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

By Elijah Wald | Go to book overview

1
AMATEURS AND EXECUTANTS

Of all the ways in which music changed over the course of the twentieth century, the most fundamental was the shift from being something people played to something they consumed and from being part of a larger experience to being a thing that is often heard alone and out of any set context. Audio recording, simply by existing, separated sound from performance. Until recording, music did not exist without someone playing it, and as a result music listening was necessarily social. There was no way to hear a musical group without other people being present—to play even a duet, there had to be two people in the room. It is hard to think about how different that must have been, as everyone reading this book has listened to music alone. Indeed, with Walkmans and MP3 players, it has become common to use music to shut out the rest of the world.

Strange as it may seem, my own earliest musical memories reflect that era before recorded sound. My mother grew up in Vienna, the daughter of a concert-quality pianist and herself a child prodigy on the instrument. My father was an amateur cellist, and I recall them playing duets sometimes on the weekends. We would also gather around the piano and sing together, reading the lyrics from the Fireside Book of Folk Songs as my mother played the accompaniment. And my father would sing the popular hits of his youth, usually at the dinner table. I still know many of his favorite songs: “Sheik of Araby,” “Lena Was the Queen of Palesteena,” “Mammy,” “Oh, by Jingo,” and odd scraps like “Your Wife and Your Boarder, They’re All Right.” We owned a record player and my parents had dozens of classical albums, so I’m sure I heard those at times, and we even had some children’s records which I must have listened to, since I still recognize songs from them. But I have no memories of listening to recorded music before that Beatles album on my sixth birthday.

-13-

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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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