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As I alluded to in the previous post, like any other muscial genre label, virtuoso rock is a useful but incomplete term. I play virtuoso arrangements of rock and pop songs. (Consider the alternatives: "virtuoso rock and pop" sounds clunky, while "virtuoso pop" sounds like an overpriced brand of popcorn.)
I do think rock and pop are two different things. In rock music, the band is the most important element, while in pop music, the vocalist is the most important element.
— Rock vs. Pop
ROCK takes the rock-band soundworld as its starting point (voice, electric guitar, bass, drumset). Other instruments may be used (acoustic guitar, keyboards, extra percussion, perhaps melody instruments), but the important thing is that you're always aware of the presence of live musicians playing real instruments.
The lead vocalist is important, but if you remove the vocals, it still sounds like a rock song (just an instrumental one). However, if you remove the band and just listen to the vocals, it sounds quite incomplete.
A rock song may be a verse/chorus song form or something totally different. It may last a typical 4 minutes, or be a 90-second miniature, or be a sprawling 30-minute epic.
I am personally a huge fan of album-oriented rock from all eras; the Beatles paved the way for an album being a big statement, more than the sum of its songs (and a thousand times more musically diverse than any musicians had dared to attempt before them). I love to listen to an album as an hour-long piece of music, and I prefer to understand each song as playing a role within an album, rather than as a single. (This is why I've never embraced the "shuffle" feature, or the randomness of Pandora/Spotify.)
POP takes the vocal line as its starting point and surrounds it with a contemporary soundworld. (To generalize: acoustic in the 1960's, rock band and then disco in the 70's, synth-based bands in the 80's, electronic beats in the 90's, even more electronics and studio magic up to today). It doesn't necessarily sound like live musicians playing.
The lead vocalist is what matters most. If you remove all the instrumental parts, you still have a pop song and can sing along. Interestingly, if you remove the vocal part, you get dance music.
A pop song is always a verse/chorus song form. The expectation is that the song lasts 3-5 minutes; it's just a sketch if it's shorter than that, and it's rather unusual when a song is any longer.
A pop album is generally a collection of a few hit singles and some less memorable tracks. The production of great singles tends to be more important than the production of great albums (though there are exceptions).
It's hard to write about musical genres without revealing inherent bias. Personally, I am more drawn to rock music than pop music, but that's maybe a 70/30 split. And some of my all-time favorite songwriters (such as Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder) wrote and recorded dozens of songs which fully inhabit their genres (rock, funk, soul, ballad...) with fantastic instrumental parts and STILL meet all the criteria of a great pop song. And in the end, a great song is just a great song.
My vision for virtuoso rock is a repertoire wide enough to embrace rock and pop songs from the 1960's to the present.
What do you think of the rock/pop distinction? Is it useful or misleading? Do you have a different take on it? Add your comments below.