Simon Frith

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Simon Webster Frith [1] OBE (born 1946) is a British sociomusicologist, and former rock critic, who specializes in popular music culture. [2] He is Tovey Chair of Music at University of Edinburgh.

Order of the British Empire order of chivalry of British constitutional monarchy

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is a British order of chivalry, rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organisations, and public service outside the civil service. It was established on 4 June 1917 by King George V and comprises five classes across both civil and military divisions, the most senior two of which make the recipient either a knight if male or dame if female. There is also the related British Empire Medal, whose recipients are affiliated with, but not members of, the order.

British people citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, British Overseas Territories, Crown Dependencies, and their descendants

The British people, or the Britons, are the citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the British Overseas Territories, and the Crown dependencies. British nationality law governs modern British citizenship and nationality, which can be acquired, for instance, by descent from British nationals. When used in a historical context, "British" or "Britons" can refer to the Celtic Britons, the indigenous inhabitants of Great Britain and Brittany, whose surviving members are the modern Welsh people, Cornish people, and Bretons. It may also refer to citizens of the former British Empire.


Sociomusicology, also called music sociology or the sociology of music, refers to both an academic subfield of sociology that is concerned with music, as well as a subfield of musicology that focuses on social aspects of musical behavior and the role of music in society.



As a student, he read PPE at Oxford and earned a doctorate in sociology from UC Berkeley. He is the author of many influential books, including The Sociology of Rock (Constable, 1978), Sound Effects: Youth, Leisure and the Politics of Rock 'n' Roll (Pantheon, 1981), Art into Pop (Methuen, 1987 - written with Howard Horne), Music for Pleasure: Essays on the Sociology of Pop (Cambridge University Press, 1988), and Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music (Oxford University Press, 1996). He has also co-edited key anthologies in the interdisciplinary field of popular music studies, including: On Record: Rock, Pop & the Written Word (Routledge, 1990), Sound and Vision: Music Video Reader (Routledge, 1993), and The Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock (Cambridge University Press, 2001).

Sociology Scientific study of human society and its origins, development, organizations, and institutions

Sociology is the scientific study of society, patterns of social relationships, social interaction, and culture of everyday life. It is a social science that uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about social order, acceptance, and change or social evolution. While some sociologists conduct research that may be applied directly to social policy and welfare, others focus primarily on refining the theoretical understanding of social processes. Subject matter ranges from the micro-sociology level of individual agency and interaction to the macro level of systems and the social structure.

<i>Art into Pop</i>

Art into Pop is a book by Simon Frith and Howard Horne, published in 1987. It analyses the integration of art school sensibilities in popular music since the 1950s. According to the authors, inspiration for the book came when they observed that a "significant number of British pop musicians from the 1960s to the present were educated and first started performing in art schools." According to academic Barry Faulk, it was "the first study to suggest that punk rock was art-school inspired, though without addressing the disparity between sociological reality and the rhetoric of punk rock groups."

More recently, Frith has edited a four-volume set, Popular Music: Critical Concepts in Media & Cultural Studies (Routledge, 2004), and published a collection of his key essays, Taking Popular Music Seriously: Selected Essays (Ashgate, 2007). He is the co-author of a three-volume work, The History of Live Music in Britain since 1950, the first volume of which will be published in March 2013[ needs update ] by Ashgate.

Frith has chaired the judges of the Mercury Music Prize since it began in 1992. [3] His popular music criticism has appeared in a range of popular presses including the Village Voice and The Sunday Times . He taught in the Sociology Department at the University of Warwick and the English Studies Department at Strathclyde University. In 1999, he went to the University of Stirling as Professor of Film and Media. In 2006, he took up his current post, Tovey Chair of Music at the University of Edinburgh. He is the brother of guitarist and composer Fred Frith and neuroscientist Chris Frith.

