The Ongoing History of New Music, encore presentation: A guide to genres, part 1

[More summer encores. New shows begin the weekend after Labour Day. Rest assured, though, I’m already working on them, too. -AC]

Humans have already tried to make sense of the universe by putting things into neat little piles and filing them away for further reference. It just makes things easier.

If you study biology, you’ll know about kingdoms, phylums, classes, orders, families, genuses, and species. Libraries organize books with the Dewey Decimal System and the Universal Decimal Classification. And when you go grocery shopping, there are signs directing you to the right aisle or department.

This applies to music, too. We like to organize music into categories called genres.

This used to be fairly easy. At the turn of the 20th century, things were lumped into some basic piles: the popular songs of the day (vaudeville, show tunes and the like), folk and traditional music, religious music and material from the classical composers.

But music has always separated and stratified and evolved, leading to a myriad of subcategories. Just within classic music, we have baroque, chamber music, choral, and so on.

As the population changed and as the recorded music industry began to take hold and more people began to buy records, this fragmentation began to speed up.

Jazz began to show up in the 1910s. It soon splintered into a bunch of different sounds. By the 1920s, we were hearing the origins of what would eventually become all the flavours of country and western music. The blues records of the 20s and 30s were the forerunner of rhythm and blues.

And when the rock’n’roll came along in the 1950s, things started simply enough–it was a vaguely defined sound that you knew when you heard it. But the more time went by, the more complicated rock became. Genres broke down into sub genres, sub-sub genres, and sub-sub-sub genres. Derivations, off-shoots, spin-offs outgrowths, branches, by-products.

And now that we’re all about streaming, something that requires precise categorization across many, many different datapoints for the algorithms to work, the number of genres has exploded. People are confused.

That’s why we’re going to strip back all the terms used to describe rock in order to understand the natural order of things when it comes to organizing and categorizing music.

Songs heard on this show:

  • Velvet Underground, Rock and Roll
  • Stooges, Raw Power
  • Ramones, Beat on the Brat
  • Sex Pistols, Anarchy in the UK
  • The Vapors, Turning Japanese
  • Devo, Through Being Cool
  • REM, Radio Free Europe
  • Siouxsie and the Banshees, Christine
  • Replacements, Left of the Dial
  • The Smiths, William It Was Really Nothing

Eric Wilhite has created this playlist.

he Ongoing History of New Music can be heard on the following stations:

We’re still looking for more affiliates in Calgary, Kamloops, Kelowna, Regina, Saskatoon, Brandon, Windsor,  Montreal, Halifax, Charlottetown, Moncton, Fredericton, and St John’s and anywhere else with a transmitter. If you’re in any of those markets and you want the show, lemme know and I’ll see what I can do.

If you ever miss a show, you can always get the podcast edition available through Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your on-demand audio.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.