Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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CG-80s Book Cover

Glossary

A&R: literally, artists-and-repertoire; loosely, any record company-employed label-artist liaison

Afrobeat: specifically, Fela's jazz- and rock-influenced extension of Nigerian highlife; sometimes used to point vaguely in the direction of all rockish African pop

Amerindie: short for American independent, designating the network of "alternative" labels, clubs, stores, and radio outlets that developed in the U.S. postpunk

AOR: album-oriented rock, the culturally conservative, arena-rock-oriented radio format that happened to the "progressive" FM of the '60s after radio formatters got hold of it

b.p.m.: beats per minute, a measure of decisive significance to dance DJs since the rationalization of disco in the middle '70s

B-boy: the quintessential rap fan; though it originally designated a teenager adhering to a New York street style of sweatshirts and unlaced sneakers, it's now used to categorize any young black male thought to be of juvenile-delinquent mien

boite: club intime

CHR: Contemporary Hits Radio, a face-saving moniker devised for top 40 after top 40 was declared dead by radio savants

CMA: Nashville-based Country Music Association, which gives out awards of the same initials

comp: jazz slang for accompany, often with harmonically acute, rhythmically disquieting piano chords

countrypolitan: early Nashville crossover concept, usually distinguished by genteel diction, nonspecific subject matter, hosts of glee clubs, and lotsa strings

cover: newly recorded version of a known (or at least previously available) song

crossover: originally devised to describe movement from the black charts to the pop charts, it now designates any record that gets its start in a specialized market and then goes pop

cuatro: small Puerto Rican guitar with five double-stringed courses

dance hall: energetic, electronic, and escapist '80s reggae style

dis: hip hop slang for put down, insult (from "disrespect")

DIY: do-it-yourself (title of a 1978 Peter Gabriel song)

DMSR: Prince's abbreviation for dance-music-sex-romance

DOR: dance-oriented rock, a euphemistic acronym concocted to signify a nonlovydovy disco-punk fusion--disco white bohemians would dance to

dub: in reggae, a spare, spacy "version"; essentially a new piece of music derived from a few selected elements--bass lines, keyboard fragments, vocal phrases--of the original

forcebeat: John Piccarella coinage designating the ideal punk rhythm, which might be described as a flat four-four that moves faster than your body thinks it should

go go: D.C.-based funk-r&b fusion characterized by an unusually swinging dance rhythm and, sometimes, rap or rap-influenced vocals

hardcore: very fast, militantly antisocial punk variant that began in L.A. and D.C. in the late '70s

harmolodic: Ornette Coleman's name for his musical theory; some believe even he doesn't understand it; many believe they recognize it when they hear it regardless

highlife: Ghanaian pop style, vaguely big-bandish in its mature phase, that dominated Afropop before Zaire took over

hip hop: rap culture, especially rap dance culture

honky-tonk: hard, electrified country style that began in the Texas joints of the '30s and was disseminated by Ernest Tubb a decade later

hook: something that makes you remember a song, often inserted to just that end

ital: Rastafarian patois for healthy or natural (from "vital")

Jah: Rastafarian name for God

keyb: abbreviation for keyboard that became common in album credits at around the time keyboardists started deploying arsenals of synthesizers

kora: twenty-one-stringed West African harp-lute

kwassa kwassa: fast, simple soukous variant

legato: smooth and unbroken

lovers rock: romantic reggae of the early '80s

mbalax: Senegalese genre identified with Youssou N'Dour

mbaqanga: the r&b-ish urban-traditional hybrid that has been the South African townships' dominant indigenous pop since the '60s (literally, Zulu for cornbread)

mbira: South African thumb piano

mbube: South African choral singing style best-known via Ladysmith Black Mambazo's iscathamiya variant

MOR: literally, middle-of-the-road; applied to radio formats that shun or put stringent tempo and volume restrictions on rock, although "lite" and "adult contemporary" are now the preferred evasions

