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Baroque pop

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Baroque pop

Baroque pop, baroque rock,[1] or English baroque,[2] often used interchangeably with chamber pop/rock,[3] is a pop rock music subgenre that originated in the United States and United Kingdom.

Baroque pop reached its height of success in the late-1960s, with several prominent exponents emerging and/or incorporating the genre into their repertoire, including: the Beach Boys, the Moody Blues, the Beatles, the Left Banke, the Fifth Estate, the Rolling Stones, Love and Procol Harum. Baroque pop's mainstream popularity faded by the 1970s, partially because punk rock, disco and hard rock took over; nonetheless, music was still produced within the genre's tradition,[2] and it exerted an influence on several subgenres, including chamber pop, which arrived in the 1990s and incorporated ornate productions and classical influences,[4] while contesting much of the time's low fidelity musical aesthetic.

Since the 1990s, baroque pop has seen a revival; several prominent artists, such as Belle and Sebastian, Regina Spektor and the Divine Comedy, have performed or incorporated elements of the genre in their work.


  • Terminology 1
  • Characteristics 2
  • History 3
    • Origins: early to mid-1960s 3.1
    • Peak years: late 1960s 3.2
    • Decline and revival 3.3
    • Chamber pop 3.4
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5


The term "baroque rock" has been used roughly since 1966 to describe harder edged and less commercial music with similar influences.[1] "English baroque" is also used to describe British pop and rock music that made use of this style of instrumentation.[2] "Chamber pop" or "chamber rock" are usually used to refer specifically to music that utilises the string instruments of chamber music and so can be seen as a sub-set of baroque pop and rock.[5]

In classical music, the term "Baroque" is used to describe the art music of Europe approximately between the years 1600 and 1750, with some of its most prominent composers including J. S. Bach and Antonio Vivaldi.[6] Much of the instrumentation of baroque pop is akin to that of the late Baroque period or the early Classical period, chronologically defined as the period of European music from 1690 to 1760 and stylistically defined by balanced phrases, clarity and beauty, using instrumentation similar to modern orchestras.[7] When applied to popular music the term has been used without much regard to these boundaries to describe the use of musical forms and instrumentation from a wider range of eras.


The genre was intended to be less wild than rock music at the time,[4] and a less commercial, more serious and mature offshoot of the genre.[4] Baroque pop may be distinguished from progressive rock, which also uses classical instrumentation, by its generally simpler song structures closer to standard pop song writing, and also by its more mainstream lyrical content as opposed to the generally conceptual lyrics associated with later progressive rock.[5]

Baroque pop, stylistically, fuses elements of pop and rock with classical music, often incorporating instruments not common to popular music such as harpsichords, clavichords, violins, cellos and other strings, oboes and French horns. It is also generally characterised by highly orchestral,[4] lush instrumentation. Common elements of baroque pop also include layered melodies, sophisticated productions and prominent harmonies.[4] Traditionally, baroque pop is also generally quite melancholic and dramatic music,[4] which contrasts it from its more cheerful counterpart, sunshine pop.[5]


Origins: early to mid-1960s

English Baroque feel, as per their contemporaries.

The exact origins of baroque pop are difficult to determine with certainty. In the early 1960s, Burt Bacharach had experimented with unusual instrumentation,[8] like the use of flugelhorn on songs including "Walk On By" (1963),[9] and Phil Spector's Wall of Sound production had made use of diverse and unusual instrumentation, including many associated with classical music.[10] The British group the Zombies, with their single "She's Not There" released in 1964, are often cited as an early example of the subgenre, but, although the song had many of the harmonic qualities of later baroque pop, it did not use classical instrumentation.[2]

In 1965, string quartet in the production of "Yesterday", and for "In My Life" recorded the piano solo at half tempo and then sped it up, effectively giving off a more Renaissance-Baroque era harpsichord sound.[15]

The abovementioned single by the Zombies inspired New York musician Michael Brown to form the Left Banke, whose 1966 single "Walk Away Renée" used harpsichord and a string quartet, and is usually considered the first recognizable baroque pop single.[2][8][15] In Britain the Yardbirds, with Jeff Beck as their guitarist, also began to find unconventional musical tastes such as jazz and baroque, along with their Gregorian chant and world music influences.[16][17]

"God Only Knows" from Pet Sounds is often related to baroque styles.[18][19]

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Perhaps the most revolutionary work in the subgenre was the execution of inventive baroque compositions and arrangements found on the Beach Boys' perennial Pet Sounds (1966) with "God Only Knows" and "Caroline, No"; both featuring surreal and melodramatic lyrics and arrangements.[20] The single "Wouldn't It Be Nice" contained instrumentation that was considered to be highly advanced from their past work,[15][21] and instrumental breaks occurring in the album track "Here Today" are said to have been directly based on Bach.[6] As a reaction to Pet Sounds, the Beatles' album Revolver (1966) featured baroque instrumentation on songs such as "For No One" and "Eleanor Rigby"; which both featured idiosyncratic and lonely lyrics.[22][23][24]

Peak years: late 1960s

Baroque-influenced music reached a brief peak in popularity in 1966, the same time Psychedelic music reached peak popularity. Classical influence can be seen on Forever Changes (1967) with "Andmoreagain" and "Alone Again Or".[29]

