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

By Elijah Wald | Go to book overview

12
SELLING THE AMERICAN BALLAD

Before Mitch [Miller] came along, pop music was vestigial, strings-behind-potted-palms; he
changed all that. He threw out the 32-bar form; he used bastard instruments. He was the first
great record producer in history.

JERRY WEXLER

By August 1945 the war was over, and the United States was ready to return to normal—or not return, exactly, as most Americans had no experience of a period they could consider normal. The previous three decades had included World War I, Prohibition, the Depression, and another world war. At a more personal level, most Americans were relatively recent immigrants or descendents of recent immigrants, some from other countries, some from rural areas to cities that in many ways were as foreign as another country. So for most of them, “normal” did not mean a life that they recalled from before the war or that their parents had lived. It meant an idealized life: a decent job, a house on a quiet street, a loving spouse, and a happy, stable family.

A lot of them got that life, too, or at least something that for a few years felt like it. There were stresses in the immediate postwar years, but in general the following decade and a half would be a period of unprecedented prosperity. The United States was the only major industrial nation that had not been damaged by the war—indeed, the war had spurred an increase in production—and New Deal economic programs insured that the wealth was spread more evenly than ever before or since. The GI Bill and other federal programs helped returning soldiers go to college and buy houses, and many of the people who had stayed home had found good jobs, or at least better jobs than their parents had held. The combination of this prosperity and the baby boom that began with the war’s end meant that couples were marrying at younger ages and settling down to a life centered on homes and families, and a postwar housing shortage was soon balanced by a building boom in the suburbs that spread like prosperous ripples around every city.

-150-

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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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