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Rock Music: Culture, Aesthetics, and Sociology by Peter Wicke; Rachel Fogg; Music Man:

Ahmet Ertegun, Atlantic Records, and the Triumph of Rock 'n' Roll by Dorothy Wade;
Justine Picardie
Review by: Leslie C. Gay, Jr.
Notes, Second Series, Vol. 49, No. 2 (Dec., 1992), pp. 621-623
Published by: Music Library Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/897946 .
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621

Book Reviews
POPULAR MUSIC

Rock Music: Culture, Aesthetics,and


Sociology. By PeterWicke.Translated
by Rachel Fogg. Cambridge: Cambridge UniversityPress, 1990. [xii,228
p. ISBN 0-521-36555-4,$44.40; ISBN
0-521-39914-9 (pbk.), $14.95.]
Music Man: Ahmet Ertegun,Atlantic
Records, and the Triumph of Rock 'n'
Roll. By Dorothy Wade and Justine
Picardie. New York: W. W. Norton,
1990. [303 p. ISBN 0-393-02635-3.
$19-95.]
Peter Wicke's Rock Music: Culture,Aesand Sociology
and DorothyWade and
thetics,
JustinePicardie'sMusicMan: AhmetErtegun

traversedifferent
terrainsof popliterary
ular music:Wicke'sworkemanatesfrom
the halls of academe, while Wade and
Picardieproceedfroma journalist'sbeat.
Whileboth have minorfaults,each representsthe bestof its respective
domain.
Wicke'sbooktakesitssubtitle
seriouslythisis no generalhistory
of rock.Like SimonFrith'sSoundEffects
(New York:PantheonBooks,1981),RockMusicbeginswith
thepremisethatrockmusic,musicians,
and
theirmaterial
are partofcomplex
products
social,political,economic,and even technologicalcontexts.For,as Wickesays:
Recordsand songsare not isolatedobof an exjects; theyare the symptoms
tensiveoverall culturalcontextwhich
owes its existencein equal measureto
socialand politicalrelationsas wellas to
the particular
environment
of itslisteners. (P. viii)

This important
notionseparatesthe book
frommore descriptive
historicalor biographicalfarethatmerelycelebrates
artists
and theirrecordings.
The workis organizedas a seriesofnine
essays,each focusingon one topic;some
aredetailedanalysesofparticular
moments
ofrock'shistory,
and othersare delineated
by a culturalor an ideologicalissue.The
openingessaymaybe thebook'smostimportant.Partlythroughan analysisof the
polemicalChuck Berrysong "Roll Over
Wickesituatesrockmusicas a
Beethoven,"
formdistinctfromEuropean art music,

rural American music, African-American


music,and earlier popular forms.In doing
thishe argues thatnew analyticprocedures
must be developed that are appropriate to
rock music,ratherthan applying"aesthetic
criteriaand musical models that are completelyalien to its cultural origins" (p. 2).
StartingwithTheodor Adorno, the misuse
of methods, models, and aestheticcriteria
has plagued popular music studies. While
others hlave made similar points (see, for
instance,chapter 2 in Frith'sSoundEffects),
Wickesuccessfullyweds social analysisto an
appropriate, if limited, musical analysis,
something almost unheard of in popular
music studies.
Other essays focus on significantissues
relevantto rock music. The topic of youth
subculturesand rock music correlatedwith
class and cultural identityis addressed, as
is the notion of "revolution" as a central
precept of rock ideology, along with the
incongruityof the anticapitalistideologyof
rock and its inherentlink withmass media
industries.
A fewessayssituateimportantperiods of
rock within their sociohistoricalcontexts.
There is one on the British reception of
American rock 'n' roll that ultimately
yielded"a structuralchange withinthe music industry... [and] a differentconception of popular music, one which showed
the basic formof rock" (p. 52). This essay
makes good use of Wicke'smethod of combining sociology with music analysis
through a discussion of The Beatles' first
Britishsingle, "Love Me Do." Another essay, on how the ultraconservativeEisenhower era shaped the experiencesof many
teenagers in the United States and ultimately rock 'n' roll, illustratesits salient
points via an analysisof Elvis Presley'srecording of "That's All Right."
Wade and Picardie's Music Man is of a
differentilk, fallingsomewhere between a
historyof AtlanticRecords and a biography
of Ahmet Ertegun,the company'sfounder,
who helped make Atlantic, arguably,
America's most important record label.
This blend makes some sense, as Ertegun's
life and the institutionof AtlanticRecords
are bound tightlytogether.
From firsthearing the likes of Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington at London's

