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The Harmonious Blend: Classical Music in Popular Music

Welcome to this month’s blog post for Dynamic Music Studios in

Coralville, Iowa. Today, we're diving into the rich and intriguing world of

classical music's influence on popular music. While these genres may seem

worlds apart, classical compositions often find their way into the vibrant

landscape of pop, rock, and other modern styles. Let's explore some

notable examples of artists that have used classical music to transform their


1. "All By Myself" by Eric Carmen

Eric Carmen's 1975 hit "All By Myself" is a prime example of classical

music's profound impact on popular music. The song’s beautiful piano

intro and melody are directly borrowed from Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano

Concerto No. 2 in C Minor. Carmen, trained in classical piano, seamlessly

integrated Rachmaninoff’s themes, creating a timeless ballad that has

resonated with audiences for decades. This fusion showcases how classical

music can add depth and emotional resonance to pop songs.

2. "A Whiter Shade of Pale" by Procol Harum

This iconic 1967 song by Procol Harum features a haunting organ line

inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach’s "Air on the G String" and "Sleepers,

Wake!" The song’s baroque feel, combined with its poetic lyrics, created a

unique and enduring piece that remains a classic in rock history. By

drawing on Bach’s intricate compositions, Procol Harum demonstrated

how classical music could enhance the sophistication and appeal of

contemporary music.

3. "Night of Fear" by The Move

British rock band The Move used a riff from Tchaikovsky’s "1812

Overture" in their 1966 song "Night of Fear." By incorporating this

famous classical theme, The Move added a dramatic and recognizable

element to their psychedelic rock sound. This track exemplifies how

classical music can be repurposed to create something entirely new and

exciting within the rock genre.

4. "Fifth of Beethoven" by Walter Murphy

A direct adaptation of classical music into popular form, Walter Murphy’s

"A Fifth of Beethoven" transforms Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony into a

disco hit. Released in 1976, the track topped charts and brought

Beethoven’s timeless composition to a new audience, demonstrating the

versatility and enduring appeal of classical music across different musical


5. "Cans and Brahms" by Yes

Prog rock band Yes took a unique approach with "Cans and Brahms," a

track from their 1971 album Fragile. Keyboardist Rick Wakeman

transcribed the third movement (minus the trio section) of the 3rd

movement, Allegretto grazioso, Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 in E

Minor for an array of synthesizers. This track highlights Wakeman’s

technical prowess. Fragile was to include a new composition by each

member of the band. Wakeman was brand new to Yes, and he was still

under contract with his previous record company. So, he sat down and

played the Brahms movement since it was in the public domain.

6. "Pictures at an Exhibition" by Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP) were masters at blending classical music

with rock. Their 1971 album Pictures at an Exhibition is a rock

interpretation of Modest Mussorgsky's piano suite of the same name. The

band reimagined Mussorgsky’s work with electric instruments, synthesizers,

and their signature progressive rock style, creating a powerful and

innovative fusion that introduced classical themes to a rock audience.

7. "Hoedown" by Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Another standout example from ELP is "Hoedown," from their 1972

album Trilogy. This track is an adaptation of Aaron Copland’s ballet

Rodeo. ELP’s version retains the energetic and rhythmic essence of

Copland’s piece while infusing it with their distinct progressive rock sound.

This blend of classical and rock elements showcases the band’s ability to

reinterpret and transform classical music into something entirely new and


8. "Memories" by Maroon 5

Maroon 5's 2019 hit "Memories" borrows the chord progression from

Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D. The song uses this overused, overplayed,

and repetitive classical bassline to create a modern pop ballad that

resonates with listeners despite them not knowing why. There are countless

other songs by other artists that also use this as sources material. Just ask

your favorite cellist what they think about playing this piece for almost

every wedding.

9. "Roll Over Beethoven" by Electric Light Orchestra

Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) is renowned for its fusion of rock and

classical music. Their 1973 cover of Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven"

not only pays homage to the rock and roll pioneer but also incorporates the

iconic opening motif of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. This clever blend of

classical and rock elements helped to create a unique sound that has

become a hallmark of ELO’s music.

10. "This Night" by Billy Joel

Billy Joel’s "This Night" from his 1983 album An Innocent Man features a

melody borrowed from Beethoven’s "Pathétique" Sonata (Sonata No. 8 in

C minor, Op. 13). Joel cleverly adapted this classical theme into a pop

ballad, blending his signature style with Beethoven’s.

11. "Alejandro" by Lady Gaga

The opening of Lady Gaga’s 2010 hit "Alejandro" is the beginning section

of Csardas by Vittorino Monti. This violin piece is used in other places

such as movies, shows, and commercials over the years.

12. "Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes

The White Stripes' 2003 anthem "Seven Nation Army" features a riff that

mirrors a phrase from Anton Bruckner’s 5th Symphony. Although Jack

White claims to have never heard the classical work, the similarity is

undeniable. Perhaps it was a coincidence or perhaps White heard the

Bruckner symphony as a youth and retained the pattern of notes


13. "Party Like a Russian" by Robbie Williams

Robbie Williams' 2016 single "Party Like a Russian" incorporates elements

from Sergei Prokofiev's "Dance of the Knights" from the ballet Romeo

and Juliet. The use of this powerful, dramatic orchestral piece adds a

grandiose and slightly ironic touch to the song, reflecting both the

opulence and the satirical tone of the lyrics. This track exemplifies how

classical music can be used to enhance the thematic depth and stylistic

impact of modern pop music.

14. "Annie's Song" by John Denver

John Denver’s 1974 hit "Annie's Song" was inspired by the second

movement of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5. Denver used the horn solo

note for note for the beginning of the melody of Annies’s Song.

Viola lessons, violin lessons, cello lessons, voice lessons, piano lessons, guitar lessons, brass lessons, saxophone lessons, clarinet lessons, flute lessons.


These examples illustrate the dynamic ways classical music influences and

enriches popular music. Whether through direct sampling, inspired

melodies, or the adaptation of classical forms, the seamless integration of

classical elements can increase the level of interest from all types of

listeners. We would not have pop artists without classical music. The

majority of successful pop stars started out in piano lessons or school

orchestra/band/choir. Popular music does not exist in a vacuum and is

more connected to what we consider classical music than many realize. Be

sure to ask your music lessons teacher for more information on how you

can integrate all styles of music into your learning here at Dynamic Music Studios.

This post was written by owner and viola/violin instructor Christina Mixemong.

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