected in the space I afford to melody. This is not an indication that scholars avoid the issue of melody but rather that theories that address melody independently from other musical aspects are quite rare. Stefani’s 1987 article “Melody: A Popular Perspective” is a clear exception, developing a series of categories for describing melodic experience, but since this article does not engage in structural pitch analysis, it falls outside the orbit of my overall discussion.82 Another interesting contribution is Stephenson’s investigation of the role of melody in determining phrase lengths and measure organization.83 Among his five models for organizing melody are “extension-overlap,” where the melodic cadence is delayed until the downbeat of the fifth measure, and “elision,” where the melody cadences on the downbeat of the fourth measure, changing a hypermetrically weak beat into a strong beat. Again, however, this research is perhaps more closely aligned with topics such as rhythm and form than it is relevant to our discussion of pitch. In treating melody as an autonomous musical element, contour and pitch collection are the most frequently emphasized topics. Middleton addresses melodic contour through the concept of “note frames,” identifying categories such as “chant,” “axial” (circling around a central note), “oscillating,” and “terrace.”84 Moore confirms these categories, adding to them “broadly ascending” and “broadly descending.”85 He observes that rising contours are less common in rock music than descending ones, highlighting in several publications the importance of a downward sweep pattern prevalent in the blues.86 Both Everett and Tagg expand upon these ideas, with Tagg discussing also rhythmic profile and dynamics/ articulation and Everett offering analysis of melodic range, syllabic vs melismatic text setting, compound melodies, and melodic sequences.87

Harmonic and Melodic Theories for Rock Music

Regarding pitch collection, Everett, Stephenson, Tagg, and Temperley all discuss the diatonic modes, and confirming our discussion above, observe a preference for the Ionian mode, with Dorian, Aeolian, and Mixolydian also playing a role in certain styles.88 Otherwise, all of these authors emphasize the pentatonic scale, with Tagg providing an overview of the five rotations of the scale, offering examples of the do/major, la/minor, and re/quartal rotations.89 Stephenson and Tagg also mention hexatonic scales such as the major scale with no 7 or the minor scale with no 6, and blues practice is observed in scales such as Tagg’s “blues pentatonic” (minor pentatonic with added♭5) and Temperley’s “pentatonic union” (the combination of major and minor pentatonic scales).90 Naturally, these investigations of contour and collection are primarily descriptive, but we will find that they have important repercussions for our next topic. Perhaps predictably, the most extensive research into rock melody focuses on melodyharmony interaction. Comments by Everett and Moore offer a useful conceptual framework for the following overview. Everett observes that “one can define a [melodic] phrase as either goal-directed or not” and that certain melodies, particularly those using the minorpentatonic scale, “do not lead the listener to expect any motion in particular.”91 Moore sees this phenomenon as largely a matter of the type of harmonic pattern employed; specifically, “contour-rich” melodies are more likely to occur with open-ended harmonic gestures, while the melodies above “period-structure” harmonies are more likely to create goal-directed stepwise voice leading from chord to chord.92 In the following discussion, I use the terms “free” and “contrapuntal” to describe these two approaches. The idea of “contrapuntal” melody naturally recalls the Schenkerian approach, which views melody and harmony as generating counterpoint. Additionally, contour issues are relevant in Schenker’s Urlinien: long-range goal-directed descending lines 3–2–1 and 5–4–3–2–1. Authors differ on how to handle these constructs in rock music. Everett observes that many rock songs do indeed feature clear Urlinien of these types, yet he allows that analyses of rock songs should often “produce results different from those seen in its traditional applications.”93 For example, in his 1986 article, the graph of “Strawberry Fields Forever” features a standard 3–2–1 Urlinie (see Figure 8.1 above), while his graph of “Julia” shows 5 prolonged throughout the entire song, with no contrapuntal support for its 3–2–1 descent.94 These allowances aside, Everett’s graphing technique remains orthodox, using open note heads only to represent contrapuntally supported pitches of the Urlinie, and he clarifies that the Schenkerian analytical procedure “must proceed according to unchanging principles of counterpoint.”95 Scholars such as Nobile and Osborn follow his practices. To demonstrate, Figure 8.6 is Nobile’s graph of the verse of the Beatles’ “Nowhere Man.”96 Though this apparent octave-line descent is the type of goal-directed melody that is tailormade for Schenkerian graphing, observe that stemmed closed note heads are used rather than open note heads; this is due to the fact that 3 creates a dissonant seventh above its iv chord, hence violating a rule of species counterpoint. Other authors have developed modified Schenkerian graphing techniques to represent contrapuntal melodies. Moore, though a critic of the Schenkerian approach, has experimented with various Schenkerian symbols in his analyses, most extensively in his 1997 book on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper. Here, however, he states that his “diagrams are not



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

Figure 8.6  Graph of the Beatles’ “Nowhere Man” (Nobile, “Harmonic Function in Rock Music: A Syntactical Approach,” 159).

Figure 8.7  Melodic sketch of the Icicle Works’ “Don’t Let It Rain on My Parade” (Moore, “The So-Called ‘Flattened Seventh’ in Rock,” 191).

Figure 8.8  Revised sketch of the Icicle Works’ “Don’t Let It Rain on My Parade” (Moore, Song Means, 98).

intended to function as Schenkerian analyses,” and he avoids Ursatz interpretations.97 In a more limited guise, he uses stems and slurs to show local melodic hierarchy and linear motion, though in recent publications he appears to have foregone their use. Compare his 1995 graph of the chorus of The Icicle Works’ “Don’t Let It Rain on My Parade” (Figure 8.7) with his 2012 sketch (Figure 8.8). The former, with stems and slurs, could easily be converted into a Schenkerian graph with 3–2, 3–2–1 structure, while the latter offers only an un-stemmed bass and melodic sketch. This change likely reflects a growing concern about privileging certain types of lines over others, as the text accompanying

Harmonic and Melodic Theories for Rock Music

the 2012 sketch places greater emphasis on the lower-register line♭7–6–5–4.98 These same concerns inform Lori Burns’s adapted Schenkerian notation. She employs both a voice-leading graph, which is “closer to the music” and “indicates the actual contrapuntal relations between bass and vocalist,” and a reduction, which shows a “hierarchical interpretation of the voice-leading graph.”99 As her graphs of the verse of Tori Amos’s “Crucify” show (Figure 8.9), standard Schenkerian symbols are used, including open note heads to indicate the primary prolongational structure, but these reveal structures that are hardly normative. Specifically, the overall melodic motion of the verse is 5–4 rather than one of the traditional Urlinien, and the reduction reveals a series of parallel fifths, which are forbidden in strict counterpoint.

Figure 8.9  Graphs of Tori Amos’s “Crucify” (Burns, “Analytic Methodologies for Rock Music,” 74).



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

In sum, there is a natural trade-off in choosing between the orthodox notation and adapted techniques. The adapted notation potentially offers more accuracy in representing the unique surface counterpoint of songs, but without the guidance of a priori Urlinien, the analytical process can be overly subjective. In cases where Schenkerian symbols are foregone, readers are provided little help in interpreting melodic sketches without referencing supplementary textual explanation. By contrast, readers schooled in Schenkerian analysis can more readily interpret the orthodox notation without the help of additional commentary. In Everett’s opinion, orthodox Schenkerian graphing is useful “not for showing how songs are tonally normal, but in showing precisely in what ways songs deviate from conventions.”100 On the other hand, Adam Krims worries that Schenkerian symbols “almost inevitably bring with them Schenkerian assumptions” regarding harmonic support and voice-leading principles.101 Clearly, the relevance of these assumptions for rock music remains an open question. Besides definitions of contour/pitch collection, much of the rock scholarship pertaining to free melodies investigates a phenomenon referred to by Moore as the melodic-harmonic divorce.102 First defined by Van der Merwe (for an earlier repertoire) as the “estrangement” of melody and harmony, he observes the use of melodic notes that are “completely at odds with the accompanying chord,” such as 3 against the V or IV chord.103 Temperley’s 2007 article explores this situation further, defining it according to the treatment of non-chord tones; specifically, non-chord tones in classical tonal music tend to resolve by step to a chord tone, whereas “loose” melodies often treat such tones as relatively stable.104 He locates the roots of this practice in the blues, documenting its most typical manifestation in pentatonic melodies. Additionally, Temperley coins the “loose-verse/ tight-chorus” model, whereby the verse utilizes a loose melody and the chorus answers with a contrapuntal melody.105 Nobile’s 2015 article reexamines Temperley’s ideas within a Schenkerian framework, positing three types of divorce: (1) hierarchy, where the harmony creates embellishments and the melody outlines the prolonged tonic; (2) loop, where the melody creates goaldirected structures above a repetitive chord loop; and (3) syntax, where the counterpoint created by harmony and melody is somehow incompatible.106 Of course, in applying Schenkerian concepts to these situations, one encounters many of the same ideological issues enumerated above. For example, Nobile interprets Temperley’s pentatonic melodies as “the tonic triad with embellishing tones,” thereby privileging the triad in cases where some might argue for a greater equality among pitches.107 Regarding the syntax divorce, questions surrounding the applicability of classical principles of counterpoint come into play. In the iv–I cadence of “Nowhere Man” (Figure 8.6 above), iv supports both 3 and 2, which Nobile analyzes as an example of divorce because neither pitch is contained in the iv chord. Some might view this situation as supporting new rules for counterpoint in rock, such as allowed sevenths and added sixths, but such theoretical modifications carry their own dangers. Ultimately, Nobile convincingly argues that this cadence is best understood as the combination of two stratified cadential gestures: IV–I in the harmonic layer and 3–2–1 in the melody.

Harmonic and Melodic Theories for Rock Music

A final issue to conclude this chapter is suggested in Nobile’s “hierarchy” divorce, specifically the role of melody in determining the tonic. Many of his examples, in fact, portray melody as hierarchically superior to harmony in this activity. This idea was first expressed by Stephenson, who observes, “in cases of doubt or ambiguity with regard to key, melodic patterns carry more weight than harmonic patterns.”108 In general, authors posit two melodic features that tend to facilitate identification of the tonic: (1) rhetorical emphasis on a particular pitch and (2) the presence of leaps or embellishments around a particular triad. For example, in discussing the tonally ambiguous “axis progression” (ex. Am–F–C–G), Mark Richards asserts that identification of tonic as Aeolian or Ionian rests largely on the melodic content, such as whether the note G functions as a neighbor to A (indicating the Aeolian tonic) or vice versa (indicating the Ionian tonic).109 Some authors use the idea of hierarchically superior melody as a basis for viewing potentially “modal” progressions as “absent tonic” progressions instead. To illustrate, both Spicer and Nobile reference the G–A chord loop of Jane’s Addiction’s “Jane Says” as an example of melody establishing the tonic rather than the harmony (Figure 8.10).110 Here, the melody appears to outline a D-major triad in several measures, resulting in an analysis of the harmony as Ionian IV–V. Though these authors are certainly justified in asserting melody as a tonal force unto itself, there is a danger in these situations of downgrading the significance of harmony in perceiving and interpreting a melody. For this song, at least one author hears the second chord A as the tonic, and one can easily justify this alternative (Mixolydian) tonic through this same melody, citing (1) the repeated emphasis on A, (2) the embellishing F♯–A and B–A motions, and (3) the triadic outlining of A major at m. 14 and m. 16.111 Such differences in listening strategy no doubt harken back to disagreements regarding the acceptance of modes other than Ionian and Aeolian.112

Figure 8.10  Transcription of Jane’s Addiction’s “Jane Says” (Nobile, “Counterpoint in Rock Music,” 195).



