Switched on Pop by Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding
You might be familiar with Nate and Charlie if you listen to the podcast Switched on Pop (I shout out this and other great podcasts in my latest article). If you don't, Nate is an Assistant Professor of Musicology at USC and Charlie is a musician and songwriter who are both super knowledgable about music theory and music history. This book approaches understanding pop music through that lens. Using a song per chapter, Charlie and Nate work through all the characteristic that make pop music pop. They've constructed a book that can be both informative and helpful to those who want to expand their technical music knowledge while also writing a compelling enough narrative of pop to entertain the casual listener who's curious about what's behind their favorite songs.
I really enjoyed this book, and I found it to be an excellent resource. It's honestly probably too basic for anyone who knows a ton about music, but for those who haven't had the chance to get a technical music eduction, this is a great place to start. A lot of the books on the topic can get super confusing, but they break down the terms exceptionally clearly and they also use songs that we all know to illustrate their point. It's easy to connect these abstract ideas when you can follow directly with songs that have become extremely familiar.
I love how each chapter works through a specific with a main song, like chapter two is melody through the lens of Taylor Swift's "You Belong with Me", while also incorporating other relevant ideas and artists that create a bigger picture. There's plenty of cross genre and cross time connections showing the roots that can connect pop, hip hop, and country along with classical music from centuries ago. I feel like I learned a ton from the book, and it's a great, quick read if you're even just curious about how pop works and its origins. It's also a super helpful guide, if you like the podcast, to get a deeper understanding of the parameters they use to dissect the songs each week.
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