Top 40 Democracy: The Rival Mainstreams of American Music

By Creech, Kenneth | MEIEA Journal, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Top 40 Democracy: The Rival Mainstreams of American Music


Creech, Kenneth, MEIEA Journal


Eric Weisbard. Top 40 Democracy: The Rival Mainstreams of American Music. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2014. www.press.uchicago.edu.

Where were you when you heard that song? If you grew up listening to top 40 radio, the chances are when you hear the music, even many years later, you're transported back to a time and place that you associate with those songs.

That's the magic of pop music and top 40 radio. The mainstream music that we heard on the radio when we were young remains a part of our lives; arguably it reflects our outlook on life. There can be no doubt that since its inception in the 1950s, top 40 radio has left an indelible mark upon multiple generations of our society. But this mainstream music flows in different and sometimes divergent channels.

In his book, Top 40 Democracy: The Rival Mainstreams of American Music, Eric Weisbard examines this phenomenon by focusing on the careers of pop music artists, a record company, and a radio station spanning the final three quarters of the twentieth century.

Weisbard argues that format radio-specifically the top 40 formats- created multiple mainstreams resulting in overlapping cultural centers. He notes that the object of these formats was to keep the listeners tuned in by playing music that would "stir feeling" and "strike a chord that would resonate more with repeat exposure" thereby connecting listeners as a group. He adds that:

"Hound Dog", "Will You Love Me Tomorrow", "Dream On", "He Stopped Loving Her Today", "Say My Name"... each of these hits from different decades, for those who had the radio on, still generate emotional allegiances. The objective of formats was to garner ads and sell records, but a flow of songs and banter had to be shaped and polished, an audience had to be defined. Formats did not just sell music-they normalized it. Formats did not just sell products-they touted categories of consumers. (p. 2)

One of Weisbard's goals in this book is to try to make us think differently about the impact of the radio-safe pop music that dominated the airwaves for so long. He argues that even much-reviled pop music often reflects the social and cultural concerns of the day. By way of evidence he sites music reflecting the countercultural 1960s and 70s, the MTV generation of the 1980s, grunge and gangsta of the 1990s and the millennium, as well as new country. He hopes to convince readers who dismiss mainstream pop as not serious music, that there is more to the format than may appear on the surface (p. 3).

To accomplish this goal, the author focuses on five radio friendly musical styles: Rhythm and Blues (R&B), Country, Middle of the Road (MOR), Top 40, and Rock. He also includes a chapter entitled "This Generation's Radio" that explores the music formats for the first decade of the twenty-first century

Before launching into the heart of the book however, Weisbard provides a very helpful introduction that details a brief history of music formatting that begins in the 1920s. He links the popularity of jukeboxes in the 1930s to the eventual creation of the top 40 radio format. That is, a finite number of records being played over and over again. The format came into its own with the advent of rock 'n' roll in the 1950s.

Also in this introduction is a very informative discussion separating formats from the genres in music. Weisbard explains the difference between the two in this way:

Formats let music occupy a niche in capitalism and...connect music to other show business realms as well. Genres are different. Ordinary people don't probably identify with formats but some do identify with genres. One can have a hit song that goes "I was born country"; probably not "I was born adult contemporary"...Music genres, more inherently ideological, chafe at formats, with their centrist, commercial disposition." (p. 3)

Weisbard then proceeds to the heart of the book. He chooses five musical genres and artists who performed in those genres. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Top 40 Democracy: The Rival Mainstreams of American Music
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.