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

Final Thoughts As with many of the theoretical issues exposed in harmonic scholarship, the potential tonal primacy of melody over harmony raises some instructive questions for future scholars. In locating a tonic, does one require that a melody emphasize the tonic pitch/triad? Might there be idiomatic melodic features of particular modes? When is it appropriate to apply concepts from jazz theory, such as the notion of emphasized extended tertian pitches? If one accepts the idea of stratified melodic and harmonic areas, is it possible that a passage features two simultaneous tonics? If so, what are the contrapuntal principles that allow for this superimposition? Addressing such questions may ultimately allow rock analysis to transcend its observed reliance on the established theories of classical music. In fact, if rock scholarship continues to bring to light important and under-examined theoretical concepts of this sort, one can be optimistic that we will encounter this scenario reversed in future scholarship.

Notes   1. Moore, Rock, 52 and 49.   2. Temperley, The Cognition of Basic Musical Structures, 253; and Moore, Rock, 52.   3. Everett, “Pitch Down the Middle,” 111; and Osborn, Everything in Its Right Place, xi.   4. Tagg, Everyday Tonality II, 9.   5. Mellers, Twilight of the Gods: The Music of the Beatles; and Winkler, “Toward a Theory of Popular Harmony,” 3–26.   6. Everett, “Fantastic Remembrance,” 360–385.   7. Everett, “Pitch Down the Middle,” 139.   8. Everett, “Making Sense of Rock’s Tonal Systems,” ¶6.   9. Everett, “Pitch Down the Middle,” 140. 10. Ibid., 139. 11. Everett, “Fantastic Remembrance,” 372. 12. Everett, “Pitch Down the Middle,” 139. 13. Everett, The Foundations of Rock, 228. 14. Middleton, Studying Popular Music, 196. 15. Ibid., 198. 16. Burns, “Analytic Methodologies for Rock Music,” 64. 17. Ibid., 67. 18. Moore, “The So-Called ‘Flattened Seventh’ in Rock,”186. 19. Temperley, “The Cadential IV in Rock.” 20. Everett, “Pitch Down the Middle,” 150. 21. Osborn, “Rock Harmony Reconsidered,” 61. 22. Moore, “The So-Called ‘Flattened Seventh’ in Rock,” 190. 23. Everett, “Pitch Down the Middle,” 159. 24. Moore, “Patterns of Harmony,” 75–76. 25. Ibid., 76.

Harmonic and Melodic Theories for Rock Music

26. Moore, Rock, 55. 27. Björnberg, “On Aeolian Harmony in Contemporary Popular Music,” 276. 28. Moore, Song Means, 73. 29. Doll, Review of Allan F. Moore, Song Means, 289. 30. See, for example, Clement, “Scale Systems and Large-Scale Form in the Music of Yes.” 31. Everett, The Foundations of Rock, 238. 32. Osborn, “Rock Harmony Reconsidered,” 61. 33. Tagg, Everyday Tonality II, 52–53. 34. Moore, Rock, 54. 35. Temperley, The Cognition of Basic Musical Structures, 260; and Biamonte, “Pop/Rock Tonalities,” 93. 36. Temperley, The Cognition of Basic Musical Structures, 263. 37. Everett, The Foundations of Rock, 255–259. 38. Clement, “Modal Tonicization in Rock Reconsidered.” 39. Everett, The Foundations of Rock, 247–259. 40. Tagg, Everyday Tonality II, 83. 41. Björnberg, “On Aeolian Harmony in Contemporary Popular Music,” 279; Moore, “The So-Called ‘Flattened Seventh’ in Rock,” 188; and Clement, “Modal Tonicization in Rock,” 123. 42. Tagg, Everyday Tonality II, 19. 43. Burns, “Analytic Methodologies for Rock Music,” 68. 44. Spicer, “Fragile, Emergent, and Absent Tonics in Pop and Rock Songs.” 45. Osborn, “Rock Harmony Reconsidered,” 61. 46. Burns, “Analytic Methodologies for Rock Music,” 68; and Tagg, Everyday Tonality II, 386. 47. Temperley, “Scalar Shift in Popular Music,” ¶1.4. 48. See McDonald, “Exploring Modal Subversions in Alternative Music,” 356. 49. Temperley, “Scalar Shift in Popular Music”; and Clement, “Scale Systems and Large-Scale Form in the Music of Yes.” 50. Stephenson, What to Listen for in Rock, 90–92. 51. Björnberg, “On Aeolian Harmony in Contemporary Popular Music,” 278; and Everett, “Making Sense of Rock’s Tonal Systems,” ¶19. 52. Biamonte, “Triadic Modal and Pentatonic Patterns in Rock Music,” 104. 53. Doll, Review of Allan F. Moore, Song Means, 289–290. 54. Tagg, Everyday Tonality II, 276. 55. Everett, “Pitch Down the Middle,” 155. 56. Stephenson, What to Listen for in Rock, 103–104. 57. Carter, “Retrogressive Harmonic Motion,” 4–5. 58. Ibid., 32–33. 59. Ibid., 118. 60. Tagg, Everyday Tonality II, 369–418. 61. Doll, Hearing Harmony, 83–187. 62. Ibid., 207–214. 63. See also Doll, “Transformation in Rock Harmony.” 64. De Clercq, “A Pop-Rock Theory for the Future,” 178. 65. Ibid. 66. Harrison, Harmonic Function in Chromatic Music, 196–214.



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  67. Biamonte, “Triadic Modal and Pentatonic Patterns in Rock Music,” 97.   68. Ibid., 101.   69. Doll, Hearing Harmony, 28–41.   70. Ibid., 51.   71. Ibid., 49.   72. Tagg, Everyday Harmony II, 412–413.   73. Doll, Hearing Harmony, 73–78.   74. Nobile, “Harmonic Function in Rock Music,” 151.   75. Ibid., 159.   76. Ibid., 172.   77. Ibid., 170–171.   78. Capuzzo, “Neo-Riemannian Theory and the Analysis of Pop-Rock Music,” 178.   79. Ibid., 189.   80. Koozin, “Guitar Voicing in the Pop-Rock Music”; and Forrest, “PL Voice Leading and the Uncanny in Pop Music.”   81. Holm-Hudson, “A Study of Maximally Smooth Voice Leading in the Mid-1970s Music of Genesis,” 99–123; and Heetderks, “Hipster Harmony.”   82. Stefani, “Melody: A Popular Perspective,” 21–35.   83. Stephenson, What to Listen for in Rock, 3–19.   84. Middleton, Studying Popular Music, 203.   85. Moore, Rock, 49–50.   86. Moore, “The So-Called ‘Flattened Seventh’ in Rock,” 189; Moore, Rock, 50; and Moore, Song Means, 93.   87. Tagg, Everyday Tonality II, 180–200; and Everett, The Foundations of Rock, 178–182.   88. Everett, The Foundations of Rock, 161–173; Stephenson, What to Listen for in Rock, 39; Tagg, Everyday Tonality II, 92–97; and Temperley, The Musical Language of Rock, 19–21.   89. Tagg, Everyday Tonality II, 151.   90. Stephenson, What to Listen for in Rock, 40; Tagg, Everyday Tonality II, 157–170; and Temperley, The Musical Language of Rock, 28.   91. Everett, The Foundations of Rock, 184–186.   92. Moore, Song Means, 92–97.   93. Everett, “Pitch Down the Middle,” 139.   94. Everett, “Fantastic Remembrance,” 383.   95. Everett, “Pitch Down the Middle,” 139.   96. Nobile, “Harmonic Function in Rock,” 159.   97. Moore, The Beatles, 27.   98. Moore, Song Means, 98.   99. Burns, “Analytic Methodologies for Rock Music,” 69–70. 100. Everett, “Making Sense of Rock’s Tonal Systems,” 8. 101. Krims, “What Does it Mean to Analyse Popular Music?,” 196. 102. Moore, “The So-Called ‘Flattened Seventh’ in Rock,” 189. 103. Van der Merwe, Origins of the Popular Style, 230. 104. Temperley, “The Melodic-Harmonic ‘Divorce’ in Rock,” 326. 105. Ibid., 335–337. 106. Nobile, “Counterpoint in Rock Music,” 189. 107. Ibid., 189.

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108. Stephenson, What to Listen for in Rock, 47. 109. Richards, “Tonal Ambiguity in Popular Music’s Axis Progressions.” 110. Nobile, “Counterpoint in Rock Music,” 195; and Spicer, “Fragile, Emergent, and Absent Tonics,” ¶13. 111. Temperley, “Scalar Shift in Popular Music,” ¶2.4. 112. See also competing analyses of the F–G harmonic loop of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” which Stephenson interprets as absent tonic (Aeolian or Ionian) due to the melodic emphasis on A and C, but which Moore and I hear as having an F (Lydian) tonic, with my observation that Lydian melodies often do not feature the tonic. Stephenson, What to Listen for in Rock, 41–42; Moore, “Patterns of Harmony,” 86; and Clement, “Modal Tonicization in Rock,” 112.



9 Rhythmic and Metric Theorization in Rock Music Nicole Biamonte

Introduction Rhythm is one of the most salient parameters in rock and many other popular musics, because of the explicit beat provided by the drums and the pervasive use of rhythmic dissonance throughout the texture. The normally steady tempos and explicit beat allow for greater rhythmic complexity in the other layers of the texture, and an intensified entrainment to the meter that facilitates bodily engagement with the music. While more theoretical and analytical attention has been given to pitch structures in both art music and vernacular musics, a growing body of research explores the parameters of rhythm and meter in various repertoires. This chapter first surveys theories of rhythm and meter that have been developed for Western art music and adapted or applied to rock music and related genres, and then addresses more recent theories developed specifically to model common rhythms in popular music. I examine the different conceptions of the relationship between rhythm and meter modeled by these theories. I also consider some other relevant temporal issues: the “binary default” resulting in the overwhelming prevalence of duple and quadruple meters in Western musics, the status of the ubiquitous drum backbeat and its common variants, and the relationship of rhythmic patterns to dancing and other embodied responses.

Theories of Rhythm and Meter Lerdahl and Jackendoff’s Model Musical rhythm has often been understood in relation to spoken rhythm. Various theoretical models have been predicated on analogies between musical and textual rhythm, from the modal rhythms of the late medieval era through the rhythmic figures described by Baroque theorists to more recent theories such as that of Grosvenor Cooper and Leonard Meyer.1 A distinction among these superficially similar paradigms is the extent


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to which contrasts between notes are conceived as primarily durational (long vs. short), primarily accentual (strong vs. weak), or a combination of the two.2 Cooper and Meyer’s model identifies duple and triple groupings of strong and weak beats at all structural levels, using the traditional poetic feet (iamb, trochee, anapest, dactyl, and amphibrach). One criticism of this model is that it conflates rhythmic groupings and meter in a single nested hierarchy. This issue was rectified in the theory developed by composer and music theorist Fred Lerdahl and linguist Ray Jackendoff in A Generative Theory of Tonal Music.3 Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s work analogizes music and language on a much broader scale, positing a grammar of common-practice tonal music that was intended to be analogous to Noam Chomsky’s generative grammar. Their theory comprises sets of rules governing pitch and rhythmic structures, organized into four hierarchies: grouping structure, shown with brackets, metrical structure, shown with columns of dots, and time-span reduction and prolongational reduction, both shown as tree diagrams. Universal “well-formedness rules” prescribe what structures are possible, while style-specific “preference rules” point toward the best interpretation of a given structure within its context. The aspects of their theory that deal with grouping structures and metric structures are the most fully developed and have had the greatest influence on later scholars. Richard Cohn has called this separation of grouping and meter “the birth of modern metric theory.”4 In his theorization of cognition, David Temperley adapted Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s model of metric structure, discarding some of their rules and modifying others.5 In his discussions of rhythm in rock music, he posits additional rules in order to reconcile the conflict of metric and phenomenal accents in syncopated melodies.6 Because “the anticipatory syncopations of rock and related styles are not usually heard as destabilizing the underlying meter,” he interprets them as early displacements of a deeper-level consonant rhythm.7 Temperley asserts that listeners mentally resolve such rhythmic dissonances by understanding them—possibly unconsciously—as belonging to the following strong beat. Allan Moore has argued against this interpretation, describing syncopation as “endemic to popular song” and observing that “syncopation by anticipation is … so normative as to be expected.”8 Recent empirical research supports the view that listeners expect, readily perceive, and even enjoy the unpredictability of syncopation in groove-based music.9 Figure 9.1 shows Temperley’s transcription of the first three vocal phrases of Michael Jackson’s pop hit “Billie Jean,” and below it his regularization of the rhythm so that stressed syllables (shown in bold; highly stressed syllables are italicized) fall on strong beats. The hypothetical transformation of rhythmic consonances into dissonances is clearly demonstrated, but the argument that this represents listeners’ perception of the music on some level is unsupported, and his assumptions that the correlation of text stress with metric accent in common-practice art music holds true for popular music as well, and that rhythmic displacements are normatively early, go unquestioned. Because much popular music features a separate percussion layer that explicitly marks the beat, syncopated melodies are a standard convention in pop and rock and are most likely heard as complements of the marked strong beats rather than displacements of them. The rhythmic complementarity of melody and accompaniment would be more evident if the instrumental parts had been included in Temperley’s examples, as in Figure 9.2, which

Rhythmic and Metric Theorization

Figure 9.1  Michael Jackson, “Billie Jean” (Thriller, 1982), opening vocal melody (upper staff) and Temperley’s rhythmic regularization (lower staff). From Temperley, The Musical Language of Rock, Ex. 4.6 A, 74.

