The Origin of Pop

We all know Bigmouth is different to a normal choir. Instead of covering choral classics, we’re constantly looking for new pop and rock songs to add to our repertoire, but where does “pop” come from? Pop is a nebulous thing to define, and it went through several stages before becoming pop music we would recognise today.

There are five moments that could be considered the birth of “pop”:

  • In the 19th Century, sheet music started to be printed. Many families would turn to their piano as a source of entertainment before broadcast media. By relying on an expensive instrument and a talent in playing, families were encouraged to share this entertainment with their friends and neighbours.
  • The arrival of the phonogram replaced this to an extent. The equipment was quite expensive but it did allow accurate reproductions of music to be played in people’s homes. This continued as records became more durable and cheaper to reproduce. In turn, this created a new market which formed the record industry as we know it.
  • Throughout the 1940s, microphone technology improved dramatically, allowing singers to perform in a more intimate, expressive fashion. This enabled listeners to better form emotional attachments to songs.
  • In 1950, Leo Fender invented the electric guitar, the instrument which helped shaped the sound of early pop more than any other.
  • The transistor radio could arguably be considered the true progenitor of pop upon it’s launch in 1954. Obviously, the term “pop” is a contraction of “popular” and once the radio made it’s way into people’s homes, music was available cheaply and widely. Rather than pay for pricey equipment, poorer families could rent the equipment while richer families could use the broadcast to discover new artists they wished to see in concert or whose records they wished to buy.It certainly didn’t hurt that in 1954, Elvis Presley reached the airwaves with “That’s All Right”, combining Country and Rhythm ‘n’ Blues and marketed towards the emerging teenage youth culture.

Then, the sixties saw the rise of The Beatles on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as the popularity of music festivals with political messages. The Beatles added aspects of folk into the Rock ‘n’ Roll sound Elvis had popularised. This sound became the basis for much of what followed in the pop canon.

Pop is perhaps best defined through it’s relationship to technology than by it’s sound. As media changes, the sound of pop follows. With the ubiquitous access to streaming, we’ve seen pop music shift even further, though in more subtle ways. Songs are shorter but albums feature more songs to game the streaming charts, and artists spend more time on the road in order to make revenue. Perhaps the big question is not “where did pop come from?” but “where will pop go?”