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Feb 16

Music Notes: What's in a (genre) name?

Posted on February 16, 2018 at 12:00 AM by Elizabeth Land

Notes from the Music Staff logoStaff Note: Notes from the Music Staff is a series of posts discussing what the library offers music fans. From our widely varied collection of music CDs to our nonfiction and fiction books covering all aspects of music, we've got something for everyone and we want to share our love of music with you!

After the Grammy Awards aired a few weeks ago, you may find yourself wondering — why do we have music genres anyway? The reasons vary, but today we hope to shed some light on the names we attach to music styles.

The names of some genres trace back to early radio stations wanting music execs to identify musicians by their type of music. This could make answering questions like the following easier: "Would Hank Williams be suitable for my country-western listeners?"

But a lot of genre names come from the artists themselves or from the style of music or even location. Here are some examples:

Gospel was really created by Rev. Thomas A Dorsey. As ‘Georgia Tom’, he played jazz/blues piano first. Later using the Bible for inspiration in 1932, he sold songs like ‘Precious Lord, Take My Hand’ in Chicago, then across America. His group's name was the University Gospel Singers. He was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1981.

Bluegrass originates from country singer-mandolinist Bill Monroe's band (1938 to his 1996 death) the Blue Grass Boys, named after Monroe's native Kentucky, "the Blue Grass State".

Glitter rock — synonym for glam — comes from Gary Glitter: born Paul Francis Gadd. Gadd was an English former glam rock singer, in 70s & 80s, known for extreme glam image, glitter suits, make-up, platform boots, and energetic live performances.

Free jazz comes from Ornette Coleman's 1960 album of the same name.

Best of Blue-eyed Soul album coverBlue-eyed soul from the Righteous Brothers' 1963 LP.

The mid-60s Jamaican boogie dubbed rocksteady is named for a 1966 Alton Ellis single.

Reggae followed into Jamaican dancehalls after the Maytals' Do the Reggay in 1968.

Soca is a condensation of Trinidadian artist Lord Shorty's Soul of Calypso, from 1974.

Acid house, originally from Phuture's 1987 single Acid Tracks, means anything with a yammering, squealing TB-303 synthesizer on it.

Ambient comes from Brian Eno's Ambient 1: Music for Airports (1978). Eno was recuperating in hospital after getting hit by a car in January 1975; a visitor put 18th-century harp music on at low volume, then left. Eno caught on immediately.

Doo-wop comes from several early R&B harmony vocal-group records: Two obvious ones are the Turbans' 1955 When You Dance ("Doo-wop, de-doo-doo," refrain) and the Five Satins' In the Still of the Night (chant "Doo-bop, doo-bah!").

Old-school Bronx DJ Lovebug Starski claims hip-hop by rhyming "hip-hop, hippy to the hippy hop-bop" at early parties.

Jungle came from a soundsystem yard tape from Jamaica that featured the chant "Alla the junglists". "There's a place in Kingston called Tivoli Gardens, and the people call it the Jungle."

Record labels can be genre names, like industrial, named for Throbbing Gristle's imprint, established in 1976, and lovers rock, industrial's polar opposite: sentimental, romantic reggae named for the London label of Dennis and Eve Harris.

Outlaw country, no wave and techno all came from compilation albums: 1976's Wanted! The Outlaws (Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser); 1978's No New York (Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, Contortions, Mars and DNA); 1988's Techno! The New Dance Sound of Detroit (Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson).

Afrobeat was coined in 1968 by Fela Kuti to describe music he was inventing made up of funk, jazz, Nigerian highlife, anti-authoritarian lyrics and high-grade weed.

Power-pop was coined by Pete Townshend in 1967 to define The Who, but wound up being "groups that came out in the 70s that played kind of melodic songs with crunchy guitars and some wild drumming".

Technology sometimes names a genre: Acid, noted above, is one example. Dub, short for "dubplate" (duplicate platter) Jamaican sound system operator Ruddy Redwood ordered in late 1967 from Duke Reid's pressing plant.

Rhythm & blues came in 1947, when Jerry Wexler, Billboard editor, used it to denote postwar black pop that he pioneered with Atlantic. Rhythm & blues became a chart name in the 25 June 1949 issue, replacing "Race Records".

Heavy metal was also first used to describe ugly guitars.

And of course, radio plays a big role in the history of the term Rock'n'Roll itself — though the term was used in blues records back to 1922 (Trixie Smith's My Man Rocks Me with a Steady Roll).

Check the many genres of music the York County Public Library's collection features by searching our online catalog.

Tag(s): Music Notes, Music