How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll

How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll

An Alternative History of American Popular Music

Book - 2009
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"There are no definitive histories," writes Elijah Wald, in this provocative reassessment of American popular music, "because the past keeps looking different as the present changes." Earlier musical styles sound different to us today because we hear them through the musical filter of otherstyles that came after them, all the way through funk and hiphop. As its blasphemous title suggests, How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll rejects the conventional pieties of mainstream jazz and rock history. Rather than concentrating on those traditionally favored styles, the book traces the evolution of popular music through developing tastes, trends andtechnologies--including the role of records, radio, jukeboxes and television --to give a fuller, more balanced account of the broad variety of music that captivated listeners over the course of the twentieth century. Wald revisits original sources--recordings, period articles, memoirs, andinterviews--to highlight how music was actually heard and experienced over the years. And in a refreshing departure from more typical histories, he focuses on the world of working musicians and ordinary listeners rather than stars and specialists. He looks for example at the evolution of jazz asdance music, and rock 'n' roll through the eyes of the screaming, twisting teenage girls who made up the bulk of its early audience. Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and the Beatles are all here, but Wald also discusses less familiar names like Paul Whiteman,Guy Lombardo, Mitch Miller, Jo Stafford, Frankie Avalon, and the Shirelles, who in some cases were far more popular than those bright stars we all know today, and who more accurately represent the mainstream of their times. Written with verve and style, How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll shakes up our staid notions of music history and helps us hear American popular music with new ears.
Published: Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2009.
ISBN: 9780195341546
0195341546
Branch Call Number: 781.6409 WAI
Characteristics: x, 323 p., [16] p. of plates :,ill. ;,24 cm.

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DrFolklore
Apr 05, 2016

Forget the "Beatles" title --which one reviewer said was added by the publisher--and read the subtitle. In fact, if you want a book about the Beatles, this is not for you. Other than a few passing mentions, the Beatles come in on page 230 and disappear after page 237. Wald never suggests that "the Beatles destroyed rock' n 'roll", but examines how they were important forces in turning rock into "respectable" and "art" music. That being said, this is an enlightening history of popular music in the twentieth century, that challenges many of our preconceived ideas.

Elijah Wald is both a musician and a scholar who researches and writes about the history of popular music. In this book, he shows that, during the twentieth century, music was not a series of battles between pure, mainly African-American forms, and watered-down pap produced by white people. In his exploration of the complexities involved in the creation and consumption of popular music, Wald says, "Reading through the histories of both jazz and rock, I am struck again and again by the fact that although women and girls were the primary consumers of popular styles, the critics were consistently male--and, more specifically, that they tended to be the sort of men who collected and discussed music rather than dancing to it. Again, that is not necessarily a bad thing…but it is relevant when one is trying to understand why they loved the music they loved and hated the music they hated" (9). Furthermore, he shows that a great many musicians were not purists locked into one genre -- ragtime, swing, country, rockabilly, or whatever -- but people who wanted to make a living playing music, often willing to compromise for the sake of having audiences. Many of our ideas about what is "real" blues, jazz, or rock 'n' roll come from neither working musicians nor consumers of their music, but from latter-day critics.

In "How The Beatles…", we learn that white musicians headed to Harlem after-hours to jam with black musicians, while dreaming of belonging to wild jazz bands. Meanwhile, many of their African-American counterparts longed to join the respectable orchestras that barred them. We also learn that Duke Ellington was an admirer of Paul Whiteman, and that Louis "Armstrong consistently named Guy Lombardo's Royal Canadians as his favourite orchestra" (61), Whiteman and Lombardo being the epitome of what was disliked by many fans of Ellington and Armstrong. Furthermore, Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven records, regarded as his greatest recordings, were made by a band which only performed in a studio, as Armstrong made his living playing in an orchestra. Moving to the second half of the century, the teen idol, Ricky Nelson, was a dedicated rock' n' roller while Elvis preferred romantic songs and gospel. In the 60's, Ray Conniff's easy-listening albums consistently outsold Bob Dylan's, "but no one was rushing into the stores to buy him [that is, Conniff], so his chart action was relatively minimal" (241). During the same period, Simon and Garfunkel, whose songs appealed to listeners of differing tastes, outsold the Rolling Stones, whose musical stylings didn't appeal to any but rock fans.

A well-researched and non-judgemental music history that explores how complex issues, such as war & peace, continuity & innovation, race & ethnicity, gender, dance trends, consumer tastes, technology, market forces, economics, and union activity have affected our ideas about music and dictated what was recorded throughout the twentieth century," How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music" is an enjoyable and educational book.

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bobby_ferris
Mar 22, 2012

Maybe if you read the book brookepiper, you'd realize that the title is fairly tongue-in-cheek. Odd- I thought that people that used the library actually read. Try remember the old adage "You can't judge a book by looking at the cover." Or if you like to listen to rock n' roll, just remember that Bo Diddley said it.

*Ahem* This book is a very good alternative history of 20th Century popular music. It suggests that styles of music that were once thought of as contrary, actually had a profound influence on each other.

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brookepiper
Dec 16, 2011

That's absurd ! The Beatles did NOT destroy Rock'N'Roll ! They made it better !

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