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Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres

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One of Oprah Daily's 20 Favorite Books of 2021 - Selected as one of Pitchfork's Best Music Books of the Year "One of the best books of its kind in decades." --The Wall Street Journal An epic achievement and a huge delight, the entire history of popular music over the past fifty years refracted through the big genres that have defined and dominated it: rock, R&B, countr One of Oprah Daily's 20 Favorite Books of 2021 - Selected as one of Pitchfork's Best Music Books of the Year "One of the best books of its kind in decades." --The Wall Street Journal An epic achievement and a huge delight, the entire history of popular music over the past fifty years refracted through the big genres that have defined and dominated it: rock, R&B, country, punk, hip-hop, dance music, and pop Kelefa Sanneh, one of the essential voices of our time on music and culture, has made a deep study of how popular music unites and divides us, charting the way genres become communities. In Major Labels, Sanneh distills a career's worth of knowledge about music and musicians into a brilliant and omnivorous reckoning with popular music--as an art form (actually, a bunch of art forms), as a cultural and economic force, and as a tool that we use to build our identities. He explains the history of slow jams, the genius of Shania Twain, and why rappers are always getting in trouble. Sanneh shows how these genres have been defined by the tension between mainstream and outsider, between authenticity and phoniness, between good and bad, right and wrong. Throughout, race is a powerful touchstone: just as there have always been Black audiences and white audiences, with more or less overlap depending on the moment, there has been Black music and white music, constantly mixing and separating. Sanneh debunks cherished myths, reappraises beloved heroes, and upends familiar ideas of musical greatness, arguing that sometimes, the best popular music isn't transcendent. Songs express our grudges as well as our hopes, and they are motivated by greed as well as idealism; music is a powerful tool for human connection, but also for human antagonism. This is a book about the music everyone loves, the music everyone hates, and the decades-long argument over which is which. The opposite of a modest proposal, Major Labels pays in full.


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One of Oprah Daily's 20 Favorite Books of 2021 - Selected as one of Pitchfork's Best Music Books of the Year "One of the best books of its kind in decades." --The Wall Street Journal An epic achievement and a huge delight, the entire history of popular music over the past fifty years refracted through the big genres that have defined and dominated it: rock, R&B, countr One of Oprah Daily's 20 Favorite Books of 2021 - Selected as one of Pitchfork's Best Music Books of the Year "One of the best books of its kind in decades." --The Wall Street Journal An epic achievement and a huge delight, the entire history of popular music over the past fifty years refracted through the big genres that have defined and dominated it: rock, R&B, country, punk, hip-hop, dance music, and pop Kelefa Sanneh, one of the essential voices of our time on music and culture, has made a deep study of how popular music unites and divides us, charting the way genres become communities. In Major Labels, Sanneh distills a career's worth of knowledge about music and musicians into a brilliant and omnivorous reckoning with popular music--as an art form (actually, a bunch of art forms), as a cultural and economic force, and as a tool that we use to build our identities. He explains the history of slow jams, the genius of Shania Twain, and why rappers are always getting in trouble. Sanneh shows how these genres have been defined by the tension between mainstream and outsider, between authenticity and phoniness, between good and bad, right and wrong. Throughout, race is a powerful touchstone: just as there have always been Black audiences and white audiences, with more or less overlap depending on the moment, there has been Black music and white music, constantly mixing and separating. Sanneh debunks cherished myths, reappraises beloved heroes, and upends familiar ideas of musical greatness, arguing that sometimes, the best popular music isn't transcendent. Songs express our grudges as well as our hopes, and they are motivated by greed as well as idealism; music is a powerful tool for human connection, but also for human antagonism. This is a book about the music everyone loves, the music everyone hates, and the decades-long argument over which is which. The opposite of a modest proposal, Major Labels pays in full.

30 review for Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres

  1. 4 out of 5

    Adam Dalva

    A must-read if you listen to music, which is to say, a must-read for virtually everyone, because Sanneh brilliantly uses genre to chart a history of music, giving roots and historical legacies for any type of song. The book teems with anecdotes, personal beats, and incisive thinking on race and sex - and gosh, it also cost me A LOT OF MONEY because I kept buying the music Sanneh was referencing. Expansive in 3 dimensions.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Nicole

    I began reading this book believing the author and I were going to have to agree to disagree. I firmly believe the idea of genres as we know them has expired, and as this book journey began Sanneh spoke to how the idea of genres developed and the tribism that came with it. I didn't disagree with the historical perspective but feared this may become a treatise on why genre can be good in uniting and helping us find common ground. While the book did explore advantages of genre, it took a much broad I began reading this book believing the author and I were going to have to agree to disagree. I firmly believe the idea of genres as we know them has expired, and as this book journey began Sanneh spoke to how the idea of genres developed and the tribism that came with it. I didn't disagree with the historical perspective but feared this may become a treatise on why genre can be good in uniting and helping us find common ground. While the book did explore advantages of genre, it took a much broader dive into how genres change over time - how jazz used to be "popular" music and as it faded from the mainstream "pop" became defined by whatever the mainstream craze drove to the top of the charts. As such, each section's foray into particular genres like R&B, Rock and Pop acknowledges that both the music and the fans in those categories have greatly shifted with time, and no less so during the digital music era. I particularly appreciated the granular look at the kind of competition and criticism each era's contemporaries faced, often on the heels of the lineage of their predecessors or successors. Listening to many of the greats who were before my time, yet whose music remains timeless, it's easy to forget who their contemporaries were or how fighting for airtime and concert venues between them sometimes shaped their view of their audience or indeed their sound. As a songwriter and musician myself, I'm struck by examining of how some of those careers were longer than expected or shorter than initially believed. The book examines not only the artists, but also the favoritism of the listeners and reviewers, and how an artist or genre mocked and criticised today can become someone's favorite tomorrow (and vice versa). Whether you're a consummate music fan and/or a music creator, there's bound to be some explorations within that you'll enjoy. Major Labels A HISTORY OF POPULAR MUSIC IN SEVEN GENRES By KELEFA SANNEH Available now #Bookstagram #Rock #R&B #Country #Pop #HipHop #Punk #Dance #Music #History #MusicMakers #KelefaSanneh #MajorLabels #NetGalley #Nonfiction #BookRec #BookReview

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    An outstanding read about the history of music through seven genres. Sanneh, a former critic for the New York Times, offers a deeply-researched, well-crafted, and utterly compelling read, even about genres that may not be familiar to those picking up the book. It's passionate about music, where the roots of each genre emerged, and, ultimately, how these genres have built from one another to create where we are musically today -- listeners who love old classics, who've reclaimed formerly criticiz An outstanding read about the history of music through seven genres. Sanneh, a former critic for the New York Times, offers a deeply-researched, well-crafted, and utterly compelling read, even about genres that may not be familiar to those picking up the book. It's passionate about music, where the roots of each genre emerged, and, ultimately, how these genres have built from one another to create where we are musically today -- listeners who love old classics, who've reclaimed formerly criticized artists, and able to find what we love in the click of a button, as opposed to buying into a full album and hoping for that serendipity to happen. As much as this is about music, it's equally about criticism and what makes someone love music. What is criticism today, anyway? The insight Sanneh offers is about the changing face of music journalism, the ways in which criticism has had to shift because of the freelance model, wherein those who are predisposed to like something are given the chance to write about it; this isn't a bad thing, as a reviewer doesn't need to spend as much time learning history and context, and it's not a bad thing because it means the right listeners will find it. But it's also changed WHAT criticism is, and it's allowed for a "reclaiming" of earlier criticism, too -- just look at how Pitchfork recently decided to revise ratings they'd given older albums as they realized they were wrong. This is a book for music lovers, for those who want music history, as well as those who are eager for a perspective that isn't white and male and old: Sanneh is a Gen X Black writer and his perspective is so refreshing. I listened on audio, performed by the author, and I really do think books about music deserve to be listened to. I wasn't at all disappointed in this one and wish I could keep listening to it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Cat

    probably my favorite nonfiction book that came out this year, incredibly helpful to me as a music journo and also a general consumer of music

  5. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    WSJ ran a rave review, https://www.wsj.com/articles/major-la... (Paywalled. As always, I'm happy to email a copy to non-subscribers) Excerpt: "Mr. Sanneh, a staff writer for the New Yorker, gets high marks both for his encyclopedic knowledge and his breadth of taste. He also writes like an angel, making Major Labels one of the best books of its kind in decades ... Mr. Sanneh is rightly skeptical of art that operates within a deliberately 'cramped range' that limits its ability to be 'rowdy and mes WSJ ran a rave review, https://www.wsj.com/articles/major-la... (Paywalled. As always, I'm happy to email a copy to non-subscribers) Excerpt: "Mr. Sanneh, a staff writer for the New Yorker, gets high marks both for his encyclopedic knowledge and his breadth of taste. He also writes like an angel, making Major Labels one of the best books of its kind in decades ... Mr. Sanneh is rightly skeptical of art that operates within a deliberately 'cramped range' that limits its ability to be 'rowdy and messy.' This sentiment is as close as this remarkably judgment-free writer comes to an overall aesthetic principle: that the only thing music has to do is be exciting ... His book succeeds for many reasons, one of which is that each encyclopedic chapter is divided into 10 or a dozen sections, each with its own subtitle: Bite-size chunks, as it were, are the only workable format for this feast. Mr. Sanneh also has a gift for zingers. " [excerpt stolen from Book Marks} Definitely sounds like my kind of book! Now, lets see how long the waitlist is at the library....

  6. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    As a fan of many different genres of popular music, I found this book to be fascinating. I learned many new things in each chapter, and even those chapters that were about genres that aren't necessarily my favorite, I enjoyed! Sanneh makes you think, throughout the book, about how we tend to build identities around the music we love (and consequently, the music we don't)- and I found that to be an endlessly interesting thought path to wander down. I'm still thinking about it! Lastly, I really ap As a fan of many different genres of popular music, I found this book to be fascinating. I learned many new things in each chapter, and even those chapters that were about genres that aren't necessarily my favorite, I enjoyed! Sanneh makes you think, throughout the book, about how we tend to build identities around the music we love (and consequently, the music we don't)- and I found that to be an endlessly interesting thought path to wander down. I'm still thinking about it! Lastly, I really appreciated how clearly Sanneh loves music of all different types. It comes through in his writing and I'm certain that's one of the reasons this book was so fun to read (similar to how certain teachers who are passionate about the subject they teach are more engaging and easier to learn from than those who aren't.) I thought it was wonderful that he advocated for loving music just because you love it; his explorations of hip-hop, pop, and dance music were especially illuminating in this respect. Extremely well written and a terrific read!

  7. 5 out of 5

    mak

    A lot of Major Labels was truly fascinating---I loved reading about the way different genres formed and developed over time, and found Sanneh's argument regarding the meaninglessness of labels and genres in a world where music and music-making is so thoroughly collaborative to be compelling. But there are glaring omissions that I cannot overlook, especially towards the end, particularly when it came to the final chapter on pop. Sanneh's disinterest in pop is obvious. While he devotes an entire c A lot of Major Labels was truly fascinating---I loved reading about the way different genres formed and developed over time, and found Sanneh's argument regarding the meaninglessness of labels and genres in a world where music and music-making is so thoroughly collaborative to be compelling. But there are glaring omissions that I cannot overlook, especially towards the end, particularly when it came to the final chapter on pop. Sanneh's disinterest in pop is obvious. While he devotes an entire chapter to rock and delves into extensive detail about its various sub-genres (going so far as to give punk---an obsession of his young-adult years---its own chapter), the history of pop is scattered and surface-level, the 2000s and 2010s omitted altogether aside from a passing mention of Katy Perry. Instead, Sanneh spends a majority of the time defining pop in contrast to rock, ruminating on what makes music "good" or "bad," "respectable" or "disposable." Though these are interesting ideas to consider, I wish they had been explored elsewhere, and pop in its twenty-first century incarnation was investigated more thoroughly. For the most part, as promised by the title, the book does follow the journeys of seven major genres over the last fifty years, although at times it glosses over the past two decades. What becomes immediately clear, however, are the genres most beloved to Sanneh, and the questions and controversies that excite him. Occasionally he veers off and relates seemingly obscure anecdotes about people in the music industry he knew, or past articles he wrote that sparked somewhat of a debate. I don't mind the personal reflections---up to a point. After a while it begins to feel like credential-dropping; Sanneh mentions, repeatedly, the various esteemed publications he has worked at, as though to emphasize his credibility. Worse still, is his frustrating commitment to impartiality: Sanneh refuses to take a stance on moral conflicts, presenting both sides as valid, often giving the benefit of the doubt to what is blatant racism, sexism, or anti-semitism. I know this review is largely critical, but there was much of this book I did enjoy. Major Labels has exposed me to genres and musicians I had previously dismissed or knew little about, and Sanneh's passion for music is delightful and contagious. I suppose that my biggest criticism is rather telling: that I wanted even more---of pop, and of music in the modern day, to be precise. Perhaps that will be its own book. Until then, this one will have to suffice. 3.5/5

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

    I watched a lot of Behind the Music as a kid - probably spent way too much time parked in front of Much More Music - and this reminded me of that... but better. I was already familiar with quite a bit of the history, but really appreciated Kelefa Sanneh's nuance, his in-depth understanding of the music, and his focus on broader cultural moments, race and identity, and his own personal history as music critic. How did these genres come to be and why do they fall in and out of fashion? How do we d I watched a lot of Behind the Music as a kid - probably spent way too much time parked in front of Much More Music - and this reminded me of that... but better. I was already familiar with quite a bit of the history, but really appreciated Kelefa Sanneh's nuance, his in-depth understanding of the music, and his focus on broader cultural moments, race and identity, and his own personal history as music critic. How did these genres come to be and why do they fall in and out of fashion? How do we decide what music we like, and why do we become adamantly opposed to certain music? How do genres intersect and overlap and give rise to new music unlike anything anybody has heard before? "Human beings tend to disagree about music because human beings are disagreeable. When we complain about music what we are really complaining about is other people." Thoroughly enjoyed and the audiobook was excellent.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nev

    This was a great overview of different music genres and how they’ve evolved over the years. It was interesting to read about all the different subgenres within the 7 major genre categories, but also the similarities between the major genres. My favorite sections were the ones about punk, R&B, and hip hop. While I do love rock music, that one felt like it was a lot of information I was mostly already aware of. While the punk section had a lot more of the author’s opinions and experiences rather t This was a great overview of different music genres and how they’ve evolved over the years. It was interesting to read about all the different subgenres within the 7 major genre categories, but also the similarities between the major genres. My favorite sections were the ones about punk, R&B, and hip hop. While I do love rock music, that one felt like it was a lot of information I was mostly already aware of. While the punk section had a lot more of the author’s opinions and experiences rather than just a history lesson. For R&B and hip hop, I was aware of the major names but I also felt like I learned a lot about artists who I’d never heard of before. I was a little bit letdown by the section on pop music. It was more focused on how professional critics have reviewed and analyzed pop music in comparison with rock music rather than just being about pop music itself. There was obviously some commentary on the music, but I just wanted more. But all in all I had a great time reading this book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    It took a minute to get into this book and it requires a commitment, but once committed -- I loved it. Sanneh chronicles seven genres of popular music, post-Beatles, and Sanneh provides a pretty extensive history of each genre within the last fifty years. Someone like me, who pays some attention to popular music, will recognize and enjoy the history. Sanneh also delves -- heavily -- into what makes a genre a genre, paying attention to the identities and attitudes of the genre's adherents. I love It took a minute to get into this book and it requires a commitment, but once committed -- I loved it. Sanneh chronicles seven genres of popular music, post-Beatles, and Sanneh provides a pretty extensive history of each genre within the last fifty years. Someone like me, who pays some attention to popular music, will recognize and enjoy the history. Sanneh also delves -- heavily -- into what makes a genre a genre, paying attention to the identities and attitudes of the genre's adherents. I love thinking about genre and what creates one, and, as a peer of Sanneh in age, I found that his reflections and analysis of the genres felt accurate and thought-provoking. Parts of this book brought me so much joy -- just that tour through the histories of music in general was wonderful. Sanneh's essay excerpts on punk were what drew me to the book, but I enjoyed his depth and personal experiences with all of the genres. I also enjoyed thinking about the idea that when we disparage listeners of a particular genre, we are moreso disparaging the people who listen to that genre, and also thinking about the idea that we might not want to "party" with those who enjoy that genre, if that makes sense. Any music listener who can put forth the commitment to almost 500 pages of popular music history and analysis will enjoy this book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nikhil Sethi

    I can't imagine how difficult it is to condense over 50 years of music history across seven genres into a single book, but somehow Sanneh manages to create an extremely educational and fascinating work that includes much of his own personal experiences as a music fan and critic. Even though our tastes don't align perfectly, I'm interested in digging into his back catalog of music reviews. I can't imagine how difficult it is to condense over 50 years of music history across seven genres into a single book, but somehow Sanneh manages to create an extremely educational and fascinating work that includes much of his own personal experiences as a music fan and critic. Even though our tastes don't align perfectly, I'm interested in digging into his back catalog of music reviews.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Phillip Johnson

    A thorough history/survey of pretty much every genre of American popular music. I didn't really learn anything because I'm a huge nerd already, but I enjoyed reading it. A thorough history/survey of pretty much every genre of American popular music. I didn't really learn anything because I'm a huge nerd already, but I enjoyed reading it.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Schultz

