Does "popular" equal "influential"?

StickIt

Senior Member
I just posted to a thread, that is still there and probably still in bold letters, asking what the most influential albums of a certain genre of music are, and it got me to thinking (oops).

As a musician, I have always delved into the deeper cuts of any artists' albums that I really enjoy, and tend to find that I like those gems more (in general) than the songs that became popular hits off of those same albums...

Sometimes, I find that I like the obscure albums more than the top selling albums as a whole.

Is this true of a lot of, if not most, players? If so, then doesn't that beg the question: Wouldn't the true shape of the history of music have been directed by the albums that the general public didn't enjoy as much as us musos?

There's no answer, of course, but I thought it might be interesting to hear some thoughts on the subject; if anyone's interested.
 

groove1

Silver Member
Born in the 1940's here, throughout most of my life sales of Classical and Jazz recordings
have amounted to about 1-3% of record sales. Consider how many forms of music are spin offs of ideas that came to fruition in the jazz community first. You'll find bits and pieces of
what Miles Davis was doing in the 50's and Charlie Parker before him in all kinds of music
that is popular today. An ongoing process it is.

I might add that one of the great things in the 1960's was anybody who wanted to put out an album or record could. The record execs had the attitude of "let's give 'em a shot and see
if it sells or not". In the intervening decades the record industy took much greater control over what was going to be released or not etc. The internet has thankfully reversed this trend and
now anybody and everybody can get their music out so the public can once again decide what they like with fewer limitations on what is available to them.

So, in the case of ideas later used that were first thought about and executed in the jazz and classical worlds, since record sales were 1-3%, and some of these ideas strongly influenced
what was to follow, I'd have to say that less popular or unpopular yet very high level music has in some cases strongly influenced what was to become popular music later on.
 
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Anthony Amodeo

Guest
sometimes.....not always

if something is popular it reached a wider audience and there for possibly influenced more people...

that being said Justin Beiber and Nikki Minaj are popular not sure how musically influential they could possibly be..... their fashion may catch on ....but in my opinion this is a case where popularity does not equal musically influential ......but who knows ...one of them may inspire some young kit to hone his craft

Nirvana Nevermind was very popular and pretty much changed rock music as we knew it at the time
 

Mad About Drums

Pollyanna's Agent
I think in my humble opinion that "popular" is very different than "influential".

Popular albums are based on their sales record, and some of them can be an influential albums that's for sure, but I'm not sure Lady Gaga or the Spice Girls or Boyzone are influential, although they might have sold more albums than some influential albums.

Influential albums refers to artists, bands and type of musics which have influenced other musicians, not necessarily by selling many albums, although, again, it's possible to be both at the same time, influential and popular.
 

StickIt

Senior Member
Thanks for the responses! I want to clarify what I meant a little bit.

My thinking, when I posed the question, was whether or not the most popular albums of influential artists (thereby, hopefully, discounting teeny-bop artists and groups who have huge album sales) were the most influential...

Sorry for my lack of clarification in the first post...
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
sometimes.....not always

if something is popular it reached a wider audience and there for possibly influenced more people...

that being said Justin Beiber and Nikki Minaj are popular not sure how musically influential they could possibly be..... their fashion may catch on ....but in my opinion this is a case where popularity does not equal musically influential ......but who knows ...one of them may inspire some young kit to hone his craft

Nirvana Nevermind was very popular and pretty much changed rock music as we knew it at the time
This.

The Beatles were both popular and influential.

But on the other hand, I'm always amazed how many musicians will site some like Mahavishnu Orchestra or the like as an influence. Yet Mahavishnu Orchestra was never known for multi-platinum albums. Heck, I remember as a younger going to Tower Records to find a Mahavishnu Orchestra album, and the people at the store has no idea who I was talking about.
 
You can be one and not the other. I used to like Travis and Lars before I started thinking critically and I'd be lying if I said Lombardo wasn't a very strong influence early on, but now I'm more interested in drummers that the public don't necessarily know about; Lang, Jimbo, Minneman... them and many more haven't really caught the attention of the public like others have and there are others who are much less known. Examples are escaping me at the moment.

Edit: since you're using pop examples it'd be quite unfair to call the newer wave of albums influential.
 

Fuo

Platinum Member
But on the other hand, I'm always amazed how many musicians will site some like Mahavishnu Orchestra or the like as an influence. Yet Mahavishnu Orchestra was never known for multi-platinum albums. Heck, I remember as a younger going to Tower Records to find a Mahavishnu Orchestra album, and the people at the store has no idea who I was talking about.

Yea... And there was that thread awhile ago about how every "Looking for bassist/drummer/etc" ad in the world listed Sunny Day Real Estate as an influence, but they're not exactly a household name. Plenty of other bands like this too. Pixies, Melvins, Quicksand, etc.
 
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eclipseownzu

Gold Member
I think the answer to the question has to be yes. And here is why:

Most of us started listening to popular music. Very few people's first musical loves are obscure, or back catalog music. Most of us then developed a love of music based on those first songs or artists that connected with us. Therefore, the reason most of us play music is because we were "influenced" by popular music.

In my own experience it was the early Van Halen albums. Those were the songs that I first connected with and called my own music.
 

Mad About Drums

Pollyanna's Agent
Thanks for the responses! I want to clarify what I meant a little bit.

My thinking, when I posed the question, was whether or not the most popular albums of influential artists (thereby, hopefully, discounting teeny-bop artists and groups who have huge album sales) were the most influential...

