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

By Elijah Wald | Go to book overview

9
SWING THAT MUSIC

The other night I spent a few hours at the radio, listening to dance bands. I heard 458 chro-
matic runs on accordions, 911 “Telegraph ticker” brass figures, 78 sliding trombones, 4 slid-
ing violas, 45 burps into a straw, 91 bands that played the same arrangement on every tune,
and 11,006 imitations of Benny Goodman.

GORDON JENKINS, 1937

On December 5, 1933, Utah became the thirty-sixth state to ratify the Twenty-first Amendment, ending Prohibition. Newspapers were quick to announce the result:

From East, West, North and South, from Boston to Los Angeles, from New Orleans
to Chicago, from big places and little places, the call is coming through to New York
and other key cities that provide the nation’s entertainment: “Give us more music,
more singers, more dancers. Let us have fun.”

More than for anything else the call is being broadcast throughout the land for
orchestras. Hotels which formerly employed one to play for a chaste dinner hour
are now hiring two to play throughout the entire evening; restaurants which never
had music are today advertising their bands and band leaders; night clubs, cafés,
beer gardens are sprouting up all over the country, and each in its way is calling in an
awakened patronage to the tune of jazz, “blues” and “Ach Du Lieber, Augustine.”1

For some musicians, at least, the worst of the Depression was over. Repeal gave a boost to all kinds of bands, from sweet orchestras to polka outfits, as well as rejuvenating the record business with the coin-operated tavern machines that became known as jukeboxes. And soon it would spark a new wave of bands playing the hotter, more African-American-influenced style known as swing.

Some fans of both earlier and later jazz styles have portrayed swing as an overarranged, relatively conservative form and its era as a time when innovative soloists were trapped in big, commercially oriented orchestras that only occasionally let them break loose and reach the heights of their abilities. Big band arrangements certainly limited improvisation, but this portrayal involves a confusing linguistic shift, because what people meant by “swing” in the early and mid-1930s was

-111-

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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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