Lambasting the Fab Four with an inflammatory phrase on the dust jacket is a surefire way to get a potential reader’s attention, but it’s the subtitle of Wald’s book that gives a clearer indication to its contents. This is no kneejerk “j’accuse” exercise, but a considered attempt to understand how we ended up listening to the music we do today.
One of the author’s most admirable tricks is in largely ignoring how certain types of music are appreciated through the filter of history. Yes, the likes of Duke Ellington, Elvis Presley or Bob Dylan can be cherished by listeners who only discovered them in, say, the 80s or 90s, but Wald painstakingly puts them in the context of their original time, examining the impact they had when they were “new”.
As a critical overview of a century of music (jazz, ragtime, blues, country), it’s both thrilling and provocative, while, in pure factual terms, it’s a treasure trove of information; the role that the live stage, radio and even jukeboxes played in shaping how and what music was made is endlessly fascinating. And, for the record, Wald does say some very nice things about The Beatles.