Figure 9.2  Michael Jackson, “Billie Jean” (Thriller, 1982), vocals and accompaniment at beginning of verse; brackets above the system show the grouping structure and dots below show the metric structure.

transcribes the accompaniment parts at the beginning of the verse and adds dots reflecting Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s metric structure as well as brackets for the grouping structure. The 4/4 meter of “Billie Jean” is clearly established by a standard backbeat in the drums and a walking bass in quavers. The 3+5 eighth-note groupings throughout most of the synthesizer part, with chords consistently on beats 1 and 2.5 (the “and” of beat 2), superimpose a mild background syncopation but also clearly mark the downbeats of each measure, which are largely avoided in the melody. The melody also avoids accents on beats 2 and 4, which are



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emphasized by the backbeat snare. The accented syllables of the lyrics fall most consistently on beat 4.5 in all but the second and last measures of the example (although the stressed syllable at the end of the original third measure should be on beat 4, “what,” rather than 4.5, “do”), which supports the interpretation of anticipated downbeats. The next most consistently accented beat in the melody is beat 3, in the first three measures. In the fourth measure, this mid-measure accent is shifted one eighth note earlier to beat 2.5, setting up the phrase fragmentation that follows; this shift is shown in Figure 9.2 by subdividing the grouping bracket in the fourth measure as in the second measure (this analysis conforms to Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s Grouping Preference Rule 6 and Temperley’s Phrase Structure Preference Rule 3, both of which state that parallel passages should form parallel groups).10 The phrase fragmentation coincides with a destabilization of the harmony, which moves from tonic to subdominant. The last four measures of the example, which are repeated, feature regular text accents anticipating beats 1 and 3 by a eighth note (beats 4.5 and 2.5). Thus the rhythmic trajectory of this excerpt correlates with the harmonic trajectory in moving from greater to lesser stability, as the mid-measure accent shifts from beat 3 to 2.5 and the harmony moves away from the tonic. Daphne Leong takes Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s model as a starting point for her model of metric contour, which unlike theirs is designed to accommodate nonisochronous (asymmetric) meters.11 She translates the layers of dots representing metric accent into an inversely correlated integer series, with 0 representing the downbeat, positive integers representing increasingly weaker beat subdivisions, and negative integers representing hypermetric strong beats, so that greater metric strength is represented by lower numbers. An additional integer string represents durations between attacks, which she calls the “pulse hierarchy.” Leong posits a spiral model of displacement, from metric consonance through varying degrees of syncopation to the establishment of a new downbeat. Her model accounts for both metric accent and durational accent, distinguishing syncopes, events on weak beats or offbeats that are sustained through the following stronger beat, from offbeats that are not sustained and therefore present less of a challenge to the meter. Events displaced later rather than earlier also receive lesser metric weight. She offers six demonstrative analyses, of four excerpts from art music (Beethoven, Wagner, two Bartόk) and two from jazz, showing progressively later displacements and rhythmic compression of a motive in an alternate take of Herbie Hancock’s “Madness,” and late displacements in a rendition of “What Is This Thing Called Love?” by Billie Holiday that can be interpreted as in a different and—surprisingly in light of Holiday’s tendency to place notes behind the beat—faster tempo than the band.12

Hasty’s Model In contrast to the architectonic and essentially static model of rhythm set forth by Lerdahl and Jackendoff, Christopher Hasty has proposed a dynamic model of meter as a process projected by rhythmic durations rather than an underlying fixed grid of durationless timepoints.13 Meter is created through the potential of a duration to be immediately repeated. Durations can function as anacruses, beginnings, continuations, or deferrals.14 His model of projection is fundamentally binary: each duration projects its repetition.

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Thus triple meter requires a special explanation: the third beat of a measure does not represent a continuation or an anacrusis, but rather defers the beginning of the next measure until the following beat.15 Hasty’s theory differs from most previous explanations in that meter has no inherent accent pattern, and is constantly constructed by the listener. As Justin London has pointed out, it powerfully models the process of identifying meter but disregards the potential for the listeners’ entrainment.16 Meter is never established and internalized but must be continually reinvented—a view that runs counter to empirical research on meter induction.17 Hasty’s model affords a very high level of metric particularity, distinguishing between countless different realizations of any given time signature, but it does not account for recognizable metric types such as sarabande, waltz, or backbeat. Using Hasty’s theory as a lens, Robin Attas has explored the relationship of rhythmic groove with form.18 She identifies the rhythmic characteristics of buildup introductions: beyond the expansions of texture, timbre, and register created through the addition of successive layers, buildup introductions often feature metric ambiguity, increasing metric complexity, anacrustic cues that signal the beginning of the next formal section, and “projection shift,” which focuses a listener’s attention on different rhythmic durations as new layers are added. Similarly, increased intensity can be created in other formal sections through increasing the density of anacruses and syncopations. Figure 9.3 shows Attas’s transcription of the introduction of the Temptations’ “My Girl,” annotated with Hasty’s symbols for rhythmic functions. Forward slashes are anacruses, vertical lines are beginnings, and backward slashes are continuations. The letters represent the listeners’ projected expectations for the next duration based on the currently sounding one. This example demonstrates a projection shift from the repeated

Figure 9.3  The Temptations, “My Girl” (The Temptations Sing Smokey, 1965), introduction. From Attas, “Form as Process,” Ex. 6, 283.



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half-measure motive played by the bass (labeled Q and Q’) to the repeated one-measure motive in the guitar (labeled R and R’). Projection shifts such as this are particularly notable within buildup introductions, but they can also help to create contrast between different formal sections such as verse and chorus, especially when the density of the drum pattern changes. Matthew Butterfield has applied Hasty’s theory to accompaniment patterns characteristic of jazz and rock: swung ride rhythms played on the cymbals, and the backbeat pattern, which has kick (or bass) drum hits on beats 1 and 3 and snare hits on beat 4.19 Following Hasty’s model, he asserts that shortening or accenting notes on weak beats and off-beats, as well as connecting them to the following strong beat through slurred articulation, enhances their anacrustic effect. Extending the model to the level of microtiming, Butterfield posits that early attacks are more anacrustic because they are unexpected and focus the listener’s attention forward, while late attacks, despite being temporally closer to the next beat, are continuational rather than anacrustic because they represent the delayed realization of an expected event. A significant advantage of Hasty’s theory is that it can be applied to polyphonic music. This stands in contrast to earlier models such as Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s, which is fundamentally homorhythmic, interpreting a single rhythmic layer—normally the melody—as primary. Accompanimental rhythms are treated as subordinate or omitted as unimportant. Mark Butler has observed that the distinction between rhythm and meter in these models typically maps onto the distinction between melody and accompaniment, often explicitly in popular-music analyses but implicitly in classical-music analyses.20 Butler’s focus is electronic dance music, which often lacks a clear distinction between melody and accompaniment, so Hasty’s theory, with its conflation of rhythm and meter, is particularly appropriate, but Butler’s analyses are primarily indebted to Harald Krebs’s work on metric dissonance.

Krebs’s Model Harald Krebs’s theory was explicitly designed to address multiple layers of metric and rhythmic structures. His model of metric dissonance categorizes rhythmic or metric conflicts as one of two basic types, an idea originating in Peter Kaminsky’s dissertation on Schumann’s music and developed more extensively by Krebs, most famously in his book Fantasy Pieces, which also focused on Schumann.21 Displacement dissonances consist of patterns that have the same grouping with one layer shifted forward or backward in time, while grouping dissonances involve patterns of different, coprime cardinalities.22 An important distinction between these two types is that grouping dissonances periodically realign with the meter after the number of beats that is equal to the product of their cardinalities (i.e., a pattern of 2 against 3 will realign after 6 beats; 3 against 4 will realign after 12 beats). Displacement dissonances, in contrast, do not realign unless one of the parts is adjusted. Krebs refers to successive nonaligned patterns as indirect dissonances and simultaneous conflicts as direct dissonances. Most of Krebs’s examples are indirect dissonances, but direct dissonances are fairly common in rock music, especially in

Rhythmic and Metric Theorization

subgenres noted for metric play such as progressive rock and math metal.23 Displacement dissonances in rock and other popular musics typically occur in only one or two layers of the texture, most often in the vocals or the rhythm guitar, while grouping dissonances more often participate in multiple layers of the texture, because their cyclic realignment with the meter presents less of a challenge to it. In an article on the music of Herbie Hancock, Keith Waters usefully subdivides grouping dissonances into “measure-preserving,” in which the barlines are aligned but the beats are not (typically involving triplets or some other form of tuplet), and “tactus-preserving,” in which the beats are aligned but the barlines are not.24 Brad Osborn presents similar categories of beat-preserving and beat-changing metric shifts, as well as direct grouping dissonances, in the music of Radiohead.25 Krebs refers to displacement and grouping dissonances at all levels as metric. In a consideration of “crooked” tunes in bluegrass and old-time country music, Joti Rockwell defines disruptions of the tactus groupings as “first order,” which many listeners would interpret as metric, and disruptions of the level above that as “second order,” which many listeners would interpret as hypermetric.26 My own work on metric dissonance in rock music categorizes temporal dissonances as rhythmic, metric, or hypermetric.27 As noted above, rhythmic dissonances in rock music are a normative style feature, while hypermetric dissonances (above the level of the measure) are rarer and metric dissonances still more so. The different rates of dissonance at different structural levels likely derives from the origins of rock as dance music, in which regular meter and hypermeter are more important than regular rhythm. At the rhythmic level, phrases tend to begin and end in alignment with the meter, with rhythmic dissonances either comprising much of the middle of the phrase or arising just before the phrase ends, as in a cadential hemiola—although cadential displacements are also widespread.28 Metric and hypermetric dissonances are typically used either throughout a formal section, creating contrast with other sections, or at a boundary between sections, serving as a transition. Through a series of small corpus studies, I demonstrate that metric dissonance has increased in rock music overall since the late 1960s, as well as within the music of some individual bands, particularly the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. An example demonstrating both grouping and displacement dissonance is the synthesizer introduction to Van Halen’s “Jump,” reproduced in Figure 9.4. The rhythmic pattern formed by the right-hand chords is a series of triple groupings moving to duple—a “double tresillo” rhythm, discussed below—that seems to begin on beat 2, although when the pattern repeats it becomes clear that it began with a silent triple grouping displaced a eighth note early rather than a quarter note late. The groupings are shown with numbers and brackets above the staff. In Krebs’s notation, this grouping dissonance is symbolized as G2/3: triple-eighth-note groupings in a prevailingly duple-eighth-note context (the consonant layer is given first), although that context does not become clear until after the introduction. The displacement dissonance could be described as either D8–1 (an eighth note early) or D8+2 (a quarter note late). Most of Krebs’s examples are interpreted as late displacements; in contrast, Temperley assumes that displacements in rock music are normatively anticipatory. Correlations of rhythmic dissonance types with styles and genres would be a fruitful avenue for further exploration.



