Categorizing music (1)

Not being all that hip to popular music (90% of it bores me, turns me off, or disgusts me), I have often been enlightened by pop¹ enthusiasts’ categorizations of music.

“They’re my favorite band.  They’re sort of post-punk, psychedelic folk, with elements of surf pop and electro-funk.

“Yeah, our influences were Led Zeppelin and Journey and Bob Marley, and our sound is totally unique.  We end up with sort of an alternative-zydeco, bluesy-acid, bubblegum blend of folk and country.”

New pop music categories seem to emerge monthly.  I think new categories are birthed for marketing’s sake, and in order to give new garage bands a raison d’etre.  Personally, I have a short handle on “southern rock” and “progressive rock” and “disco,” but I seriously question who determines what is “alternative” and what alternative subcategories exist.  I really have no interest in distinguishing among the dozens of recognized varieties of hip-hop and rap, between “doom metal” and “thrash metal,” or between “power pop” and “pop rock.”  And who knew there could even be a category called “acid blues”?  🙂

I’ve known of two churches, I think, that take time — or, more accurately, that have one person who takes the time on behalf of the church — to keep an active database of songs sung in gatherings.  Categorizings result — based on, for example, 1) who leads the song, 2) which month/week it is used, 3) whether it is “new” or not, and 4) what type of song it is.  Such databases, in my view, are mildly interesting, but they take more time and effort than they’re worth, and I’ve never been quite sure that their purposes and effects warrant the time taken.  My dad used to keep informal records of different song leaders’ choices, but I don’t believe he ever shared his lists with anyone, and I think he was merely documenting, for his own planning purposes, whether certain favorites were being sung too frequently.

An interesting study would be to match song content with Bible texts and sermon topics and special events that played key roles in a given church’s assemblies, during a given time period.  Was there conceptual tie-in?  For instance, in our church, a familiar song that has to do with Christian unity made the top-25 list in 2010 but not in 2011.  I wonder whether its falling out of favor might have paralleled a trend of less “one-another” focus.

Tomorrow, I’ll share some ways of categorizing church songs.


¹ Here, I use “pop” as an umbrella term to refer, essentially, to all the music played on non-art-music radio stations.

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