PERFORMING ARTS

Sonic Boom: The Impossible Rise of Warner Bros. Records, from Hendrix to Fleetwood Mac to Madonna to Prince

Holt. Jan. 2021. 288p. ISBN 9781250301567. $29.99. MUSIC
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Featuring musical superstars ranging from Frank Sinatra to the Grateful Dead and even encompassing comedians such as Bob Newhart, Warner Records and its subsidiaries Reprise and Atlantic showcased a powerful lineup of popular and innovative artists during their glory years between the 1960s and 1990s. Starting with the company’s genesis in 1958 and ending with a 2019 reunion, Carlin (Homeward Bound) provides a riveting, behind-the-scenes look at how the executives of the company sought out groundbreaking talent, cultivated established acts, and achieved commercial success. Although noting the behavioral excesses rampant in those decades, Carlin wisely avoids belaboring the point, using it mainly for humorous asides, and focuses more on the struggles to compete with other labels to sign musicians, and on Warner’s goal of creating appealing and artistically satisfying discs. The author’s research and access to interviews with key figures sustain his argument well.
VERDICT Carlin’s spring-loaded narrative keeps the reader involved, and characterizing the empathetic side of some of the outsize personalities humanizes the Warner mythos. Record label books abound, but there has been little available about Warner itself or its sister companies since Warren Zanes’s Revolutions in Sound; Carlin’s title admirably fills that gap.

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