Song and System: The Making of American Pop Music

Rowman & Littlefield. Mar. 2020. 296p. ISBN 9781538112120. pap. $33. MUSIC
Rachlin (music business, Manhattanville Coll.; The Encyclopedia of the Music Business) introduces this examination of American pop music by looking at recording and mass distribution technologies, from sheet music to records, tapes, and CDs to today’s digital bounty. But the rest of the book does not measure up. He hones in on the ways recording technologies enabled and revolutionized the marketing and distribution of popular music, but doesn’t engage in a deeper or more elucidating analysis. He makes clear that American pop music is the result of a complex relationship between creativity, business, and technology. Yet his assessment of what makes pop music a driving artistic and cultural force falls short of Richard Crawford’s America’s Musical Life: A History or (the dated) The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll. The chapter on hip-hop in particular could have dug deeper; readers interested in learning how this genre became a musical and merchandising juggernaut should check out Dan Charnas’s The Big Payback.
VERDICT A solid premise in need of greater depth and polish.

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