Monday, February 14, 2011

Baroque Pop

Baroque Pop Week: Part 1
So I discovered the term Baroque Pop this past year and although I've always been familiar with the type of songs in this genre, I was delighted to find out this lovely music had a specific name. Originating in the mid-1960s, Baroque Pop is a style of music that uses elements of classical music in rock 'n' roll songs, as well as classical instrumentation such as harpsichord, oboe, cello, French horn, and string quartet. Bands that have produced baroque pop songs include The Beatles, The Left Banke, The Beach Boys (circa 1965-1968), and The Zombies, as well record producer Phil Spector's Wall of Sound productions (one of the first to add classical instruments to pop music, creating more majestic/dramatic sound). At first listen, I assumed that much of The Mamas & The Papas' music was included in this genre as well since they often have string accompaniment, however, their music is considered to be Sunshine Pop (and folk-influenced). These two genres are similar in subject matter, but Sunshine Pop is considered more "sunny"-sounding while Baroque Pop is darker with a more melodramatic edge (more on that genre at another time).

From July 1966 comes The Left Banke's hit song "Walk Away Renée," considered the first recognizable baroque pop single. This beauty was composed by the New York group's then 16-year-old keyboard player Michael Brown and Tony Sansone, and includes a lush string orchestration, a harpsichord accompaniment, a falling chromatic bass line, and flute solo interlude (an idea Mike Brown got from The Mamas & The Papas' song "California Dreamin'").

Okay, so here I go talking about The Beatles again, but their venture into baroque pop was a very significant turning point for the group. Although the song "Yesterday" was their first song to use string accompaniment, it was "Eleanor Rigby" that really continued the band's transformation from a mainly pop-oriented act to a more experimental studio band. Released in August of 1966, this song, written by Paul McCartney (though of course credited to Lennon/McCartney) won the 1966 Grammy for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance. It's double string quartet orchestration was composed by The Beatles' producer, George Martin, and Paul's choice to use strings may have been influenced by his interest in composer Antonio Vivaldi. "Eleanor Rigby" comes from the album Revolver, as displayed in the YouTube post of this song (no video footage, just audio).

Another example of early Baroque Pop is The Rolling Stones' song "As Tears Go By," written by front-man Mick Jagger, guitarist Keith Richards, and their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham. This was one of the first compositions by Mick and Keith (up until this point, they mostly did covers of blues standards), and it was released in December of 1965. Although it seems to be inspired by The Beatles' "Yesterday" (August 1965) with melancholy lyrics and lush string accompaniment, The Stones actually wrote this much earlier in 1964, but were not the first to make it famous. It was first a popular hit for British singer Marianne Faithfull who released it in '64. Here's The Rolling Stones' performance on The Ed Sullivan Show (but if only those girls would stop screaming!). EDITED: Original video was removed from youtube, but this video is a black and white footage of the same performance with the original recording overdubbed.

And although this wasn't the plan, I'm now going down a bunny-trail by including Marianne Faithfull's Hullabaloo London performance of "As Tears Go By." Although the 17-year-old's vocals are lovely, Marianne's performance is a bit too stoic and she is clearly lip-syncing. The accompaniment is different than The Stones 'version with an English horn (sounds like a low oboe), but still includes the strings. This footage is actually quite bittersweet, especially if you know of the sad drug history that followed this seemingly innocent Marianne.

Okay, I really could keep posting songs all day, but I'll conclude this post with "A Whiter Shade of Pale," the debut song by the British group Procol Harum. Released at the beginning of the "Summer of Love" (May 1967), this baroque rock song reached #1 in several countries and has become an enduring classic (more than 900 versions covered by other artists are known!). Although the instrumental melody on Hammond organ makes clear references to Johann Sebastian Bach's "Sleepers, Wake!" and "Air on the G String," the song is not a direct copy or paraphrase of Bach's music. This is the second video that the group made of this song, as the first video was banned from the Top of the Pops TV show because it had footage from the Vietnam War. Fun seeing footage of 1967's London in this video:

Stay tuned for another overwhelming post of Baroque pop songs later this week!

1 comment:

  1. Great blog Leah! Really enjoyed reading it. I'll stay tuned for future installments! :o)