Genre Study - 6.22.2010

Queried Album: Roy Orbison - Greatest Hits
Gracenote Genre: Early Rock & Roll
Wikipedia Genre: Rock, pop, pop-rock
My Genre: Rockabilly, blue-eyed soul

This one isn't actually all that bad, it's just a good illustration of a particular pet-peeve of mine: genres based on time periods. Early rock & roll is about as helpful a label as classic rock in my mind, and completely fails to suggest what the sound of the artist actually is. And if its doesn't do that, then what, pray tell, is the exact point of genres in the first place?

I'm being a bit harsh on the term here, and a lot of that is due to the 'early' bit. The phrase 'rock & roll' has taken on a colloquial meaning of early rock music anyway, so we might as well run with it and use that term alone. If you want to get prissy about it then what we understand as rock & roll today would be better termed as rockabilly, but this is simply splitting hairs. Genres are not an exact science; hell it isn't even a decent taxonomy. It's subjective as hell, based more on impression then actual elements of the songs (with a few exceptions, such as singer-songwriter and folk).

Oddly enough, Wikipedia's take is the one I most disagree with. Rock/pop isn't inaccurate, but it is frustratingly vague. I'm not saying it's inaccurate, I just think it shows laziness on the part of the article editors. Roy Orbison has a reasonably distinct sound that can be more directly addressed than writing it off as 'pop-rock'.

I may have mentioned blue-eyed soul before; the term was coined to describe singers who could be considered as a part of the soul genre were it not for their race. White folks, in other words, hence the 'blue-eyed' disclaimer. If "Yesterday" was the seed for twee/pop-folk, then "Unchained Melody" by the Righteous Brothers or Orbison's own "Crying" could be considered the start of blue-eyed soul. Such songs are all about the singer, presaging the singer-songwriter genre and distinguished from it by powerful voices as opposed to the reedy, often close-miced singing of Leonard Cohen, Carole King, and Tim Buckley. Orbison's other, more rhythm based songs are pure rockabilly.

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