The Blog

Music Genres Are an Obsession of the Old

Musical lines are blurring and it seems we are finally moving on from the days of musical snobbery into a world where words like 'Pop', 'Folk' and 'Blues' simply don't mean as much as they used to.

It's a couple of years since Jake Bugg came in to record a session for my weekend show on BBC Radio 2, but recently the conversation we had has begun to echo round my brain. Much of it centred on the influences that had bled into his music from artists he had heard as a young lad while exploring his uncle's vinyl record collection. Those precious LPs and 45s had yielded music by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Donovan, Bob Dylan, Oasis and crucially Don McLean whose song 'Vincent' was his 'trigger' record. It didn't matter to him what genre they were, what era they came from or whether they were cool. He liked what he liked and that was it.

It's a refreshing and open-minded attitude to music shared by a whole new generation of UK artists from Ben Howard and Ed Sheeran to Passenger, Bear's Den and the truly unclassifiable George Ezra. Like Jake Bugg, they have all instinctively taken good stuff from the old stuff, made it their own and become mega-successful. None of them are slaves to genre definition.

I reloaded these thoughts following a recent chat with my eighteen year old daughter Flo. She takes music with her in bite sized chunks wherever she goes, downloading her favourite songs and constantly adding to a playlist that randomly hits her with One Direction, Kacey Musgraves, Queen, Michael Buble, Paolo Nutini and Abba's Greatest Hits. She doesn't care to define any of the tracks she hears by categories because labels mean nothing to her. Shuffle does not discriminate.

I believe we are in an incredibly exciting moment of musical evolution; a time that offers artists previously unimagined ways of recording and communicating their work. For them and for all of us, technology has created a revolution of access and portability. We now have the world's biggest record collection at our fingertips, instantly available via iTunes, YouTube and any number of download sites, across the full range of genres, styles and history. It is the ultimate democracy.

Bob Geldof has always been a big advocate of bringing together artists from all sorts of musical backgrounds & genres. Live Aid was the epitome of genre blurring and it's advantages, and in many ways, Do They Know It's Christmas? was ground breaking in having that many artists from all corners of music collaborating to record a single, something that is now happening more and more.

Hear Bob talk to Bob Geldof in his new audioBoom series, 'Whispering Bob's Legends Vault'

Musical lines are blurring and it seems we are finally moving on from the days of musical snobbery into a world where words like 'Pop', 'Folk' and 'Blues' simply don't mean as much as they used to. As curator and presenter of Bob Harris Country, one of the genre-lead specialist music shows on BBC Radio 2, I have a major interest in where this progression us taking us, particularly as Country music itself is in an interesting place right now.

Country has always had an extraordinary and resilient capacity to evolve and the latest wave of emerging stars have bought fresh energy and a whole new range of influences into the mix. The Zac Brown Band covers Metallica and Led Zeppelin songs in its set, Eric Church plays Springsteen. Colt Ford mixes Country and Rap, Florida Georgia Line have recorded with R&B star Nelly and topped the mainstream singles charts. Taylor Swift has gone Pop and Kacey Musgraves has toured with Katy Perry. Meanwhile, Cale Tyson and Sturgill Simpson are playing sold-out concerts in Britain and the States with a sound that reaches back into Country's traditions. Country is a broad and expanding church and is currently a valuable signpost towards a future where genre classification will matter less and less.

What has given all these thoughts an extra stir is the fierce debate that has caught fire following a recent Country Aircheck story in which radio consultant Keith Hill offered the following advice to programmers. "If you want to make ratings in Country radio, take females out" he said, adding that Country radio is "a principally male format" and that playing female artists back-to-back is a really bad idea. "They're just not the lettuce in our salad," he went on. "The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females."

My own experience is exactly the opposite. Playing music made by women on my radio shows strikes a chord with women listeners, who instinctively locate and identify with the subtle changes of texture and emotion just under the surface of a song. Obviously.

Hill's view is dated and wrong on so many levels but maybe he's done the industry a service. He has highlighted an imbalance that really does exist on American Country Radio and by so doing has also, inadvertently, demonstrated the folly of putting music into boxes.

Male, female, long-haired, short haired, tall, short, black, white...does it really matter? When all is said and done it's all music, regardless of type or tempo. Jake Bugg and my daughter Flo are absolutely spot-on. Genres really don't matter. Let's just like what we like.

Contact Bob Harris on Twitter @WhisperingBob

Bob broadcasts 'Bob Harris Country' and 'Bob Harris Sunday' on BBC Radio 2. You can also follow his audio updates on audioBoom and he recently published his autobiography 'Still Whispering After All These Years'.