cover image Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres

Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres

Kelefa Sanneh. Penguin Press, $28 (496p) ISBN 978-0-525-55959-7

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.)