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

Figure 9.4  Van Halen, “Jump” (1984, 1983), synthesizer introduction. From Biamonte, “Formal Functions of Metric Dissonance in Rock Music,” Ex. 3d, par. 3.4.

Mark Butler’s analyses of electronic dance music focus on ambiguities of downbeat and of metric type and on clear instances of displacement and grouping dissonances.29 He identifies heightened versions of each dissonance type: “turning the beat around,” a displacement dissonance that is normalized by shifting the downbeat, and “embedded grouping dissonance,” comprising nested layers of grouping dissonances on multiple structural levels. Butler’s conception of embedded grouping dissonance is a specific type of Richard Cohn’s complex hemiola,30 which consists of duple and triple grouping dissonances on multiple adjacent levels, but the dissonances need not be nested or even related, whereas in Butler’s model the lower-level grouping dissonance creates the higher-level one.31 One important distinction between Butler’s model and the others discussed here—indeed, one of his central arguments—is that the multilayered grooves and high degree of repetition in electronic dance music allow for multiple metric interpretations, potentially even by the same listener in the course of the same hearing.32 Jeff Pressing makes a similar claim for “Black Atlantic” rhythm, his term for African diasporic popular musics, which he characterizes as based on predictable repetition, overlaid with less predictable rhythmic techniques that either afford perceptual multiplicity or derive from speech patterns.33

London’s Model The metric layers of Krebs’s model, as in Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s, are regular. Justin London’s theory of meter has the advantage of allowing for nonisochronous (asymmetrical) meters. London’s main principle is that of entrainment: “a synchronization of some aspect of our biological activity with regularly recurring events.”34 Thus meter is a behavior of dynamically focused attention that waxes and wanes, and that can be learned and practiced. Metric attending is subject to cognitive constraints based on empirical research in music psychology and neurobiology. London formalizes these limitations into a set of well-formedness constraints that are presented as stylistic and cultural universals. He proposes that we typically attend to three basic levels of rhythmic activity: the measure, the beat, and the beat subdivision. More levels are possible; the number of salient layers is the “depth” of the meter. The combination of a time signature and its levels of structure represent a metric type, which can be further distinguished by tempo. We normally attend to periodicities of between 100 milliseconds and 5 to 6 seconds, with our most accurate perception, or “maximal pulse salience,” at around 600 milliseconds. London’s “many meters hypothesis” mediates between the abstract conception of a work and its concrete

Rhythmic and Metric Theorization

Figure 9.5  London’s cyclic representation of meter. From London, Hearing in Time, Fig. 5.6, 97; Fig. 9.6, 154; Fig. 9.10, 166. Descriptions added.

realization in sound, suggesting that meters can be further particularized in performance by expressive variations such as patterns of timing and dynamics. Most analytical representations of meter are tied to conventional Western notation, and are thus linear and discrete. London departs from these earlier models in representing meter as a continuous circle, which reflects its temporal organization as a repeated cycle or series of nested cycles as well as capturing the dynamic flux of the listeners’ entrainment. Points of metric articulation, which also represent peaks of listener attention, are shown as dots arranged clockwise around the circle beginning at the noon position (much like the pitchclass clock face or the circle of fifths). Because of the presence of an explicit pulse layer in most popular musics, as well as the high degree of repetition in many drum patterns, London’s cyclic representation of meter is particularly appropriate for popular music. Figure 9.5 shows his diagrams of an 8 cycle with 4-beat and half-measure cycles (dividing the measure into 8 eighth notes, 4 quarter notes, and 2 half notes in 4/4); a “Charleston” 3+5 rhythm, which combines the last two attacks of the 332 “tresillo” rhythm; and two versions of the “double tresillo” rhythm, 333322 and 33334. These rhythmic patterns are discussed further below.

Yust’s Model In his recent book Organized Time, Jason Yust models meter as a hierarchical network of timespans, as shown in Figure 9.6. He describes this representation as unfolding London’s cycle, but it could also be thought of as refocusing on the durations between Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s hierarchical layers of timepoints. His larger project uses networks to explore the interactions of what he considers to be the three primary temporal dimensions of music: rhythmic, tonal, and formal structure. Yust, like Hasty, conceives of meter as a special case of rhythm, one that is perfectly regular and may include unsounded events.35 The exclamation point in Ex. 10.5 marks an imaginary timespan between beats 3 and 4 that is not marked by any musical event but that is nevertheless subdivided by the eighth note E, which depends on the dot at beat 3 to define its place in the meter (the other empty dots are unproblematic because none disrupt a relationship between filled dots). Networks of metric structure define “rhythmic classes” as groups of rhythms related by transformations



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Figure 9.6  Yust’s representation of metric and rhythmic structure. From Yust, Organized Time, Ex. 1.2, 14.

such as changing the meter, changing the beat subdivision, expansion, contraction, and syncopation.36 All of his musical examples are drawn from art music, but one concept that is likely to prove useful for popular-music analysis is “contrapuntal rhythmic dissonance”: the rhythmic conflicts of individual layers of the texture with the combined rhythmic structure of all the layers.37

The Relationship of Rhythm and Meter The five theoretical models considered thus far offer three different views of the relationship of rhythm and meter: as a single entity, with meter as a specific form of rhythm; as a two-layer figure/ground relationship, with meter as a background, a container, or a ruler; or as three cyclic layers—or more, depending on the “depth” of the meter—that may be coordinated or nonaligned, with meter imposed by the listener rather than projected by the music. In Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s model, as well as Richard Cohn’s research on this topic, rhythm and meter are separate. Rhythmic structure is a concrete foreground figuration that normally supports the more abstract background of the metric structure, which comprises at least two isochronous pulse layers, with a slower layer grouping a faster one. Grouping and meter form recursive hierarchies on multiple levels, but listeners privilege one intermediate metric level as the tactus. Hasty, in contrast, conceives of rhythm and meter as inseparable. He rejects the idea of beats as durationless instants and as inherently accented or unaccented, and rejects the distinction between rhythm and meter as qualitatively different structures. In his theory, meter is created by the listener’s expectations regarding and interpretations of rhythmic durations: meter is a particular type of rhythmic patterning, based on note length rather than accent.38 Krebs’s view falls somewhere in between these two models: meter is created by rhythm, but they are separable. He defines meter as the interaction of the pulse layer (the fastest regularly recurring duration) and its subdivisions with slower-moving interpretive layers that group the pulses. When interpretive layers are in conflict, one normally acts as the consonant or referential layer. Krebs describes the largescale interpretive layers that group measures together as hypermetric, but he makes no categorical distinction among lower-level layers as either metric or rhythmic; however, in

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many of his analyses a distinction between rhythmic patterns and metric layers is explicit. London’s model, like Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s, maintains the traditional separation of rhythm and meter: meter is an attentional behavior, and rhythm is the patterned events to which we attend. Unlike most earlier conceptions of meter as having two basic levels, the beat and its grouping into measures, London’s model comprises at least three levels: the beat, its grouping into measures, and the beat subdivision. Another distinction among these theories is that London’s and Hasty’s models foreground listener experience, albeit in quite different ways: London privileges entrainment to metric groupings, while Hasty privileges the perception of individual note onsets. In contrast, both Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s and Krebs’s theories foreground the notated score. Despite Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s framing of their theory as cognition-based, their analyses are fundamentally formalist, hierarchical interpretations of the score. Similarly, Cohn identifies four possible “locations” of meter—sonic projection, mental pattern recognition, embodied response, and notated time signature, which he summarizes as in sound, mind, body, or score—and claims that his model takes the domain of sound as its entry point, but the actual entry point is mental pattern recognition, as most of the discussion focuses on abstract groupings of pulse layers.39

Rhythmic Patterns in Pop-Rock Music Several theoretical models for the syncopated patterns so pervasive in rock music have been proposed. One often-invoked principle is that of maximal evenness: the idea that rhythmic attacks tend to be spaced as evenly as possible.40 Jeff Pressing was the first to describe this principle in music, by which he related the pentatonic and diatonic scales to West African bell patterns that also have the interval patterns 22323 and 2212221.41 Jay Rahn labeled these “diatonic rhythms,” by analogy with the diatonic scale.42 Diatonic rhythms are maximally even distributions of an odd number of attacks across an even number of pulses, just as the seven notes of the diatonic scale and the five notes of the pentatonic scale are maximally evenly distributed across the twelve notes of the chromatic scale; they are as even as possible without being absolutely even. Like the pentatonic and diatonic scales, diatonic rhythms have two sizes of steps, or adjacent intervals, and they also share the property of maximal individuation: each note has a unique set of relationships to the other notes. In his study of electronic dance music, Mark Butler classified rhythmic patterns as even, syncopated, or diatonic.43 Even rhythms are consonant with the quadruple meter, dividing it equally. All of his examples are drum-kit patterns: the four-on-the-floor rhythm often played by the bass drum, which marks every beat; the backbeat pattern on beats 2 and 4, usually played by the snare drum; and off-beat patterns on the quavers and straight semiquavers, both of which are common hi-hat rhythms. Syncopated rhythms are created through rhythmic displacement, and feature accents on weak beats but preserve the basic metric structure. The most common diatonic rhythms are grouping dissonances that conflict with the meter, typically through a series of triple groupings, ending with a



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duple group that realigns with the meter, such as 332 and 33334 (the “tresillo” and “double tresillo” rhythms, respectively, discussed further below). Because of their near-equal distribution and similar interval sizes, Justin London has observed that maximally even rhythms optimize the potential for entrainment and also facilitate regular kinesthetic engagement (such as foot tapping, dancing, headbanging).44 But some rhythms, such as 34333, are maximally even but not at all common in practice, while others, such as 35 and 333322, are very common in practice but not maximally even—although admittedly both of these latter examples are related to maximally even rhythms: 35 is a subset of 332, combining its last two attacks, and 333322 is a superset of 33334, dividing its last attack. London’s chapter “[Nonisochronous] Meters in Theory and Practice” describes numerous violations of maximal evenness.45 So while this principle may be aesthetically appealing, it does not seem to be the ideal explanation for the prevalence of these rhythmic and metric patterns. “Euclidean” rhythms include the maximally even diatonic rhythms described above but also rhythms that are not maximally even.46 This group of rhythms has been explained mathematically and related to various world musics by Godfried Toussaint, and Brad Osborn has explored their occurrences in the music of Radiohead.47 Osborn cites the 3322 groove of Radiohead’s “Morning Bell” (Kid A, 2000) as a common pattern in quintuple meter that is Euclidean but not maximally even; Dave Brubeck’s “Take 5” (1959) and Jethro Tull’s “Living in the Past” (1969), which are also in 5/4, use the same pattern (sometimes called the 5/4 clave). Yet the same issue obtains as with maximal evenness: there are many more Euclidean rhythms in theory than in practice. Richard Cohn focuses on a different mathematical property to explain common rhythms in popular music: prime generation.48 Prime-generated patterns are created by repeatedly cycling an interval that is coprime with the cardinality of the larger unit: a pitch collection for scales, a pulse cycle for rhythm. Just as the pentatonic and diatonic scales can be generated from fifth cycles (a fifth comprises 7 semitones, coprime with the 12 semitones of the chromatic aggregate), triple cycles in the context of 4, 8, or 16 beats generate what Cohn calls a “funky rhythm.” Complete cycles eventually realign with the meter (in the pitch analogy, a complete fifth cycle generates the circle of fifths), but it is common for the cycle to be adjusted to realign at an earlier point. When this happens, the final interval is a slightly different size than the others; Cohn refers to this difference in size as a comma, by analogy with the Pythagorean and Platonic commas. In the fifth cycle that generates the pentatonic scale, the last interval that wraps back around to the starting point is a minor sixth, while in the diatonic scale it is a diminished fifth; in both cases the comma is a semitone. In 3-generated “funky rhythms,” the comma is also a single unit: the last groups of the 332 “tresillo” and 33334 “double tresillo” rhythms differ from a triple group by one pulse. The 3-generated model nicely reflects the tendency of triple groupings to conclude with one or more duple groups. Cohn offers a variety of examples, including some impressively long cycles. In response to Cohn, Scott Murphy offers a broader model intended to more closely reflect the rhythmic patterns used in popular music, including patterns that begin with duple groups.49 He diagrams all possible combinations of rhythmic groups of 2 and 3 (for

