When classical music met pop music…

When the classical composers like Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and others wrote their compositions, they probably did not think about pop music. In fact, their music seems to be quite different from the modern pop music. Two worlds that will never meet? Well, not exactly…


Beethoven probably would have turned in his grave…

One of the best known classical tunes probably is The Fifth Symphony by Beethoven. At least the beginning is iconic: ta-ta-ta-taaa…No wonder that it made its way to pop music. Walter Murphy used the whole song, and made a disco version out of it (which can also be heard in Saturday Night Fever), calling it A Fifth Of Beethoven. However, the first tunes are most used in pop music. Thicke (now Robin Thicke) used them to introduce his song When I Get You Alone. And the Electric Light Orchestra used them to make Roll Over Beethoven (original by Chuck Berry) some longer. Actually, they really rolled over Beethoven.

Listening to classical music inspired several artists. Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane listened to the Bolero from Ravel a few times, and wrote White Rabbit with the Bolero in her mind. If you listen closely to the song, you will hear the structure of the Bolero in it. It’s also no secret that Procul Harum used a part of Bach’s Air on the G-string for their composition A Whiter Shade Of Pale. Gary Brooker had been listening to a lot of classical music, and that’s why the text seemed to fit Bach’s song. A sort of combining, you could say. The same happened to Eric Carmen, who wrote All By Myself in small parts. As he was listening to Rachmaninoff, he thought it was useful for the verse. The only problem he encountered, was that the used part from the second piano concerto was not available in the public domain, as it was written in 1901. Luckily, he could make an arrangement with the Rachmaninoff estate to ensure it still could be used…

However, it is possible to copy entire melodies for your songs. The best example probably is Elvis Presley, who did it a few times. Love Me Tender, for example, was subject of copying: it used the melody of the traditional Aura Lee. Also the classical (Venetian) composition O Sole Mio was used. As Elvis heard it, he wanted an English text written for it, so he could record it. This song was called It’s Now Or Never, which brought Elvis to number 1.

There are, however, several less obvious cases. One of them is Alejandro by Lady Gaga. She used a part of Vittorio Monti’s Csárdás. It’s mainly inspired by the violin, which can be heard in the opening of the song. It proceeds throughout the rest of the song, though the dance beat is put over it. However, listen closely and you will hear Vittorio Monti’s composition. Another case of a dance beat which covers the classical music are the Pet Shop Boys with Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. They can be heard in All Over The World, but they are hidden quite well. Try if you can discover them… More disco music: I Love Your Smile by Shanice is said to use a small part of Arabesque No. 1 (Claude Debussy).

A favourite to use is Pachebel’s Canon in D Major. The descending cords can be heard clearly in All Together Now by the Farm, starting right at the start and playing through the complete song. The same composition was used by Stock, Aitken and Waterman for Kylie Minogue’s I Should Be So Lucky. Another composition that Stock, Aitken and Waterman used for their songs is Ride of the Valkyries by Richard Wagner. Its strings are used in You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) by Dead Or Alive…


Bach, the Beatles: doesn’t differ a lot…

Quite some music of the Beatles was inspired by classical compositions. Quite clear is the use of La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, at the beginning of All You Need Is Love. A little less obvious are the instrumental parts at the end of the song: Glenn Miller’s In The Mood and Greensleeves (variations of Bach). Bach also inspired Penny Lane. Paul McCartney got the idea of adding a trumpet to the song after listening to the Brandenburg Concerto No. 2… More Bach: In Blackbird the guitar was inspired by Bourrée in E minor for lute. Especially the first four bars were used in the song. Also Beethoven was used for one of their songs: John Lennon heard Yoko Ono playing Moonlight Sonata, asked her to play it backwards, and as she did that, he wrote the rest of the song around it…

Of the great composers, Mozart has been missing. However, his Piano Concerto no. 21 has been used by Neil Diamond in Song Sung Blue. Probably a little more energetic than Mozart had meant it, and certainly not the thing Mozart ever could imagine, but it would be one of the biggest hits for Neil Diamond. Also a big hit, but some closer to the original: the song Russians by Sting. Writing about the tension between the USA and the USSR, Sting used Sergei Prokofiev’s Romance melody from the Lieutenant Kije Suite to accompagny his message. A last one, probably one you wouldn’t expect: Brahms in Silent Lucidity by Queensrÿche! His composition Lullaby can be heard in the song, played on a cello around 5 minutes and 26 seconds.

Of course, there are many more examples to name. Please don’t hesitate to leave your suggestions (pop and classical composition)!

Posted on January 1, 2016, in Articles Archive and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. An astounding list. It goes to prove the worth of a good tune. Much modern classical music sounds tuneless to me but you are writing about tuneful classical music.
    If there is no tune how can music stick in the memory?

  2. A true point you make. With a good tune you can ensure your fame for ages. I’m not that into classical music that I can say modern classical music is tuneless, but it’s a fact that a good tune lives on for quite some time.

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