What story should a history of popular music tell?


  • Allan Moore University of Surrey




popular music history, genre formation, historiography


Histories of ‘popular music’ abound: stories of agents whose medium of public expression is music (i.e. accounts of the dealings and output of singers, writers, producers, label executives etc.). Because these stories take as their subjects the succession of individuals who produce work, rather than the work successive individuals produce, there is little challenge to the practice of hyping every change as ‘new’, since both audiences and, frequently, practitioners, have a vested interest in being unaware of historical precedents. However, these are not histories of ‘popular music’: stories of the behaviour of sounds which constitute aesthetic objects are vital to provide context for the work of analysts. What might such a history look like? It might be a history of the issues to which musical decisions give rise (genre formation; the decision-making relationship between ‘writer’ and ‘performer’ etc.). It might be a history of recurring patterns of aesthetic intentions (successive turns to sophistication and simplicity in the realms of lyrics, technology, harmonic language etc.). It might be a history of styles (of the ways musical materials are moulded) and of the conditions for their apparent demise. Such histories can be conceived: one such is demonstrated.

Author Biography

Allan Moore, University of Surrey

Allan Moore is Professor of Popular Music and Head of Music Research in the Department of Music and Sound Recording at the University of Surrey. He is the author of four monographs (the most recent a study of the Jethro Tull album Aqualung), three edited collections, and a number of book chapters and articles (principally for Popular Music, of which he is joint editor). Dept. of Music & Sound Recording University of Surrey GU2 7XH


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How to Cite

Moore, A. (2004). What story should a history of popular music tell?. Popular Music History, 1(3), 329–338. https://doi.org/10.1558/pomh.2006.1.3.329




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