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

By Elijah Wald | Go to book overview

EPILOGUE
THE ROCK BLOT AND THE DISCO DIAGRAM

Historians have been making apocalyptic pronouncements about the state of American popular music since before the ragtime era. When I was growing up, it was common to hear that the golden age of pop ended with the Big Band era, or when rock ’n’ roll wiped out the “American songbook.” So, after devoting much of this book to exploring the continuities between those periods, it would be strange if I ended by nominating my own candidate for a similar apocalypse. The British invasion brought a racial split in American music that has grown wider over the past forty years, and by now we are all aware that the single ubiquitous hit parade is long gone. But the world did not end on the cusp of the 1970s, and the break that came in that era was part of a process that this book has traced over the previous eighty years. If I view this break as particularly significant, that is in part because I am so acutely aware of what has happened since; as I emphasized in my introduction, historians are shaped by our own situations and experiences, and I entered high school in 1973.

At that point the Beatles were still very much a dominant influence on the rock scene: Paul, George, and Ringo all had number one hits that year, Elton John was ascendant, and Pink Floyd, Chicago, and Jethro Tull were expanding the art-rock concept in their various ways. If someone picked up a guitar, they would typically play the introduction to “Blackbird” or “Stairway to Heaven” or something by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and/or Young.

Meanwhile, the records I recall from parties were “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia),” “Rock the Boat,” “Kung Fu Fighting,” “Do It (’Til You’re Satisfied),” “The Hustle,” “Baby Face,” and “That’s the Way (I Like It).” That list runs over several years because I think of it as a dance mix and can’t remember which records arrived

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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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