This book is intended as a survey history of the American record business as it developed during its first full century. It already existed, just barely, when the century began, and by the start of the twenty-first century, whatever its troubles, it had become a very big business: 785 million albums in 2000 might not have represented much of an increase over the previous year, but it was still a lot of records. The story of the industry’s development is a financial and commercial one, concerning sales, competition, and economic forces, and it is also a musical one, concerning musicians and songwriters. The history of a country’s music is, to an extent, the history of the country itself, and much more could be said—indeed, much more has been said—about that than can be attempted here. But it is hoped that with this overview the reader will gain a certain perspective on that history and the way that the creation of an art form interacts with the machinery of its distribution—or has, thus far, anyway.
William Ruhlmann is a well-known writer on American popular music, and a regular contributor to several journals and trade magazines devoted to pop music history and culture. He was a consulting editor to Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Centennial Edition, and has authored several books on popular music performers, including Barbra Streisand and Chicago. He resides in New York City.
"When music critics and fans debate such lofty imponderables as "the greatest records of all time" or "the most influential artists ever," they are necessarily referring to the vast library of recorded sound produced during the 20th Century. Few writers have the knowledge or wherewithal to take on a span of time that delivered everyone from Louis Armstrong to Miles Davis, Robert Johnson to Led Zeppelin, Bing Crosby to the Beatles and onward--Ellington to Elvis, Hank to Hendrix, Coltrane to Cobain. William Ruhlmann has managed, in a single volume, to encapsulate virtually the entire history of recorded popular music, from the age of the wax cylinder to the advent of the MP3. It's a truly remarkable tale, told in lively, informative prose that encourages discovery and compels the reader to marvel." -- Jeff Tamarkin, author of Got a Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane