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Thread: Classical influences in popular music

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    Senior Member Ephemerid's Avatar
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    Smile Classical influences in popular music

    Poster Lennon brought up something interesting in the "Best Bands" thread & I thought it was worth making a seperate thread. Here's what Lennon had to say:

    Quote Originally Posted by Lennon View Post
    Please correct me if I'm wrong, Violin_Frenzy, but I believe the "it will blow the classical music out of your butt!" was a direct quote from the film School of Rock, right?

    I certainly know very little about classical music, though I'm not so deaf to the absolute excellence of it as some of my peers may be. Of course, most of my peers are even deaf to the kinds of music I enjoy so we can't depend on their opinions. I love the Beatles and the Who. There are many others, of course, but those are the two I don't think I could live without.

    For those who can appreciate the work of orchestras and whatnot, how do you feel about songs like Eleanor Rigby, A Day In the Life, the french horn solo in For No One, etc? Talking to other Beatles fans, we don't really get into the classical music elements of some of these songs and I would be interested in what the people here think or just about classical music in popular music in general.
    (emphasis mine)

    ~josh
    "There is no theory. You have only to listen. Pleasure is the law. ~ Claude Debussy

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    Senior Member Ephemerid's Avatar
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    The experimental side of the Beatles is one of the things that drew me into them, while still being melodic and in a pop format. But I think the Beatles were just interested in drawing from all different sources, not just classical-- vaudeville, Indian ragas, avant-garde, electronic, country, jazz was all fair game for the Beatles-- and they integrated all this in such a way that it actually made sense!

    The Moody Blues were another 60s band that incorporated classical, though not as seamlessly, on their album Days of the Future Passed.

    With progressive rock developing in the late 60s, you had groups like Yes, Genesis, King Crimson doing longer pieces of complex music... Ages ago I listened to these bands. I feel I've outgrown them since then and ELP I find to be utterly pretentious.

    I feel that prog rock gets too far from the roots of rock, whereas the Beatles managed a UNITY between rock and other influences. It annoys me now to hear a band play in 7/8 really just to prove they can do it (which isn't to say that rock can't have unusual metres). I think there's a way of having classical influences in rock music in a way that rock is still tied to its roots and there's another way which gets too far removed from it IMO.

    Emerson Lake and Palmer is an example of classical influence in rock music, but it suffers from horrible pretentiousness... Keith Emerson was a classically-trained pianist and it seemed he was determined to remind everyone of this on piano, organ, synth, and whatever else he could get his hands on. They've done a rock version of Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man and the "Hoedown" from Rodeo, an entire album being a rock version of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, a loud and pompous version of Parry's "Jerusalem" and when they got back together around the mid-80s they tackled Holst's Mars, the Bringer of War. Emerson also did a full blown piano concerto in the late 70s (the only one I am aware of). The piano concerto was not so bad (being a piano concerto in the strict sense of the word), but I personally think their rock music was just BAD. ELP is an instance of a bad hybrid of classical and rock.

    Electric Light Orchestra - particularly in the early 70s: they did a fun cover of Roll Over Beethoven also which incorporated Beethoven's fifth symphony in a humourous way) and I still think 10538 Overture is such a visceral song with all those grunting cellos. There was still a stronger ROCK element in their music with a nod toward classical-- it was used as a way of enhancing rock music. What ELP did was to basically take classical music and "rockify" it, whereas the Beatles and the Electric Light Orchestra utilised classical textures and sounds as a way of enhancing rock music, or to give a song a unique atmosphere.

    This is a topic that interests me greatly-- my first love is classical but I also grew up listening to rock (especially the Beatles) and ages ago I pursued a music composition degree (and even had a few chamber works performed) but I do rock music now (and dabble in some ambient electronic stuff). But the classical and rock sides of me rarely coincide, except insofar as enhancing music (I've recorded a handful of songs with strings but not in any elaborate way-- just standard strings you get in pop music).