    Read if you: Want an entertaining, very opinionated, and rollicking journey through the last 40+ years of music. When I learned that Kelefa Sanneh is a black Gen X-er, I was doubly excited for this book. I enjoy reading books about (popular) music history, but so often, the authors are from the Boomer generation (not being anti-Boomer!) ,and give scant attention to pop/rock music post Beatles (and little regard for genres outside that). Sanneh goes beyond the Top 40 to examine country, R&B, EDM, Read if you: Want an entertaining, very opinionated, and rollicking journey through the last 40+ years of music. When I learned that Kelefa Sanneh is a black Gen X-er, I was doubly excited for this book. I enjoy reading books about (popular) music history, but so often, the authors are from the Boomer generation (not being anti-Boomer!) ,and give scant attention to pop/rock music post Beatles (and little regard for genres outside that). Sanneh goes beyond the Top 40 to examine country, R&B, EDM, punk, and rap. Of course, there will be readers that wish he had focused more on certain genres or artists. That's to be expected with books about entertainment. And there will likely be more sections that keep the reader's interest longer than others. However--this is one of the most balanced and fascinating books on modern music history that I've read in several years. Librarians/booksellers: Definitely purchase to round out your music historuy collection. Many thanks to Penguin Group and NetGalley for a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    If you want an education in American, non-classical music of the last 50 years, here you go. Not music theory, not the business or the production, but a thoughtful and most importantly, open minded consideration of just about every genre of music that has emerged in the last century. As a professed music snob, I found my narrow mindedness graduall eroding as I read chapters about country music and pop. I was surprised at my own pretensions, and the author's years of intelligent music criticism h If you want an education in American, non-classical music of the last 50 years, here you go. Not music theory, not the business or the production, but a thoughtful and most importantly, open minded consideration of just about every genre of music that has emerged in the last century. As a professed music snob, I found my narrow mindedness graduall eroding as I read chapters about country music and pop. I was surprised at my own pretensions, and the author's years of intelligent music criticism helped me to see things in a new light. In fact, it has to be said that a big part of this book is it's exploration of music appreciation and criticism itself. On the surface, the book is organized with a chapter for each of the big genres: one for rock, country, punk, hip-hop, r and B etc. So honestly it should really have been called 'Major Genres' but I supposed that is much less catchy. In each chapter, he gives a bit of a chronology of how that type of music came to be, where it came from, and explores what defines it and why. So it's also, inevitably, a cultural study of America (a little bit of britain but the book is unabashedly american). I personally really appreciated his own described journey to greater open-mindedness, which I think is the greatest gift of this wonderful book. I followed alone by listening to songs in each chapter, trying to hear what he means about stuff I've never heard before, and hearing it with this thoughtful ear, rather than my usual way - which is just listening to what might appeal to my own tastes - really did show me that there is much to appreciate in almost everything, academically anyway. I liked most his chapter on punk. If you only read this chapter, it would be well worth it - because that is where his teenage passion and early adult obsession lay, and he therefore has good personal stories and insight into that genre that are very lacking in the country music chapter (which, to be fair, he does appear to have learned to truly enjoy). As a music geek, I would highly recommend this book. It is smart, insightful, and has grown me as an appreciator of not just music, but perhaps necessarily then, of the people who might enjoy music that I previously poo-pooed, and therefore, I can see that this book has arguable left me as a less judgmental and better person. I can see the appreciation of popular music as suddenly much wider than I had imagined it would be for me, with the possibility of exploring and enjoying anything, while still holding my own discernments and honest passion to what just moves me in a deep way. Thank you to Kelefa Sanneh for a really excellent study - i have bought one for my music loving friend and may buy more.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    Tremendous. Terrific. Triumphant. An absolute tour de force of music and culture writing, Major Labels spends 450 pages chronicling the last 50 years of music history across seven major genres. A celebrated music writer of considerable acclaim and influence in his own right, Sanneh brings his full range of talents and insight to the table, and the result is a masterpiece. Truly, I am astonished and taken aback by the level of depth and clarity presented in this book. At times, I was impressed that Tremendous. Terrific. Triumphant. An absolute tour de force of music and culture writing, Major Labels spends 450 pages chronicling the last 50 years of music history across seven major genres. A celebrated music writer of considerable acclaim and influence in his own right, Sanneh brings his full range of talents and insight to the table, and the result is a masterpiece. Truly, I am astonished and taken aback by the level of depth and clarity presented in this book. At times, I was impressed that Sanneh and I had come to the same conclusions about music. At other times, I was furious that his book gets to present these thoughts before my own memoir is published. And at still other times, I was bowled over by the tower of interlocking critiques of the artists, fans, and the music industry insiders he delivered - while still coming across as an intense lover of music. In fact, it’s that occasional burst of details from Sanneh’s life that helps set this book apart from others like it. While the book is not a memoir in any sense, his own story serves at different junctures as an invitation, magnet, and anchor for this innovative treatise about the past, present, and future of popular music in the Western canon. I could not recommend this book more highly to music fans who enjoy thoughtful criticism and engaging explorations of history.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Matt Madurski

    There's a lot to like about this book. Given the depth of the material (50 years of music, discussed in seven parts by genre), the author does a terrific job addressing myriad trends and musicians with ease. The narrative never feels like he had to cram in a bunch of information to get the points across; in other words, this was an efficient cross-section of contemporary music history. I appreciated the author's inclusion of his own music experience, and how that threaded the narrative as well. I There's a lot to like about this book. Given the depth of the material (50 years of music, discussed in seven parts by genre), the author does a terrific job addressing myriad trends and musicians with ease. The narrative never feels like he had to cram in a bunch of information to get the points across; in other words, this was an efficient cross-section of contemporary music history. I appreciated the author's inclusion of his own music experience, and how that threaded the narrative as well. It added a personal depth to the discussion, and I think everyone who reads this will either relate to his experiences or be able to find their own moments as he discusses different musical genres. (I personally relate strongly to his punk rock awakening, though I never got quite as deep into the underground music of the genre as he did). If you enjoy music and ruminate on the evolution of your favorites genre over time, this will be a fun read for you. I learned a lot, not just about music itself, but the industry that distributes it. Very good, well-researched book. Five stars for sure!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Leane

    Entertaining, thoughtful and accessible style from a music writer who knows his stuff. Especially helpful to anyone who wants to understand what the appeal is for fans of any of the 7 genres covered, but I found it most enlightening about Punk & Hip-Hop because I was least familiar with them. I will sample now with some understanding. We'll see where that goes. Sanneh covers the history of each genre without stultifying the reader with dry facts, weaving the discography with the timelines and ar Entertaining, thoughtful and accessible style from a music writer who knows his stuff. Especially helpful to anyone who wants to understand what the appeal is for fans of any of the 7 genres covered, but I found it most enlightening about Punk & Hip-Hop because I was least familiar with them. I will sample now with some understanding. We'll see where that goes. Sanneh covers the history of each genre without stultifying the reader with dry facts, weaving the discography with the timelines and artists as well as musical journalists, critics and fans (including his own anecdotes). Not for those readers searching for gossip on artists and the music business but will interest others searching for a comprehension of the changing of popular tastes and the different take on appeal between fans and critics. Very edifying.

  18. 4 out of 5

    kyle

    3.5 stars. Impeccably researched and thought-out. You find out immediately that Kelefa is a trustworthy biographer for these genres and he doesn’t make this as dry and heavy as it could be! Seriously though, what the fuck is the Pop chapter? It seemed like it was meant to be about something entirely different and then they titled it “Pop.” Anyone who is diving into this book, beware, this is a long as fuck read. I kind of marathoned it in 5 days and it felt like the only thing that occupied my fr 3.5 stars. Impeccably researched and thought-out. You find out immediately that Kelefa is a trustworthy biographer for these genres and he doesn’t make this as dry and heavy as it could be! Seriously though, what the fuck is the Pop chapter? It seemed like it was meant to be about something entirely different and then they titled it “Pop.” Anyone who is diving into this book, beware, this is a long as fuck read. I kind of marathoned it in 5 days and it felt like the only thing that occupied my free-time.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Corey Vilhauer

