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

By Elijah Wald | Go to book overview

7
THE RECORD, THE SONG, AND THE RADIO

When we want to get a sense of Paul Whiteman or the other musicians of his time, it is logical for us to start out by listening to their records. After all, the best way to learn about any music is to hear it, and the only way to hear the music of the past is through recordings. Those recordings can still excite and amuse us, and give us the feeling that for a moment we have traveled back in time. We need to be careful about that feeling, though, because old records bear the same relationship to vanished bands that fossils and skeletons bear to extinct animals. Some allow for quite accurate reconstructions, but others leave us in the position of someone looking at the skeleton of a peacock: We can see the essential bone structure and imagine a squat little bird, but we don’t see the spreading tail and iridescent feathers that are all we would care about if we were confronted by a live peacock. That may seem obvious, but a lot of popular music history is written as if the skeletons were peacocks. And it has become easier and easier to make that mistake as recordings have taken on a larger role in our musical environment.

Today, much of the music we hear exists only on recordings and bears little resemblance to anything that could be performed without recorded assistance. Writers such as Evan Eisenberg and Mark Katz have explored the ways in which both music and our relationship to music have been changed by evolving recording technologies, which have made it possible for us to own performances and listen to them at will.1 Even when we go to a concert, we generally expect to hear material that is familiar from the artists’ records—and that has been true for our entire lives, and in most cases for our parents’ and even our grandparents’ lives. As a result, although we may be aware of the technical limitations of old recordings and know that they give us only a fuzzy picture of the bands they preserve, we still tend

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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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