Reviews for Major labels : a history of popular music in seven genres

Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

In this thrilling debut, New Yorker writer Sanneh surveys the past 50 years of popular music through the dominant genres that shaped it: rock, R&B, country, punk, hip-hop, dance music, and pop. Though many musicians “hate being labeled,” Sanneh argues, the “persistence of genres” has determined the trajectory of popular music: “You can’t really rebel against a genre unless you feel part of it, too,” he writes. From Carole King and Iggy Pop to Public Enemy and Donna Summer, Sanneh analyzes how each artist’s music changed and endured in tandem with the genres that defined them—Summer, for instance, “helped bring electronic sounds into the musical mainstream.” Tracing the development of country music from a regional to a national genre, he observes how “there have been people lamenting that the older, truer country music is being left behind,” and how, ironically, Garth Brooks, “one of the genre’s biggest attractions,” was influential in a larger cultural “push... toward mainstream pop.” Equally fascinating are Sanneh’s insights into the way race has shaped music, particularly in the overlapping worlds of R&B and rock ’n’ roll. This remarkable achievement will be a joy to music lovers, no matter what they prefer to listen to. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM Partners. (Oct.)


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A lively, heartfelt exploration of the many worlds of popular music. Even though this is a big, capacious book, New Yorker staff writer Sanneh is not exhaustive in his treatment of seven categories of sound: Jazz and blues are only lightly mentioned, for instance, even though both had a formative role in rock and R & B, and some readers may wonder why he calves punk rock off from rock to constitute a genre of its own. Still, as he writes, “if you emphasize genres, you inevitably find yourself thinking about the other stars”—i.e., other than the major players, which explains his numerous mentions of Grand Funk Railroad, which, though disliked by critics and connoisseurs, was “one of the most popular rock bands in America.” Sanneh begins with a pioneer who’s still at it, Dion DiMucci, and moves on to Bruce Springsteen, “who was a bit of a throwback even when he first emerged, in 1973,” before surveying dozens of rock artists. Throughout, the author shows himself to be a master of the mot juste—e.g., “Starting in the late seventies, Van Halen perfected a Day-Glo variant of heavy metal”—and his consideration of the plight of “quiet” singer/songwriters (think James Taylor and Carole King) is intriguing. Some of Sanneh’s genre-slotting is arguable: Prince, for example, can fit into just about any category except country, while many of Steve Earle’s country songs are as punk as anything by the Sex Pistols. As for country, the author is spot-on when he observes, “Just about everyone can agree on Dolly Parton. But when it comes to country music, people seem to disagree on just about everything else”—save that even the most treacly of country acts is expected to pay homage to Hank Williams every now and then. Sanneh can be funny (“If a track went ‘Oontz, oontz, oontz, oontz,’ it was likely to be a house track,”) snobbish, and even harsh, but it’s clear that he’s listened to just about everything with ears and mind wide open. A pleasure—and an education—for any music fan. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A lively, heartfelt exploration of the many worlds of popular music.Even though this is a big, capacious book, New Yorkerstaff writer Sanneh is not exhaustive in his treatment of seven categories of sound: Jazz and blues are only lightly mentioned, for instance, even though both had a formative role in rock and RB, and some readers may wonder why he calves punk rock off from rock to constitute a genre of its own. Still, as he writes, if you emphasize genres, you inevitably find yourself thinking about the other starsi.e., other than the major players, which explains his numerous mentions of Grand Funk Railroad, which, though disliked by critics and connoisseurs, was one of the most popular rock bands in America. Sanneh begins with a pioneer whos still at it, Dion DiMucci, and moves on to Bruce Springsteen, who was a bit of a throwback even when he first emerged, in 1973, before surveying dozens of rock artists. Throughout, the author shows himself to be a master of the mot justee.g., Starting in the late seventies, Van Halen perfected a Day-Glo variant of heavy metaland his consideration of the plight of quiet singer/songwriters (think James Taylor and Carole King) is intriguing. Some of Sannehs genre-slotting is arguable: Prince, for example, can fit into just about any category except country, while many of Steve Earles country songs are as punk as anything by the Sex Pistols. As for country, the author is spot-on when he observes, Just about everyone can agree on Dolly Parton. But when it comes to country music, people seem to disagree on just about everything elsesave that even the most treacly of country acts is expected to pay homage to Hank Williams every now and then. Sanneh can be funny (If a track went Oontz, oontz, oontz, oontz, it was likely to be a house track,) snobbish, and even harsh, but its clear that hes listened to just about everything with ears and mind wide open.A pleasureand an educationfor any music fan. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

This is quite simply a perfect book for any music lover and an ideal primer on the last 50 years of popular music in the United States. Sanneh, a New Yorker staff writer, organizes the book into seven parts—rock, R&B, country, punk, hip-hop, dance music, and pop—and looks at the actual and perceived elements of these genres and the differences among them. (He doesn't talk specifically about Latin music, though he does write that the next 50 years of American music may well be shaped by Latin genres.) Sanneh writes, "This book isn't meant to tell you what to listen to now. It's meant to say something about what everyone else has been listening to, and why." And by exploring individual artists, songs, and trends and combining his own analyses with those of dozens of other music writers (Lester Bangs, Dave Marsh, Jessica Hopper, and Chuck Klosterman), Sanneh has crafted a uniquely open-minded appreciation of a swath of popular music. It's written not in the voice of a music critic but that of a deeply engaged and passionate listener. VERDICT A thoroughly enjoyable and perceptive book that champions the art of popular music.—Peter Thornell, Hingham P.L., MA


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Former pop music critic for the New York Times and currently a New Yorker staffer, Sanneh sums up 50 years' worth of popular music with a drilled-down study of its major genres, from rock to punk to hip-hop. We get lots of subgenres as well, an understanding of how those genres have morphed over the decades, and how this music can both unite and divide us.

Back