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

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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 other styles that came after them, all the way through funk and hip hop.

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 and technologies–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, and interviews–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 as dance 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.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (October 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019975697X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199756971
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds

Customer Reviews

Riveting!

Helpful
 on August 28, 2017
By Carl Dietz
I love this book. It is a critical revelation of the reasons we don’t know what we think we know about how popular music became what it is and what it no longer is. It continuously entertains while educating, and I understand more about the then and the now than I think any other work could help me personally to understand. Even as I write this review, I realize that it isn’t helpful, so just read the damn book! Read it!

misleading title, great read

2 helpful votes
 on October 18, 2014
By michaelbgup
A wonderful romp through the twentieth century, particularly the early twentieth century. As an avid social dancer myself, reading about the interplay between dancing and pop music was fascinating. A terrific read.

Music History Fans this Book is For You!

Helpful
 on October 23, 2014
By HuntleyMC
After taking a handful of American music classes in college it was nice to read a different take on it. Again this was real page turner that was only slowed down my highlighting and note taking as I was reading. If you have an appreciate for music history this book was written for you.

Interesting alternate view of the past

1 helpful vote
 on July 31, 2012
By Timothy C Allison
Relax boomers – this isn’t the 300 page takedown of the Beatles that you’re ready to hate. What it is then, is a unique history of American popular music in the 20th century. A sequel, of sorts, to Wald’s “Escaping the Delta”.

Connecting a Lot Of Dots

1 helpful vote
 on July 25, 2009
By R. J. Marsella
Wald’s book does an admirable job of weaving together a tapestry of factors that influenced the course and development of popular music through the 20th century. He touches on evolving recording and listening technology , the influence of television, social conventions , and dance styles , music economics and how all of these various elements fed into choices that musicians and people in the music business made over time.

I enjoyed it.

Helpful
 on February 20, 2016
By Laurence M. Yorgason
Very important book. I enjoyed it.

Five Stars

Helpful
 on October 14, 2015
By Tom Blatchford
interesting

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