<i>The Sunday Times</i> British weekly newspaper

The Sunday Times is the largest-selling British national newspaper in the "quality press" market category. It is published by Times Newspapers Ltd, a subsidiary of News UK, which is in turn owned by News Corp. Times Newspapers also publishes The Times. The two papers were founded independently and have been under common ownership only since 1966. They were bought by News International in 1981.

University of Warwick public research university located in Coventry, United Kingdom

The University of Warwick is a public research university on the outskirts of Coventry, England. It was founded in 1965 as part of a government initiative to expand higher education. Within the University, Warwick Business School was established in 1967, Warwick Law School was established in 1968, Warwick Manufacturing Group was established in 1980 and Warwick Medical School was opened in 2000. Warwick merged with Coventry College of Education in 1979 and Horticulture Research International in 2004. Warwick is consistently cited as amongst the world's most targeted university institutions by employers.

University of Stirling university in Scotland

The University of Stirling is a public university founded by Royal charter in 1967. It is a plate glass university located in the Central Belt of Scotland, built within the walled Airthrey Castle estate close to Stirling. Since its foundation, it has expanded to four faculties, a Management School, a Graduate School, and a number of institutes and centres covering a broad range of subjects in the academic areas of arts and humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and health sciences and sport.

Frith was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2017 New Year Honours for services to higher education and popular music. [4]

The Sociology of Rock

In The Sociology of Rock (1978) Frith examines the consumption, production, and ideology of rock music. He explores rock as leisure, as youth culture, as a force for liberation or oppression, and as background music. [5] He argues that rock music is a mass cultural form which derives its meaning and relevance from being a mass medium. He discusses the differences in perception and use of rock between the music industry and music consumers, as well as differences within those groups: "The industry may or may not keep control of rock's use, but it will not be able to determine all its meanings - the problems of capitalist community and leisure are not so easily resolved."

Consumption (economics) purchase and use of goods and services

Consumption is spending for acquisition of utility as opposed to investing which is spending for acquisition of future income. Consumption is a major concept in economics and is also studied in many other social sciences.

An ideology is a collection of normative beliefs and values that an individual or group holds for other than purely epistemic reasons. The term is especially used to describe a system of ideas and ideals which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy. In political science it is used in a descriptive sense to refer to political belief systems. In social science there are many political ideologies.

Rock music is a broad genre of popular music that originated as "rock and roll" in the United States in the early 1950s, and developed into a range of different styles in the 1960s and later, particularly in the United Kingdom and in the United States. It has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll, a style which drew heavily on the genres of blues, rhythm and blues, and from country music. Rock music also drew strongly on a number of other genres such as electric blues and folk, and incorporated influences from jazz, classical and other musical styles. Musically, rock has centered on the electric guitar, usually as part of a rock group with electric bass, drums, and one or more singers. Usually, rock is song-based music usually with a 4/4 time signature using a verse–chorus form, but the genre has become extremely diverse. Like pop music, lyrics often stress romantic love but also address a wide variety of other themes that are frequently social or political.

"Bad music"

Frith (2004, p. 17-9) argued that "'bad music' is a necessary concept for musical pleasure, for musical aesthetics." He distinguishes two common kinds of bad music; the first is the Worst Records Ever Made type, which includes:

The second type is the "rock critical list", which includes:

He later gives three common qualities attributed to bad music: inauthentic, [in] bad taste (see also: kitsch), and stupid. He argues that "The marking off of some tracks and genres and artists as 'bad' is a necessary part of popular music pleasure; it is a way we establish our place in various music worlds. And 'bad' is a key word here because it suggests that aesthetic and ethical judgements are tied together here: not to like a record is not just a matter of taste; it is also a matter of argument, and argument that matters." (p. 28)

In "Towards an Aesthetic of Popular Music" Simon Frith (1987) argues that popular music has four social functions that account for its value and popularity in society. [6] Popular music:

  1. allows us to answer questions about our own identity and place in society
  2. help us manage the relationship between our public and private emotional lives
  3. help us organize our sense of time and shapes popular memory
  4. is something that is possessed

Related Research Articles

Progressive music type of music that emphasizes form and stylistic variety

Progressive music is music that attempts to expand existing stylistic boundaries associated with specific genres of music. The word comes from the basic concept of "progress", which refers to development and growth by accumulation, and is often deployed in the context of distinct genres such as progressive country, progressive folk, progressive jazz, and progressive rock. Music that is deemed "progressive" usually synthesizes influences from various cultural domains, such as European art music, Celtic folk, West Indian, or African. It is rooted in the idea of a cultural alternative and may also be associated with auteur-stars and concept albums, considered traditional structures of the music industry.

