The Genealogy of Pop/Rock Music

The History of the Chart

Reebee Garofalo (updated 2016)

The Genealogy of Pop/Rock Music has been praised by many scholars and fans alike as an important history lesson, a valuable research tool, and just plain fun to look at. This engaging graphic has had a long and venerable history of popping up in some very interesting places.

I created the chart back in 1977 as part of the research I was doing for Rock 'N' Roll is Here to Pay: The History and Politics of the Music Industry by Steve Chapple and myself. After seeing a rough drawing of genres that Charlie Gillett did on a paper bag, which graced the cover of the 1970 paperback edition of his seminal The Sound of the City, I wanted to do a proper version of artists and genres.

The particular shape and style of the genealogy combined my love of pin striping on 1950s customized cars and my desire to capture the contours and flow of the mid-20th century pop/rock/soul market in graphic form. Back then, it was called "Marketing Trends and Stylistic Patterns in Pop/Rock Music" and it went from 1955-1974. It was included as a three-page fold-out in early printings of Rock 'n' Roll is Here to Pay (then reduced to smaller sizes in subsequent printings). In fact, if you can find the three flap fold-out from the first paperback edition, I’d buy it.

As soon as the chart hit the market in Rock ‘n’ Roll is Here to Pay, it started generating buzz in the music community. Early on, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame wanted to use it as a permanent installation. It was actually displayed in the original architect’s model for the Rock Hall that was made by the Burdick Group of San Francisco. The Rock Hall even sent me a contract. But then there was a complete staff turnover, and a more active Board of Directors decided that it would be difficult to decide on an appropriate genealogy for this music. You can bet there was a back story there.

In May 1978, Steve Chapple and I had a piece in Mother Jones magazine on “The Rise and Fall of FM Rock.” It was accompanied by an uninspiring artist rendering of the chart that ran as a graphic over the story. I thought it was a somewhat lackluster interpretation that did no justice to the original, but there it was, in the pages of Mother Jones.

The following year, NBC Radio commissioned me to update the chart for a marketing campaign they were contemplating, which I did. The woman who contracted me, however, abruptly left her job and her marketing campaign sank without a trace. But this exercise led to the updated version of the chart, now renamed The Genealogy of Pop/Rock Music and pictured above, which is available from as a professionally made poster. The go-to guy at HistoryShots, Larry Gormley, has treated the chart with great respect and a discerning aesthetic eye and has been a joy to work with. I look forward to a long and satisfying relationship with the company.

When WGBH-TV, Boston’s PBS television station, was first developing the idea for what became the 10 part series Rock and Roll, I was called in by the Executive Producer as a possible consultant to the project. I think I talked myself out of a potentially lucrative consulting gig when I criticized the original proposal for its overproduction of Britrock and lack of attention to black artists and particularly disco. Still, they were interested in using the chart for their marketing proposal. Since they were going after big time corporate bucks, however, they didn’t want to use the original, which they thought of as . . . I think the word they used was “primitive.” Instead they created a computer generated, high tech version of the chart with circles and arrows and curlicues all over the place. Imagine Keith Haring working in an early draw program. I guess it worked though; their proposal got mega-funding.

The last time that I was brought in as a rock ‘n’ roll consultant to a major project was when Paul Allen was building the Experience Music Project in Seattle. His team of curators was interested in creating a huge sculpture in the middle of the building that depicted the Roots and Branches of rock ‘n’ roll — a sort of three-dimensional version of the rock chart. Having gotten hold of a reproduction of my chart, they pulled me in to help develop the concept. Umpteen staff changes later, they still couldn’t agree on a concept, and the Roots and Branches idea was ultimately abandoned in favor of that gigantic guitar sculpture that now ascends dramatically to the second level. While it works well enough as an abstract sculpture, it provides little in the way of useful music history.

