How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music

By Elijah Wald | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

You do not have to love a work of art or a style in order to criticize it, but you need to under-
stand its attraction for someone who does… . Criticism has no significance and no impor-
tance if it is not accompanied by understanding—and that implies the comprehension of at
least the possibility of love.

CHARLES ROSEN

The first record I ever owned was side two of Meet the Beatles. It was a birthday present from a Danish au pair, who had given side one to my younger sister. My sister’s birthday is three days before mine, and in between the au pair neatly rewrapped the album, then gave me side two. It was 1965, and I was turning six.

I suppose I should have been aware of the Beatles before that, as my family had spent the previous year in England, but all I remember of that year was finding a bomb shelter and a hibernating hedgehog, and my enduring perplexity about a word I heard as “lava tree.” And once, on a drive to London, noticing a person with long hair and a beard and being confused about whether it was a man or a woman.

In any case, I loved Meet the Beatles, and my sister and I would dance around the living room, singing along—I tended to skip over “This Boy” and “Till There Was You,” which were sappy, but all the other songs were great. Within the next year or so, another au pair took us to see Help! and it instantly became my favorite movie. I saw Help! every year for the rest of my childhood. I also got the soundtrack album, along with Beatles ’65, Beatles VI, and the first two Monkees albums.

Sometime in 1967, or maybe it was 1968, my much older half-brother gave my parents Sgt. Pepper. He didn’t just hand them the album; he sat the whole family down and we listened to it from beginning to end. I could tell it was a masterpiece—my father, who was an amateur cellist, loved it—but it was not really my music. It was adult music, like Louis Armstrong or Pablo Casals. I played it occasionally, but nowhere near as often as the band’s early records. It simply wasn’t as much fun. Same with Abbey Road and Magical Mystery Tour, both of which I vaguely remember hearing when my parents bought them for us, but neither of which I can ever recall playing again. When Yellow Submarine came out, my mother took a group of

-1-

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How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Amateurs and Executants 13
  • 2 - The Ragtime Life 25
  • 3 - Everybody’s Doin’ It 36
  • 4 - Alexander’s Got a Jazz Band Now 49
  • 5 - Cake Eaters and Hooch Drinkers 60
  • 6 - The King of Jazz 71
  • 7 - The Record, the Song, and the Radio 84
  • 8 - Sons of Whiteman 97
  • 9 - Swing That Music 111
  • 10 - Technology and Its DisContents 126
  • 11 - Walking Floors and Jumpin’ Jive 138
  • 12 - Selling the American Ballad 150
  • 13 - Rock the Joint 166
  • 14 - Big Records for Adults 184
  • 15 - Teen Idyll 199
  • 16 - Twisting Girls Change the World 213
  • 17 - Say You Want a Revolution… 230
  • Epilogue - The Rock Blot and the Disco Diagram 248
  • Notes 255
  • Bibliography 281
  • Index 291
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