Quick List: Three Songs that Spawned Genres

velvetunderground1Some songs transcend time and space, somehow always seeming current and immediate. The best artists manage to record albums that are grounded in a very specific location and moment, yet are still appealing on a universal level. After all, what is an album but a slice of one moment in the career of a band? The key is making the fruit of that moment into something that lasts much longer. There are plenty of songs that accomplish this:

“Radar Love” comes to mind.

Just kidding.

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I mean it’s not a bad song, but…you know.

Some songs, in addition to standing the test of time, managed to be so influential that entire genres of music can be attributed to them. Of course, I don’t mean to say that these songs were the only contributing factor in the development of these genres (local music scenes, zines, etc). It would be ridiculous to attribute an entire movement to one song. Rather, these songs, to me, best represent what was exciting and/or appealing about that genre.

Again, these aren’t necessarily the first songs chronologically, but…

Okay. Here we go.

3. “European Son” – The Velvet Underground

Responsible for: noise rock, kraut-rock

Honestly, I could fill all of these slots with the VU. It is impossible to overstate their influence on rock music. “European Son,” which closes out their absolutely earth-shattering debut record The Velvet Underground and Nico, perfectly marries the avant-garde leanings of John Cale with the dirty poetry of Lou Reed. It’s haunting, and the influence of this song can be felt in groups like Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, The Strokes, Pavement, Faust, and many more.

2. “Eleanor Rigby” – The Beatles

Responsible for: chamber pop, baroque pop

Have you heard of this band The Beatles? Holy shit! They’re on Spotify now, so you can finally listen to them.

Though “Eleanor Rigby” was not the first song to crash classical music and pop music together, it probably reached the most people. Displaying unusually dark imagery and ideas for a pop song, “Rigby” came with an unorthodox (at least to pop music) arrangement. It also very well might be (source needed) the only Beatles song in which none of the members play an instrument. Regardless, the song was monumentally influential on somewhat contemporary groups like Procol Harum and the Moody Blues. The influence can even be felt today in groups like Belle and Sebastian and R.E.M.

1. “Rise Above” – Black Flag

Responsible for: Hardcore punk/modern alternative rock

Regardless of how you feel about the group (I don’t like them that much), it cannot be denied that Black Flag are the godfathers of what we now know to be alternative and indie rock.

In the late 70’s-early 80’s, there was a vacuum in punk rock. The first wave had long since broken, digested by the record industries and repackaged as new wave.

But the anger and hostility of punk was still there. The dissatisfaction bubbled over until it popped up full force in a few key scenes (most notably Washington DC, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis). The music being created was fast, loud, and pure. “Rise Above” is Track 1 on Black Flag’s first listenable piece of recording, 1981’s Damaged. It wasn’t the first hardcore record, but “Rise Above” certainly serves as a mission statement for this disaffected group of youngsters.

When Henry Rollins shouts “Jealous cowards try to control,” you get the sense that he’s pushing back against the bland, Reagan-washed 1980’s American landscape the only way he knows how. “Rise Above” is about the misfit finally getting his turn. Fittingly, Black Flag (and the groups that followed in their wake) would completely transform the musical landscape in the next ten years. Black Flag would give rise to my precious Husker Du, which would give rise to Pixies, which would give rise to your precious Nirvana.

As if that weren’t enough, Black Flag founder Greg Ginn was also the head of SST records. SST was one of the first “indie” labels, providing groups like Bad Brains, The Minutemen, Dinosaur Jr and Soundgarden with distribution.

The End!

Photo: Velvet Underground; By Name, Billy (eBay) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

3 comments to “Quick List: Three Songs that Spawned Genres”
  1. Useless but interesting fact: George Martin did the string arrangement on Eleanor Rigby… Talk about an incredible producer.

  2. Pingback: The Velvet Underground and Nico Turns 50! | Rocknuts

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