Dialectic of Pop, 333–384


II. Musical Material


In disqualifying a certain idea of progress, we need not sacrifice the idea that the musical art of pop has a history. It’s a history that not only exceeds Adorno’s ‘perennial fashion’, but that brings about aesthetic effects through pop composers’ constant negotiation of their relationship with it. There is nothing like a one-way line along which the Hegelian Spirit could proceed—rather, pop is woven of a tormented reflection on its own history.

Awareness of this history is not the preserve of critics: within the songs themselves pop passes its time recapitulating itself. In 1977, Giorgio Moroder’s album with Donna Summer I Remember Yesterday presented a veritable sonic manual of the history of pop. On the A-side of the LP, the song ‘I Remember Yesterday’ restages the rise of disco in the form of a 1940s swing sound, before ‘Love Is Unkind’ replays the same theme with castanets and a chorus recalling the girl bands of the early 1960s. The third track ‘Back in Love Again’ is reminiscent of Motown and Phil Spector. On the B side, ‘Black Lady’ references classic disco. It’s followed by ‘Take Me’ which, with its slap bass, condenses the sound of the present, before the listener arrives at the irresistible final track of the record, understood to represent the future: ‘I Feel Love’, a song that singlehandedly gave rise to hi-NRG disco. From the era when the old-time music of the 1920s drew on the rural aesthetics of early American settlers, up to the moment when in 2017 Kendrick Lamar sampled the legendary ‘Poverty’s Paradise’ by 24-Carat Black which first appeared in 1973, pop memory has never been the privilege of historians; it animates an art that is more hypermnesic than any other, because of its inherent link to recording (both as the form of its works and as instantaneous archive)…