How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll by Elijah Wald
An Alternative History of American Popular Music

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Synopsis

"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.
 

About Elijah Wald

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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 www.elijahwald.com.
 
Published May 1, 2009 by Oxford University Press, USA. 338 pages
Genres: History, Education & Reference, Arts & Photography, Humor & Entertainment. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll

The New York Times

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The main title is a come-on, but it reflects the spirit of Elijah Wald’s provocative, well-researched views on rock and race.

Jul 12 2009 | Read Full Review of How the Beatles Destroyed Roc...

The Guardian

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His thesis is that rock'n'roll, like its antecedents, was an ever-changing ragbag of black and white styles, but the Beatles, by leading rock away from its black roots and from the dancefloor towards a more European art music, split popular music along racial lines.

Aug 21 2009 | Read Full Review of How the Beatles Destroyed Roc...

New York Journal of Books

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“How the Beatles Destroyed Rock and Roll is a superbly thoughtful, inclusive, and intellectually challenging look at American popular music and culture from the turn of the 20th century to the 1970s. . . . How the Beatles Destroyed Rock and Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music b...

Oct 01 2011 | Read Full Review of How the Beatles Destroyed Roc...

The Washington Post

Copyright law and phonographs, Suisman argues, transformed the musical landscape, making it easier to sell brief pop songs instead of narrative ballads, new songs instead of traditionals, catchiness instead of thought.

Aug 23 2009 | Read Full Review of How the Beatles Destroyed Roc...

Bookmarks Magazine

John Kehe Los Angeles Times 1.5 of 5 Stars "[Wald's] mission in How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll is to help you forget all that you've learned about popular music, to 'strip away layers of past opinion' and view musical history through the framework of the mainstream of given eras tha...

Jun 15 2009 | Read Full Review of How the Beatles Destroyed Roc...

Book Forum

Wald writes that the Beatles destroyed rock ’n’ roll by leading “their audience off the dance floor, separating rock from its rhythmic and cultural roots,” and “point[ing] the way toward a future in which there need be no unifying styles.” How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ’n’ Roll is meticulously...

Jun 19 2009 | Read Full Review of How the Beatles Destroyed Roc...

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