Distinguishing Rock from Pop
Rock and pop are similar styles of music; however, the words “rock” and “pop” are problematic since these terms can only be seen through the lens of subjectivity. In other words, these labels mean different things to different people. There is also the matter of preference. Rock is considered noisy and primitive to some listeners. To others, rock is creative, energetic, and exciting. Similarly, some listeners view pop as wimpy, overproduced, and corporate driven. To others, pop is catchy, stylish, and fresh. Still others make no distinction between pop and rock at all; they simply use the terms interchangeably.
In this text, pop will be defined as a milder, streamlined cousin to rock. Pop will be considered more song and hook oriented and less improvisatory. Think of pop as a radio-friendly style of music. This means shorter songs, less jamming, and more emphasis on melody and lyrics. By this definition, artists such as Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson would be considered pop artists. Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin would not since their songs can vary in length and they usually contain lots of improvisation.
Pop is a temporary label used to describe fashionable music of the day. Many symphony orchestras perform “pops” concerts each season. These events offer lighter fare from various eras in musical history. One of the most celebrated pops orchestras is the Boston Pops. This orchestra premiered in 1885 and has been successful ever since.
In this book, rock will be considered more improvisatory and heavy. In other words, it will be more hard edged with less emphasis on nuance. Some artists can be both pop and rock. For example, Paul McCartney wrote the pop tune “Penny Lane” and the raucous rock anthem “Helter Skelter.” These are very different song styles, and they show the range of McCartney's songwriting abilities.