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reasons of space, he limits the combinations to cardinalities between 2 and 6), excluding rotationally invariant successions. Among these, he calls the minimally even successions that begin and end with different durations “Platonic,” thus clustering the duple and triple groups separately. Platonic successions that have a beginning string of groups that exceeds the ending string in duration are “Platonic-trochaic.”50 All of Cohn’s examples are Platonictrochaic; Murphy includes some Platonic-iambic examples, with longer ending strings than beginning strings, but these are far less common. He exchanges the concept of maximal evenness for that of “near realization,” comprising looped patterns in which most of the durations realize their potential to immediately repeat. Nearly realized Platonic-trochaic rhythms, Murphy argues, optimize their periodicities and best represent the patterns used in recent popular English-language multimedia (which includes film and television soundtracks as well as popular songs). This model more closely reflects compositional practice: of Murphy’s fifteen Platonic-trochaic rhythms, the two that fit comfortably in 4/4, 332 and 333322, are among the most common syncopations in popular music. The Platonic-trochaic patterns in quintuple meter (32 and 3322) and septuple meter (223) are likewise very prevalent within the much smaller subset of songs in those meters. Another explanation for the grouping patterns so prevalent in popular music lies not in their mathematical properties but their historical origin in the clave pattern, a twomeasure grouping of 33424. It seems likely that this rhythmic pattern derives from West African music, which has a standard bell pattern that functions as a timeline; the bell pattern is in 12/8 in Western terms but has the same durational proportions as the clave rhythm. The clave rhythm was probably transmitted to the Caribbean and Latin America through the slave trade, through Cuba and New Orleans, and then disseminated throughout the United States and elsewhere. The first measure of the clave rhythm is a 332 grouping called the tresillo, and I have called its extended version, 333322 or 33334, a double tresillo. An early version of such beat-preserving triple subdivisions in a quadruple context is the concept of “secondary rag.” In 1926, Don Knowlton cited an unnamed black guitar player who explained primary rag as simple syncopation (a characteristic pattern is semiquaver–quaver–semiquaver) and secondary rag as groupings of three superimposed on groupings of four beats, typically realized as three-quaver groups in 4/4.51 Such patterns are extremely common in many genres of popular music, including jazz, rockabilly, rock, funk, and electronic dance music.52

The Binary Default The overwhelming prevalence of popular music in 4/4 demonstrates what David Huron has identified as the “binary default.”53 Huron surveyed the meters of more than 8,000 “classical” works listed in Barlow and Morgenstern’s Dictionary of Musical Themes (1948), a catalog of over 10,000 melodies drawn from recorded instrumental works of Western art music from the Baroque through to the early twentieth century. He determined that duple and quadruple meters were twice as common as triple or other meters, and that simple meters with a binary subdivision were six times as common as compound meters.



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In popular music, duple and quadruple meters are even more prevalent. Alexander Stewart has documented the shift from compound meters with triple subdivisions of the beat and unequal duple subdivisions of the beat such as swung and shuffle rhythms to a simplemeter even subdivision in the middle of the twentieth century.54 This shift is likely, at least in part, a consequence of the use of faster tempos. The binary default means not just that a majority of Western music is in duple or quadruple meter, but that this prevalence leads Western listeners to expect that beats and subdivisions will form binary pairs of strong and weak, or weak and strong, beats. The binary preference is likely related to our own body plan, which features bilateral symmetry: our right and left sides are mirror images, so we have two eyes, two arms and hands, two legs and feet, etc. It may also derive from physical processes related to this bilateral plan: we walk and breathe in a duple pattern, our heart beats in an unequal or swung duple pattern, and the motions of sexual intercourse—whether straight or swung—are also basically duple.

The Backbeat The preference for duple and quadruple meters in popular music is reflected in the organization of the most common drum pattern, the backbeat. In pop, rock, and related genres from the early 1950s onward, the rhythm layer is typically some version of a quarter note backbeat in 4/4 played on a drum kit, with a bass drum on beats 1 and 3, snare drum on beats 2 and 4, and hi-hat cymbals on the quavers, or in disco and funk on the semiquavers. The repeated registral traversals of the backbeat from low to high suggest or impel motion, and may be a modern iteration of the foot stomps and hand claps in the African religious ritual of the ring shout.55 Whether intentionally or not, Queen famously returned to this early version of the pattern in “We Will Rock You.” The snare drum is higher in register, has a sharper timbre, and is louder than the bass drum, thus placing several types of phenomenal accent on what are traditionally the weak beats in 4/4. In practice, though, the backbeat pattern is treated as a rhythmic consonance. Backbeats normally remain fairly consistent throughout entire song sections or songs; they are foundational patterns that do not need to resolve.56 Because of the snare’s higher pitch, sharper timbre, and shorter duration compared to the bass drum, Matthew Butterfield and Robin Attas interpret it as normatively anacrustic in light of Hasty’s theory.57 I interpret backbeats as normatively continuational, because of the longer resonance of the bass drum, which connects it to the snare attack, and also because the snare hits are normally played behind the beat. A subdivision of the snare into two quavers would render it more anacrustic, while subdivision of the bass drum on 1 and 3 would render the snare backbeats more continuational. The backbeat pattern creates a clear distinction between odd-numbered and evennumbered beats of the meter. Thus it normally articulates three levels of temporal organization: the measure, the beat, and the beat subdivision. Some exceptions are discussed by Trevor de Clercq, who presents convincing examples of half-time and double-time

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backbeats.58 He argues that an important criterion for defining a measure is absolute time, based on studies showing that the ideal tempo for beat perception is 120 beats per minute (and, more circumstantially, that most modern music production software programs default to 4/4 meter 120 bpm), which translates into an average measure length of 2 seconds.

Rhythm and Dance The rhythm layer played by the drums and auxiliary percussion reflects the origins of pop-rock as dance music. In addition to its basic timekeeping function, the drum part affords an intensified entrainment to the meter that facilitates bodily engagement, and it also allows for greater rhythmic complexity in the other layers. Research by Maria Witek suggests that syncopated rhythms also contribute to bodily engagement.59 She posits that the lack of phenomenal accents on strong beats in syncopated rhythms prompts listeners and dancers to fill in these metric spaces with motion. Through a small study, she provides empirical evidence that a moderate degree of syncopation in funk beats impels listeners to move—and is perceived as pleasurable—significantly more than low or high degrees of syncopation.60 Other small studies have found that dancers tend to synchronize head motions to low-frequency patterns and hand motions to high-frequency patterns,61 and arm motions to the beat and torso motions to the half-measure and measure.62 Much more work on this topic is needed.63

Directions for Future Research As noted, research on the relationship of rhythm in popular music to dance is still in its infancy. It would be helpful to have empirical research that goes beyond tapping studies and surveys to provide a better reflection of dancers’ embodiment to the beat. More motion-capture studies would be a step in the right direction, although it would be better still to study dancers in a less artificial setting, despite the many hurdles this would present regarding experimental design and controls. An examination of dancers on television, video, or even in dance-related computer games would be easier to set up and might present interesting results. It would be interesting to look for correlations of dance motions with different beats, such as a standard backbeat with eighth-note hi-hat, a dense backbeat with semiquaver hi-hat, and four-on-the-floor. Surprisingly little analysis has been done on several genres in which the rhythm is an important foreground element: R & B (ironic, considering that “rhythm” is part of the name), progressive rock, disco, and funk. In all four of these genres, but perhaps most especially in funk, it would likely be productive to examine the relationship between rhythmic patterns in the drums and the bass. It may also be possible to identify elements of rhythmic function, such as Fink’s conception of the tonic status of the four-on-thefloor pattern in Motown. Long-term goals for the discipline could be to identify the typical rhythmic and metric characteristics—levels and types of dissonances, early vs late



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displacements, backbeat characteristics (whether the second kick-drum hit is on beat 3 or displaced, whether the cymbal ride rhythm is in quavers or semiquavers, etc.)—of particular chronological periods as well as specific genres. Two parameters that lie outside the bounds of this chapter, but which would benefit from further study, are microtiming and hypermeter. Microtiming variations within the rhythm layer seem to have genre correlations that are as yet unexplored—for example, the snare backbeat is later in funk than in other genres. Much of the extant research focuses on variations within the drum kit or between the drums and bass; as yet there has not been much consideration of microtiming relationships among the other layers of the texture. Hypermeter may well be less consistently regular than we assume, and the closely related topic of phrase structure is under-analyzed and under-theorized in this repertoire. As noted at the beginning of this chapter, rhythm is one of the most salient parameters in rock and related genres, and also one of the most complex, promising a rich field of inquiry for decades to come.

Notes   1. Cooper and Meyer, The Rhythmic Structure of Music. Cooper and Meyer’s theory is summarized in London, “Rhythm in Twentieth-Century Theory.”   2. The linguistic equivalent of this distinction is between syllable-timed and stress-timed languages. Some evidence for the reflection of this linguistic difference in musics from different countries is offered in Patel and Daniele, “An Empirical Comparison of Rhythm and Language in Music”; Huron and Ollen, “Agogic Contrast in French and English Themes”; and Erin Hannon, “Perceiving Speech Rhythm in Music,” among others.   3. Lerdahl and Jackendoff, A Generative Grammar of Tonal Music. Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s theory is summarized in London, “Rhythm in Twentieth-Century Theory”; and Edwin Hantz, “Review of A Generative Theory.”   4. Cohn, “Meter,” p. 5 of chapter. Cohn cites Arthur Komar’s Theory of Suspensions (1971) as an early precursor to Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s theory in this regard.   5. Temperley, Cognition of Basic Musical Structures, 23–54.   6. Temperley, Musical Language of Rock, 66–86; and Temperley, Cognition of Basic Musical Structures, 237–264. Most of the discussion of meter in this latter chapter was previously published as Temperley, “Syncopation in Rock.”   7. Temperley, Musical Language of Rock, 75. His view of syncopations in rock as primarily anticipatory is given some empirical support in Tan, Lustig and Temperley, “Anticipatory Syncopation in Rock.” In his foundational book Studying Popular Music, Richard Middleton espoused a similar interpretation, treating syncopated rhythms as transformations of simpler consonant ones. See Middleton, Studying Popular Music, 212–213.   8. See Moore, Song Means, 64–66.   9. Ladinig et al., “Probing Attentive and Preattentive,” demonstrates that untrained adult listeners can readily distinguish between consonant and syncopated rhythmic patterns, and among differing degrees of syncopation. Vuust and Witek, “Rhythmic Complexity and Predictive Coding,” propose that medium degrees of syncopation lead to the highest