Sorry for my lack of clarification in the first post...
In the spirit of your clarification and if I did understood it well... I'm gonna say that the Beatles are probably the most influential band/artists on the planet with the highest ever record sales, but I might be wrong :)
 

8Mile

Platinum Member
Not equal at all. A lot of what is popular is only popular because it copies something else that was popular before it.
 
Not equal at all. A lot of what is popular is only popular because it copies something else that was popular before it.
Exactly, Bieber is just one example but a good one... he barely writes any lyrics and none of the lyrics written for him were original in any way and aesthetically the music itself isn't innovative at all. Most modern pop aims to follow a formula innovative artists proved to be successful countless times.
 

StickIt

Senior Member
So, in the case of ideas later used that were first thought about and executed in the jazz and classical worlds, since record sales were 1-3%, and some of these ideas strongly influenced
what was to follow, I'd have to say that less popular or unpopular yet very high level music has in some cases strongly influenced what was to become popular music later on.
Point well made!

The Beatles were both popular and influential.
Argghh, lol, the Beatles are going to destroy the point I was hoping to validate

Most of us started listening to popular music. Very few people's first musical loves are obscure, or back catalog music. Most of us then developed a love of music based on those first songs or artists that connected with us. Therefore, the reason most of us play music is because we were "influenced" by popular music.
Well stated and ultimately super-valid point!

In the spirit of your clarification and if I did understood it well... I'm gonna say that the Beatles are probably the most influential band/artists on the planet with the highest ever record sales, but I might be wrong :)
The Beatles. You're 100% (did we ever decide if that's possible?) correct.

Not equal at all. A lot of what is popular is only popular because it copies something else that was popular before it.
Thereby becoming an influence ;)
 

littledrummerboy1

Junior Member
Old guy to younger guy
I think great beauty is right in front of our eyes and ears, and we ( me too ) seldom catch it.
Some things will grab you immediately and as musos we obssess about it. Other things either nature, or a musical creation will completely escape our awareness for decades. Then one day we suddenly have a break through. I remember my break through with Louis Armstrong, another with Lester Young, another with Dexter Gordon ( yes I am a jazz guy mainly )
All those years prior these giants were there but I did not quite get it.

Thats one point
An Inspired Melody ( whether spontaneous or composed ) is the highest achievement
with groove just below that
the rest is below that
eg harmony and sounds

Melody is very underated in my opinion. Melody is the essence of beauty more than harmony or technically inspired creations. And a great melody is rarer than even a great groove, which I highly prize also. James Brown EWF Eddie Palmeri COunt Basie, and a number of other pop grooves.

So greatness is often right in front of you and you miss it. It is so obvious it just escapes you.
I'm thinking of albums you may just ignore, or say " oh yeah that one" but not really get how unusually great it is.
Kind of Blue is the most selling album in jazz so I was told
That album is awesome. And Bill Evans ( he was pianist on that album ) once said something along the lines he respects the opinons tastes sometimes MORE than the musicians. So popularity can sometimes be a nice hint for something for the sophisticated musician to revisit.
But unfortunately we have to be patient. You cannot force yourself to "get something" it takes lots of time.
I am still waiting on Mozart. I know he is a genius but often his music escapes me.
I know someday, like with Louis Armstrong, I will suddenly be flooded with appreciation for Mozart and others.

I am on the verge of more fully "getting" Ravi Shankar. It occurred to me the other day... this cat is playing for many minutes on one "chord" or raga or scale or mode.. call it what you wish. Have you ever played a jam on ONE chord for 30 minutes?
 

mikel

Platinum Member
A great thread idea.

I tend to think, personally, that artists who manage the difficult trick of being both popular and musically influential, are truly outstanding. The Beatles have been mentioned already, the Police are another, in my opinion. Dire Straits sold millions of albums and turned a generation on to guitar bands again.
Going back to Jazz, Satch was hugely popular and influential, both his vocal style and his horn playing.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
To be influential in a mass movement way, it must first be popular. To be popular, it must have a hook, so there's the lesson right there. Just because something is popular, doesn't mean it will automatically be influential, but it helps. To be influential, it needs to challenge the established offerings.
 

8Mile

Platinum Member
Thereby becoming an influence ;)
That's not the same thing, though. Perpetuating it by copying it is not the same thing as doing it for the first time. The original is the influence, not those who copy it. But the copies can be equally popular.

Of course, none of this exists in a vacuum. Even the originals are stealing and copying things, just adding something special of their own along the way.
 

BacteriumFendYoke

Platinum Member
Just going to throw one out here.

'Metal Machine Music' by Lou Reed is one of the most influential albums ever released. No, it's not popular, it's not even particularly likeable - but in an 'underground' sense it is incredibly influential. I can probably think of a dozen relatively popular artists that can trace back some of the lineage directly to that one album and many others that are less direct but still traceable. The same is true of Nick Drake. A man who in his lifetime sold fewer than 12,000 copies of his three albums (in total) but who was influential within a small group of musicians that subsequently became popular - like The Cure.

It's not so much the mass-market popularity but it's the popularity within spheres of influence that is important.
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
I think the answer to the question has to be yes. And here is why:

Most of us started listening to popular music. Very few people's first musical loves are obscure, or back catalog music. Most of us then developed a love of music based on those first songs or artists that connected with us. Therefore, the reason most of us play music is because we were "influenced" by popular music.
Good point. Can't disagree with that.
 
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