The Selling Sound: The Rise of the Country Music Industry

Duke University Press
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Few expressions of popular culture have been shaped as profoundly by the relationship between commercialism and authenticity as country music has. While its apparent realism, sincerity, and frank depictions of everyday life are country’s most obvious stylistic hallmarks, Diane Pecknold demonstrates that commercialism has been just as powerful a cultural narrative in its development. Listeners have long been deeply invested in the “business side” of country. When fans complained in the mid-1950s about elite control of the mass media, or when they expressed their gratitude that the Country Music Hall of Fame served as a physical symbol of the industry’s power, they engaged directly with the commercial apparatus surrounding country music, not with particular songs or stars. In The Selling Sound, Pecknold explores how country music’s commercialism, widely acknowledged but largely unexamined, has affected the way it is produced, the way it is received by fans and critics, and the way it is valued within the American cultural hierarchy.

Pecknold draws on sources as diverse as radio advertising journals, fan magazines, Hollywood films, and interviews with industry insiders. Her sweeping social history encompasses the genre’s early days as an adjunct of radio advertising in the 1920s, the friction between Billboard and more genre-oriented trade papers over generating the rankings that shaped radio play lists, the establishment of the Country Music Association, and the influence of rock ‘n’ roll on the trend toward single-genre radio stations. Tracing the rise of a large and influential network of country fan clubs, Pecknold highlights the significant promotional responsibilities assumed by club organizers until the early 1970s, when many of their tasks were taken over by professional publicists.

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About the author

Diane Pecknold is a Postdoctoral Teaching Scholar in the Commonwealth Center for Humanities and Society at the University of Louisville. She is a coeditor of A Boy Named Sue: Gender and Country Music.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
Oct 17, 2007
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Pages
312
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ISBN
9780822390305
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Language
English
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Genres
Music / Genres & Styles / Country & Bluegrass
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Read Aloud
Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Building a history of pop music out of unexpected instances, critics and musicians delve into topics from the early-twentieth-century black performer Bert Williams’s use of blackface, to the invention of the Delta blues category by a forgotten record collector named James McKune, to an ER cast member’s performance as the Germs’ front man Darby Crash at a Germs reunion show. Cuban music historian Ned Sublette zeroes in on the signature riff of the garage-band staple “Louie, Louie.” David Thomas of the pioneering punk band Pere Ubu honors one of his forebears: Ghoulardi, a late-night monster-movie host on Cleveland-area TV in the 1960s. Benjamin Melendez discusses playing in a band, the Ghetto Brothers, that Latinized the Beatles, while leading a South Bronx gang, also called the Ghetto Brothers. Michaelangelo Matos traces the lineage of the hip-hop sample “Apache” to a Burt Lancaster film. Whether reflecting on the ringing freedom of an E chord or the significance of Bill Tate, who performed once in 1981 as Buddy Holocaust and was never heard from again, the essays reveal why Robert Christgau, a founder of rock criticism, has called the EMP Pop Conference “the best thing that’s ever happened to serious consideration of pop music.”

Contributors. David Brackett, Franklin Bruno, Daphne Carr, Henry Chalfant, Jeff Chang, Drew Daniel, Robert Fink, Holly George-Warren, Lavinia Greenlaw, Marybeth Hamilton, Jason King, Josh Kun, W. T. Lhamon, Jr., Greil Marcus, Michaelangelo Matos, Benjamin Melendez, Mark Anthony Neal, Ned Sublette, David Thomas, Steve Waksman, Eric Weisbard

From the smiling, sentimental mothers portrayed in 1930s radio barn dance posters, to the sexual shockwaves generated by Elvis Presley, to the female superstars redefining contemporary country music, gender roles and imagery have profoundly influenced the ways country music is made and enjoyed. Proper male and female roles have influenced the kinds of sounds and images that could be included in country music; preconceptions of gender have helped to determine the songs and artists audiences would buy or reject; and gender has shaped the identities listeners made for themselves in relation to the music they revered.

