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

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Oxford University Press, USA, 2011 - 336 pages
Overthrowing the conventional pieties of mainstream jazz and rock history, Elijah Wald 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. 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 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. "Wald's book is suave, soulful, ebullient and will blow out your speakers." —Tom Waits "Wald is a meticulous researcher, a graceful writer and a committed contrarian.... An impressive accomplishment." —Peter Keepnews, New York Times Book Review "One of those rare books that aims to upend received wisdom and actually succeeds." —Kirkus Reviews "It is as an alternative, corrective history of American music that Wald's book is invaluable. It forces us to see that only by studying the good with the bad—and by seeing that the good and bad can't be pulled apart—can we truly grasp the greatness of our cultural legacy." —Malcolm Jones, Newsweek "Wald wears his scholarship lightly, but his ideas and insights are substantial.... The attention-grabbing title, for all its counterintuitive appeal, gives scant indication of the book's ambitions and achievements." —David Suisman, The Sixties

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User Review  - nmele - LibraryThing

Elijah Wald surveys the history of American popular music from about 1880 to about 1980. The title is provocative but the book is substantial and very, very interesting. Any time a book about music ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - markfinl - LibraryThing

This is an excellent and exhaustive history of American popular music of the 20th century. Wald questions every assumption about popular music by going back to original sources to see what was really ... Read full review


1 Amateurs and Executants
2 The Ragtime Life
3 Everybodys Doin It
4 Alexanders Got a Jazz Band Now
5 Cake Eaters and Hooch Drinkers
6 The King of Jazz
7 The Record the Song and the Radio
12 Selling the American Ballad
13 Rock the Joint
14 Big Records for Adults
15 Teen Idyll
16 Twisting Girls Change the World
17 Say You Want a Revolution
The Rock Blot and the Disco Diagram

8 Sons of Whiteman
9 Swing That Music
10 Technology and Its Discontents
11 Walking Floors and Jumpin Jive

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About the author (2011)

Elijah Wald is a musician, writer and historian, whose books include Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues; Narcocorrido, about the modern Mexican ballads of drug trafficking; The Mayor of MacDougal Street (with Dave Van Ronk), and Global Minstrels: Voices of World Music. He is currently teaching at UCLA, and contributing regular pieces to the Los Angeles Times. For more information, please visit

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