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622

NOTES,

Palladium as a child,Ertegunwas drawn to


the music of African-Americans.Later, as
a Turkish diplomat'sson in Washington,he
became an avid and knowledgeablecollector of jazz and blues records. And thanks
to the sovereigntyof the Turkish embassy,
he and his brother,Nesuhi, avoided Washington's segregation laws and sponsored
impromptu jazz sessions that included
members of Ellington'sand Benny Goodman's bands. These early musical and entrepreneurial experiences with AfricanAmerican music and musiciansdefinedthe
direction of Ertegun's life as he entered
adulthood.
This was a time-the post-World War II
era-when changes in recording technology profoundly affected popular music.
The end of the war alleviated a scarcityof
shellac. Thus, 78 rpm record production
was no longer restrained by a shortage
of its primarycomponent,and companies
rushed to make and sell records. But
equally important-and not mentioned in
the book-is the development of less expensive magnetictape recording.This new
technologyopened the industryto a new
entrepreneurialclass of musicbusinesspersons sellingto local or specialized markets.
It was into this milieu that Ertegun
launched AtlanticRecords with an investment from the familydentist and with a
partner, Herb Abramson, a record producer from the Chicago label, National
Records. Ertegun's knowledge of AfricanAmerican music idioms made him unique
among the new class of business persons,
who were for the most part small-scale
manufacturerswith little background in
music.
It is in tellingthe storyof Atlanticwhere
the book shines brightest.From the 1950s
as a small New York label specializing in
black music, to defining (with Barry
Gordy's Motown Records) 1960s soul music, through (and beyond, as a subsidiary)
its sale to the multinationalconglomerate
Warner Seven-Arts in 1967, Atlantic
Records recorded some of the most significantartistsof American popular music.
So many importantmusicians-from Ruth
Brown, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin
to Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, and
AC/DC-have been part of the historyof
Atlantic,that it is impossible to weave all
theirstoriesinto one book. The company's

December 1992

dealings withthe Stones get the most complete coverage.


But this is not the storyof Atlanticmusiciansso much as thatof companyinsiders.
We read of conflictsamong Herb Abramson, Atlantic's firstrecord producer, his
wifeand company business manager, Miriam Abramson (later Bienstock),and Jerry
Wexler, Herb's replacement while he was
in the Army.Here too is Wexler'savid support of maintainingthe company'salliance
withAfrican-Americanmusic, and his disillusionmentwith Ertegun's move toward
whiterock in the 1960s, which culminated
withhis leaving the company in 1975 after
a twenty-twoyear partnership. There is
also the story of Jerry Lieber and Mike
Stoller'sstrainedworkingrelationshipwith
Phil Spector, three of the most important
composers and record producers in popular music.
Some of the mostcompellingstoriesconcern characters and controversieswithin
Atlantic'slarger sphere of influence. For
instance,we findin the book Morris Levy,
the always controversial owner of New
York's Birdland, occasional music publisher,and record company investor.Levy,
who is closelytied to the Mafia in the book,
once boasted that he had a bigger salary
than any major record company executive.
In 1988, when he left the music business,
he was worthprobably$75 million(p. 252).
And thereis Alan Freed's story,the person
who firstapplied the term"rock 'n' roll" to
African-American popular music. As a
Pied Piper introducing white American
youth to black music, Freed had a spectacular rise in the broadcasting industry,
becomingthe country'smostinfluentialradio deejay. His fall was just as spectacular
withhis implicationin a widespread payola
scandal.
The strength of Wade and Picardie's
book is its use of interviewswiththe many
personswho shaped the historyof Atlantic.
While further study based on the company's archives would add to what is presented here, this account of Atlantic
Records is presented nicely,rich with information,and fullof engaging anecdotes.
Record companies are not cyberneticinstitutions;theyare populated withpeople,
and this book gives a real sense of them.
Oddly, however,the weakestaspects of the
book are with the more biographical por-

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Book Reviews

623

tions on Ahmet Ertegun himself.Perhaps versityPress, 1990; distributedby St.