This interdisciplinary collection of essays is the first book-length effort to examine how gender conventions, both masculine and feminine, have structured the creation and marketing of country music. The essays explore the uses of gender in creating the personas of stars as diverse as Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, and Shania Twain. The authors also examine how deeply conventions have influenced the institutions and everyday experiences that give country music its image: the popular and fan press, the country music industry in Nashville, and the line dance crazes that created the dance hall boom of the 1990s.

From Hank Thompson's "The Wild Side of Life" to Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue," from Tammy Wynette's "Stand by Your Man" to Loretta Lynn's ode to birth control, "The Pill," A Boy Named Sue demonstrates the role gender played in the development of country music and its current prominence.

Country music boasts a long tradition of rich, contradictory gender dynamics, creating a world where Kitty Wells could play the demure housewife and the honky-tonk angel simultaneously, Dolly Parton could move from traditionalist "girl singer" to outspoken trans rights advocate, and current radio playlists can alternate between the reckless masculinity of bro-country and the adolescent girlishness of Taylor Swift.

In this follow-up volume to A Boy Named Sue, some of the leading authors in the field of country music studies reexamine the place of gender in country music, considering the ways country artists and listeners have negotiated gender and sexuality through their music and how gender has shaped the way that music is made and heard. In addition to shedding new light on such legends as Wells, Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Charley Pride, it traces more recent shifts in gender politics through the performances of such contemporary luminaries as Swift, Gretchen Wilson, and Blake Shelton. The book also explores the intersections of gender, race, class, and nationality in a host of less expected contexts, including the prisons of WWII-era Texas, where the members of the Goree All-Girl String Band became the unlikeliest of radio stars; the studios and offices of Plantation Records, where Jeannie C. Riley and Linda Martell challenged the social hierarchies of a changing South in the 1960s; and the burgeoning cities of present-day Brazil, where "college country" has become one way of negotiating masculinity in an age of economic and social instability.

Country music boasts a long tradition of rich, contradictory gender dynamics, creating a world where Kitty Wells could play the demure housewife and the honky-tonk angel simultaneously, Dolly Parton could move from traditionalist "girl singer" to outspoken trans rights advocate, and current radio playlists can alternate between the reckless masculinity of bro-country and the adolescent girlishness of Taylor Swift.

In this follow-up volume to A Boy Named Sue, some of the leading authors in the field of country music studies reexamine the place of gender in country music, considering the ways country artists and listeners have negotiated gender and sexuality through their music and how gender has shaped the way that music is made and heard. In addition to shedding new light on such legends as Wells, Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Charley Pride, it traces more recent shifts in gender politics through the performances of such contemporary luminaries as Swift, Gretchen Wilson, and Blake Shelton. The book also explores the intersections of gender, race, class, and nationality in a host of less expected contexts, including the prisons of WWII-era Texas, where the members of the Goree All-Girl String Band became the unlikeliest of radio stars; the studios and offices of Plantation Records, where Jeannie C. Riley and Linda Martell challenged the social hierarchies of a changing South in the 1960s; and the burgeoning cities of present-day Brazil, where "college country" has become one way of negotiating masculinity in an age of economic and social instability.

From the smiling, sentimental mothers portrayed in 1930s radio barn dance posters, to the sexual shockwaves generated by Elvis Presley, to the female superstars redefining contemporary country music, gender roles and imagery have profoundly influenced the ways country music is made and enjoyed. Proper male and female roles have influenced the kinds of sounds and images that could be included in country music; preconceptions of gender have helped to determine the songs and artists audiences would buy or reject; and gender has shaped the identities listeners made for themselves in relation to the music they revered.

This interdisciplinary collection of essays is the first book-length effort to examine how gender conventions, both masculine and feminine, have structured the creation and marketing of country music. The essays explore the uses of gender in creating the personas of stars as diverse as Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, and Shania Twain. The authors also examine how deeply conventions have influenced the institutions and everyday experiences that give country music its image: the popular and fan press, the country music industry in Nashville, and the line dance crazes that created the dance hall boom of the 1990s.

From Hank Thompson's "The Wild Side of Life" to Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue," from Tammy Wynette's "Stand by Your Man" to Loretta Lynn's ode to birth control, "The Pill," A Boy Named Sue demonstrates the role gender played in the development of country music and its current prominence.

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