Pick Up the Pieces: Excursions in Seventies Music

University of Chicago Press
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Unless you lived through the 1970s, it seems impossible to understand it at all. Drug delirium, groovy fashion, religious cults, mega corporations, glitzy glam, hard rock, global unrest—from our 2018 perspective, the seventies are often remembered as a bizarre blur of bohemianism and disco. With Pick Up the Pieces, John Corbett transports us back in time to this thrillingly tumultuous era through a playful exploration of its music. Song by song, album by album, he draws our imaginations back into one of the wildest decades in history.

Rock. Disco. Pop. Soul. Jazz. Folk. Funk. The music scene of the 1970s was as varied as it was exhilarating, but the decade’s diversity of sound has never been captured in one book before now. Pick Up the Pieces gives a panoramic view of the era’s music and culture through seventy-eight essays that allow readers to dip in and out of the decade at random or immerse themselves completely in Corbett’s chronological journey.

An inviting mix of skilled music criticism and cultural observation, Pick Up the Pieces is also a coming-of-age story, tracking the author’s absorption in music as he grows from age seven to seventeen. Along with entertaining personal observations and stories, Corbett includes little-known insights into musicians from Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell, James Brown, and Fleetwood Mac to the Residents, Devo, Gal Costa, and Julius Hemphill.

A master DJ on the page, Corbett takes us through the curated playlist that is Pick Up the Pieces with captivating melody of language and powerful enthusiasm for the era. This funny, energetic book will have readers longing nostalgically for a decade long past.
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About the author

John Corbett is the author of several books, including A Listener’s Guide to Free Improvisation, Vinyl Freak: Love Letters to a Dying Medium, and Microgroove: Forays into Other Music. He is co-owner of Corbett vs. Dempsey, an art gallery in Chicago.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Mar 1, 2019
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Pages
400
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ISBN
9780226604879
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Language
English
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Genres
Music / Essays
Music / General
Music / Genres & Styles / Jazz
Music / Genres & Styles / Rock
Music / History & Criticism
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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"There are no definitive histories," writes Elijah Wald, in this provocative reassessment of American popular music, "because the past keeps looking different as the present changes." Earlier musical styles sound different to us today because we hear them through the musical filter of other styles that came after them, all the way through funk and hip hop. As its blasphemous title suggests, How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll rejects the conventional pieties of mainstream jazz and rock history. Rather than concentrating on those traditionally favored styles, the book traces the evolution of popular music through developing tastes, trends and technologies--including the role of records, radio, jukeboxes and television --to give a fuller, more balanced account of the broad variety of music that captivated listeners over the course of the twentieth century. Wald revisits original sources--recordings, period articles, memoirs, and interviews--to highlight how music was actually heard and experienced over the years. And in a refreshing departure from more typical histories, he focuses on the world of working musicians and ordinary listeners rather than stars and specialists. He looks for example at the evolution of jazz as dance music, and rock 'n' roll through the eyes of the screaming, twisting teenage girls who made up the bulk of its early audience. Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and the Beatles are all here, but Wald also discusses less familiar names like Paul Whiteman, Guy Lombardo, Mitch Miller, Jo Stafford, Frankie Avalon, and the Shirelles, who in some cases were far more popular than those bright stars we all know today, and who more accurately represent the mainstream of their times. Written with verve and style, How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll shakes up our staid notions of music history and helps us hear American popular music with new ears.
Improvisation rattles some listeners. Maybe they’re even suspicious of it. John Coltrane’s saxophonic flights of fancy, Jimi Hendrix’s feedback drenched guitar solos, Ravi Shankar’s sitar extrapolations—all these sounds seem like so much noodling or jamming, indulgent self-expression. “Just” improvising, as is sometimes said. For these music fans, it seems natural that music is meant to be composed. In the first book of its kind, John Corbett’s A Listener’s Guide to Free Improvisation provides a how-to manual for the most extreme example of spontaneous improvising: music with no pre-planned material at all. Drawing on over three decades of writing about, presenting, playing, teaching, and studying freely improvised music, Corbett offers an enriching set of tools that show any curious listener how to really listen, and he encourages them to enjoy the human impulse— found all around the world— to make up music on the spot.

Corbett equips his reader for a journey into a difficult musical landscape, where there is no steady beat, no pre-ordained format, no overarching melodic or harmonic framework, and where tones can ring with the sharpest of burrs. In “Fundamentals,” he explores key areas of interest, such as how the musicians interact, the malleability of time, overcoming impatience, and watching out for changes and transitions; he grounds these observations in concrete listening exercises, a veritable training regime for musical attentiveness. Then he takes readers deeper in “Advanced Techniques,” plumbing the philosophical conundrums at the heart of free improvisation, including topics such as the influence of the audience and the counterintuitive challenge of listening while asleep. Scattered throughout are helpful and accessible lists of essential resources—recordings, books, videos— and a registry of major practicing free improvisors from Noël Akchoté to John Zorn, particularly essential because this music is best experienced live.

The result is a concise, humorous, and inspiring guide, a unique book that will help transform one of the world’s most notoriously unapproachable artforms into a rewarding and enjoyable experience.
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