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How the Beatles Destroyed Rock n Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music (2009)

Tekijä: Elijah Wald

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioKeskustelut
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"There are no definitive histories," writes Elijah Wald, in this provocative reassessment of American popular music, "because the past keeps looking different as the present changes." Earlier musical styles sound different to us today because we hear them through the musical filter of other styles that came after them, all the way through funk and hiphop. As its blasphemous title suggests, How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll rejects the conventional pieties of mainstream jazz and rock history. Rather than concentrating on those traditionally favored styles, the book traces the evolution of popular music through developing tastes, trends and technologies--including the role of records, radio, jukeboxes and television --to give a fuller, more balanced account of the broad variety of music that captivated listeners over the course of the twentieth century. Wald revisits original sources--recordings, period articles, memoirs, and interviews--to highlight how music was actually heard and experienced over the years. And in a refreshing departure from more typical histories, he focuses on the world of working musicians and ordinary listeners rather than stars and specialists. He looks for example at the evolution of jazz as dance music, and rock 'n' roll through the eyes of the screaming, twisting teenage girls who made up the bulk of its early audience. Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and the Beatles are all here, but Wald also discusses less familiar names like Paul Whiteman, Guy Lombardo, Mitch Miller, Jo Stafford, Frankie Avalon, and the Shirelles, who in some cases were far more popular than those bright stars we all know today, and who more accurately represent the mainstream of their times. Written with verve and style, How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll shakes up our staid notions of music history and helps us hear American popular music with new ears [Publisher description].… (lisätietoja)
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Näyttää 1-5 (yhteensä 6) (seuraava | näytä kaikki)
First of all, kudos for the ballsy, if somewhat tongue-in-cheek title. I probably wouldn't have picked up this "alternative history of American popular music", as the slightly more accurate subtitle labels it, if the book had been called something else. There's a lot of very interesting discussion of trends in music composition, recording, consumption, and evolution in here, and although the book drags a bit in the middle when it's documenting a lot of obscure performers in obscure styles, its core thesis - that the watershed moment in the mid-Sixties when The Beatles and their contemporaries transformed the music industry had downsides as well as upsides - is well-argued and very thought-provoking.

One of the things that Rolling Stone magazine does from time to time that's guaranteed to provoke smiles from younger readers is to compile a list of Top Fifty Whatevers (songs, guitarists, singers, etc.), that that is somehow mysteriously loaded with representatives from the era when Jann Wenner and everyone else who works there were young, i.e. the Sixties. There's a Tom the Dancing Bug strip that says something along the lines of "pop culture was best when you were a teeanger", and indeed most people retain a lasting and almost irrational affection for the music they heard when they were growing up due to the incredible power of nostalgia. However, when it comes to determining "the canon" of great works from the past, somehow we have an extremely selective memory; some very popular bands (e.g. The Monkees) get retroactively dismissed on the grounds of unseriousness or what have you, while bands that nobody cared about at the time are retrospectively lauded (e.g. The Velvet Underground). This isn't just a rock thing, this happens with all music styles as well, as seen by the lasting respect accorded Duke Ellington versus the almost total unperson-ness of his contemporary Paul Whiteman.

Wald's explanation for this was something I'd vaguely considered before, but never thought to put quite this way: "It is often said that history is written by the victors, but in the case of pop music that is rarely true. The victors tend to be out dancing, while the historians sit at their desks, assiduously chronicling music they cannot hear on mainstream radio. And it is not just historians: The people who choose to write about popular music, even while it is happening, tend to be far from average consumers and partygoers and often despise the tastes and behavior of their more cheerful and numerous peers." That rang very true to me; every serious music fan I've ever spoken to has varying levels of contempt for pop, club, and dance music, even though it's all you hear when you go out. Far better the kind of avant-garde art music that you listen to at home, alone, in headphones, that invites serious attention and inspires rapturous multi-paragraph reviews. Music writers are overwhelmingly white, male, and nerdy, and this has had a big impact on how black, female, and more pop-oriented artists have been appraised over the years.