    ~josh
    "There is no theory. You have only to listen. Pleasure is the law. ~ Claude Debussy

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    I'm actually starting to get into ELO. I know Jeff Lynne was a good friend of George Harrison and when I found out he was in ELO I thought I'd give them a shot and I'm quite happy I did.

    I'm drawn to the rock bands that do have that classical or instrumental element (e.g. Chicago and Blood, Sweat, and Tears) in their music. Not always, of course, but I feel it adds something special, something different from the constant formula of guitar, bass, and drums. It also shows that these musicians were willing to think outside the rock box and maybe, in their own way, show respect to these great classical artists. We always say that the new bands would be no where without bands like the Beatles, the Beatles would be no where without Elvis, Elvis wanted to be Dean Martin and so forth and so on until it all leads back to the beginning of music.

    At least with rock music they tried to make it their own in some way for the most part. I actually have a few songs where it's (mostly) the original classical pieces just with an added element. I'm thinking of "A Fifth of Beethoven" and "A Night on Disco Mountain" from Saturday Night Fever, but there are many more out there that do the same. Does it just make you cringe when you hear stuff like that?

    What about the Trans-Siberian Orchestra? It's the other side of the coin. A classical orchestra using rock to enhance the music they perform. Is the rock thing just a gimmick or does it truly add something to the piece?

    This music thing is rather complicated, isn't it?

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    Senior Member Ephemerid's Avatar
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    I'm not really happy with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra personally because I think its cheesy rock music. The same would go for the two Saturday Night Fever tracks, where classical music has merely been adapted to a drum beat. Classical music and rock music BOTH suffer for it where classical music is merely "rockified."

    Where classical influences are used to enhance rock music, it usually works, whereas taking a classical piece of music and adding a rock band to it almost always fails. Even as much as I like Bernstein's "Mass" (which is not an actual mass, but a musical about a mass) there are huge sections that just don't really work-- it comes off sounding cheesy.

    I would say this goes for a lot of classical "tribute" albums over the years (Pink Floyd, Yes, Alan Parsons, Genesis, Radiohead).

    But when classical elements are ADDED as enhancement to rock music, I think its very effective-- I think its all a matter of balance.

    A really great example of striking just the right balance would be Mason Williams' "Classical Gas"-- the song rocks (there's some really good drumming on it), but the orchestra really adds something special to it.

    Sigur Ros is a band that has incorporated string quartet in the studio & in live performances, but even without the string quartet (or orchestra which they sometimes also use), their music somehow has a big symphonic sound to it. Its clearly rock music, but has the kind of "bigness" you would expect from an orchestra. Hoppipolla is a brilliant song of theirs.

    Godspeed You Black Emperor! is a great instrumental band which has varied in members (at one time having 17 players) which includes violin, cello, bagpipe, trumpet, a variety of other things (including, like Sigur Ros, bowed electric guitar). Their music reminds me a lot of old Pink Floyd, how their music moves at a glacial pace and then builds up dramatically. HERE is a great example of their music (sound quality isn't good) and THIS is a really good track of theirs. This to me is really just the incorporation of classical in a punk context (GYBE! isn't exactly punk, but that's where their roots are).

    For something on the more avant-garde classical side, there's also Scott Walker's stuff since the 80s-- his albums Tilt and The Drift has a LOT of orchestra on it, and Scott Walker still croons like he always did since the 60s, but-- let's just say that his stuff is WAAYYY darker than anything NIN or Marilyn Manson could ever dream-- without any distorted guitars. Its amazing stuff (though you have to be in the right mood for it!). This track (about Elvis' twin brother who died at childbirth) has lots of Penderecki-like strings (this is a great song, but not the best example of his use of orchestra). God, this song still gives me chills at the end. There's other stuff he's done that has even more orchestra than this though...

    I'll come up with more examples later...

    ~josh
    "There is no theory. You have only to listen. Pleasure is the law. ~ Claude Debussy

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    Senior Member Ephemerid's Avatar
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    Oh, how dare I forget this EXCELLENT song, the "Baroque rock" band the Left Banke? I love the strings on this, the harmonies...