Pop music is a genre of popular music that originated in its modern form in the United States and United Kingdom during the mid-1950s. The terms "popular music" and "pop music" are often used interchangeably, although the former describes all music that is popular and includes many diverse styles. "Pop" and "rock" were roughly synonymous terms until the late 1960s, when they became increasingly differentiated from each other.

Art rock is a subgenre of rock music that generally reflects a challenging or avant-garde approach to rock, or which makes use of modernist, experimental, or unconventional elements. Art rock aspires to elevate rock from entertainment to an artistic statement, opting for a more experimental and conceptual outlook on music. Influences may be drawn from genres such as experimental rock, avant-garde music, classical music, and jazz.

Avant-garde music is music that is considered to be at the forefront of experimentation or innovation in its field, with the term "avant-garde" implying a critique of existing aesthetic conventions, rejection of the status quo in favor of unique or original elements, and the idea of deliberately challenging or alienating audiences.

Music journalism journalism genre

Music journalism is media criticism and reporting about music topics, including popular music, classical music and traditional music. Journalists began writing about music in the eighteenth century, providing commentary on what is now regarded as classical music. In the 1960s, music journalism began more prominently covering popular music like rock and pop after the breakthrough of The Beatles. With the rise of the internet in the 2000s, music criticism developed an increasingly large online presence with music bloggers, aspiring music critics, and established critics supplementing print media online. Music journalism today includes reviews of songs, albums and live concerts, profiles of recording artists, and reporting of artist news and music events.

British popular music

British popular music and popular music in general, can be defined in a number of ways, but is used here to describe music which is not part of the art/classical music or Church music traditions, including folk music, jazz, pop and rock music. These forms of music have particularly flourished in Britain, which, it has been argued, has influenced popular music disproportionately to its size, partly due to its linguistic and cultural links with many countries, particularly the former areas of British control such as United States, Canada, and Australia, but also a capacity for invention, innovation and fusion, which has led to the development of, or participation in, many of the major trends in popular music. This is particularly true since the early 1960s when the British Invasion led by The Beatles, helped to secure British performers a major place in development of pop and rock music, which has been revisited at various times, with genres originating in or being radically developed by British musicians, including: blues rock, heavy metal music, progressive rock, punk rock, British folk rock, folk punk, acid jazz, drum and bass, grime, dubstep and Britpop.

Cock rock Wikimedia list article

Cock rock is a genre of rock music that emphasises a form of male sexuality. The style, developed in the later 1960s, came to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s, and it continues into the 21st century.

Aesthetics of music

In the pre-modern tradition, the aesthetics of music or musical aesthetics explored the mathematical and cosmological dimensions of rhythmic and harmonic organization. In the eighteenth century, focus shifted to the experience of hearing music, and thus to questions about its beauty and human enjoyment of music. The origin of this philosophic shift is sometimes attributed to Baumgarten in the 18th century, followed by Kant. Through their writing, the ancient term aesthetics, meaning sensory perception, received its present-day connotation. In recent decades philosophers have tended to emphasize issues besides beauty and enjoyment. For example, music's capacity to express emotion has been a central issue.

Pop rock is rock music with a greater emphasis on professional songwriting and recording craft, and less emphasis on attitude. Originating in the 1950s as an alternative to rock and roll, early pop rock was influenced by the beat, arrangements, and style of rock and roll. It may be viewed as a distinct genre field, rather than music that overlaps with pop and rock. The detractors of pop rock often deride it as a slick, commercial product, less authentic than rock music.

