(Original article written for and posted on MTV.COM)
For a long time now I have been fascinated by this strange and compelling scene, known as pop music.
These are the opening words spoken by legendary New York Philharmonic Composer Leonard Bernstein in the 1967 CBS documentary titled "Inside Pop : The Rock Revolution".
Why do Adults hate it? and Why do I like it? are the two questions he asks us the viewer, before delving deep into the musical minds of the likes of The Association, Canned Heat, The Beatles, The Left Banke, Frank Zappa, Herman's Hermits and Brian Wilson, who later on performs a rare solo rendition at his home studio of the song "Surf's Up" which he co-wrote with Van Dyke Parks. It's insane to think all of this was 43 years ago.
The first instrument I learnt to play was the Cello, and then the Piano. I was always a huge fan of classical music, and musicals, before the "twisted ways" of pop music took over my mind, I then taught myself drums and guitar so I could play with other musicians in High School. Playing Orchestra's obviously, is great. But my whole thing, and still is now. Is that I loved the idea of emulating songs that I heard on the radio, almost instantly, something you don't really have a choice of doing in an orchestra.
I then taught myself to read music and learn terms, and work out shapes in regards to math. Not taking lessons, i've always found with everything I like, i learn better in my own time.
Interestingly enough, i've always applied the same techniques to pop music as we had done whilst being in the orchestra. If I hear a song I like. I try to re-create it, i must have hundreds of songs stored written by some of my favourite artists, and artists i'm not a fan of, but found the music I was hearing interesting. I would do this almost identically to the best that I can, mainly just as a way of understanding the music at hand. Something that has been done in classical music for centuries.
Simply put, I just hear things that I enjoy, regardless of genre, and instantly want to experience it again and again.
I discovered within the last year that Todd Rundgren had tried the same approach with his album "Faithful". The first half which are near identical versions of recent pop hits that he was a fan of, approaching performances as classical pieces.
The "Inside Pop..." documentary is mind blowing. Seeing Leonard Bernstein excited by all these young musicians, and trying to dissect their minds as to why they pick the chords that they do, and where the melody is coming from shows the extent of his love of music, and is exactly how i've learnt to play music. I didn't realize it at the time, but it was due to something I have called Synesthesia, which i've learnt more about within the last year or so. (For further reading there's an article/interview on myself by Dr Leah Kelly of Rockerfeller University)
There is no denying in anyone's mind that this documentary took place at the exact crux / point of transformation of pop music, which would change the landscape forever.
The use of the Lydian mode by artists that had no idea that they were rejecting the Gershwin-esque Chromatic chords.. but were simply kids doing what they wanted to do. At a time where they were pushing the boundaries of music, but not just for the sake of it.
Bernstein also digs into the lyrical themes of these young writers, talking frankly about their expressive code names for various drugs that they would sing their love of, and his admiration of their grammar, at points stating how they could be in "any good poetry book".
He takes it seriously, and shows these musicians the utmost respect. Something that must have taken quite some guts in a time when parents were burning kids records without question.
Last year I got to work with Van Dyke Parks on some music which will hopefully be released in the near future. Watching the music grow from my simple ideas into his fantastic vision is something that will stay with me forever. I'll never forget when asking him about how one song was sounding whilst I was in New York, and he was finishing it off in L.A. He replied with how radio play was a sure thing for it.
Now if I told you that these songs do NOT sound like the Black Eyed Peas you wouldn't be shocked. I am certain there will be no radio play of these songs, but that;s just it..
The strange and twisted way we all view pop music is something truly wonderful.
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