Right on the front Jarvis Cocker is quoted as saying “very very few books will change the way you listen to music. This is one such book. Read it.” So I did. I mean, you can’t argue with a man who waved his bum at Michael Jackson.
Yes, it’s part 43 in my series of books about music. This one is about the history of recorded sound, which only goes back about 100 years and starts with Edison shouting into a horn and ends with people routinely carrying their entire music collection everywhere they go. It covers format wars, the loudness wars, tricks of the recording trade, the rise and fall of various different styles of music and what seems like just about everything else.
It’s packed full of interesting facts, history repeating itself (Edison promoted his “diamond discs” by demonstrating the impossibility of telling the difference between a live performance and the record, a trick re-invented or re-hashed for just about every subsequent technological development) arguments between various factions, some who insist on the highest possible quality sound reproduction and those who want convenience (convenience generally proves much more popular, to the eternal surprise and disappointment of those with golden ears) and anecdotes and interviews with the people who made the recordings and/or the tools that they used.
It’s fascinating, exceptionally well-written, and it really has changed the way I listen to music (so far). Jarvis Cocker was right. And not just about Michael Jackson.
Jazz by Ken Burns – The 4-DVD history of America’s only native art form contains a lot of early recordings, and covers some of the same ground, especially the 20s and 30s
Post scriptum: there is a debate to be had about what it means for music to be recorded versus experienced live and how it will be possible to make a living from music now the recording industry is dead and no one buys records any more and so forth, but this book doesn’t really go into it, and I’m not going to here either