Rockism and poptimism

Rockism is the belief in certain values thought to be intrinsic to rock music, making the genre superior to other forms of popular music. A "rockist" may also be someone who regards rock music as the normative state of popular music. Poptimism is the belief that pop music is as worthy of professional critique and interest as rock music. Detractors of poptimism describe it as a counterpart of rockism that instead privileges the most famous or best-selling pop, hip-hop, and R&B acts.

Baroque pop music genre

Baroque pop is a fusion genre that combines rock music with particular elements of classical music. It emerged in the mid 1960s as artists pursued a majestic, orchestral sound and is identifiable for its appropriation of Baroque compositional styles and dramatic or melancholic gestures. Harpsichords figure prominently, while oboes, French horns, and string quartets are also common.

Bomp! Records is a Los Angeles-based record label formed in 1974 by fanzine publisher and music historian Greg Shaw and Suzy Shaw.

Chanson réaliste refers to a style of music performed in France primarily from the 1880s until the end of World War II. Influenced by literary realism and the naturalist movements in literature and theatre, chanson réaliste dealt with the lives of Paris's poor and working-class.

New York Rocker was a punk rock new wave magazine founded by Alan Betrock in 1976. Betrock left the magazine in 1978, and Andy Schwartz took over as editor until 1982. In 1979, it had a circulation of 20,000.

Art pop is a loosely defined style of pop music influenced by pop art's integration of high and low culture, and which emphasizes the manipulation of signs, style, and gesture over personal expression. Art pop artists may be inspired by postmodern approaches or art theories as well as other forms of art, such as fashion, fine art, cinema, and avant-garde literature. They may deviate from traditional pop audiences and rock music conventions, instead exploring ideas such as pop's status as commercial art, notions of artifice and the self, and questions of historical authenticity.

"Sunday Will Never Be the Same" is a 1967 song by the American band Spanky and Our Gang from their self-titled debut album. The single peaked at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #7 in the Canadian RPM Magazine charts. The song was written by Terry Cashman and Gene Pistilli and borrows an interlude from the French carol “Les Anges Dans Nos Campagnes”.

<i>It Was Twenty Years Ago Today</i> (film) 1987 film

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today is a 1987 British-made television documentary film about the 1967 Summer of Love. It first aired on 1 June 1987, twenty years after the official release date of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. The documentary takes the Beatles album as the central factor behind the events and scenes that led to the full emergence of the 1960s counterculture in 1967. It was directed by John Sheppard for Granada Television. In addition to archive footage, it features interviews with key figures from the period, including Derek Taylor, who also served as consultant on the production, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Allen Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman and Timothy Leary. The documentary was accompanied by the book It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, written by Taylor. After its initial broadcast on the ITV network in the UK, the documentary was shown by PBS in the US on 11 November.

The Tovey Professorship of Music was established as a named chair at the University of Edinburgh by an ordinance approved by the University Court in 1965 and by the Privy Council the following year. The first person appointed to the chair was Michael Tilmouth, in 1971. He died in 1987. The next appointment was Simon Frith, OBE, who held the chair from 2006 until retiring in 2017.


  1. "New Year's Honours list 2017" (PDF). . Government Digital Service. 30 December 2016. p. 29. Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  2. Paul Morley. ... Ms Dynamite, M People and Portico Quartet. . Retrieved 27 November 2010.
  3. University of Edinburgh Staff Profile Archived 12 November 2013 at the Wayback Machine .. BBC . Retrieved 27 November 2010.
  4. "No. 61803". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2016. p. N12.
  5. Ken Tucker. THE WONDERFUL ART OF VULGARITY. The New York Times . Retrieved 27 November 2010.
  6. Frith, Simon (1987). Music & Society: The Politics of Consumption, Performance and Reception. Cambridge University Press. pp. 133–151. ISBN   9780521379779.