cover image Love for Sale: Pop Music in America

Love for Sale: Pop Music in America

David Hajdu. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-0-3741-7053-0

Romance, social bonding, and self-definition are readily available for the price of a Victrola cylinder, record, CD, or iTunes download, posits music critic Hajdu in this illuminating, idiosyncratic history of pop music. Hajdu (Positively Fourth Street) goes back to Tin Pan Alley sheet-music hits, then forward through jazz and swing, Elvis and rock, disco, rap, and electronica, along with many quirky detours down forgotten byroads. (Singing movie cowboys Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, he contends, held a profound sway over later country-western innovators such as Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson.) There’s a modicum of influence-tracing here to explain the evolution of pop styles, leavened with the author’s colorful reminiscences of stars he has interviewed and his presence at the birth of the 1970s New York punk scene at CBGB. But Hajdu is more interested in how changes in music and musical technology affect listeners—the transistor radio, he writes in a tour de force section, turned listening to music into a solitary, ruminative pursuit rather than a social pastime—and how songs shape teens’ memories and tribal mores. Writing in graceful prose, Hajdu nicely balances brisk historical narrative, shrewd cultural analysis, and opinionated personal reflection in an absorbing account of shifting musical landscapes. (Oct.)