    An absolutely wonderful history of popular music post-Beatles that dives into trends and social impact without falling into a "list of bands and songs and chart ratings" mess. I mean this when I say this is the best book on popular music history I've ever read - highly recommend for anyone who wants to know a little more about how the different major popular genres (rock, R&B, country, punk, hip-hop, dance, and pop) have interconnected and influenced each other. An absolutely wonderful history of popular music post-Beatles that dives into trends and social impact without falling into a "list of bands and songs and chart ratings" mess. I mean this when I say this is the best book on popular music history I've ever read - highly recommend for anyone who wants to know a little more about how the different major popular genres (rock, R&B, country, punk, hip-hop, dance, and pop) have interconnected and influenced each other.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    Really great read for music lovers. Even the genres you might not have an avid interest in can be fun to read about. Sanneh is interested in the history of each of the seven chosen genres in terms of the cultures of the fandom surrounding each one and its history up to the present day. He explores how genres are often defined by fans in exclusive terms that change over time and sometimes have nothing to do with the actual music.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    ”Depending on your taste and perspective, this pronouncement might seem too obvious to be interesting, or else too far-fetched to be believable. In one sense, contemporary pop music is hip by definition: pop is what’s in style; that’s what makes it pop. In another sense, though, popularity and hipness are forever in tension, because you can’t possibly keep ahead of the teeming masses by listening to the same music as them The rise of streaming services introduced a subtle but consequential change ”Depending on your taste and perspective, this pronouncement might seem too obvious to be interesting, or else too far-fetched to be believable. In one sense, contemporary pop music is hip by definition: pop is what’s in style; that’s what makes it pop. In another sense, though, popularity and hipness are forever in tension, because you can’t possibly keep ahead of the teeming masses by listening to the same music as them The rise of streaming services introduced a subtle but consequential change in the way people think about music genres. The old, radio-driven country chart measured which songs were most popular among people who listened to country radio. The new, streaming-driven country chart measured which country songs were most popular among listeners in general—which meant that it was up to the chart compilers, not the radio programmers, to decide what “country” meant. Hip-hop remained proudly unreformed, but it kept seducing listeners. It may be the quintessential modern American art form, the country’s greatest cultural contribution to the world. And yet, for most of its history, hip-hop has been regarded as the kind of music that one loves despite its alleged flaws—a guilty pleasure. In a sense, this is the highest possible praise: testament to just how much pleasure hip-hop has managed to provide.” What is missing from the book, essentially a joyfulness about the power of music and infinite depth of meaning: “The more I live the life of music the more I am convinced that it is the freely imaginative mind that is at the core of all vital music making and music listening… An imaginative mind is essential to the creation of art in any medium, but it is even more essential in music precisely because music provides the broadest possible vista for the imagination since it is the freest, the most abstract, the least fettered of all the arts: no story content, no pictorial representation, no regularity of meter, no strict limitation of frame need hamper the intuitive functioning of the imaginative mind.” American composer Aaron Copland I knew going in that I was perhaps not the intended audience for this, since pop music is not my genre, and that the 7 genres he was going to address were not my favorites, and full disclosure, I hate pop country and hardcore rap, but thought it would be an interesting read and it was, quite the most readable music history I have ever read. There is lavish detail, although chaotically arranged in disjointed essays, about the transitions of music and the evolution and invention of certain genres that was accessible and satisfying. His deep and illuminating discussion of racism in music is nuanced and one of the best parts of the book, all without being anti-anything, which is admirable. I can be pretty anti country with all their drinking and having sex in tractors but he seems to be very even handed. He includes feminist criticism of many misogynistic aspects of sadly too much rock, rap, country and punk music, and I think there could be more of it but that may be another book. He writes early on that we all think we have the best taste in music and that others have bad taste, and while I agree to a point, I also think there are ways to be objective, and his themes are Billboard charts, sales, streams, etc. which do not always have meaning. The book does try to pretend to be objective, which it is not, and I can’t imagine if an academic historian presented a book like this about the Civil War or the Dust Bowl. I felt that this book was from a worldview and perspective of urban, materialistic, capitalist culture which does not represent the US as a whole. This is a critic’s view of history and now I really need a music historian to write the book I thought this was. If books were measured similarly (sales, printings, bestsellers) the Bible is on the top of the heap and we all know that is not applicable to the vast majority of humanity on the planet and is not that well written; or The Hunger Games or the Lord of the Rings is high on those lists also. They may be part of the history of books but they aren’t in themselves the only measurement of what is popular and certainly not what is “good” or indicative of what is quintessentially American. One of my main issues with the book is its references to so-called “one hit wonders” that will never be remembered but somehow included in the book. His “history” is really his opinion, and I wish it was marketed more as a memoir than an history. The bluegrass artist Alison Krauss, who has a few songs in my top songs of all time, was surpassed by Beyonce in the past few years with most Grammys ever won, and there is much to be doubted as to the value of these awards anyways (Nobels and Book awards are vexedly the opposite of popular literature) but that is essentially the only line he gives Krauss and in fact denigrates most of the folk, bluegrass, alt country genres that I love. Why has Krauss won so many awards and what contribution has she made to the history of music? While bluegrass is not a genre he is addressing, it is still worth a paragraph since again, it is the history of music. I can’t even say he truly explained how and why Beyoncé has won so many either, but there are pages on rappers or country artists who will never be thought of again. To memorialize them in such a way seems dishonest and essentially his own opinion for a book that says it is a history. There is a paragraph about him being grateful he is alive in this moment in time to witness the rhymes and rhythms of rap and hip hop. Bless him, but if that is all he can experience in the narrow spectrum of what those genres offer, I feel quite sorry for him. And I do not deny hip hop or rap are or can be poetry, and it is vitally important as the voice of the oppressed and marginalized communities of color; it is just that those and also pop songs tend to sing about similar, banal things endlessly and there is so much more to being alive and being human. I hope he listens more carefully to folk and singer songwriters as they take what it means to be human and create a zen, mellow vibe that is helpful in this chaotic world. *I also know he may be right about everything and that is too depressing to think of, so I will live in my own musical world.