Introduction | Popular & Novelty
Rock, jazz, soul; each of these genres, while containing a multiplicity of various offshoots, is defined by some kind of unifying theme. But this miscellaneous section, as any record collector will know, is where everything else ends up. Most of the styles within this ‘genre’ have little in common save the fact that they do not fit in comfortably anywhere else.
However, it would be wrong to assume that being difficult to classify makes these styles in some way inferior. Easy listening boasts artists as undeniably accomplished as Henry Mancini. Music hall stars like George Formby had the talent to cross over into successful cinema careers. The urbane complexity of Burt Bacharach’s compositions ensure that lounge, too, does not lack genuine giants.
Nor would it be correct to say that the entrants in the miscellaneous section appeal solely to esoteric, niche tastes. Nostalgia artists like Vera Lynn voiced the hurts of entire nations. Christmas songs by everyone from Bing Crosby to Band Aid constitute some of the biggest sellers of all time. And children’s songs pervade our musical consciousness: there are few of us, adults or kids, who cannot hum the theme tune to The Muppet Show.
The first entry focuses on contemporary Christian music: a fusion of the sacred and the secular, led by stars such as Larry Norman and Amy Grant, that seeks to enlighten its listeners as much as entertain them. Secondly, a look at novelty songs, which draw on a long-established link between comedy and music and revel in satire, silliness and topicality; a style whose history is strewn with the skeletons of one-hit wonders does have some longer-term success stories. The 1960s saw huge success for Allan Sherman, whose astute take-offs of folk and classical favourites drew on a rich tradition of Jewish-American humour. On the other side of the Atlantic, the vibrant London art college scene spawned the inimitable Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. Performing a mixture of traditional vaudeville songs, musical parodies and surreal rock compositions, the Bonzos achieved a cult following. Their legendary stage shows involved exploding robots, dancing dummies and other such silliness, and earned them a slot in The Beatles’ 1967 film Magical Mystery Tour. The rise of the video in the 1980s afforded parodists like ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic even more scope to lampoon the pop icons of the day, while Rolf Harris, a sometime television presenter, exploited an aura of affable eccentricity and survived into the twenty-first century, now playing regularly at rock festivals.
Sprouting from a bawdier fusion of humour and music was music hall, the favoured form of entertainment for the British working classes around the turn of the twentieth century. A broader, less politically motivated relation of European cabaret, with the emphasis on accessible song-and-dance routines and innuendo, the style had a charismatic cockney queen in the shape of Marie Lloyd. At the French revues, costumed divas such as Mistinguett added an extra...
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