In compiling this project I tend to read three kinds of books – histories of recorded music, histories of individual years and notable books from the time period. The second and third of these I’ll cover as when I get to them here – books about years, novels – this page is concerned only with the first.
Greg Milner – Perfecting Sound Forever: The Story of Recorded Music – This is excellent on the way that recording techniques shape our ideas about music, very accessible and entertaining as well as enlightening, lots about the ‘sound tests’ where a soprano would be on stage and the curtain would pull back to reveal it was a record, etc.
Susan Schmidt Horning – Chasing Sound – On a similar topic, but going in-depth into the changes in engineering through the years, includes very enlightening anecdotes about the earliest recording studios
Mark Katz – Capturing Sound; How Technology Changed Music – A series of scenes on the topic, feels like four random chapters from a much larger book. Good stuff on cultural impact of the phonograph, how it led to styles changing and becoming unified as musicians heard each-others work, then skips forward 80 years to a chapter on turntablism. Comes with a website with extensive audio examples.
David Wondrich – Stomp and Swerve: American Music Gets Hot, 1843–1924 – Less academic, more enjoyable opinionated narrative on the lead-up to jazz and blues, comes with an excellent CD covering the early years of the century. I think this may be my favourite book on the topic, he really has done the broad listening which so often seems to be lacking, and while we don’t agree on quite a few things, his ability to bring to life the era is so far unsurpassed.
Tim Brooks – Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919 – In depth biographies of all of the pioneering black recording artists of the pre-jazz era, often pieced together from the tiniest fragments of information available – this is as comprehensive a survey of the subject as is surely possible, and also comes with a very good CD.
David A Jansen and Trebor Jay Tichenor – Rags and Ragtime: A Musical History – Primarily a reference work, this lists all of the major ragtime writers, performers and songs. It’s not something to read for pleasure exactly, but it is indispensable when researching discoveries.
Edward A Berlin – Ragtime: A Musical and Cultural History – The definitive history of the genre, this book covers ragtime from a scholarly perspective, covering the kind of musical detail that generally goes over the head of the musically untrained (like me for example)
On the reading list
Peter Doggett – Electric Shock: From the Gramophone to the iPhone – 125 Years of Pop Music
Bob Stanley – Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop
Giles Oakley – The Devil’s Music: History of the Blues
Daniel Hardie – The Birth of Jazz: Reviving the Music of the Bolden Era
Nick Tosches – Where Dead Voices Gather