* I started to think of the trajectory of my musical tastes, and I am not sure anyone is interested in that, so the review ends here- it is just my thought experiment and the book I would write. It is wrapped in how music makes me feel and interweaved with my history and the soundtrack of my life; some of it is in counterpoint to what this author wrote, but really it is just what and why I love music. I know people who think no good music has been made since the 80s and people who will only listen to classical, and people who listen to everything and everyone. I also know someone who has no interest in music at all, and it seems genuine, just a part or lack in/of his genetic makeup, but I have to confess one lyric that almost always makes me cry is Leonard Cohen’s start to Hallelujah: Now I've heard there was a secret chord That David played, and it pleased the Lord But you dont really care for music, do you? The secret chord is the philosopher’s stone, the holy grail, the holiness in the present moment. That is the underlying principle of any music and any artist’s inspiration and how I would have started the book. Mr. Sanneh called Leonard Cohen doleful, and my friend calls him a deep, tantric experience and we can all agree to disagree.. My mother always had music playing in the house, and I do too. My mom listened to the Beatles and Neil Diamond sprinkled in with soft rock of the 70’s now called yacht rock; and Mr. Diamond’s Solitary Man and If You Know What I Mean stops me in my tracks every time. Solitary Man has a subdued and crescendoing trumpet line and horn accompaniment that started my lifelong obsession with the voice of the trumpet in music; the lyrics, “I’ve had it to here being where love’s a small word,” opened my heart to big love my whole life. Mr. Sanneh mentions him in passing, with an “allegiance only to show business” and “eccentric phrasing.”https://youtu.be/KsZz7ln2_yo whereas Jay Z says, I am not a business man/I am a business, man which is venerable, and the same thing? If You Know What I Mean has come to have more meaning as I get older and reflect on my mother’s passing and the span of time that just vibrates with losing things, places, people in the simple act of living a life, and those rare, holy times when linear time wraps itself in a circle and you feel it again. Could I hear my mom’s voice one more time, singing along on a long road trip with pure freedom pulsing in our veins? https://youtu.be/5YbdOEkyfzo …I closed my eyes, and I could make it real And feel it one more time Can you hear it, babe Can you hear it, babe From another time From another place… Here's to the songs we used to sing And here's to the times we used to know It's hard to hold them in our arms again But hard to let them go The folk singer Jeffrey Foucault sings about this nostalgia as: Now I’m doing dishes With my little girl Landslide comes on the radio And maybe nothing in this world Could make time arc back this way And touch upon itself again A little warble in my heart For how I loved you then https://youtu.be/Ohp-IBl2GP4 I still hate the synthesizer revolution of the 80’s which was ostensibly my formative decade, but 70’s disco and yacht rock and 90’s feminist singers like Ani Difranco, the Indigo Girls and Tori Amos were more influential and artists whose every song I loved, although regrettably their current music doesn’t resonate with me. I was in band all the way through high school and played the flute, so there is a superficial knowledge of what makes music, the notes and tempo and layers and chords so I am drawn to complexity versus simplicity. I also loved the ways Tori Amos sang; she gasped in a breath before she belted out something nonsensical, and it felt real and passionate and daring after an era of vanilla Stepford-esque synths of the 80’s. Putting the Damage On - Reconditioned Version Living all across the country, I sought out the music that was popular there, and I was always on the lookout for strings and trumpets that added a layer to music that felt like my breath or my heartbeat. Ani Difranco has many songs that are a part of me, and is is one example of the trumpet/brass voice I love: Marrow: https://open.spotify.com/track/2FI1EZ... Hearing Nina Simone’s unique and haunting voice in a bookstore in Seattle and then hearing her live in San Francisco, before she died was sublime, and she also sings my signature anthem, Feeling Good: https://open.spotify.com/track/6Z5ejz... Emmylou Harris inventing alt country that appealed to me (essentially and lauded by Mr. Sanneh) in Wrecking Ball: https://open.spotify.com/track/7AhLSM... Mr. Sanneh does discuss the Austin music scene but has an underwhelming view of it. It was stunning and atmospheric for me when I lived there and I think of it as alt country, mixed with some blues and bluegrass and folk. Toni Price, bluesy, folk and country and amazing live: https://open.spotify.com/track/4QD49f... I also discovered the super group Los Super Seven in Austin, and I loved the Tejano, Latino, country mix: https://open.spotify.com/track/54u8Pp... The Cowboy Junkies broadening what country, alt-country, and folk rock meant: https://open.spotify.com/track/6aCZN2... Calexico adding mariachi and trumpet and Mexican influences: https://open.spotify.com/track/1J4a2A... Beirut blowing me away with gypsy folk rock or art pop or unclassifiable trumpet heavy and deep, muscular voice: https://open.spotify.com/track/3QaM3s... There is so many more influences; soundtracks to movies were a source of new music even if I didn’t love the movies; and scores to movies like The Last of the Mohicans and The English Patient are still on repeat. Moving to Colorado and seeing Elephant Revival and Paper Bird, multi-instrumentalist bands who have since disbanded but whose music will be part of my life forever, party due to lyrics and partly to the music. The Dave Matthews Band was also a favorite, the fiddle and sax with a unique voice and lyrics that spoke to me of being alive in the world right this minute and living in the present moment; Pearl Jam and The Black Keys also belong somewhere in there, rock that I could listen to. When I discovered the Black Keys, it was the first time a rock band appealed to me in a long time (after more historical appreciation of Led Zeppelin) and I remember thinking that some of their beats were sexy in a way many rock bands aren’t. Mr. Sanneh called them just another garage rock band. I wonder if he heard the album Blakroc, a collab with hip hop and the Keys that is amazing. https://open.spotify.com/track/2dhUQZ... and https://open.spotify.com/track/6yLA7d... To finish out, my two favorite artists of all time, Patty Griffin and Gregory Alan Isakov. Patty opened for Gregory once, surreally and they sang one disappointing song together, but both sing to my heart lyrically and to my body with trumpets and slide guitars and strings used sparingly and perfectly. Idaho from Gregory https://open.spotify.com/track/20zcj4... And anything from his album and collab with the Colorado Symphony. I have many favorites from Patty, including Heavenly Day, Rain, Kite Song, Coming Home to Me, Burgundy Shoes, but my ultimate is either Rider of Days https://open.spotify.com/track/2q6ZcC... I am but a rider A rider of days Just passing through this town The sun on my face Of all the dreams you were dreaming With me at your side I am dreaming them all now The night opens wide Once again we are flying You in my arms Once again we are flying We come to no harm My darling I miss you And I always will I dream of you always Hill after hill or Luminous Places https://open.spotify.com/track/2zbhHh... Love flows out of these luminous places Love lies down in the deep of the sea It falls out of the sky in millions of pieces on me I've been over these highways For years in the dark Criss-crossing the land like a stitch on the wound Rolling through the night while millions were sleeping Under every phase of the moon Under every phase of the moon All that I am is a dream that I had One morning so early and blue It flew over the river and the freezing bus stops On a song that I sang to you On a song that I sang to you Last thoughts from another rock critic, would like to read a book he writes! “If there is one word that can encapsulate what American roots and bluegrass projects better than any other genre, it would be “passion”. There are very few things as shivering and grin-inducing as the sound of a musician hammering away at steel strings, venting about life and love while a violin sings a haunting back note that cannot help but call to mind images of forests and highways and stars. And therein lies the appeal of folk and bluegrass: beneath it all, there is heart, soul, and a desire to share something with the world. Plus a little mandolin for good measure. “You know, for most of its life bluegrass has had this stigma of being all straw hats and hay bales and not necessarily the most sophisticated form of music. Yet you can’t help responding to its honesty. It’s music that finds its way deep into your soul because it’s strings vibrating against wood and nothing else.” This is a quote by Alison Krauss, and she should know because she is a bluegrass musician. It really is a very spare and uncomplicated type of music. But, if nothing else, there is truth there.""""" Chris O'Connell

