What is the difference between folk music & the singer/songwriter genres?
Vinyl Junkie 1200 posts 2.3 years
Okay, so I realize that both folk music & singer/songwriter genres are used considerably in an interchangeable manner, when describing most music where there is a solo singer who writes their songs in a folk style. The thing that makes the genres confusing though is when you try to consider how traditional 60's folk crossed over into what eventually became the singer/songwriter genre in the early 70's, then to become sort of adult contemporary by the mid to late 70's?
Unfortunately, this has got me a little perplexed, and this is one of those things where you question or wonder if the singer/songwriter genre is even pointless back then as it is now?
What makes this even more complicated is that not all singer/songwriter music is folk based either. Sometimes the singer/songwriter genre can tap into the blues, jazz, tin pan alley pop, as well as rock, country and folk music. In other words, I couldn't envision folk music being played on a piano, or at least in my mind that is how I would pretty much define folk music.........
For me, Bob Dylan would be the hardest to crack, as far as his genre bending of traditional folk music is concerned. I think the minute Bob Dylan plugged in his guitar was when things really changed regarding folk music, or as how most people claim he invented folk rock. This is where things start to get complicated from Dylan onwards..........
Folk as a genre morphed into folk rock, then finally taking that detour into singer/songwriter territory of the 70's. It seemed like after Dylan plugged in, other elements also started creeping into folk music, such as psychedelia, literally inventing the terms like psychedelic folk or acid folk.
What does this all come down to? When or how did folk music become singer/songwriter, or was this just another type of folk music for a different time with a different name? It seems as though when there is more instrumentation added to folk music, the process of what was known as traditional folk music of the 60's somehow got lost or buried along the way in this process.
So, where does this leave the singer/songwriter genre? Is the singer/songwriter genre just another cleverly disguised cliche' used to describe what folk music had become with more instrumentation added, or would you say that it was just some useless phrase to describe folk as being a crossover genre?
I am curious to get your thoughts on this. Thanks........
I think of it as a marketing label to move away unfashionable 'folk' by the major labels. Most music fans will know what sound to expect when they hear the term singer-songwriter but could easily mean someone who sings their own songs in any style.
Eva Cassidy being good 'recent' example, even if all her recorded songs are not her compositions.
But Little Richard, Bee Gees, Freddie Mercury and a near-endless list of composers could also be considered singer-songwriters in the literal sense
I dunno - although I get what Abstracks is saying about his list of composers being singer-songwriters in the literal sense, the term "Singer-songwriter" when applied to music isn't meant in a literal sense so I don't think it's right to be that broad about it.
People in bands often complain about having genre labels applied to them because they feel like the definitions are nebulous and confining, and it's easy to get into argument about what a genre means. I recall a time in the mid 80s when my band was looking for a guitar player, and in our ad we described ourselves as being into punk bands like - among a list of 8 or so names - the Ramones. One guy called to answer the ad and insisted that the Ramones weren't a punk band - which given the definition of the mid 80s that usually involved hardcore and slam dancing was probably fair, but on the other hand from a CBGBs circa 1976 perspective the Ramones were the very embodiment of punk. So these labels get hard to deal with at times.
But I would say that singer-songwriter relates to folk music as alt country relates to country. Singer-songwriter has the same basic folk idea of music written by the performer with a focus on lyric meaning and story telling that's not dominated by love songs (although not excluding them, either), but with fuller instrumentation often including electric guitar (but usually softly), bass and drums, and maybe even some keyboards. I'd be inclined to say that Simon and Garfunkle from Bookends onward (and later Simon as a solo act) are sort of the epitome of the form.
As a guy who wrote about rock for quite a few years, I understand the frustrations that genre labels cause (and there are way more of them now - shoegaze, death metal, slowcore, crust - just look up rock music genres on Wikipedia for a good laugh), but if your expectations are not too rigid, the labels are very helpful in placing a band with a little more specificity in the wide spectrum of types of music. Certainly if I pull a record out of a singer songwriter bin, I'm not expecting Metallica, U2, Davie Allan and the Arrows, or the Spencer Davis Group. Or Justin Bieber.
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