Why Aren’t They In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame: Johann Pachelbel

There are quite a few classical composers whose work has found itself appropriated or stolen for pop music.  Apollo 440 made a career out of adapting classical songs with a disco beat, Brahms found the theme from the third movement of his third symphony appropriated by Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Carlos Santana in one of his comeback songs, “Love Of My Life [1],” Sergei Rachmaninoff was a popular composer for the songs of Eric Carmen, and to be sure other examples of this phenomenon would not be difficult to find. That said, there is no classical song that has been more frequently or consistently plundered for pop music appropriation than Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D.  This is not some sort of secret known only to music snobs like myself. On the contrary, it is only a slight exaggeration to say that every song rips off Canon In D [2].  Literally dozens of songs use the identical 4 chord structure of Pachelbel’s Canon, and if he had not made such a memorable and worthwhile part of the pop/rock/classical repertoire with his songwriting, then surely such a popular chord progression would have needed to be found by someone else.  It should be fairly obvious that if someone has an entire wikipedia category with rock era songs based on one of their songs, then that composer is worthy of recognition, regardless of their genre.

The Influence Of Johann Pachelbel

It is likely that Pachelbel would have been surprised at his immense influence in the contemporary world of music [3].  In many ways, Johann Pachelbel was an unusual figure in music.  He was the last of a string of famous composers in the Middle Baroque period and the last of the noted Nuremburg composers of Southern Germany.  After him there were Austrian and North German composers that became famous, but no more South Germans.  Like Ignace Pleyel [4], Pachelbel’s music briefly became well-known, even in the United States, as a result of the fact that it was pretty easy to play, but the fact that he had few followers and came at the end of a period of music meant that for a long time his music was obscure until it was recovered and given a prominent place in the orchestral repertoire in the 1960’s and beyond.  It is the ease and the pleasant sound of the chord progression of Canon in D that made it such a nearly universal aspect of contemporary music, and if his music was not in the public domain and available for free use, it is likely that his music lawyers would have locked down a lot of song royalty and songwriting credit, but as it is, the common denominator of so much familiar music is not entirely recognized by those who nevertheless sense it as a pleasant sound to the ears, and who correspondingly honor those songs that use that chord progression with chart success, and give credit to those who adopt those chords for originality of songwriting, when little could be further from the truth.

Why Johann Pachelbel Belongs In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

In the popular imagination, Johann Pachelbel is widely considered the classical version of a one-hit wonder.  Even those who recognize Canon in D and its ubiquitous presence in our music would be hard-pressed to think of a second song by this composer, and a result at least in part for the wide gulf between the familiarity of Canon in D and the composer’s repertoire as a whole, Pachelbel has not received the normal credit that a composer of his stature, not least of his popular appeal, would normally receive.  To be sure, classical composers are not the sort of people that are automatically thought of as being fundamental in the establishment of rock & roll as an art form, but there are at least two reasons why Johann Pachelbel is worthy of such treatment.  For one, the number of songs that use Canon in D as a template for their chord structure is staggering, making it among the most influential songs in history.  If Pachelbel had only written that one song it would have been enough to make him a pivotal musical influence of the highest order.  Yet he wrote a lot more, including more that is worth knowing, even if he is considered a one-hit wonder, something that he shares in common with many worthy figures in the history of Rock & Roll [5].

Why Johann Pachelbel Isn’t In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

It’s pretty clear that classical composers are not on the radar of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame when it comes to induction.  Nor is Pachelbel the only such composer worthy of induction for his influence on the history of rock & roll music, but his influence is so massive that it has become a joke about the lack of creativity among many songwriters.  Rather than a joke, it ought to be a matter of honor and credit to the long-obscure South German composer who memorably put those four chords in progression in his beautiful Canon in D, and thus served as one of the earlier influences on rock & roll music.

Verdict:  Put him in as an early influence, or as a songwriter.  Anything less would be a crime, namely that of theft.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2017/04/03/album-review-brahms-the-symphonies

[2] See, for example:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Works_based_on_Pachelbel%27s_Canon

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Pachelbel

[4] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/07/22/the-sad-fate-of-ignace-pleyel/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/07/22/album-review-jane-austen-entertains

[5] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/08/03/come-on-come-on-its-there-at-your-feet/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/like-the-deserts-miss-the-rain/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/08/09/i-can-dream-about-you/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, Music History, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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