Afront’s Sensational History of Popular Music (Updated)

As it heads towards 3 million tracks, I thought I’d see how broad Spotify’s range of music was: could I build a playlist that had tracks to represent each key musical genre, from the beginning of recorded music up until today? Turns out I could get pretty close:

This Spotify playlist provides a spotted history of humankind’s music: from the very first beat to the invention of musical instruments; from mouth music to dark age medievals and the classical symphonies, then the 20th century goes rock, pop, and electro.

Each song in this playlist demonstrates the introduction of a new popular musical form or style: from music hall, ragtime, and country, through calypso, swing, and rock & roll; from reggae and punk to disco, electro-pop, rap, funk, and indie. Finally the samplers pump up the volume, while madchester, grunge and britpop bring us in to our own century. Viva la Musica!

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UPDATE (20 March 2009)

Here is a track-by-track breakdown with notes on why each song was chosen:

0 Unspecified – Human Sounds – Heartbeats The first beat.
2 Joe Legwabe – zana shiri The second beat.
3 Shambukaw player from Eritrea – Flute Solo The flute is the oldest known musical instrument.
4 Early Music Consort Of London – Lyre – Goliard melody (O Roma nobilis) The lyre is the oldest known stringed musical instrument. Eventually evolves into the electric guitar.
1000 Penguin Café Orchestra – Organum The Middle Ages sees the invention of true polyphonic music, a texture consisting of two or more independent melodic voices.
1500 Dead Can Dance – Saltarello Medieval Europe’s pop pick, especially in Italian discos.
1707 Bach – Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV565: Toccata One of the most famous pieces of organ music from the classical Baroque period.
1808 Beethoven – Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 (Beethoven’s Fifth) Da da da daaah.
1893 The Patriotic Orchestra – The Liberty Bell Sousa’s military march was one of many spawned from the new tradition of playing marches as a source of entertainment.
1902 Scott Joplin – The Entertainer Ragtime, the first American musical genre.
1926 Al Jolson – I’m Sitting On The Top Of The World Al Jolson came from Vaudeville to become a superstar who introduced African-American musical innovations like jazz, ragtime, and the blues to white audiences.
1927 Jimmie Rodgers – Blue Yodel # 1 (T. For Texas) This song was a smash hit when it came out, mostly because no-one had ever heard yodeling before. Co-incidentally, it also invents Country and Western music.
1937 Benny Goodman – Sing, Sing, Sing Big-Band and Swing grows from Jazz; this extended mix required both sides of a 12-inch 78 to hold it.
1941 The Ink Spots – I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire We’re still enjoying the fallout of this wonderful cover from this band that invented Doo-wop.
1941 The Andrews Sisters – Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy A wartime radio song, boogie-woogie’s blues sound grew from music hall and swing.
1945 Joe Liggins & His Honeydrippers – The Honeydripper (Part 1) Ostensibly an R&B song, this track is clearly proto-Rock & Roll.
1956 Harry Belafonte – Banana Boat Song (Day-O) This song brought Jamaican calypso (albeit a commercialized version) to the masses. The album this track came from was the first LP ever to sell over a million copies.
1956 Carl Perkins – Blue Suede Shoes Rock and Roll finally arrives, although it’s still called rockabilly.
1958 Buddy Holly – True Love Ways Rock and Roll’s golden age ends with this beautiful and poignant song, an early example of Pop Baroque.
1968 Os Mutantes – Panis et Circenses Rock’s gone global and psychedelic – this song also demonstrates the evolution of recording techniques and the fusion of musical styles. Alternatively, play a track from Sgt. Pepper.
1968 Lee Perry – People Funny Boy Reggae and dub evolves from mento and ska. This Lee “Scratch” Perry song came out before reggae even had a name.
1968 Archie Bell & the Drells – Tighten Up A massive hit, this proto-disco track also heralds the arrival of funk and soul.
1968 Blue Cheer – Summertime Blues Probably the first heavy metal song; that fact that it’s a cover of a classic Rock ‘n’ Roll song only
1968 White Noise – Your Hidden Dreams Experimental electronica, The White Noise pioneered cut-and-paste composition and the use of the first British synthesizer, the EMS Synthi VCS3.
1970 Marc Bolan – Ride A White Swan The birth of glam rock.
1974 Queen – Stone Cold Crazy The first thrash-metal song.
1974 Kraftwerk – Autobahn An electronic revolution cruises by from Germany.
1977 Sex Pistols – Holidays In The Sun Punk is still not dead.
1977 Donna Summer – I Feel Love Electronic disco and arrives, Giorgio Moroder’s production also invents hi-nrg, synthpop, house and techno along the way.
1979 Gary Numan – Are ‘Friends’ Electric? The first synthesizer-based song to top the charts (much to the annoyance of The Human League’s Phil Oakey).
1979 Bauhaus – “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” Rock goes gothic.
1982 Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force – Planet Rock Rap music arrives, as well as hip-hop, electro, and freestyle. It began in Germany, but was born in New York City.
1982 Michael Jackson – Billie Jean Dance-pop R&B conquers the world.
1984 The Smiths – William It Was Really Nothing Alternative rock or indie pop? Either way, The Smiths post-punk sound brought 80s indie to the masses.
1987 M/A/R/R/S – Pump Up The Volume The first British house music hit, M/A/R/R/S’s pioneering use of music sampling meant they were doomed to die under a pile of lawsuits.
1988 S’Express – Theme From S’Express Not the first, but perhaps the best-known acid house song from that second summer of ecstatic love. It also showed that sampling is here to stay.
1990 Happy Mondays – Step On Indie-rock and dance combine in Madchester.
1991 Nirvana – Come as You Are Grunge shoots its load from Seattle and goes mainstream.
1994 Blur – Girls And Boys Perhaps just a re-brand of UK indie, Britpop’s success shows why the UK remains the 2nd largest producer of popular music in the world.
2003 Beyoncé feat. Jay-Z – Crazy in Love (feat. Jay-Z) Contemporary R&B now slickly dominates the world, liberally borrowing from pop, funk, soul, and hip-hop.
2008 Coldplay – Viva la Vida Pop returns to Baroque, from the number 1 artist on Spotify,, and MySpace. I met Chris at a gig back in 1998, before their first album came out. Shook his hand, told him I thought they’d go far. Nice guy. Viva la Musica.