Wednesday, June 03, 2015


Ben Yagoda has a pretty interesting new book out. (Wasn't I just reviewing one of his new books?)  It's called The B Side: The Death Of Tin Pan Alley And The Rebirth Of The Great American Song.

There have been a number of fine books dealing with Tin Pan Alley, such as David Ewen's The Life And Death Of Tin Pan Alley, Charles Hamm's Yesterdays: Popular Song In America and Alec Wilder's American Popular Song. Yagoda may not quite reach those levels, but his book is one of the best at discussing how and why, some time in the middle of the 20th century, the deal changed.  He's also sympathetic to both sides of the divide, which generally sets him apart.

The overall story is well known.  In the early 20th century, there was the growth of an American type of song, strongly informed by jazz, and exemplified by such greats as Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers and Cole Porter.  The best stuff generally came from Broadway, and Hollywood once sound came along.  The songs, especially during a 20-year period from the early 20s to the early 40s, had a certain technical sophistication, both in words and music, that has rarely been matched since. Then things changed.  In the 50s, rock and roll started appearing in the charts, and despite hopes it was a passing fad, took over almost completely by the 60s.

But Yagoda spends a lot of time between the end of WWII and the beginning of Elvis, when things were changing even before anyone was aware of the Big Beat--the great era was dying by the mid-40s, and it didn't go unnoticed at the time.

Suddenly, the airwaves were inundated with novelty numbers, saccharine ballads, hillbilly laments and raunchy rhythm and blues. Standards like "Always" and "Night And Day" had to make way for "How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?"  Why did this happen?  A lot of reasons, and Yagoda goes into some detail.

First, music goes through changes no matter what you do. Every new generation wants its own sound, and like to frustrate their elders by rejecting "old" music.  But there were plenty of other factors that made the difference.

For one thing, there was the rise of BMI.  Earlier in the century, songwriters who felt they weren't getting their due formed ASCAP, which collected royalties.  But the group became a hard organization to crack, only allowing in those they saw as the best.  ASCAP wanted more money from radio (which had only started being big in the 20s--when ASCAP began, sheet music generated the bucks) and in the early 40s wouldn't allow their stuff to be played.  So BMI--Broadcast Music, Inc. (sometimes referred to as "Bad Music, Inc.")--came into being, and those who had been frozen out, including country and African-American artists, not to mention songwriters who were more jingly than sophisticated--had greater purchase.

Then there was the rise of the teenager.  After WWII, young adults got married and had kids, and in a few years bought TVs and stayed home.  Meanwhile, with a booming economy, teens became a separate and major market, one that pretty much determined hit singles. (Singles and LPs as we think of them today--or used to think of them not too long ago--were also a new invention, as 33-and-a-third and 45 replaced 78 rpms).

There was the decline of big bands.  Swing was getting a bit tired anyway, and traveling with a big group was getting prohibitively expensive.  Jazz split into traditionalists who liked the old Dixieland sound, and modernists who went for bebop--but jazz itself was never again the most popular sound, and American music started reflecting other currents.

Then there was an opening up of the country--with the suburbs, with the interstate highways, with civil rights--so that groups that were regional could now become national.

There was also the rise of the disc jockey. With live music less and less important, and radio turning away from drama and more to tunes, the wax spinners could make or break records.  And they wanted a new sound.

There was also the rise of the producer.  There were technical improvement in what could be done in the studio.  Whereas before a recording was just that--essentially making a record of a live event--new techniques allowed the producer to craft the record, so songs become less important and sounds plus gimmicks, more.  These producers held sway, and pushed material (because it sold, not just because they liked it--often they didn't like it) that they could mold and that caught the spirit of the times.

So even before rock, old songwriters and performers weren't happy.  Frank Sinatra, who'd been a huge singer--he was one of the first to leave a big band and hit it big on his own--could barely make the charts by the early 50s.  And he was unhappy (or so he said later) with head man at Capitol, Mitch Miller, who'd decide what sides artists would record.

Ultimately, though, the older stuff had its revenge.  As Yagoda notes, it was like monks who kept ancient texts alive during the Middle Ages.  When the music was originally written, few thought it was going to live on.  But some performers thought the best of Tin Pan Alley was worth saving, and they kept singing and playing it, in clubs and on records.  Mabel Mercer was one of the early ones, but other names, like Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, not to mention many great jazz instrumentalists, kept the songs alive and helped develop the idea of the Great American Songbook.  So much so that nowadays every washed-up rock star records an album--or several--of standards when they need to sell something again.

But, Yagoda notes, that's not the whole story.  The rock era was pretty special, too.  Just look at the material being written in the 60s by Brill Building people like Carole King or Burt Bacharach, or the composers of Motown, or people like Brian Wilson, Paul Simon, John Lennon and Paul McCartney.  They've created a glorious songbook of their own.


Blogger dong dong said...

Cheap Ray Ban Wayfarer
Designer Louis Vuitton Handbags Outlet
louis vuitton
ugg boots sale
Abercrombie & Kent Luxury Travel
Jordan Concords Low And High
Montblanc Pen Refills Outlet
Louis Vuitton Outlet Free Shipping
Oakley Polarized Sunglasses Cheap Outlet Store
michael kors uk
uggs outlet
Louis Vuitton Purses For Cheap
ugg boots
jordan shoes
hollister uk sale
Abercrombie and Fitch USA Outlet Store
Louis Vuitton Clearance Sale
ralph lauren uk
michael kors handbags
Cheap Michael Kors Handbags Outlet
Michael Kors Factory Outlet Online Official
canada goose sale
Authentic Air Jordan 13 shoes for sale
timberland outlet
coach outlet
Coach Outlet Handbags With Factory Price
New Michael Kors Handbags Outlet Online
michael kors bags
michael kors outlet online
Coach Luggage Bags Outlet Sale Online
Toms Outlet Store Online
louis vuitton outlet online
michael kors outlet online
cheap uggs
Louis Vuitton Outlet Stores Usa
Abercrombie & Kent Luxury Travel

1:44 AM, September 15, 2015  
Blogger chenlina said...

swarovski outlet
ray ban sunglasses
cheap air max
christian louboutin outlet
gucci outlet
louis vuitton handbags
louis vuitton handbags
louis vuitton outlet
louis vuitton outlet
tory burch outlet
ray ban outlet store
louis vuitton handbags
canada goose outlet
ugg sale
coach factory outlet online
coach outlet
ray ban sunglasses outlet
michael kors outlet
ray bans
canada goose jackets
ugg sale
ugg boots clearance
cheap jordan shoes
abercrombie & fitch
cheap ugg boots
coach outlet store online
kids lebron shoes
mont blanc legend
jordan retro
marc jacobs handbags
michael kors outlet online
jordan retro 11
cheap uggs for sale
uggs outlet
michaek kors outlet
lebron shoes
canada goose jackets
canada goose
louis vuitton outlet

7:26 PM, December 22, 2015  
Blogger chenlili said...

oakley sunglasses
louis vuitton
christian louboutin pas cher
michael kors
michael kors outlet
oakley sunglasses
cleveland cavaliers jerseys
ralph lauren outlet
canada goose clothing
fitflop sandals

10:11 PM, December 22, 2016  

Post a Comment

<< Home

web page hit counter