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

By Elijah Wald | Go to book overview

10
TECHNOLOGY AND ITS DISCONTENTS

We are just cutting our own throats with this record business. In New York music comes out
of the walls and ceiling all over town, but you never see a live musician… . We are scabbing
on ourselves.

JAMES CAESAR PETRILLO, 1942

In the summer of 1941, a reviewer for Metronome caught a morning show by Vaughn Monroe at New York’s Paramount Theater. Monroe was one of the popular vocal stars of the moment, an operatic baritone and romantic heartthrob who had topped the charts in 1940 with “There I Go” and would be remembered in later years for his hit versions of “Let It Snow, Let It Snow” and “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” That is to say, we remember Monroe for his records—so it is interesting to find the reviewer mocking him for presenting himself as a recording artist:

Vaughn let the lads and lassies know that he knew that their great acquaintance
with his band came from records, so he confined the bulk of his show to his diskings,
starting off with “Salud, Dinero y Amor.” … [He sang] another record arrangement,
“There’ll Be Some Changes Made.” … Vaughn didn’t make any bones about the ori-
gin of “The Donkey Serenade,” which he next sung and the band next played. “Our
record of it, you know.” The kids know.1

Within another couple of years no one would find it strange for performers to assume that their audiences were familiar with their records, and in the following decades it became standard for concerts by pop stars to consist largely of recapitulations of their recorded hits. At the dawn of the 1940s, though, this was still quite a new idea. Records had largely lost out to radio in the later 1920s, and what remained of the market had been crushed by the Depression. But the years after repeal brought the rise of the jukebox and the disc jockey, and in 1941 the music business was in the midst of a dispute between radio networks and publishers that made records more important than ever as a way of popularizing hits. These developments hastened a transition that was probably inevitable: Once a high-quality,

-126-

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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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