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Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres - my talk


REC – The Sunshine Seminar (2015)

REC – “Brave the World” (final track from The Sunshine Seminar)

Welcome to WEEK 261 of MUSIC is not a GENRE (Video #87 & S4Ep28)

Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres – This is Where It Gets PERSONAL | MinaG Book Talk #2

I’m a peaceful man. Or at least I present as one. I’ve actually got a little too much fire in me, which is a little too easy to set off. Fortunately, with age comes … slowness. I take more time before responding. I sit with my trigger feeling and explore what else might be there. I look for a way to bridge gaps. I … drum roll please … LISTEN before I talk. All of which makes for much better communication, understanding & connection.

This is especially useful when my passion for a subject goes beyond all reason, and I’m confronted by someone with an equal passion who doesn’t necessarily see things how I do. What could end up in complete disengagement & animosity turns into an opportunity to learn, respect & bond. It’s a journey. It’s a pain in the ass. And it’s one of the most rewarding experiences anyone can have.

This week’s book, Kelefa Sanneh’s Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres, is one of the most passionate music books I’ve ever read. And because the author is passionate, experienced, informed AND has opinions, the book was both thought- AND emotion-provoking. I was predisposed to skepticism about Major Labels because a friend of mine – himself an excellent writer & critic – mentioned to me that Sanneh defends “genre boundaries”, something you can imagine the MUSIC is not a GENRE creator is not a fan of 😊

But I was too intrigued by the overall subject to pass on the book. So I jumped in with an open mind, equally ready to appreciate & be frustrated by it. And while appreciation won out, it was a close call. And his often deeply personal touch – informed in part by his sense of being an “outsider” both because of his race & lack of musical ability – did a lot to mitigate times when he overreached with subjective judgments or flat out interpreted genres in ways that seem tone deaf to an actual musician.

What saved the book for me most were three things: First, he knows his stuff. I want to say “inside and out”, but other than the punk & hip hop sections he mostly came across as an outsider, one more inclined to give “criticism” rather than a “critique”. Second, he was honest throughout about his vantage point & biases, and especially about how wrong his opinions, assessments & predictions have been in the past. Third, he’s close enough to my generation to have similar touchstones & perspectives, even if our takes on certain genres jibe only about half the time.

As for the entire pretense of the book, that popular music can be neatly divided into seven genres – eh. I wanted to be more upset about it, but the author understands that fluidity is part of music (and every other identity), and his joy in defining the genre boundaries and reveling in the particularities is very relatable. The truth is, I love genres too. And sub- and sub-sub-genres and all the fun classifications we can create that disprove their own rules. They do what they’re supposed to do – give us an in to what we MIGHT encounter. Unfortunately they also do a lot more – like segregate & shut out people in droves, and all the other issues I’ve discussed. Genres are a guilty pleasure, one I’m happy are falling apart. In a sense, I see this book as a summation of the “Hyper Genre Divided” period of music history – a period that we can ALMOST look back on, and the sooner the better.

If I had a song that combined all seven genres in one, I’d showcase it here. One song from my upcoming album comes damn close, but it ain’t ready. In the meantime, I suggest listening to REC’s The Sunshine Seminar in its entirety, and I challenge you AND Kelefa Sanneh to classify it! And since Kelefa’s heart genre seems to be punk, I’ll feature the last song from the album for your listening enjoyment.

REC – The Sunshine Seminar (2015)

REC – “Brave the World” (final track from The Sunshine Seminar)

Have you read this book, and if so, what did you think of it? Do you know any of the author’s works? What’s your feeling about genres – past, present & future? How do you relate to music criticism in general? Discuss dammit!


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