These influences can be heard on the Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed (1967), the Zombies' Odessey and Oracle (1968), the Kinks' The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968) and the Bee Gees' Odessa (1969); in singles like Honeybus' "I Can't Let Maggie Go" (1968).[2] Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" (1967) became a progressive rock standard with its baroque styled introduction, influenced by Bach pieces such as "Sleepers, Wake!" and "Air on the G String". But contrary to popular belief, the song is not a direct copy or paraphrase of any music by Bach, although it makes clear references to both pieces.[30] In this period a number of folk artists incorporated Baroque influences and classical orchestration into their albums, most notably Judy Collins on In My Life (1966) and Wildflowers (1967), and Joan Baez on Joan (1967) and Baptism (1968).[31]

Decline and revival

Coldplay's "Viva la Vida", an example of modern baroque pop in its instrumentation and writing. [32]

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Baroque pop and rock subsided in the 1970s as punk, disco, heavy metal and electronic music dominated, but began to be revived during the 1980s in the work of bands like R.E.M.[33] Modern baroque pop, characterized by an infusion of orchestral arrangements or classical style composition, is generally within an indie setting, and can be seen as a reaction to the lo-fi production that dominated in the 1990s.[3] Sometimes traditional pop instrumentation is discarded entirely. Many baroque pop artists of the past two decades can also be classified under several different genres, including indie rock, alternative rock, folk, Americana, Britpop, psychedelia and dream pop.

Chamber pop

Chamber pop, also known as chamber rock, originated in the United Kingdom in the 1990s as a "reaction" against much of the alternative rock and grunge-based music of the time.[3] Chamber pop grew out of growing distaste in the popular music trends of the period, especially the low fidelity and raw aesthetic of the alternative rock-based genres, which had achieved a widespread following at the time.[3] It desired to return to the elegance and classically based style of 1960s baroque pop. By refusing any form of coarseness, aggressiveness or kitsch tendencies, chamber pop rejected the styles associated with alternative rock and electronic music.[3] Chamber pop and rock has a lot in common with baroque pop, including its evident classical influences, sophisticated productions and refined aesthetic. Whilst electronic and synthesized instruments were commonly available in the 1990s, chamber pop put an emphasis on live instrumentation and orchestration over synthesized backgrounds. Common characteristics of chamber pop include lush instrumentation created by horns and stringed instruments,[3] as well as intricate and complex melodies. In part, chamber pop was also influenced by the lounge revivalism which swept throughout the decade.[3]

See also


  1. ^ a b B. Gendron, Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club: Popular Music and the Avant-Garde (University of Chicago Press, 2002), p. 174.
  2. ^ a b c d e f R. Stanley, 'Baroque and a soft place', Guardian 21/09/07, retrieved 13/04/09.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Chamber pop", Allmusic, retrieved 7 September 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Baroque Pop", Allmusic, retrieved 13 November 2011.
  5. ^ a b c "Sunshine Pop", Allmusic, retrieved 13 November 2011.
  6. ^ a b Essentials of music: Baroque composers.
  7. ^ Oxford Music Online 2
  8. ^ a b  
  9. ^ S. Dominic, Burt Bacharach, Song by Song: the Ultimate Burt Bacharach Reference for Fans, Serious Record Collectors, and Music Critics (Music Sales Group, 2003), p. 123.
  10. ^ T. Cateforis, The Rock History Reader (CRC Press, 2006), pp. 45-51.
  11. ^ "Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)", All Music, retrieved 10 September 2009.
  12. ^ "Today!", All Music, retrieved 10 September 2009.
  13. ^ Rogan, Johnny (1996). Mr. Tambourine Man (CD booklet). The Byrds. New York: Columbia Records. 
  14. ^ Rogan, Johnny (1998), The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited (2nd ed.), Rogan House,  
  15. ^ a b c J. S. Harrington, Sonic cool: the Life & Death of Rock 'n' Roll (Hal Leonard Corporation, 2003), p. 191.
  16. ^ Brett Callwood, MC5: Sonically Speaking: A Tale of Revolution and Rock 'n' Roll, (Wayne State University Press, 2010), ISBN 0-8143-3485-7, p. 10.
  17. ^ P. Buckley, The Rough Guide to Rock (London: Rough Guides, 3rd edn., 2003), ISBN 1-84353-105-4, p. 1144.
  18. ^ Downes, Stephen (2014). Aesthetics of Music: Musicological Perspectives. Routledge. p. 37.  
  19. ^ Jones, Andrew (1995). Plunderphonics, 'pataphysics & Pop Mechanics: An Introduction to Musique Actuelle. SAF Publishing Ltd. p. 214.  
  20. ^ "Pet Sounds"All Music, retrieved 6 August 2011.
  21. ^ "Wouldn't It Be Nice"All Music, retrieved 6 August 2011.
  22. ^ "'"25 -- 'Here, There and Everywhere. 100 Greatest Beatles Songs. Rolling Stone. 
  23. ^  
  24. ^  
  25. ^ Andrew Jones, Plunderphonics, 'pataphysics & pop mechanics: an introduction to musique, ISBN 978-0-946719-15-0, p. 214.
  26. ^  
  27. ^ "Da Capo"All Music, retrieved 5 August 2011.
  28. ^ "The Top Baroque Pop Albums". All Music, retrieved 5 August 2011.
  29. ^ "Forever Changes"All Music, retrieved 5 August 2011.
  30. ^ """What Bach Piece is "A Whiter Shade of Pale?. Archived from the original on 2001-06-16. Retrieved 2006-09-21. 
  31. ^ R. Unterberger, S. Hicks and J. Dempsey, Music USA: the Rough Guide (Rough Guides, 1999), p. 32.
  32. ^ Rojek, Chris (2011). Pop Music, Pop Culture. Cambridge: Polity Press. p. 46.
  33. ^ Hogan, Peter (1995). Complete Guide to the Music of R.E.M. Omnibus Pr. p. 64. 
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