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rate of prediction error regarding anticipated rhythms (low syncopation unsurprisingly correlates with low prediction error, and high syncopation may be too complex to predict). Counterintuitively, higher rates of prediction error evoke more pleasure, possibly because our brains value prediction as a learning activity more than minimizing predictive errors. 10. See Lerdahl and Jackendoff, A Generative Grammar of Tonal Music, 51–52; and Temperley, Cognition of Basic Musical Structures, 70–71. 11. Leong, “Generalizing Syncopation.” 12. Leong’s analysis of Billie Holiday’s characteristic delay as expressing an independent tempo follows that of Huang and Huang, “Billie Holiday and Tempo Rubato,” which posits a separate tempo for Holiday’s vocals in a 1941 recording of “All of Me.” 13. Hasty, Meter as Rhythm. 14. Except for the last, these rhythmic functions resemble those of anticipative, initiative, reactive, and conclusive, which were proposed by Berry in Structural Functions in Music, 301–424, and in “Metric and Rhythmic Articulation in Music.” However, Hasty does not cite Berry’s work. 15. Roger Grant has pointed out that Hasty’s model is unique in theorizing an unequal triple meter with the second part (beats 2 and 3) twice as long as the first, which is the reverse of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century models of unequal triple, in which the first part (beats 1 and 2) is twice as long as the second. See Grant, Beating Time. 16. London, “Hasty’s Dichotomy.” 17. Experiments suggesting that not only beat induction but also meter induction are innate human abilities are documented in Honing et al., “Is Beat Induction Innate or Learned?”; and Honing, “Without It No Music.” 18. Attas, “Meter as Process” and “Form as Process.” 19. Butterfield, “The Power of Anacrusis.” 20. Butler, Unlocking the Groove, 98–99. 21. Krebs, Fantasy Pieces, and Kaminsky, “Aspects of Harmony.” Another important precursor to Krebs’s work is Yeston, The Stratification of Musical Rhythm. 22. Coprime numbers, also called relatively prime or mutually prime, have no common factors other than 1. The most common examples of grouping dissonances are 2 against 3 and 3 against 4. 23. See, for example, Pieslak, “Re-casting Metal”; Osborn, “Beats that Commute”; McCandless, “Metal as a Gradual Process”; and Capuzzo, “Rhythmic Deviance.” 24. Waters, “Blurring the Barline.” 25. Osborn, Everything in Its Right Place, 63–81. 26. Rockwell, “Time on the Crooked Road.” 27. Biamonte, “Formal Functions of Metric Dissonance in Rock Music.” 28. See Biamonte, “Rhythmic Functions in Pop-Rock Music.” 29. Butler, Unlocking the Groove. See also Butler, “Turning the Beat Around” and “Hearing Kaleidoscopes.” 30. Cohn, “Complex Hemiolas.” 31. Butler discusses embedded grouping dissonances in “Hearing Kaleidoscopes” and in chapter 4 of Unlocking the Groove. In neither work does he consistently adhere to Krebs’s convention of labeling the referential (or consonant) layer of a grouping dissonance first—although to be fair, Butler observes that in electronic dance music, competing



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metric layers are not hierarchical or only weakly so (Unlocking the Groove, 167). Nor does Butler follow Krebs’s convention for labeling grouping dissonances in the same family, representing the same conflict on different structural levels, which Krebs labels as multiples of one another (Gx/y, G2x/2y, G3x/3y, etc. See Krebs, Fantasy Pieces, 42 and 56). For instance, using Krebs’s labeling, the grouping dissonances in Azzido da Bass, “Dooms Night” (Timo Maas mix) should be labeled 4/3 at the eighth-note level (not 3/2) and 8/6 at the next higher level (not 4/3, because the durations in the part labeled synth 3 are dotted crotchets, not crotchets). See Butler, Unlocking the Groove, Ex. 4.15, 157. 32. Butler, Unlocking the Groove, 137 and 166–167. Justin London describes such interpretive multiplicity as characteristic of West African drumming, but not Western music apart from minimalism. See London, Hearing in Time, 109. 33. Pressing, “Black Atlantic Rhythm.” 34. London, Hearing in Time, 4. 35. Yust, Organized Time, 24. 36. Yust’s acknowledged model for these rhythmic transformations is the “non-commutative GIS [general interval system]” presented in chapter 4 of David Lewin’s Generalized Musical Intervals and Transformations. See Yust, Organized Time, 109. 37. Yust, Organized Time, 203–219. 38. While Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s and Hasty’s models of rhythm and meter have often been described in opposition, recent work by Danuta Mirka integrates the two approaches, combining Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s hierarchical dot notation with Hasty’s phenomenological projective arrows. See Mirka, Metric Manipulations. 39. Cohn, “Meter,” pp. 3–4 of chapter. 40. The principle of maximal evenness in music was first explicitly described in relation to pitch collections in Clough and Douthett, “Maximally Even Sets.” It also reflects the behavior of electrons (Johnson, Foundations of Diatonic Theory), as well as the ways people arrange themselves in public spaces such as elevators. 41. Pressing, “Cognitive Isomorphisms.” Pressing does not use the term “maximal evenness” but observes that these patterns space their attacks as equally as possible. 42. Rahn, A Theory for All Music, 76–77, and “Turning the Analysis Around.” See also Stewart, “Articulating the African Diaspora.” 43. Butler, Unlocking the Groove, 81–85. 44. London, Hearing in Time, 131–132. 45. Ibid., 143–170. 46. Euclidean rhythms are based on the Euclidean algorithm, an ancient method for calculating the greatest common divisor of two integers by repeatedly subtracting the smaller number from the larger, and if needed, the remainder from the smaller number, until the remainder is 0. A more efficient modern version is to divide the smaller number into the larger. To translate this into a rhythm, the larger number represents the meter or pulse cycle, and the smaller the number of note onsets. For example, in an even distribution of 4 onsets in an 8-pulse cycle, the onsets are spaced 2 pulses apart (the greatest common divisor of 8 and 4 is 2, with no remainder). The algorithm is more complex when the numbers are coprime; for a clear explanation, see Louridas, “Musical Rhythms.” 47. See Toussaint, “The Euclidean Algorithm”; Osborn, “KID Algebra” and Everything in Its Right Place.

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48. The concept of prime generation was introduced in Pressing, “Cognitive Isomorphisms”; 3-generated funky rhythms are described in Cohn, “Music Theory’s New Pedagogability,” and explored in much greater depth in “A Platonic Model.” 49. Murphy, “Cohn’s Platonic Model of Funky Rhythms.” 50. Murphy refers to the beginning succession of durational groups as the “run” and the ending succession as the “comma,” although Cohn uses “comma” to describe the difference between an ideal and an adjusted ending group, not the ending group or groups as a whole. 51. Knowlton, “Anatomy of Jazz.” 52. I briefly discuss clave-based patterns in Biamonte, “Formal Functions of Metric Dissonance in Rock Music,” 6.4 and Example 8. Clave-based rhythms are also considered in Washburne, “The Clave of Jazz”; Brewer, “The Use of the Habanera Rhythm in Rockabilly Music”; Traut, “Simply Irresistible” (although Traut does not describe these rhythms as clave-related); Danielsen, Presence and Pleasure; Chor, “Cognitive Frameworks for the Production of Musical Rhythm”; and Moore, Song Means, 68. 53. Huron, Sweet Anticipation, 195. 54. Stewart, “‘Funky Drummer’.” 55. Iyer, “Microstructures of Feel.” 56. Robert Fink argues for the status of a four-on-the-floor rhythm, with bass drum hits on every beat, as a stable tonic rhythm in two songs by the Temptations, although in these examples the rhythm is absent for most of the songs. See Fink, “Goal-Directed Soul?” 57. Butterfield, “The Power of Anacrusis,” 40–42; and Attas, “Meter as Process.” 58. De Clercq, “Measuring a Measure”; see also de Clercq, “Swing, Shuffle, Half-Time, Double.” 59. Witek, “Filling In”; and Witek et al., “Syncopation, Body-Movement.” 60. Witek et al., “Syncopation, Body-Movement.” In the study, sixty-six participants rated fifty drum breaks without microtiming variations, largely reproduced from funk tracks, with some newly composed breaks using particularly low or high degrees of syncopation that were unavailable in the repertoire. 61. Burger et al., “Influences of Rhythm- and Timbre-Related Musical Features.” 62. Toiviainen, Luck, and Thompson, “Embodied Meter.” Unlike the studies cited immediately above, this article gives almost no information about the music that was used as a stimulus: “a piece of instrumental music in 4/4 time, played at four different tempi ranging from 92 to 138 bpm” (59). 63. A few additional sources are Neal, “The Metric Makings of a Country Hit”; Clarke, “Rhythm/Body/Motion”; Zeiner-Henriksen, “Moved by the Groove” and “The ‘PoumTchak’ Pattern”; and Simpson-Litke and Stover, “Theorizing Fundamental Music/ Dance Interactions in Salsa.”



10 Computational Musicology in Rock Trevor de Clercq

Introduction The systematic study of music in search of underlying patterns is a time-honored approach, arguably dating back millennia to the Greek discovery of mathematical ratios to describe musical intervals. In more recent centuries, musicologists have been concerned with questions of musical style. Why, for example, does the music of one composer or era sound different from another? Answers are often formulated, at least implicitly, in terms of what is and what is not typical of that style. In major-key sonata movements from the classical period, for instance, it is widely believed that secondary themes typically appear in the dominant key. Exceptions are consequently viewed as warranting analytical explanation or interpretation.1 Knowledge of large-scale stylistic characteristics thus facilitates the smallscale reading of individual musical works. Given that musicologists seek information on the typical aspects of a style, it seems feasible to frame this in a quantitative way. Specifically, the field of statistics—as the study of frequency and probability—offers musicologists a way to move beyond intuitions about typicality to a more precise and rigorous methodology. Music research using statistical methods has been around since at least the 1940s,2 although studies along these lines were rare prior to the invention of the personal computer. Now that computers are ubiquitous, statistical tests have become easier to conduct and are a common research tool, as exemplified by David Huron’s work.3 The current chapter surveys computer-based, statistical approaches to the study of rock music. The rise of scholarly interest in rock has paralleled the rise of statistical work in music research—both becoming accepted subfields within musicology about two decades ago. Statistical research on rock is even younger yet, with studies published only within the last decade or so. Generally speaking, research on rock may especially benefit from a statistical approach, since generations of scholarly inquiry have not yet been dedicated to developing intuitions about it. A statistical approach thus offers the opportunity to quickly discover patterns about rock that might otherwise take years to recognize. Before proceeding further, a few terms require clarification. The chapter’s title, “computational musicology,” is commonly used by some (often British) scholars to refer to computer-based, statistical analyses of large collections of musical data, referred to as a


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dataset.4 This term is generally synonymous with what other (often North American) scholars refer to as a “corpus study,” in which a corpus (plural, corpora) of musical works is encoded and then analyzed using statistical methods. Taken literally, the term “computational musicology” could be understood to imply any study of music using a computer, which would encompass research in fields such as electrical engineering, computer science, and mathematics. Undoubtedly, work in these areas informs and is informed by the work of music scholars, and some of this more scientifically oriented research will be discussed below as appropriate. The focus here, however, is on computational approaches undertaken by musicologists, namely those researchers whose academic credentials and interests lie primarily within the humanities. The discussion that follows is organized into three main sections. The first, on issues of transcription and representation, begins with a philosophical examination of the implications for converting a non-notated musical style such as rock into a format that a computer can interpret. While statistical analyses ostensibly reflect an objective view of rock, it will be argued that significant subjectivity underlies the process. The second section, on data collection and annotation, discusses specific aspects with regard to creating a corpus. These issues include the number and types of annotators, the selection of the corpus, and the choice of encoding format. The final section, on corpus investigation and interpretation, addresses some of the types of findings we can expect, as well as those we should not expect, given existing rock corpora.