  22. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    Brilliant!

  23. 4 out of 5

    James

    Really interesting and compelling

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    Generous, capacious, and hopelessly, endearingly optimistic. I wanna listen to everything all the time.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tejas Sathian

    This was a very enjoyable and comprehensive attempt to take on a massive subject - the history of popular music over the last 50 years (basically starting with the music world after the Beatles). Sanneh's own love of music, perspective (experiencing all types of music as a biracial child of immigrants), and experiences (working as a critic and in industry magazines like Source) shine through and give the book a very personal tone. I especially enjoyed the punk chapter because this was the genre This was a very enjoyable and comprehensive attempt to take on a massive subject - the history of popular music over the last 50 years (basically starting with the music world after the Beatles). Sanneh's own love of music, perspective (experiencing all types of music as a biracial child of immigrants), and experiences (working as a critic and in industry magazines like Source) shine through and give the book a very personal tone. I especially enjoyed the punk chapter because this was the genre where Sanneh's own personal musical awakening occurred. Throughout the book, Sanneh makes a compelling argument for the existence of genres, particularly relevant during a modern period of convergence and genre-less music. In his view, pop music was always tribal, with musicians and their fans defining their identity in large part in opposition to other tribes - and just as tribalism has declined in music it's grown significantly in other realms (like politics). I would have loved to go deeper on many of the artists who are invariably glossed over throughout the book, but that's unavoidable given the scope of the subject. What I enjoyed most was the way Sanneh drew broad strokes around each genre covered, while pointing out trends and patterns (often unexpected) that link musical movements across time. My very quick summary of each of the genres covered: ROCK: the core of pop music in the start of the 70s, that increasingly became a white genre disconnected from the cultural mainstream, finding a foothold in its embrace of nostalgia R&B: a genre defined mostly as music by Black performers for a Black audience; dueling pressures to crossover into mainstream pop and to be true to its core audience. A genre that made an unexpected resurgence in the 2010s to the center of the cultural mainstream (thanks to artists like Beyonce) COUNTRY: the flipside of R&B, ethnic white music for a primarily white audience; shifting from country/western origins to polished Nashville sound to outlaw country to suburban focus in 90s (Garth Brooks) to modern variants (chill country and bro country). PUNK: probably the least defined genre in this book - music spanning a range of styles (and political persuasions), defined largely by oppositional identity. I loved the way he linked so many styles in this chapter: Sex Pistols, hardcore punk, 90s pop punk, rise of 'indie' music within the punk scene. HIP HOP: music featuring rapping, and/or music of young Black America - contrast between need to say something meaningful, and desire to entertain. A genre that has become ubiquitous and taken over the pop mainstream in the 2000s. DANCE: music focused on grooves and tracks over songs - origins in disco (which had roots in R&B and was associated in particular with a place and lifestyle, NYC nightlife); growth into electronic forms, culminating in modern EDM and a continued embrace of music as a party instrument. POP: interestingly the last genre covered - a genre that didn't exist in its own right until the 80s when many musical styles converged with electronic styles and anti-punk/anti-rock messages.

  26. 5 out of 5

    John Pyrce

    I'm curious about all of the musical genres that I don't listen to, and Sanneh's book certainly fills the bill, covering popular music in extraordinary detail for the last 40 or 50 years. So many name, so many performers! Sanneh's perspective is that of an intelligent, perceptive fan. He was a music critic for the New York Times, so he's been a professional and had the job of being aware of lots of types of music. He seems to like all types of music, which I think makes him unusual. (He has a lit I'm curious about all of the musical genres that I don't listen to, and Sanneh's book certainly fills the bill, covering popular music in extraordinary detail for the last 40 or 50 years. So many name, so many performers! Sanneh's perspective is that of an intelligent, perceptive fan. He was a music critic for the New York Times, so he's been a professional and had the job of being aware of lots of types of music. He seems to like all types of music, which I think makes him unusual. (He has a little aside where he says no musical genre should be looked down on, even death metal and some others. I beg to disagree: some of this seems to me to be truly repellant and possibly indicative of an extremely unhealthy attitude toward the world and life.) He's not unaware of how uncritical music criticism can be, noting how the Metacritic scores for music are all clustered at the top of the scale (something I've been curious about as well). So this book is good for: exposing you to a wide array of popular music from the last 50 years, somewhat uncritically (although not entirely so). This did make me wonder quite a bit about how much of music represents racial, cultural, and even gender divides. Why are musical genres so racially distinct. Sanneh notes that early rock and roll was diverse, but it steadily evolved to a predominantly white genre. Its even curious that Hip Hop is dominantly black, with a focus on black culture, but a disproportionate number of the most successful performers are white. Plus its hugely popular among whites and suburbanites. Its also curious to me that so much of music can be truly distasteful. The previously noted death metal, for example. The misogyny and materialism in hip hop. The banality in some genres (I'm not naming names.) Sanneh notes these and discusses a bit, but he's still coming from the viewpoint of a fan who is emotionally supportive if not intellectually convinced. So this is an interesting, broad view of modern popular music. It reveals attributes which I think raise questions about what the role of music is, and why people experience it the way they do. A deeper investigation of those topics is for another book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Chris Newens

