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American Popular Music - The Music of the People - Part 4

American Popular Music - The Music of the People - Part 4

I think that Soul and Funk music is so powerful and thus so representative of the people because it manages to convey a message, whilst all the while providing a sense of hope, a sense of contentment. For example, Wonder’s song ‘I Wish’ conveys his yearning to return to childhood, an easier, simpler time, when all there was to worry about was ‘sneaking out the backyard’ and whether they would ‘get a thing’ for Christmas. This is a universal desire, and I believe speaks all the more profoundly to African-Americans, as, technically as a race, their hardships were not any less when they were younger, but it was not such an obvious barrier to them as they were too young and oblivious and happy to suffer because of it. The optimistic nature due to the major chords and interweaving melodies and riffs is in a very distinctive way a form of protest; these people are free from their oppression; they are enjoying themselves and finding solace within the music, something which perhaps earlier genres such as the Blues did not offer. Whilst the Blues were undeniably important, they focused predominantly on the negatives of the situation, whereas later hybrid genres move away from this to offer more to the people.

     The hybrid nature of American Popular Music is something that is indisputably key to its widespread appeal. It is the odd fusion of so many genres that at once creates a sense of unity and individuality. This is something that I believe has only become more and more the case over time, and thus, I feel  Soul and Funk, and R&B to name a few, are some of the most representative genres of American Popular Music. For example, before these genres reached their peak popularity, Motown gained acclaim. Although it is true that Motown ‘fought’ to promote the music of African-Americans, it did so in a very specific way; ‘Motown recordings avoided direct evocations of earlier rhythm & blues forms and styles; twelve-bar blues patterns are strikingly rare in its records, as are the typical devices of Doo-wop or anything suggestive of the 1950’s sounds…’ Arguably, this style of American music could be said to not be the ‘music of the people’ as it is deliberately not acknowledging the roots of African-American music, the very music which provided people with an identity. However, Motown did somehow manage to capture the love of the people, perhaps due to the empowering lyrics, the lush vocal harmonies and contemporary instrumentation; ‘The unique genius of Gordy-and of his entire Motown organization-was the ability to create a black music aimed at the right commercial mainstream that somehow never evoked the feeling or provoked the charge of having sold out.’ Behind the scenes, it was not so rosy at is appeared to the public, with notable artists such as the late Michael Jackson leaving the label to produce and write his own albums after having been denied control or creativity in his earliest solo albums under the Motown label, such as ‘Off the Wall,’ with all of Jackson’s offerings being rejected. 


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