Music History Lessons
July 9, 2006 1:59 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for books that in some way discuss the distribution of popular music, especially pre-phonograph (though a bit of that is fine). Accurate, but not necessarily academic- if it happens to be in a particular musician's biography or a novel of some sort, that's cool.

I'm less interested in online sources; I need books to curl up with more than I need to spend additional time with the wee computing machine.
posted by oneirodynia to Media & Arts (6 answers total)
Are you talking about radio or sheet music? Here is a book on music during the Civil War.
posted by mattbucher at 3:00 PM on July 9, 2006

I suspect your best bet is to go to your local public library and find the correct call number(s) for books on this subject, sit on the floor, and pull them off the shelf. Leaf through them. Jot down the good ones on a piece of paper. Check their bibliographies. That's what I did when I found myself fascinated by early American popular music. Eventually, I bought several books, including:

American Roots Music by many people...
Jazz: A History of America's Music by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns

Of the books, I own, the two best for your purposes are probably: The Poets of Tin Pan Alley by Philip Furia and American Popular Music by David Lee Joyner.

Good luck! This is a fascinating subject. It's awesome to learn about the history of popular music because gradually all of the connections become clear, so that you can see how madrigals connect to Mozart symphonies connect to Puccini operas connect to Negro spirituals connect to vaudeville connect to Elvis connect to Dixie Chicks. Or whatever. We have a tendency to compartmentalize music, to believe that modern music exists in a vacuum separated from what came before, but it just isn't so...
posted by jdroth at 3:20 PM on July 9, 2006


I just checked the Amazon page for American Popular Music. There are only two reviews: one lambastes the book, the other defends it. The negative review is way off base, accusing the author of grabbing all his info from the web. The new version was published post-web, but the version I have is pre-web. The book has been around for a while. It's not perfect, but it's a fine overview. Don't reject it out of hand.
posted by jdroth at 3:23 PM on July 9, 2006

The only books I've encountered that relate to how Americans found music pre- phonograph were generally about other subjects, mainly minstrelsy. I think there's a bio on Dan Rice that came out recently, that might have some leads (I haven't read it yet). Another avenue is Civil War songs as they seemed to be the real start of popular song in America.

Oh yeah there's the movie Songcatcher about the collecting of Appalacian folk songs.

I hope some of those might be of some help, other than that jdroth is right, you're going to need to become acquainted with the library and bibliographies.
posted by rodz at 6:41 PM on July 9, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the replies!

I'll look at these more in depth tomorrow, since I just got home and am about to go to bed.

mattbucher: I was thinking about things like sheet music... basically how music was available and distributed as a commodity before vulcanite discs, or whatever.

jdroth and rodz: thanks for the suggestions- I'll see what I can dig up at the library.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:10 PM on July 9, 2006

This is a bit late, and tangential at best, but you might find something of value in Evan Eisenberg's The Recording Angel.
posted by hototogisu at 2:49 PM on July 30, 2006

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