NARAS: National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which has handed out Grammies since 1958

new age: vague catchall encompassing pretentious, lulling instrumental background music with roots in jazz, folk, or classical, even rock, or very commonly some combination of two or more--but not in so-called "beautiful music" pop

new jack: the slicker, more affluent and gangster-minded black street style that succeeded B-boy culture, associated with a more tuneful version of hip hop

new thing: '60s "free jazz"

new wave: a polite term devised to reassure people who were scared by punk, it enjoyed a two- or three-year run but was falling from favor as the '80s began

NME: New Musical Express, once the dominant and most intellectual British music weekly

norteño: very Hispanic, often ballad-based Tex-Mex style from Rio Grande country

obbligato: persistent background motif

oi: martial-sounding football-cheer punk favored by a subculture of working-class British males at the turn of the decade

ostinato: recurring melodic fragment, invariably on some sort of keyb--a device whose rhythmic potential was exploited by art-rockers into a humongous rock cliché

outgroove: the empty groove at the end of a record

outro: opposite of intro--sometimes faded, sometimes not

overdisc: on the other side of the record (my coinage, from "overleaf")

PMRC: Parents' Music Resource Center, which spearheaded the rock censorship drive of the late '80s

polyrhythm: rhythm laid on top of (or beneath) a related or contrasting rhythm (or rhythms)

positivity: jargon word that arose in black pop of the '70s to designate what Bad Brains later dubbed PMA, for positive mental attitude; the usual combination of optimism and will

postpunk: literally, after punk (no shit, Sherlock); used as loosely as "postmodern" to indicate all the alternative musical directions that became possible after punk opened things up

power pop: term devised to encompass the fast, beaty, but tune-oriented bands who came to prominence in the wake of punk

pub-rock: a prepunk U.K. predecessor of roots-rock, it exploited rockabilly, r&b, and straight pre-Beatles rock and roll rather than blues or country

rai: Algerian pop-rock style usually featuring male singers improvising lyrics over electrified studio accompaniment

r&b: rhythm-and-blues; usually designates the black rock and roll preceding soul music, though it's sometimes extended to mean all post-'50s black pop

Rastafarian: adherent of antihierarchical Jamaican religion emphasizing social separatism, African return, dreadlocks, and the divinity of Haile Selassie (a/k/a Ras Tafari)

rave-up: all the guitars making climactic noise at once, sometimes for an entire song

readymade: by Richard Meltzer out of Marcel Duchamp, a coinage designating any musical device ripe for transplant to another context

RIAA: the Recording Industry Association of America, which certifies gold and platinum albums and led the war against home taping

rumba: Cuban-influenced Zairean style that generated soukous

salsa: Afro-Cuban style developed in New York's Puerto Rican community in the '40s and then reinterpreted all over the Caribbean

salsero: male salsa singer (they're almost all male)

sanza: African thumb piano of many names, the most common of which is currently "mbira"

scratching: rap rhythmic effect achieved by pulling a spinning record manually back and forth under the needle

semipopular: my coinage for music that is popular in form but not fact--self-consciously arty music that plays off popular or formerly popular usages but isn't (supposedly) designed to sell; most postpunk is quintessentially semipopular

shakuhachi: Japanese bamboo flute of mellow, resonant tone

ska: the fast, jumpy, surprisingly polkalike Jamaican pop that preceded rocksteady and reggae

skank: move to ska or reggae; boogie, Jamaican style

skronk: onomatopoiea for ugly no wave noise music

soukous: Zairean style generally regarded as roughening and simplifying the rumba that preceded it; polyrhythmic, with bipartite song structures and a distinctive chattering or billowing guitar sound, it has dominated popular music in black Africa for two decades

tipico: Spanish term somewhere between "traditional" and "characteristic of the culture"; echt

urban contemporary: euphemism devised for black music and especially radio to allay the fears of radio savants that white people (and for that matter upwardly mobile black people) wouldn't listen to it if you called it black

vamp: play the same simple succession of chords over and over, rhythmically if possible

vocoder: synthesizer that makes a voice sound like it's calling in from Venus

Western swing: country style melding swing usages into traditional fiddle-based dance music, identified with Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys

Christgau's Record Guide: The '80s, 1990


The A Lists: 1989 Credits