Transcription and Representation Perhaps, someday, we will be able to input an audio recording of a musical work into a computer program, and that program would output an accurate and complete description of the composition across various features—for example, key, meter, melody, harmony, and form. We could then load thousands or millions of audio recordings into this program, and then easily search for any pattern we wanted. But despite impressive advances along these lines (discussed later), this software does not yet exist. Musicologists today who want to harness the power of a computer for research purposes must thus convert music into a symbolic format that a computer can parse. When dealing with notated music—the standard transmission medium for centuries of Western art music—the process of converting a composition into a computer-readable format can occur with no loss of information. For example, Figure 10.1 shows the opening measure of the first Two-Part Invention by J. S. Bach encoded in **kern, a format developed by David Huron in the 1990s. While a complete explanation of the **kern format is beyond the current scope,5 it suffices to say that all aspects of Bach’s original composition are captured in the encoded version. If this piece were performed at the keyboard, additional aspects of our musical experience would not be represented here, such as the exact timing of note onsets. But it would not be too difficult, using a MIDI keyboard, to encode these aspects as well, with each new parameter occupying a new column in the **kern file. Overall, notated music provides a clear distinction between the composition and the performance, with each domain able to be encoded (and thus studied) separately.

Figure 10.1  Kern encoding for the first measure of J. S. Bach’s Two-Part Invention No. 1 in C Major, BWV 772.


The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

With rock music, however, an official, authorized score rarely exists. It is thus inherently impossible to distinguish between composition and performance, which creates an intractable problem for the computational study of rock. Consider, for example, the transcription in Figure 10.2 of the vocal melody from the 1991 recording of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt. (This passage is from measure 16 to 19, just prior to the first chorus, with the lyrics “don’t patronize, don’t patronize me.”) The melodic transcription in Figure 10.2, which was disseminated in an existing corpus of rock music,6 is a good approximation of what Bonnie Raitt sings, but it is an approximation nonetheless. For the sake of comparison, an alternate transcription of this same passage, as published in a professional fake book, is shown in Figure 10.3.7 These two versions of Raitt’s melody are similar, but they are not identical. Differences include the tuning of the second note in m. 16, the metric location of the last note in m. 16, and the timing of the pentatonic descent in m. 18. Generally speaking, the first version captures more subtle tuning and timing aspects, whereas the second presents a more simplified hearing, with melodic notes reconciled to the nearest diatonic pitch and sixteenth-note rhythmic value. Which one of these versions represents the melody, and more to the point, which version should a musicologist use within a corpus of rock melodies? We might posit that the first version includes more performance embellishments, whereas the second is closer to the melody’s underlying compositional structure, but it is ultimately impossible in the absence of an official score to distinguish between compositional and performance elements in a nonarbitrary way. (And even if the songwriter[s] provided an official score, the song may not remain the same once it goes through production, recording, and mixing.) In fairness, the differences between Figures 10.2 and 10.3 are relatively small. But as these small differences are multiplied across a large corpus, they can become statistical regularities. Imagine, for example, a corpus of melodies transcribed in the manner of Figure 10.2, which preferences more subtle aspects of tuning and timing. A corpus encoded in this manner would show rock to have an appreciable amount of chromatic pitch content and low-level rhythmic syncopation. In contrast, a corpus of melodies transcribed in the

Figure 10.2  One possible transcription of the vocal melody from Bonnie Raitt’s 1991 recording of the song “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” mm. 16–19.

Figure 10.3  An alternate transcription of the vocal melody from Bonnie Raitt’s 1991 recording of the song “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” mm. 16–19.

Computational Musicology in Rock

manner of Figure 10.3 would show rock to be more diatonic and rhythmically “straight.” In other words, the particular analytical predisposition guiding the transcription will be reflected back to the researcher in the statistical results. Thus while a corpus study of rock might at first appear to provide a wholly objective measure of musical features (due to the employment of mathematical methods), a considerable subjective component underlies the approach (due to the analytical nature of transcription). Bias can also enter a corpus through the system of musical representation. The transcriptions in Figures 10.2 and 10.3, for example, were both created under the assumption that rock melodies can be faithfully represented using the equal-tempered scale, which—despite the pervasive use of Auto-Tune these days—is refuted by extensive scholarly discussion of “blue” notes.8 Unfortunately, the notation systems with which musicologists are most familiar may not be well suited for rock. The standard practice of using Roman numerals to represent harmony is another case where notation potentially influences transcription. If a corpus of rock music encodes harmony using Roman numerals, it is impossible to represent sonorities in which the bass note does not belong to the chord. Yet “hybrid” chords, such as F/G, are fairly common harmonic entities in lead sheets. A corpus of Roman numeral analyses will thus show no incidence of hybrid chords, simply because there is no way to notate these sonorities in that system. Here again, the analytical framework predetermines the statistical outcome (at least somewhat) and reflects back to the researcher the subjective decision—in this case, the choice of notation system—made prior to any statistical analysis. Some aspects of rock, admittedly, can be objectively encoded, such as the length of time for a CD track. But once researchers begin to ask more musically meaningful questions, some degree of interpretation is unavoidable. Even a basic question such as “How long is this song?” (a different question from “How long is this CD track?”) involves human judgment. Fade-ins and fade-outs, for instance, complicate the issue of where a song begins and ends. Researchers can create guidelines for making these decisions; in our corpus study, for example, David Temperley and I predetermined that a song with a fade-out would be considered to end at the last complete audible iteration of the primary repeating harmonic pattern. But even though we used this guideline to avoid the inconsistency of case-by-case decisions, it was a subjective solution that globally affected the statistical results. The inability to remove subjectivity from computational work on rock may seem to compromise research using this approach. But the alternative is to make claims about typical structures based entirely on hunches, which seems far more prone to misrepresentation and bias. Thus, while computational work on rock cannot remove subjectivity entirely, it offers the possibility of a more objective view. Corpus work can only do so, however, if we have a better understanding of the extent of subjectivity in various transcription tasks and if we take some steps to control or account for it. Unfortunately, there is not yet much research that assesses the effects of subjectivity in corpus studies of rock or that suggests ways in which to minimize these effects on the results. To further complicate matters, researchers must be careful to distinguish between subjectivity and expertise—in particular, expertise in the style under study—which can sometimes be difficult to tease apart. A collection of harmonic transcriptions created by



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

a beginning guitar player undeniably reflects that player’s subjective interpretation, but we would obviously consider this collection inferior (in terms of accuracy) to a comparable collection created by an expert player. But what about a corpus of rock harmony created by someone with a PhD in musicology? Without question, this person is an expert in music, but this expertise may lie primarily within the realm of Western art music. Can we say that the transcription decisions this advanced-degree-holder makes are entirely subjective, or might some of this purported expert’s analytical decisions be the result of a lack of familiarity with the style? The answer, of course, will vary from person to person and case to case.

Collection and Annotation As the previous section discussed, the quality of results gleaned from a computational analysis of rock are contingent on the quality of the corpus itself. In this next section, therefore, the focus will shift to the practical side of corpus creation, including a discussion and critique of currently available datasets. Many aspects in the design of existing rock corpora derive from methods meant to address or control for subjectivity. Central concerns include the selection of the songs, the encoding format, and the type and number of annotators. Since a corpus is a collection of encoded songs, a cardinal question is which songs should be included. The clear potential for personal opinion to influence this matter— such as choosing one’s favorite songs—has spurred researchers to make this decision in a generally objective manner. A few different methodologies have become commonplace. The most basic is to encode all the songs of a particular artist or album. One of the first publicly available corpora of rock, for example, was a set of encoded transcriptions for twelve albums by the Beatles, released in 2005 by researchers at the University of London.9 This same group later issued datasets (in 2009) based on Carole King’s Tapestry and Queen’s Greatest Hits.10 Corpora such as these are useful for the study of a single artist or album, undoubtedly. Unfortunately, artist- or album-based corpora are less well suited to represent rock (or a style of rock) as a whole. To study rock more broadly, one approach has been to use chart data to determine song selection. In his corpus study of form, for example, Summach draws 700 songs from Billboard magazine’s Annual Top 20 charts spanning 1955 to 1989.11 A similar approach is used in the McGill Billboard corpus, which includes transcriptions of 740 unique, randomly selected songs from the Billboard Top 100 charts from 1958 to 1991.12 While this approach may capture the spirit of an era, corpora such as these often include many songs that now seem all but forgotten, yet do not include many famous songs that never charted (such as “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin). An alternative methodology preferences a modernday historical perspective by using a list of critically acclaimed “top songs.” Temperley and I, for example, created a 200-song corpus of harmonic and melodic transcriptions from a selection of songs in Rolling Stone magazine’s 2004 list entitled the “Greatest Songs of All Time.”13 Perhaps a more robust way to create a representative sample of rock songs (or some substyle) is to combine multiple approaches. This was the methodology I used to create a 200-song corpus of country music, spanning 1933 to 2014. Songs were chosen based on an aggregation of various sources—Billboard chart data, editors’ top song picks,

Computational Musicology in Rock

and lists of award winners (e.g., Grammy, CMT, NSAI)—in order to assemble a “meta-list” that attempts to balance critical acclaim with commercial success.14 With some research questions, the method of song selection may not seem to matter. If we are interested in examining average chord length, for example, any corpus might seem well suited. But each corpus inherently defines “style” in its own unique way. The McGill Billboard dataset and the Rolling Stone magazine corpus both cast a wide net across popular music, but songs in the former are perhaps more “pop” than those in the latter. Thus, if results are found in one corpus but not in the other, it is not entirely clear whether these discrepancies represent subtle stylistic distinctions or are simply the product of statistical noise and sampling error. To date, though, it is rare for a computational analysis of rock to be conducted across multiple corpora. Part of the problem is that different corpora use different encoding schemes, which somewhat complicates computing tasks. One corpus may use the **kern format (shown previously);15 another may use a different format. For example, the McGill Billboard corpus encoding of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (originally recorded by the Shirelles in 1960) is shown in Figure 10.4. In this format, each line begins with a track time,

Figure 10.4  Absolute time, form, and harmony for “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (recorded by the Shirelles, 1960), as encoded in the McGill Billboard corpus.



