History of Pop Music

Pop covers the vast terrain of all musical genres. Two definitions have been used for pop over the years. One includes all the music that is widely popular, no matter what it is. Another definition, used more by musicians, defines songs with sweet catchy melodies. Here are some playlists that reflect pop throughout the decades:

2000s 1990s 1980s 1970s 1960s 1950s 1940s 1930s Love Songs

The term "pop music" first started being widely used by British journalists in the 1950s to describe the rise of rock and roll. Before that other terms were used to describe national hits such as "Hit Parade," a top ten chart of national songs published by Billboard. Another term "Tin Pan Alley" was used to describe the music that came out of a songwriting factory in New York called the Brill Building. The first known use of the phrase "pop song" was in the 1920s to describe the escalating popularity of recorded music, which consisted of folk, country, blues and jazz.

By the 1960s "pop" was a commonly used term in the music industry that was synonymous with top 40. Due to the incredible popularity of rock acts such as The Beatles during that era, rock critics began to use the term as a musical style associated with their sound as well as other melodically rich artists such as The Beach Boys, The Byrds and The Monkees. Ultimately, the 70s became the defining decade for the "pop sound" that was elevated by sweet hooky artists suchs as The Carpenters, Bread and Three Dog Night. Even songs that didn't become popular began being labeled as "pop" due to their tuneful presentation. The radio format known as "Middle of the Road" or "MOR" was crafted by radio consultants to reflect pop sounding music for adults, which included Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond and Frank Sinatra.

During the mid-seventies radio began to fragment into multiple formats, not so much due to public demand, but more due to radio being taken over by national consultants. Traditionally, trade magazines such as Billboard coined terms for radio formats, but with the growing influence of consultants new names for genres and radio formats emerged to fit certain demographics. As a result, MOR became AC, which stood for adult contemporary, featuring soft melodic hits while AOR, developed by the consulting firm Burkhart-Abrams, stood for "album oriented rock." At that point pop started becoming a bad word in the rock lexicon because it referred to lighter melodic music that quickly became associated with big business instead of the young rebel image that rock radio moved toward.

As the 80s unwound, top 40 records began to fit an electronic mold and the term "techno pop" was used frequently to describe synthesizer-based dance music. Alternatives to top 40 expanded throughout the decade, including "modern rock," which was renamed "alternative" in the 90s. Alternatives to the mainstream had previously been called "underground" or "progressive" if the music had a degree of sophistication compared with the highest charting singles on the Billboard Hot 100. The alternative radio format redefined pop in the sense that it actually began to rival pop acts in popularity. To some degree, top rock musicians began to stop shying away from the term "pop" and embraced it as a musical term. Many of punk-flavored rock acts such as Green Day became known as "power pop" while more straight-ahead melodic bands called their music "pop/rock," a term that is often used to describe melodic guitar-based music.

Pop music is now usually considered separate from more traditionally defined musical styles such as country, jazz, classical and blues. Due to the huge impact of hip hop and r&b music, these forms are often now described as a subset of pop. U2 released an album called Pop in 1993 to reflect their shift from rock to a more electronic style. Ultimately, the term now has a very broad definition that often has nothing to do with popularity. In the 21st century, for example, the term "indie pop" is used to describe underground music with melodic qualities. So it's back to being a respectable term, even among people who want nothing to do with the mainstream.

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