    A big, roving, and ambitious book, which is great for any music fan lulled into laziness by algorithms and who's forgotten the wonderful byzantine breadth and fierce tribalism of pop. It feels like three books in one. There's the history aspect, there's the criticism, and there's the personal story of Sanneh's relationship to music. This three pronged strategy can occasionally be a bit exhausting in terms of the amount of information it throws out, and I couldn't help but feel that a slimmer, mo A big, roving, and ambitious book, which is great for any music fan lulled into laziness by algorithms and who's forgotten the wonderful byzantine breadth and fierce tribalism of pop. It feels like three books in one. There's the history aspect, there's the criticism, and there's the personal story of Sanneh's relationship to music. This three pronged strategy can occasionally be a bit exhausting in terms of the amount of information it throws out, and I couldn't help but feel that a slimmer, more elegant volume could have been made if Sanneh had concentrated mainly on the memoir aspect. This appears most prominently in the punk chapter, which functions as the linchpin of the book, and I did feel, accordingly, might have been better off coming first. This said, a slimmer more personal book would probably not have been so appealing to buyers; for quite obviously beyond the significant pleasures in the writing and personal anecdotes there's a lot to learn too from Major Labels; not least how much you already know. Indeed, perhaps the biggest revelation for me reading this book was just how widely in the general folk consciousness the history of pop music extends. I'm no music snob, but I found it remarkable that I'd at least heard of nearly all the artists mentioned (apart from perhaps those in the country section) and quite a lot of the stories that go along with them. I don't think I'd be unusual in this, and in that Major Labels will offer many the experience of what it feels like to be professional historians. Consciously questioning Sanneh's overarching narrative of pop music and the genres he choses to sort it into was one of the main pleasures of the book. It's also remarkably open-hearted and positive, and as such inspiring. It took me a long time to get through, mainly because I was forever pausing to go listen to a particular mentioned band or artist on my Spotify: a joyous and inspiring aesthetic experience, that meant Major Labels reached far beyond its pages.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Stuart Rosen

    This is a wonderfully enthusiastic book about the joys of music, and the joys of loving the music you love and hating the music you hate. The book is divided into seven chapters, each devoted to a different genre: Rock; R&B; Country; Punk; Hip-Hop; Dance Music; and Pop. The more you know about the genre, the less revelatory the overview will be. At its worst (not often), and as an example, the Rock chapter reads like a series of stars who make an appearance on stage and leave for the next one to This is a wonderfully enthusiastic book about the joys of music, and the joys of loving the music you love and hating the music you hate. The book is divided into seven chapters, each devoted to a different genre: Rock; R&B; Country; Punk; Hip-Hop; Dance Music; and Pop. The more you know about the genre, the less revelatory the overview will be. At its worst (not often), and as an example, the Rock chapter reads like a series of stars who make an appearance on stage and leave for the next one to be perfunctorily summarized. At its best, Sanneh draws the parallels between genres - yes, punk and country have commonalities! The best chapter is Pop, which is an expansion of Sanneh's landmark 2004 essay on "rockism" in The New York Times. He challenges the centrality of Rock and the tendency to evaluate other music through the prism of and criteria relating to rock music. Reading this essay and his chapter on Pop in this book can be truly revelatory - it causes you to question how you think about music and what music you dismiss, perhaps without reason. Most controversial to me - an avowed music nerd - is the discussion of the role of the music critic. Sanneh seems to be wrestling with this himself - is it his job to critique music or explain its appeal to non-believers? To me, there's value in each; I want to understand and achieve a point of entry to appreciate music I don't know about, but on the other hand, part of a music critic's job (to me) is to make value judgments and, ultimately, for the reader to know where they stand with this critic and to take chances accordingly. The book invites this sort of thinking - it takes music deadly seriously but understands the goofiness of each genre. It conveys the passion of the fan while always remaining at a healthy critic's distance. Sanneh is a terrific, thoughtful, passionate, incisive writer. If you care at all about music, and think about why you care so much, grab this book and devour it.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ethan Lee

    I’m gonna nitpick here: I couldn’t help but feel something was missing when I was reading this. It’s certainly a well-written and thoroughly researched narrative on how these familiar genres have evolved, but it reads more like an industry analysis with occasional memoir sections rather than a critical analysis of genre music and the art’s evolution. Sanneh stresses the importance of how a track sounds to deliver a musical and often sociopolitical message, but this book feels rather lacking in s I’m gonna nitpick here: I couldn’t help but feel something was missing when I was reading this. It’s certainly a well-written and thoroughly researched narrative on how these familiar genres have evolved, but it reads more like an industry analysis with occasional memoir sections rather than a critical analysis of genre music and the art’s evolution. Sanneh stresses the importance of how a track sounds to deliver a musical and often sociopolitical message, but this book feels rather lacking in sound. His musical analysis doesn’t go beyond a lyrical quote and maybe 1-2 sentences on technique, composition, or instrumentation per track, with little direct mention on how they connect to his points (I was waiting for some mention of how instruments and music videos for specific tracks signified evolution in its respective genre.). To me, musical analysis is essential to understanding the history of popular music, and I was surprisingly disappointed there wasn’t a lot of that to support his otherwise interesting points. Sanneh’s writing and pacing also felt inconsistent, focusing attention to several artists’ contributions to a genre only to gloss over others with arguably equal importance. I think I would have preferred if he perhaps focused more attention on a few select artists in a genre rather than try to stuff his passages with as many artistic references as possible. His analytical points often feel like they articulate sentiments listeners have long understood but had yet to verbally confront when it comes to music - I appreciate that he can so eloquently express them, but, oddly, they don’t feel fresh. Instead, it feels more like a 400+ page introductory text for a music history class with all of the listening sections whited out. I’m not sure if this book offered anything particularly new to me, but it was still a fine read and a great reference.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Theediscerning

    Our author seems an exceedingly knowledgable tutor when it comes to giving a history of popular music per each and every genre mentioned on the front cover, having gone from being a Harvard college radio punk DJ to a critic for the New York Times, with many a stop in between. To some extent he is a bit too optimistic about all his readers having such a broad church as he himself, but whereas I never gained a modicum of appreciation for country music's self-identity over the decades, he was still Our author seems an exceedingly knowledgable tutor when it comes to giving a history of popular music per each and every genre mentioned on the front cover, having gone from being a Harvard college radio punk DJ to a critic for the New York Times, with many a stop in between. To some extent he is a bit too optimistic about all his readers having such a broad church as he himself, but whereas I never gained a modicum of appreciation for country music's self-identity over the decades, he was still engaging when it came to punk, the brand of music that seemed to demand everyone look remarkably similar, just to point out how individual they all were. Hitting my niche – dance music – later on, he seldom puts a foot wrong, and even though I ditched hip hop in 1990 he kept me with him. It is definitely an American book, as opposed to a British or global one (so many pages on pop and no mention of Stock, Aitken and Waterman) but he certainly taught himself to be erudite enough about all music's branches to pull this book off very well. Or perhaps, of course, it was the music that did the teaching – it has qualities if we're just open to them, whatever the record store aisle or e-store sub-page we're using. This has many a companionable quality, too. Four and a half stars.

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