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

Figure 10.5  Form and harmony for “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (recorded by the Shirelles, 1960), as encoded by David Temperley in the Rolling Stone corpus.

followed by form information (if any), and then chord symbols in a custom notation (such as G:7/5, which represents a second-inversion G7 chord) separated by bar lines (“|”).16 Compare this version to the one annotated by David Temperley in the Rolling Stone magazine corpus, shown in Figure 10.5. Temperley’s format uses a recursive syntax, where highervariables (such as “$Vr” for verse) are defined at a lower level. The encoding in Figure 10.5 thus needs to be “expanded” to create a measure-by-measure analysis of the song.17 Overall, the transcriptions in both figures posit an almost identical formal and harmonic structure for the song. But despite being essentially identical analyses, the encodings look quite different. Practically speaking, a computer tool developed to compile statistics from one file format would have to be significantly rewritten to compile statistics from the other. This is certainly not an insurmountable task, but it is a substantive barrier to cross-corpus work nonetheless. Ideally, annotators would use the same encoding format; indeed, some researchers have proposed such a universal format.18 But computational musicology on rock seems far too new for researchers to agree on a single format, especially since (as discussed above) the format itself can predetermine the statistical results. For now, each researcher must build custom tools to work with each dataset or convert each dataset into a common format. In the future, more studies will hopefully engage with multiple corpora, because if the wider musicological community is to accept the viability and reliability of the findings from computational work, these findings should be replicable across more than a single source. A “source” can be considered the corpus overall, but it can also be considered the annotators themselves. Some corpora are based on the annotations of only a single person.19 But with only one annotator, it is difficult to assess or control for annotator subjectivity. Often, therefore, multiple annotators will be used to create the corpus. In the Rolling Stone magazine corpus I created with David Temperley, for example, we both made independent and separate transcriptions of harmony for the same set of 200 songs. (There are thus 400 annotations total.) While we shared a common format for notating harmony, Temperley and I were free to analyze each song as we saw fit. Doing so, we were able to assess the extent of subjectivity in various musical domains. In terms of absolute root (e.g., G chord or C chord), for instance, we agreed 94.4 percent of the time, whereas in terms of chromatic relative root (e.g., tonic or dominant), we agreed 92.4 percent of the time.20 To

Computational Musicology in Rock

account for this subjectivity, we calculated each statistic separately for both sets of analyses and reported the average. Because our agreement level when assessing various aspects of harmony was relatively high (above 90 percent), we hoped that the reported results would be similar given another pair of annotators. But extensive investigation has yet to take place with regard to typical levels of agreement across different annotators or the effects that subjectivity might have on the statistical findings. Some domains, in fact, seem highly subjective. In terms of form labels, for example, our agreement level was only about 67 percent.21 As it currently stands, though, the Rolling Stone magazine corpus is the only available dataset of rock with more than one analysis per song. In other corpora, multiple annotators were used, but transcription differences were reconciled into a single annotation file. The McGill Billboard corpus, for example, was created using a group of seventeen different annotators (comprised of music students and professional jazz performers). Each song was then assigned to two separate annotators to transcribe independently. A third “meta-annotator” (e.g., a faculty member) then reviewed the two independent transcriptions and combined them into a single master transcription, choosing the parts from each that corresponded better with his or her musical opinion.22 A similar approach—using two independent annotators and a third to resolve disagreements—was used by Schellenberg and von Scheve in their study of song tempos.23 Overall, this method accounts for subjectivity through popular opinion (in these cases, the version agreed on by two out of three annotators), and the final annotations are presented as if there is only a single correct version; any differences that may have originally existed between annotators have been discarded. The end result is a “cleaner” dataset but not necessarily a more representative dataset in terms of reflecting the subjectivity of the annotation process. A cleaner dataset is especially problematic since these corpora are often used by computer scientists to develop software that will automatically transcribe music directly from an audio recording. Indeed, previous researchers have specifically advertised existing corpora as “ground truth,” namely as reference annotations meant to train and test computer algorithms.24 If musicologists lead computer scientists to believe that only one valid analysis exists for each song, an unrealistic bar may be set, since it would be extremely unlikely that one expert human annotator could independently reproduce the exact same set of transcriptions as another. A central task for musicologists in creating these datasets, therefore, is to help identify in what situations expert musicians generally agree and in what situations expert musicians generally do not agree, as well as the types of disagreements that tend to arise. While current computer algorithms do reasonably well at mimicking the transcription efforts of humans, work nonetheless remains to be done within the musicological community to untangle transcription issues before computers can be expected to approximate human performance. Consider, for example, the “Million Song Dataset,” a corpus of 1 million songs encoded by the Echo Nest API (a computer program).25 The musical features encoded in the Million Song Dataset are fairly rudimentary, such as time signature and key; complete harmonic and melodic transcriptions are not included. But the computer algorithm has significant difficulty in matching human assessments of even



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

these basic musical features. According to a 2011 study by Mark Levy, for example, the tempo values found in the Million Song Dataset match human assessments of tempo only about 41 percent of the time, and about a quarter of the tempo values in the dataset have no clear relationship to the human-assessed values.26 An underlying issue is that humans often do not agree on the tempo of a song. Is the tempo of the song “Fly” by Nicki Minaj (featuring Rihanna) around 120 beats per minute (bpm) or 60 bpm? The answer depends on which musical aspects a listener attends to. Based on the kick and snare, we might say the tempo is 60 bpm, but based on factors related to “danceability” and harmonic rhythm, we might say the tempo is 120 bpm. What exactly do we mean when we say “tempo”? Musicologists have taken the term “tempo” somewhat for granted when dealing with notated music, since the time signature traditionally conveys the beat level to which the performer (and presumably the listener) should primarily synchronize. But the term can be much less clear when dealing with non-notated music such as rock.

Investigation and Interpretation Accepting that computational work with rock music is rarely objective, and assuming that we take some steps to control and measure the inherent subjectivity, what can we hope to learn from such studies? Moreover, how have researchers gone about seeking this knowledge—in a statistical way—or how should they, given existing corpora? The following section attempts to answer these questions with a few illustrative examples, focusing especially on what corpus studies are well suited to tell us and what they are not. Perhaps obviously, corpus studies are useful in showing large-scale trends. For example, the 200-song Rolling Stone magazine corpus contains about 18,300 chord changes and about 21,400 measures of music. This is a sizable amount of data, which itself can be used to make a very general observation: the average duration of a chord is about one measure (specifically given this data, 1.17 measure). Because the sample size is relatively large, we may posit fairly confidently that—as intuited previously by musicologists—chords in rock music typically last one measure.27 We can also make observations about specific chords. This same corpus contains about 6,100 instances of chords with a tonic root and about 10,400 measures of chords with a tonic root, showing that chords with a tonic root tend to have longer durations than chords overall (specifically given this data, tonic chords last about 1.70 measures per instance). But as we seek knowledge about less frequent events, even a dataset this large has limited statistical power. For example, chords with a root of♯IV (or♭V)—irrespective of quality or extension—appear in only 4 of the 200 songs in the Rolling Stone magazine corpus and last only 26 measures total (accounting for 0.1 percent of the time in the corpus overall). Even though these few instances of chords with a root of♯IV give some indication of how this sonority (or sonority class) is used, the sample seems too small to infer how chords built on this root tend to be used in rock more broadly. In other words, corpus studies are generally poor tools to investigate small-scale trends. Statistical power can be increased by increasing the sample size; a corpus ten times the size would give considerably more

Computational Musicology in Rock

data on the use of♯IV as a chord root. But to achieve the same level of confidence about the behavior of♯IV as we have about chords overall in the Rolling Stone magazine corpus, we would need (presuming an average incidence of 0.1 percent for♯IV chords) a corpus that contained about 20 million measures of music. Unfortunately, it is doubtful that a carefully curated, error-corrected, doubly annotated, human-encoded, high-quality corpus of rock music this large will ever exist. In a similar way, corpus studies do not tell us what is un-grammatical about a style. While a corpus analysis can show what patterns are typical and thus endemic to a style, it is dangerous to equate atypicality with being ungrammatical. For example,♯4 and♭2 are extremely rare scale degrees in the Rolling Stone magazine corpus, both in the melodic transcriptions and in the harmonic analyses.28 This corpus data supports David Temperley’s notion of a “supermode,”29 which he posits as a “global” scale for rock that includes all chromatic scale degrees except for♭2 and♯4. But while♭2 and♯4 may be relatively rare in rock overall, it would be problematic to assume that the use of these two scale degrees in a rock song is in some way unstylistic. As Temperley himself admits,♭2 and♯4 are frequently used in heavy metal,30 to such a pervasive extent that we might consider these scale degrees to be characteristic markers of the style. One might argue that the reason♭2 and♯4 are such strong markers of heavy metal is precisely because of how rare these scale degrees are in rock more broadly. While this may be true, it is important to note that what might be very uncommon in a style viewed broadly might be very common in a smaller substyle. Considering the relatively small sample size of any corpus compared to the entire population of all rock songs, the absence of evidence, as they say, should not be taken as the evidence of absence. Corpus studies are also fairly poorly suited to explain why something happens. In common-practice-era Western art music, for example, it is generally believed that “progressive” harmonic motion—that is, root motion by ascending fourth (or descending fifth), ascending second, and descending third—is more common than the opposite set of “retrogressive” root motions—namely, by descending fourth, descending second, and ascending third. This view is reinforced in the theoretical writing of composers31 and bolstered by corpus data, as shown in Figure 10.6.32 In contrast, root motion in rock seems to be more balanced between “progressive” and “retrogressive” root motion, as found in corpus data shown in Figure 10.7.33 How, then, should the differences between Figures 10.6 and 10.7 be interpreted? We might say, following Stephenson, that root motion in rock music represents two distinct yet equally prevalent systems: retrogression, which is the standard root movement of rock, and progression, which is the standard root movement of traditional harmony.34 Alternatively, we might say that rock music, broadly speaking, is unlike common-practice-era music in that it is essentially indiscriminate with regard to ascending or descending versions of a root interval. That is, rock is not two separate but equal harmonic practices but rather one cohesive style, in which root motion by fourth is preferred (in any direction), followed by root motion by second (in any direction), and then root motion by third (in any direction). Furthermore, there is nothing in the data itself that explains why these differences in root motion distributions are found. Is it because rock music is, in contrast to Western art music, more often written on guitar than


Figure 10.6  Progressive versus retrogressive root motion in a corpus of commonpractice music.

Figure 10.7  Progressive versus retrogressive root motion in a corpus of rock music.

Computational Musicology in Rock

piano? Is it because rock music, historically speaking, has been more revolutionary and iconoclastic in its underlying social goals? Or is it because harmonic syntax in rock simply does not matter as much (and so is more random), as compared to other factors such as rhythm and timbre? Further research may be able to shed light on these questions, but the data inevitably allows for interpretative leeway. For this reason, computational work in rock will never replace the more central musicological tasks of theorization and analysis. It is important to remember these limitations of computational approaches, otherwise researchers run the risk of analytical overreach. In his corpus study of 136 top-charting Billboard songs from 2011 to 2012, for example, David Tough seeks to understand “What makes a hit song?”35 Specifically, Tough hopes by analyzing various features of hit songs— including song length, tempo, and form—to identify “commercially successful methods” that can be taught to aspiring hit songwriters. This line of thinking parallels a recent research stream known as “Hit Song Science,”36 whereby the analysis of hit songs and nonhit songs is used to predict the likelihood of new songs becoming hits. Obviously, there is a great deal of financial incentive in conducting research like this. But this work makes a fundamentally problematic assumption that songs become hits because they are like previous hit songs. It is not too difficult to think of counterexamples. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, for instance—a song consistently ranked as one of the greatest songs in the history of rock—sounded nothing like the Billboard hits that preceded it. Indeed, researchers have discredited the hypothesis that the popularity of a song can be predicted through audio or annotated features,37 even as work along these lines continues.38 Generally speaking, “Hit Song Science” epitomizes the classic cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, known to statisticians by the familiar admonition that correlation does not imply causation: just because a certain set of features or traits is associated with hit songs (and not with non-hit songs) does not mean that those features caused those songs to become hits. Evidence for causation can only be found through experimentation, which is intrinsically impossible in the study of song success given the complexity of factors involved, including factors external to the song itself such as marketing and historical context. To circumvent these pitfalls, the statistical investigation of a rock corpus should be guided by the principle that encoded annotations are the byproducts of human perception and, as such, may say more about our perception of rock music than anything else. As a final illustration, consider the data shown in Table 10.1.39 This table shows that, given songs in the Rolling Stone magazine corpus that were analyzed as having both verse and chorus sections, chord durations in verse sections are significantly longer than chord durations in chorus sections. This finding appears to be relatively intersubjective because it is found in both my analyses (TdC) as well as Temperley’s (DT). The overall effect seems primarily due to differences in the duration of tonic, since non-tonic chords average about only a measure for both verse and chorus sections. Based on this data, I theorize that one factor that makes a passage sound more like a verse than a chorus may be the length of the tonic harmony. This theory cannot be proven, of course, at least without conducting a controlled experiment. Rather, my computational analysis of the corpus has been a tool for me to interrogate my own perception and, in doing so, to compare it to the perception of others.



The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research

Table 10.1  Average Chord Durations (in measures) per Song in a Corpus of 200 Rock Songs, for Songs with Both Verses and Chorus Sections Chords







2.08 2.26

1.55 1.70

t(134) = –2.55, p =.01 t(107) = –2.06, p =.04



2.25 2.48

1.57 1.75

t(134) = –3.11, p