As the majority of the book shows, while the division between high-brow and low-brow is certainly not unique to the rock age, a lot of technological, social, and musical changes happened to produce the peculiar musical culture we have today. Wald goes through the history of jazz, blues, ragtime, country & western, and other genres with an eye on the interplay of forces that both spurred innovation and slowed down change. In particular, his short discussion of the effects of the triple shock of Prohibition, the Great Depression, and World War II on musicians and their audiences left me wishing for more, but he also had a great analysis of how big of an effect the invention of recorded music had on fields as disparate as movie soundtracks and dance clubs, as well as its contribution to the essential disappearance of what's been called the "American songbook" of folk songs in favor of the creation of specific ties between a song and one particular artist. Bob Dylan is a good example of a transitional figure: whereas it was once the norm for songs to not be associated so much with one particular person, and Dylan in fact had several of his earlier songs become hits for other people first, the Sixties were really when the idea of a song "belonging" to the original artist became the norm.

The title's relevance does not really come into its own until the very last chapter, after an at times almost interminable litany of artists working in one pre-Sixties genre or another. The thesis is that while segregation was much more harsh before The Beatles than after, the mid-Sixties marked an important dividing line in music between an era when white and black musicians played each other's music and engaged in a creative dialogue with each other; and an era when different groups stopped listening to each other. There are numerous objections you could raise to this idea (e.g. what about hip hop?), but I think Wald is onto something when he says that James Brown's "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" is in its own way just as revolutionary as most of what The Beatles put out, and that the world has lost something when genres like funk, soul, R&B, and so forth are artistically segregated from whiter, artier genres. Whether you agree with him or not, though, he's got a lot of great material in this book, and his points about the artificiality of the canon are sadly all too true. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
This book was a very interesting read, and I covered a lot of the topics that it mentioned through my status updates. Having finished the book, for those of you that are curious about the title and its premise (and want a more in depth explanation than I offer without reading the whole book) I'd recommend reading the last chapter and the epilogue, both sum up the explanation of the title rather well.

All of that having been said, it would be more accurate for the title and the subtitle to be switched. "An Alternative History of American Popular Music: How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll" or something similar. The book is indeed an alternative history of American popular music, and it covers eighty years of history ending in the 1970s.

The book reads a bit like a dissertation or a thesis paper, and I don't mean that in a negative way. Each chapter covers a very particular subject in history, and in the end it all seems to tie together pretty nicely. In the epilogue [a:Elijah Wald|93593|Elijah Wald|http://www.goodreads.com/assets/nophoto/nophoto-U-50x66.jpg] does admit exceptions to his theory, and attempts to bring it all up to modern day.

The essence of his theory is that when the British Invasion happened the Beatles (and other such British bands) covered a great deal of rhythm and blues songs, and the American audience ate it up. The British Invasion solidified the fact that white musicians were dominating the rock world, which they continue to do today, and eliminated the musical integration that had happened previously.

Jazz, blues, pop, etc. all took lessons from the black community and traditions - the dance steps nearly all originated from the black gospel churches. The composers and musicians essentially all get filed under rhythm and blues and/or soul even if they write rock records (Ike and Tina Turner's River Deep - Mountain High was here mentioned) which unduly ruins their chances of climbing to the top of the charts.

While all of this I found interesting, I ultimately disagreed with the conclusion that he came to. While it might have been true in the context of the times this happened, I don't believe that it really extends into today. I can think of too many exceptions to the "certain genres are dominated by certain races" rule, and I don't believe the bulk of any population is prejudiced against any particular artist being any particular thing. Gay musicians make it to the top of the charts, as do artists of any race. Heck, looking at the last.fm records of any person can kind of guarantee that you're getting a huge mix.

Essentially, I'd recommend this book as a truly great history, but it hasn't changed my mind about the Beatles influence, impact, and legacy. Everyone does build off what has come before, but I think that they pretty well acknowledged their own influences, as I feel that Bob Dylan acknowledged his. ( )
  Lepophagus | Jun 14, 2018 |
Elijah Wald surveys the history of American popular music from about 1880 to about 1980. The title is provocative but the book is substantial and very, very interesting. Any time a book about music prompts me to listen to more than one artist's recordings, it rates highly with me. This one clarified some confusions I had and sent me off in search of a host of reissues of jazz and pop recordings. ( )
1 ääni nmele | Apr 6, 2013 |
The title sold me the book, but the subtitle is much more descriptive of what the book is about. Wald traces the evolution of American popular music from ragtime to rock'n'roll, and shows how changes in technology and social mores helped shape how music changed over the 20th century. Wald shows how the desires of dancers young and old shaped what music bands would play, and why there's a difference between critically-acclaimed music and best-selling music.

