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The B Side: The Death of Tin Pan Alley and the Rebirth of the Great American Song

The B Side: The Death of Tin Pan Alley and the Rebirth of the Great American Song - Ben Yagoda Got this from firstreads.

The names, of songs, songwriters, singers, musicians, come flying at you in this summary of the Tin Pan Alley days up into the 1960s. So it helps if you already know some of the tunes and names, if you already have some scaffolding to hang these details on. The book itself isn't very good at providing you with a solid introduction to the history and music. And even though the chapters are labeled by time period, there's quite a bit of wandering back and forth in time in a way that feels disorganized. So prepare yourself with a little wiki-level history, at least, before you attack this thing.

I did have that mental scaffolding to fit this book into, though, and so I enjoyed it. There are some interesting trends identified. The areas in which I learned new things were the prevalence of ballads in the late 1940s -- something I was aware of but hadn't made sense to me, the ASCAP/BMI rivalry, the feud between Sinatra and Mitch Miller (the villan in this story), and the court case/legislative bill addressing how music was chosen to be recorded and broadcast in the 1940s and into the 50s. All that was interesting and provided some good context for the songs themselves. It was a fun read.

I'm not altogether certain that Yagoda convinced me of his central thesis about bad music killing off Tin Pan Alley and all the good music that was written in (mostly) the 1930s. Part of that is that reality is complicated, and Yagoda set out to describe everything that was happening with music in this time period. There was good music being written and recorded, but there was a lot of bad stuff, too. And yes, we all think "How Much is that Doggie in the Window" was a silly song, but it's not clear that Elvis killed good music. And, as Yagoda writes in the last couple chapters, Tin Pan Alley-style music was not dead in the 1950s. Most of the time, it wasn't at the top of the charts, but good music was still being written. And I know Sinatra hated rock'n'roll, but I rather like it myself, so I have a hard time going along with the argument that it was shlock that unfairly crowded out the good stuff. I just don't think there's enough evidence in this book (or in reality) to convince me of that. I enjoyed reading it, but I ended up disagreeing with the author, I think, in his main point.