Baroque Pop Breakfast
Monday, April 17, 8-10 AM, we’ll be kicking off the Rock Marathon with Baroque Pop Breakfast. Enjoy two hours of this special and short-lived genre that blended classical and rock.
Jay Jackson and Ralph Graves are your hosts, both uniquely qualified to present this music to you. They not only know classical music, but they lived through the Baroque Pop era!
What was Baroque Pop?
Producers were looking for fresh sounds in the early 1960s. A fascination arose for the antique sound of the late Baroque and early Classical eras.
Orchestras were often used to sweeten pop ballads, but this was different. The sound mimicked that of a chamber group of musicians from the 1790s.
There were three characteristic components. The harpsichord usually played arpeggiated chords. The string quartet for accompaniment (or just a solo cello). And the oboe for a counter melody (sometimes joined with other solo winds).
The instrumental sound
Classically-trained George Martin used string quartets on some Beatles songs. This stripped-down sound was inspired by the quartets of Mozart and Haydn. It was very different from the lush string ensembles that normally backed singers.
The harpsichord, with its clear treble sound, also became a favorite with producers. This instrument originally rose to prominence in the Baroque Era (1600-1750). It lingered on through the end of the 18th Century when the piano replaced it. Bach, as well as Mozart and Haydn, played and wrote music for the instrument.
The oboe is a double-reed instrument. Its timbre harkened back to the reed instruments of the Renaissance. Sometimes producers used other woodwind instruments, such as the flute, bassoon, and clarinet.
A less-common instrument used was the Baroque trumpet. This instrument often played highly-ornamented melodies in the upper register. It’s heard in the Beatle’s “Penny Lane,” and the Free Design’s “The Proper Ornaments.”
The compositional sound
Baroque Pop also borrowed some stylistic elements from the Renaissance and Baroque Eras.
Modal scales and harmonies were common in the Renaissance (1450-1600). Many of these fell out of favor during the early Baroque. After 1600 only two of the original six modes: Ionian (what we now call major scales), and Aeolian (minor scales).
Folk songs that have their origins in the Renaissance still use these earlier modal scales and harmonies. They give a distinctive sound to traditional ballads of Great Britain and Appalachia. “Scarborough Faire” by Simon and Garfunkle uses modal harmonies, as does “Lady Jane” by the Rolling Stones.
A common Baroque practice was the sequence. This was a melodic pattern that repeated a note lower, and then again another note lower. Sequences lead off “Sunday Will Never Be The Same” by Spanky and Our Gang, and “Light My Fire” by the Doors.
Strictly a 60s phenomenon
The characteristic instruments of Baroque Pop had been used before by producers. “Summertime, Summertime” by the Jamies (1958) features a harpsichord. And it has some distinctivly Baroque chord progressions.
But the genre Baroque Pop first appeared on the 1965 British charts. The Yardbirds’ “For Your Love” was one of the earliest.
Marianne Faithfull had a string of Baroque Pop hits — all written by Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. “As Tears Go By,” and “Come and Stay With Me” are two examples.
Richards and Jagger, the Glimmer Twins also crafted Baroque Pop gems for themselves. 1966 saw the release of “Playing With Fire,” “Lady Jane,” and “Ruby Tuesday” by the Rolling Stones.
One of the earliest adopters in the States was Sonny Bono, a protege of producer Phil Spector. Sonny and Cher’s “I’ve Got You Babe” includes both harpsichord and oboe mixed into the Wall of Sound.
More hits in 1966
By 1966 the sound was well-defined — and more artists were using it. The Beatles had three hits with it. “Eleanor Rigby,” “She’s Leaving Home” and “Yesterday” all use the intimate sounds of a string quartet. Brian Wilson, another Phil Spector protege, added a harpsichord to “God Only Knows.”
The Left Banke embraced the sound, making it a fundamental part of their style. Their classic “Walk Away, Renee,” hit the trifecta: harpsichord, string quartet, and solo woodwinds (in this case, flute).
The Summer (and Winter) of Love
The quaint and antique sound of Baroque Pop meshed well with the mellow vibes of the So-Cal style. Judy Collins’ “Both Sides Now” benefited from the delicate sound of a harpsichord. That same folk/rock groove can be heard on “Different Drum” by the Stone Poneys.
Harpsichords also tinkling away in tracks by the Zombies, The Yellow Balloon, and Spanky and Our Gang. It even infiltrated Motown, turning up in the Supremes’ “Love is Here and Now You’re Gone.”
“The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” doubled down on the double reeds. The song’s woodwind quartet included both oboe and bassoon (as well as flute and clarinet).
Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” went a step further. Most Baroque Pop hits copied parts of the 18th-century classical style without quoting any of its music. Keyboardist Keith Reid used Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Air on a G String” as the foundation for the song. It didn’t use a harpsichord, string quartet, or oboe. But the organ’s Bach-like obbligato makes the track one of the most solidly linked to the classical past.
End of a decade, end of an era
In 1968, there were still some examples of Baroque Pop on the charts, but the genre was fading in popularity. “Love is Blue” by Paul Mauriat was a big instrumental hit. But it moved the harpsichord from hip coolness to unhip easy listening.
The Love Generation used a harpsichord in “Leaves Go Gray.” The track used a full string section, which diluted the delicate Baroque Pop sound.
Tommy James kept it real with “Sugar On Sunday,” a song he wrote with Mike Vale and recorded with his Shondells. The harpsichord remained an integral part of the song when the Clique covered it the following year.
Donovan’s “Jennifer Juniper” featured a traditional woodwind quintet — flute, clarinet, oboe, french horn, and bassoon.
Jon Lord, the keyboard player for Deep Purple, explored the intersection between rock and classical. It eventually lead to his 1970 composition “Concerto for Group and Orchestra.” On the group’s 1968 album “The Book of Taliesin” the song “Anthem” includes an intricate fugue ala Bach.
The Clique’s “Sugar on Sunday” and Vanity Fare’s “Early in the Morning” were the only two Baroque Pop songs to chart in 1969. And in 1970, there was only one: “The Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.
The instruments of the genre could still be heard in the mix of some early 70s tracks. But they weren’t playing the same type of music. The Baroque Pop Era had come to an end.
Music to flip your powdered wig
We won’t have time to play all the examples of Baroque Pop in our two-hour program. But we’ll do our best!
Below is a Spotify playlist with all the hits and quite a few misses.
Be sure to tune in, Monday, April 17, 8-10 AM.
And be sure to make your pledge to support WTJU by calling 434-924-3959 or going to wtju.net. It’s what Bach would have wanted.