He does make a strong case to justify his title, but it's not a significant part of the book - he presents it in context, when covering the Beatles, and how they took rock music in a direction which separated it from music for dancers.

The book is overall well-written, and presents myriad little details to flesh out the story, giving fascinating glimpses into the music and dance scenes across the country from the tail end of the 19th century into the disco era. My main complaint about the book is that for a book written in the 2000s, there's almost no coverage past 1970 to explore the consequences of the Beatles' destruction of rock'n'roll. ( )
1 ääni argyriou | Jul 11, 2012 |
This is an excellent and exhaustive history of American popular music of the 20th century. Wald questions every assumption about popular music by going back to original sources to see what was really happening at the time each new trend in music came along. As Wald says, music history, unlike other history, is not written by the winners, but the losers. Critics often celebrate bands that are not popular but innovative, The Beatles being the one glaring exception. Wald's insight is that although the critics do not give much attention to the popular trends, those trends are influential as a consequence of being popular. This is true whether the artist in question is Paul Whiteman's orchestra in the 20s, Guy Lombardo in the 40s, or Perry Como in the 50s and 60s. Another aspect of popular music that Wald examines is the changes in technology that affected music in the 20th century. As the medium of music that the majority of listeners used changed from sheet music, to 78s, to radio, to LPs, to 45s, the music changed as well. ( )
  markfinl | Oct 16, 2011 |
Näyttää 1-5 (yhteensä 6) (seuraava | näytä kaikki)
It’s understandable that he didn’t name his new hardback How Popular Music From 1890 to 1970 Stopped Being Racially Miscegenated Dance Music Played By Live Bands For Live Audiences, and Started Being Racially Segregated Music Designed For Private Listening, as Eventually Typified By The Beatles—but that is the book we have here, a fascinating and scrupulous piece of pop scholarship that’s nonetheless maddening for failing to deliver on its title.
lisäsi Shortride | muokkaaPaste, Nick Marino (Sep 1, 2009)
 
If the world is divided into lumpers and splitters, those who see forests and those who see trees, Wald is in love with every branch of the ramifying bush that is popular music.
 
The subtitle of Wald’s book is “An Alternative History of American Popular Music.” It’s a brave and original work that certainly delivers on that promise, though the author seems at times as conflicted about the value of certain artists and forms of music as were the timid radio programmers and record company executives back in the day.
 
If you’re looking, as Wald’s subtitle has it, for “an alternative history of American popular music” — specifically from the turn of the 20th century to roughly the mid-1970s — you’ve found it. And if you’re up for some good arguments, you’ve found those too.
 
Wald deepens the appreciation of American popular music by broadening its context and erasing the canonical lines that have made many boy geniuses specialists in the niche approach to criticism. This is a work of celebration, not destruction.
 
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Dedicated to the memory of Jeff McLaughlin, whose support and criticism helped me so often over the years, and whose presence in this book and in my life is sorely missed
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The first record I ever owned was side two of 'Meet the Beatles'.
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Englanninkielinen Wikipedia (2)

"There are no definitive histories," writes Elijah Wald, in this provocative reassessment of American popular music, "because the past keeps looking different as the present changes." Earlier musical styles sound different to us today because we hear them through the musical filter of other styles that came after them, all the way through funk and hiphop. As its blasphemous title suggests, How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll rejects the conventional pieties of mainstream jazz and rock history. Rather than concentrating on those traditionally favored styles, the book traces the evolution of popular music through developing tastes, trends and technologies--including the role of records, radio, jukeboxes and television --to give a fuller, more balanced account of the broad variety of music that captivated listeners over the course of the twentieth century. Wald revisits original sources--recordings, period articles, memoirs, and interviews--to highlight how music was actually heard and experienced over the years. And in a refreshing departure from more typical histories, he focuses on the world of working musicians and ordinary listeners rather than stars and specialists. He looks for example at the evolution of jazz as dance music, and rock 'n' roll through the eyes of the screaming, twisting teenage girls who made up the bulk of its early audience. Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and the Beatles are all here, but Wald also discusses less familiar names like Paul Whiteman, Guy Lombardo, Mitch Miller, Jo Stafford, Frankie Avalon, and the Shirelles, who in some cases were far more popular than those bright stars we all know today, and who more accurately represent the mainstream of their times. Written with verve and style, How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll shakes up our staid notions of music history and helps us hear American popular music with new ears [Publisher description].

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