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Shedding some much needed light on a little discussed topic.

  • Dec 5, 2008
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While conducting research for "Genre in Popular Music" author Fabian Holt was surprised to learn that most musicians rarely discuss or even think about this subject. According to his sources, this was a topic that was most commonly discussed by educators and writers. Yet, these same individuals were quite curious to learn what Holt had discovered while researching this book. They understood that how music gets categorized could have important consequences for their careers. As a collector of popular music for more than four decades I was also quite interested to learn what Fabian Holt had uncovered in more than one year of research for this book. The fact of the matter is that "Genres In Popular Music" focuses on a subject that very little has been written about.
Now whenever anyone attempts to categorize a subject as broad as American popular music there are sure to be disagreements. Fabian Holt comes up with a total of 9 different genres. I would beg to differ because he fails to make mention of one of my favorite categories which is doo wop/group harmony. Nevertheless, his list is quite interesting to be sure. Much of "Genre In Popular Music" focuses on the period from the mid 1950's through the mid 1970's when so many changes were taking place on the American music scene. Holt spends a considerable amount of time discussing how two major categories of American music, namely country and jazz reacted to the emergence of rock and roll. Powerful influences in the country music industry seemed to come to the conclusion that "if you can't beat'em, join 'em" and as a result brand new sounds like country-rock and folk-rock would gain in popularity. On the other hand the folks active in the jazz scene in this country largely resisted and resented the emergence of rock and roll. For one thing, rock and roll was cutting deeply into their market share and as a result many jazz musicians found themselves struggling just to survive. Having said that a few jazz artists such as Miles Davis and the group Weather Report would embrace this music and create new sounds all their own. I was also very interested to read the comments of Bettina Richards, President of a small Chicago indie label called Thrill Jockey. She dislikes identifying her labels recordings with a specific genre because "Once you name it as something, certain people say "Oh, I don't like that!" As such, she would much prefer that each one of the recordings her label releases be judged solely by the listeners response to what they are hearing.

Towards the end of the book Fabian Holt introduces us to Jeff Parker, a fascinating musician born in Virginia, educated at the Berklee School of Music in Boston and currently making his living playing a variety of music with a number of groups in the Chicago area. Parker plays traditional jazz, improvisational jazz and rock and roll. Parker is an outstanding example of a musician who would be very difficult to pigeon hole into just one genre. Despite the fact that I have very little interest in jazz I am quite intrigued by him and am seriously considering purchasing one of his albums.
Since I have had no formal musical training myself some of what Fabian Holt discusses in this book was a bit foreign to me. But overall I found "Genre In Popular Music" to be a very important addition to the literature of American popular music. I have gained valuable new insights to this very broad and extremely interesting subject.  Recommended!

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Paul Tognetti ()
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I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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About this book


The popularity of the motion picture soundtrack O Brother, Where Art Thou? brought an extraordinary amount of attention to bluegrass, but it also drew its share of criticism from some aficionados who felt the album's inclusion of more modern tracks misrepresented the genre. This soundtrack, these purists argued, wasn't bluegrass, but "roots music," a new and, indeed, more overarching category concocted by journalists and marketers. Why is it that popular music genres like these and others are so passionately contested? And how is it that these genres emerge, coalesce, change, and die out?

In Genre in Popular Music, Fabian Holt provides new understanding as to why we debate music categories, and why those terms are unstable and always shifting. To tackle the full complexity of genres in popular music, Holt embarks on a wide-ranging and ambitious collection of case studies. Here he examines not only the different reactions to O Brother, but also the impact of rock and roll's explosion in the 1950s and 1960s on country music and jazz, and how the jazz and indie music scenes in Chicago have intermingled to expand the borders of their respective genres. Throughout, Holt finds that genres are an integral part of musical culture—fundamental both to musical practice and experience and to the social organization of musical life.

Fabian Holt is associate professor of music and performance at the University of Roskilde.

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ISBN-10: 0226350398
ISBN-13: 978-0226350394
Author: Fabian Holt
Genre: Music History
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Date Published: October 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
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