    I'm not much a Gentle Giant fan any more, being part of the whole prog rock scene, but its still better than most-- here's a demonstration of counterpoint in rock music with Knots and THIS has some unusual instrumentation for rock as well. But my problem here is that it really gets TOO far away from the roots of rock music IMO. There's something overly calculated about prog rock that seems antithetical to rock music.

    Its a mixed bag!

    ~josh
    Last edited by Ephemerid; Dec-18-2007 at 15:26. Reason: hyperlink added to the Left Banke
    "There is no theory. You have only to listen. Pleasure is the law. ~ Claude Debussy

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    Senior Member BuddhaBandit's Avatar
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    One of my favorite bands, The Band (the group that played with Bob Dylan during his first days of electriying folk), has a great song called "Chest Fever" that has an organ intro inspired by the Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Garth Hudson, the organist, for The Band, is classically trained and fairly impressive.
    Take a look at the Bandit's blog, Americana Avenue.

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    though it's terrible on the ears (imo), if you actually take the time to dissect many "hard core" bands/scream-o bands, many of the guitar parts appear very similar to any fugue. Though, they'll never admit it.

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    Junior Member CHasR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tenor02 View Post
    though it's terrible on the ears (imo), if you actually take the time to dissect many "hard core" bands/scream-o bands, many of the guitar parts appear very similar to any fugue. Though, they'll never admit it.
    yes they do STEAL so deliberately...Paganini, Bach cello suites, Vivaldi violin licks, etc...
    BUT just throw some Segovia at them...

    the old joke is "how do you get a guitar player to shut up?" Put a chart in front of them.

    I have grown a greater respect for Clapton's work over his carreer, he seems to really have DUG IN and got a masterful hold of the delta blues genre; elevating the same to an almost 'composed' artifice;
    but the whole 'prog-rock', 'classical-rock' ideal just seems so ...yesterday...to me.
    It's just no special thing today to hear a searing guitar solo on top of full orchestra.

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    The Banya remixes of classical music are great
    Hello there my name is Ludwig!

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    A huge amount of heavy metal is influenced by classical music, particularly black metal (Emperor), Power Metal (Therion), NWOBHM (Iron Maiden), and bands like Metallica and Opeth (I think there's a madrigal on one of their albums). On the album "How The West Was Won" by Led Zeppelin, during Jimmy Page's solo on the song 'Heartbreaker', he plays a bit from one of Bach's Lute Suites.

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    *Bump*. About that Opeth song, it's called simply 'Madrigal', and it's on their album "My Arms, Your Hearse", if anyone's interested.

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    *Bump again - I seem to be the only person posting on this thread at the moment!*

    I was just thinking again about the influence of classical in rock music. There's a german acid/psych rock band from the 70's called Amon Duul II who have a great violin player called Chris Karrer - he's especially good on the song Soap Shop Rock.

    Frank Zappa did a great big band version of the Royal March from Stravinsky's "L'Histoire Du Soldat", as well as the theme from Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 3. He also recorded an entire album with the London Symphony Orchestra, and several other orchestral albums of his own work. On the sleeve notes to his debut album "Freak Out"in 1966, he listed among his many influences Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez (who conducted one of his orchestral albums), Anton Webern, and Edgar Varese.

    Steve Hackett from Genesis has apparently just released a classical guitar album.

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    Senior Member Methodistgirl's Avatar
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    Speaking of Electric Light Orchestra. Did any of you notice how Mr. Blue Sky
    had some Beethoven in it and also another composer in it? I noticed that
    when I was listening to some organ music earlier this morning. A lot of your
    70's rock had classical influnce.
    judy tooley

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ephemerid View Post
    With progressive rock developing in the late 60s, you had groups like Yes, Genesis, King Crimson doing longer pieces of complex music... Ages ago I listened to these bands.
    This was really where I saw the influence the most.

    Until I encountered the indie underground metal that was clearly classically inspired, and borrowed from classical and modernist (Wagner, Bruckner) themes.
    the Dark Legions Archive underground metal reviews

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    A large amount of the classical influence on the Beatles was due to their producer George martin who was himself classically trained.

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