The Sounds That Made Pop

Ear­li­er this sum­mer, the good folks at The Word assem­bled 40 Nois­es That Built Pop, a col­lec­tion of dis­tinc­tive pop music sounds that have “caused your ears to prick up, or your eye­brows to raise.” Some were orig­i­nal­ly cre­at­ed in quite cal­cu­lat­ed ways. Oth­ers were hap­py acci­dents. Either way, the­ses sounds are now part of the pop tra­di­tion. We have high­light­ed four sounds that speak to us. But you should real­ly dive into and enjoy The Word’s col­lec­tion that was clear­ly put togeth­er with lov­ing care.

The Pow­er Chord from The Kinks: You Real­ly Got Me (1964)
“It’s the essen­tial build­ing block of rock; the root and the fifth of the chord played at sub­stan­tial vol­ume on gui­tar and dis­tort­ed to taste. It’s also the musi­cal equiv­a­lent of the pok­er face; with just the two notes, it’s nei­ther a sun­ny-sound­ing major chord nor a gloomy minor… With­out the pow­er chord entire gen­res of met­al sim­ply would­n’t exist.”

Vinyl Scratch from Her­bie Han­cock: Rock­it (1983)
“Any DJ cue­ing up a record through one ear of a pair of head­phones will have heard the sound of scratch­ing, but it was­n’t until the ear­ly days of hip hop that it was incor­po­rat­ed into musi­cal per­for­mance… Grand­mas­ter Flash, Afri­ka Bam­baataa and Kool Herc became the pio­neers of “turntab­lism”, while Grand Mix­er DXT’s work on Rock­it pro­pelled the sound into the main­stream and trans­formed the DJ into an unlike­ly front­man.”

Hand­clap from Kool & The Gang: Ladies Night (1979)
“As a per­cus­sive sound, [the hand­clap has] been used by every­one from fla­men­co dancers to Steve Reich, but it was in the mid-1970s when it found its true call­ing. Lay­ered on top of the snare drum to empha­sise the sec­ond and fourth beats of the bar, its for­mi­da­ble “crack” can be heard through­out dis­co and funk, and has since been employed by any­one wish­ing to hint at a par­ty atmos­phere…”

Gui­tar Feed­back from Gang Of Four: Anthrax (1981)
“A clas­sic case of rock music tak­ing an unde­sir­able noise and mould­ing it to suit its own pur­pos­es. The rea­son for feed­back is sim­ple: the gui­tar pick­up “hears” itself being blast­ed out of a speak­er cab­i­net, process­es the sound and pass­es it to the speak­er: noise piled upon noise. As rock music became less polite, more lib­er­ties were tak­en with feed­back; while there’s an unin­ten­tion­al burst at the front end of I Feel Fine by The Bea­t­les, the out­ro to The Who’s My Gen­er­a­tion uses the sound more cre­ative­ly.”

H/T Metafil­ter

And, on a total­ly unre­lat­ed note: Sun Ra and The Blues Project do Bat­man & Robin songs. Cour­tesy of the WFMU Blog Way­back Machine.

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Comments (3)
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  • Reg Webb says:

    I don’t think the “burst of feed­back” at the begin­ning of “I Feel Fine” was an acci­dent. It’s the dom­i­nant on an open string which builds into the start of the intro. George Mar­tin clear­ly intend­ed it to be there.

  • J U says:

    I think your captcha for sug­gest a link is bro­ken! Thanks,

  • Richard Thomas says:

    Intel­lec­tu­al­ly bank­rupt; no men­tion of the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of “noise”, and pep­pered with fatu­ous, igno­rant non­sense such as this: ‘The rea­son for feed­back is sim­ple: the gui­tar pick­up “hears” itself being blast­ed out of a speak­er cab­i­net.…’ Yes, Dan. Gui­tar pick­ups are sen­tient.… Awful work, Dan Col­man.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.