If WGBH didn’t like primitive and EMP couldn’t figure out how to incorporate information into its central sculpture, graphic design guru Edward Tufte touted the virtues of the chart on both counts. He decided to use the original 1977 version of the chart in his seminal graphics text Visual Explanations (1997). For those of you who have seen his road show, he uses the chart as an example of an effective design for capturing lots of information in a graphically pleasing way. “Your chart brings my book to a stop,” he once told me, “at least for those of us of a certain age!”

Los Angeles Artist Dave Muller was so taken by the chart that when he was asked to contribute an installation of his own choosing to the 2004 Whitney Biennial, the signature exhibition of New York’s Whitney Museum, he blew up the reproduction in Tufte’s book and made it the centerpiece of a 30 foot wall mural. Muller’s “appropriation” moved the chart into the realm of fine art. Muller has since mounted versions of this installation in Rome, London, Paris, Melbourne, and Australia, and elsewhere, all without ever asking my permission.

Muller’s appropriations have outraged many of my friends, who felt I should sue him, especially after he installed it again in 2008 in my own backyard at the Institute for Contemporary Art in Boston. There it defined the public wall at the ICA’s entrance for almost all of 2008. I thought about suing, even talked to a lawyer, who assured me we could make big bucks. Ultimately, however, I decided that public access to information was more important than lining my pockets. I wonder if Muller knows that he may have narrowly he dodged a bullet.

The year 2005 was a big year for disseminating the chart. First off, I included a copy of the original drawing as a two-page fold-out in the third edition of my book Rockin’ Out: Popular Music in the USA (2005).

Also in 2005, I was approached by Marco Ferrari, a journalist working with the Italian magazine Focus, with a proposal “to compile in just one graphic timeline a (very rough) history of popular music, by genres,” using my chart as the basis for their work. The result: River of Music, a graphic that extends my original chart in a most engaging way to the year 2000. It appeared as an eight flap, full color, centerfold poster in the June 2005 issue of Focus.

Finally, when director Greg Whitely was shooting his documentary New York Doll (2005), an endearing profile of bassist Arthur “Killer” Kane, he wanted to include a short segment that positioned the Dolls in rock history and asked if he could use my chart as the device for doing so. There was one problem, however: The New York Dolls never sold enough records to make it onto the chart. So he had his artists create a special New York Dolls version of the chart, which appears in the film, to demonstrate their importance to punk.

Since that time the chart has appeared in any number of graphics texts and magazines, including:

2011, Visualization of Time-Oriented Data. Wolfgang Aigner, ‪Silvia Miksch, ‪Heidrun Schumann, ‪Christian Tominski, London: Springer, p. 24.

2012, Umbrella Magazine, accompanying Stuart Wright, “Rock of Ages,” Autumn, pp 38-39.

2012, The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design, boxed set, 1,000 cards, 3,300 illustrations.

2014, Bright Diaries, Bright Magazine Trade Show XVIII Catalogue, Berlin, Jan 15-17, pp 3132.03rg

2014, Cool Infographics: Effective Communication with Data Visualization and Design, Randy Krum, Indianapolis, IN: Wiley.

2015, Understanding the World: The Atlas of Infographics, Sandra Roentgen (author), Julius Wiedemann (editor), Los Angeles, CA: Taschen Books.

For me, creating this chart was a labor of love. Along the way, I enjoyed the company and able assistance of many friends and acquaintances. I still remember the night that Dianne Dion (then Carasik) spilled Scotch on the original while surveying my placement of artists. When my calligraphy skills were not up to the task, my friend and former college roommate, the late Damon Rarey, stepped in with a major assist in the caligraphy department. (Damon was an accomplished artist in his own right; check out his legacy at For the 1979 update presented here, artist Jean Nicolazzo, my girlfriend at the time, took over Damon’s graphics role. When decisions about artists and categories seemed too complicated to manage, I was fortunate to have Sam Kopper, Allan MacDougall, Beverly Mier, Rory O’Connor, Robert Plattner, and Norm Weiner to talk to. They should get some of the credit for these admittedly subjective judgments; I’ll take all of the complaints.