Eight pop songs that found inspiration (and more) in classical music
The world of pop music and that of classical music are generally presented almost as opposing each other. In many pop culture films, if a character is hip, he despises Western classical music in particular.
It is far more accurate, however, to say that modern pop music is a younger relative of the venerable, age-old genre. Here are eight examples — among many others — where classical music tracks have a direct link to radio hits.
Lady Gaga – “Alejandro” / Vittorio Monti – Csardas
In her 2010 single “Alejandro”, Lady Gaga covers excerpts from Vittorio Monti Csardas, a piece written on the model of a traditional Hungarian dance. Monti (1868-1922) was an Italian composer and violinist from Naples. His Csardas was written in 1904 and is the most famous of his compositions. gaga samples Csardas in the opening of the single, and it becomes the song’s signature theme.
Eric Carmen/Céline Dion – ‘All Alone’ / Rachmaninoff – Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor
Eric Carmen could not deny that he lifted the second movement, Adagio sostenuto, by Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor for the verse of his powerful ballad “All By Myself”. Released in 1975, the song reached No. 1 on the North American charts. Apparently Carmen thought he could use it at will, but then had to settle with the Rachmaninov estate because the work was not yet in the public domain. Celine Dion will release her own version of the song in 1996 on her album Fall into you.
Multiple Artists / Pachelbel – Canon in D
Many, many pop artists have used Pachelbel’s instantly recognizable chord progression Canon in D for their songs. This includes pop star Kylie Minogue’s “I Should Be So Lucky” and rockers Oasis’ “Don’t Look Back in Anger” as well as Maroon 5’s “Memories.” The Independentnoted British pop music producer Pete Waterman (who co-wrote Minogue’s 1988 hit) described Canon in D as “almost the godfather of pop music because we’ve all used it in our own way over the of the past 30 years”.
Multiple Artists / Erik Satie – Gnossian n°1
Erik Satie’s first chords Gnossian n°1 were used in a few different pop and rap songs. In 2020 there was Avatar Caine and “Versaille”, and in 2017 rappers G-Eazy & Carnage had a hit using it in the song “Guala”. French popsters Dooz Kawa and Ky-Mani Marley used it in their 2007 song “Destinée”. These are only three out of about eight examples that currently exist. The mood and modernity of the piece seem to ensure its continued popularity as source material.
Muse – ‘The Globalist’ / Elgar – Nimrod
English rock band Muse were inspired by Bach Toccata in D minor for the guitar line on their song “Plug In Baby”. They returned to classical music nicely for their 2015 song “Globalist.” The dystopian track depicts a dictator destroying the world and draws its sense of the greatness of Elgar’s “Nimrod” from its Variations of puzzles (Variation IX (Adagio) “Nimrod”). “Drones”, from the same album by Muse, excerpts from Giovanni Pierluigi Da Palestrina Benedictus.
Janelle Monáe – ‘Say you will go’ / Debussy – Moonlight
American singer and rapper Janelle Monáe is clearly a fan of Claude Debussy. She extracts from her famous work Moonlight in his song “Say You’ll Go”. The 2017 track begins with minor 9th chords in jazzy mode. The final two minutes or so shift from brooding piano and vocals to Debussy’s characteristic melody of the 3rd movement of his Bergamasque Suite. The song’s arrangement adds a chorus of singers as it fades.
Zayn – ‘Blue’ / Johann Sebastian Bach, Prelude No. 1 in C major from the Well-Tempered Clavier
British singer Zayn’s song “Blue” was a bonus track on his 2015 album My spirit. He sings a sad song about regret and romance against Bach’s Prelude No. 1 in C major. The Well-Tempered Clavier. Many critics singled out the track from the album for its musicality and the beauty of the melody.
Shining Eyes – ‘Road To Joy’ / Beethoven – Ode to Joy
Bright Eyes is an American indie folk band led by founder and frontman Conor Oberst. They are back together in 2022 after several years of break. In 2005, on their album I’m wide awake, it’s morning, they included the song “Road To Joy”. The lyrics are cynical and, in fact, the very antithesis of Beethoven’s message, so it’s probably fair to characterize their use of ubiquitous sound. Ode to Joy so ironic.
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