the authors were taken by Ertegun's ob- Martin's Press, New York. [124 p.
vious charisma.Throughout the book he is ISBN 0-7190-2826-4. $59.95.]
favored with only the most positive and
sometimes pointless terms. For instance,
In thepastdecade,thenumberofbooks
the book begins by establishingthat Erte- devotedexclusively
to popularmusichas
gun is fabulously rich, a good dancer, a
grown exponentially.Most editions of
gracious benefactor, and preeminent so- American
popularmusictextsdealwiththe
cialite:"He is all thingsto all men: a caring, historical
development
of Americanblues
cultured,urbane, debonair connoisseur of and other vernacularidioms,especially
jazz and the blues" (p. 27). This accounting earlyrock,usuallyendingwiththe music
appears incredible when read against the of the 1970s. Heavymetal,forexample,
accounts of others in the book.
had itsrootsin thelate 1960sbut is genOne can quibble with a few aspects erallyonlymentioned
in passing,if at all.
of Wicke's RockMusic,too. There are cer- Some of the newestbookson the subject,
tain omissions owing, perhaps, to his Eu- however,are beginningto treatpopular
ropean point of view. For instance,there music (both inside and outside of the
is no mention of the influence of New
UnitedStates)as an evolvingsetof genres
York's folk-revivalmovement on rock's thatare onlycapturedin printat one parnew self-consciousnessof the 1960s. More- ticularstageof theirevolution.This recover, at times Wicke draws uncritically ognitionof musicalevolutionis an imporon a vast array of scholarship. His argu- tant developmentin the literatureon
ments on youth subcultures,for instance, popularmusic.Bothof thesebooksfit,to
are supported primarilyby Dick Hebdige's
some degree,withinthiscategory.
Subculture:The Meaning of Style(London:
B. Lee Cooper's PopularMusicPerspectives
Methuen, 1979), but theyavoid important is dividedintothreelargesections,
entitled
critiquesof thiswork,such as GaryClarke's "Ideas,""Themes,"and "Patterns."
Within
"Defending Ski-Jumpers: A Critique of each of thesesectionsare smallerchapters
Theories of Youth Subcultures"(reprinted dealingwithspecific
topics,suchas "Railin On Record: Rock, Pop, and the Written roads" (chapter2), "Death" (chapter7),
Word,ed. Simon Frithand Andrew Goodand "NurseryRhymesand FairyTales"
win [New York: Pantheon Books, 1990]:
(chapter12). One unifying
featureofeach
81-96).
chapter is an introductory
sectionthat
Yet Wicke's book still deserves praise. placestheprimary
topicin questionwithin
These are thoughtfuland often challeng- the contextof sociopolitical
commentary.
ing essays that give importantinsightsinto The bulkof each chapter,however,
is dethe musicand culturalcontextsof rock. His
votedtolonglistsofsongtitles,
dividedinto
good use of music analysisto illustratehis verysmall categories(e.g., "Social Comsociologicalargumentsis an especiallywel- mentaryin ChristmasSongs," and "A
come addition to popular music scholar- Chronological
Listof SelectedCommercial
ship. This approach should be refinedand
RecordingsWhichFeatureCommentaries
expanded.
on Death,1953-1988")withthecomplete
LESLIE C. GAY, JR.
recording
data foreverysong.The end of
TexasA&M University each chapterincludesa listof workscited,

Popular Music Perspectives: Ideas,


Themes, and Patterns in Contemporary Lyrics. By B. Lee Cooper. Bowling Green: Bowling Green State UniversityPopular Press, 1991. [213 p.
ISBN 0-87972-506-0 (pbk.). $19.95.]
The End of the CenturyParty: Youth
and Pop Towards 2000. By Steve Redhead. Manchester: Manchester Uni-

someof whichare duplicatedin theselect


bibliography
at the end of the book.
As a reference
work,thisbookwillprove
usefultoAmerican
sociologists,
culturalanand scholarsof popularmuthropologists,
sicology.
However,readersofthisbookwill
alreadyneed to be familiarwithmanyif
notmostof thesongsreferred
to,because
the actualsongs'lyricsare rarelyor only
partially
provided;the titlesare intended
to speak for themselves.
It is one thing
for an Americanacademic (or popular

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