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I would agree with Gareth Murphy's subtitle. There is an epic story of the record industry to be told. Unfortunately, after finishing this book, it seems like it's still waiting for someone to tell it. While this book makes an attempt, it's too rock-centric (and Euro-centric) to really live up to the title. Specifically, this books treads the well worn path from hippy idealism to Reagan era greed to the exclusion of much more than a passing glance at much else.
Things start off well enough with a history of the invention of recorded sound, which should be a book itself with all the characters and intrigue there, leading to the birth of the recording industry. I really liked this early part of the book and it gave me high hopes for what was to come. Things move along briskly, maybe too much so, until the beginning of Beatlemania and that is where the problems begin.
What follows is the meat of the book and a lot of the same faces and same stories that if you've read much about the recording industry you will already know. As the "sharks" take over, we learn David Geffen is a high-strung diva. Casablanca was a hedonistic wonderland. Walter Yetnikoff yells a lot. Etc., etc., etc. Murphy really focuses deeply on the already very well documented time period between 1966 and 1986. Then everyone gets bought up, Nirvana happens, then the Backstreet Boys, then Napster, then EMI is broken up and then a very bizarre and rambling final chapter.
Along the way, a lot falls through the cracks. Seminal jazz and r&b labels such as Stax, Blue Note, Savoy, Prestige, Chess, Modern, etc., are only mentioned in passing, if at all (most of the labels I’ve named aren't even mentioned.) Hip-hop is reduced to Tommy Boy records, Rick Rubin's story and a sentence or two about Sugar Hill Records. Country music is all but absent entirely. And on and on.
While I do understand this is just one book and we're talking about a big history, my issue is with the decisions made, not that every thing under the sun wasn't covered. For example, we get to hear a lot about Chris Blackwell and the rise and fall of Island records. A whole lot. Maybe the most space of any one story line in the whole book. But I'm still not convinced the amount of space given to telling that story is proportional to the importance it has in the larger narrative.
On the other hand, the 90s, which may have been the most profitable time in the entire industry's history, are rushed through rapidly, quite literally jumping from grunge to boy bands in a matter of minutes. No discussion of Soundscan, which drastically changed the chart situation. No mention of the hip-hop and country music booms. No mention of Interscope records or Jimmy Iovine, who is maybe one of the last of the true record men. It just seems like a major over site to me.
Also, if it didn't happen in the UK or America, it didn't happen. I suppose it was too much to expect a global approach, but there are some fascinating record cultures around the world worth of study as well. Jamaican music, for instance, is mentioned in the context of Island's story, but their own homegrown industry, at one time the largest in the world, believe it or not, is completely ignored.
And that last chapter, I'm still trying to figure out what that was about. It starts with the expected "where do we go from here" wrap up, then veers into a discussion about Jews in the music business and spirituality in general and I'm not even sure what else. At least it does help explain why Murphy goes into great detail on the Jewish backgrounds of many of his subjects throughout the book (prior to this chapter, this always seems like a bizarre tangent.) It still seems like a tagged on afterthought rather than anything really important to the history he's telling. (Again, there's probably a book on this subject waiting to be written, but this isn't it.)
If it seems like I'm picking nits on this book, you have to understand there has already been a lot written on the record business, specifically on the time period Murphy choses to focus on. I was hoping for some new insite or piece of the story that hasn't already been written about else where. While I won't argue that what's in here isn't important and entertaining, it's just more of the same stuff that people writing about the biz like to write about. I'm sure if this is your first read on the subject, you'll get a lot more out of it than I did. Just know it's only a piece of the story, not the whole thing.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Fell in love with this book immediately. The author details the birth of recorded music in the waning days of the 19th century to the iPod and arguments over the digitizations of music.
This is a story of technology, creativity, booms, busts and amazing personalities: Emile Berliner, Thomas Edison, Clive Davis, Jak Holzman, Dylan, the Beatles, Steve Jobs.
Learned that the emergence of radio entertainment in the 1920s put the industry in a tailspin, similar to the one it is trying to wrestle itself out of now.
A good, breezy overview that whets the appetite for more in-depth reading. Ralph Lister did a great job with narration. Overall, very happy.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful