Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres (Kelefa Sanneh)

Pop music is made up of many different components. Sometimes, a hip hop track will reach critical mass and break through to reach popular airplay everywhere. At other times, it could be country music. a dance track, a rock jam, or even something that fits the general “pop” label but doesn’t quite fit in the other categories. America’s popular music over the past 70 years has diversified and splintered into many different genres and subgenres.  Kelefa Sanneh, a long-time music critic at both the New York Times and the New Yorker, breaks down the history of popular music into seven main genres in Major Labels.

I loved this book. I laughed at the wit. I enjoyed the jogs down memory lane in all of the various musical genres. I felt that Sanneh had a great grasp of music history in many of the genres that he wrote about. You could tell in some of the chapters the breadth and depth of his personal knowledge as the stories were more personal and introspective in terms of how music impacted him in his youth. This stands out in the chapters on rock, punk, and hip hop specifically.  However, each of the seven genres he defines as contributors to pop music are given proper coverage. Major Labels reads quickly and enjoyably. I never felt strained to turn the page as I recalled  watching 120 Minutes or Yo! on MTV while growing up - back when MTV showed music videos.

If you’re into rock, hip hop, or whatever passes off as “pop” these days, regardless of autotune enhancement or not, you’ll enjoy Major Labels. This is one of the better general history reads on the subject of American pop music that’s come along and offers great insight into what Gen-X listened to while growing up.