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I Don't Sound Like Nobody

Remaking Music in 1950s America

Albin Zak

Publication Year: 2010

The 1950s marked a radical transformation in American popular music, as the nation drifted away from its love affair with big band swing to embrace the unschooled and unruly new sounds of rock 'n' roll. The sudden flood of records from the margins of the music industry left impressions on the pop soundscape that would eventually reshape long-established listening habits and expectations, as well as conventions of songwriting, performance, and recording. When Elvis Presley claimed, "I don't sound like nobody," a year before he made his first commercial record, he was unwittingly articulating a musical Zeitgeist. The central story line of I Don't Sound Like Nobody is change itself. The book's characters include not just performers but engineers, producers, songwriters, label owners, and radio personalities---all of them key players in the decade's musical transformation. Written in engaging, accessible prose, Albin Zak's I Don't Sound Like Nobody is the first book to approach musical and historical issues of the 1950s through the lens of recordings and to fashion a compelling story of the birth of a new musical language. The book belongs on the shelf of every modern music aficionado and every scholar of rock 'n' roll. Albin J. Zak III is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Music at the University at Albany, State University of New York. He is the editor of The Velvet Underground Companion and the author of The Poetics of Rock: Cutting Tracks, Making Records, a groundbreaking study of rock music production. Zak is also a recording engineer, record producer, songwriter, singer, and guitarist. Keywords: rock and roll, nineteen-fifties, sound recording, radio, popular music

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

I’ve been at this project for several years during which I’ve amassed debts to many individuals and institutions. Early ‹nancial support came in the form of grants from the University...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-8

The story of American popular music in the 1950s has about it the feel of absurdist fiction. Even the bare outline is strange to recount: how the nation drifted away from...

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1. Records on the Radio

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pp. 9-42

In the cultural churning of postwar America, radio, the nation’s great public medium, was in the midst of big changes. When wartime restrictions were lifted in 1946, applications...

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2. Shifting Currents in the Mainstream

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pp. 43-75

By 1955, it was clear that a new musical trend centered in the social worlds of teenagers had taken solid shape. The signs were many. Through radio and jukebox exposure...

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3. Hustlers and Amateurs

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pp. 76-109

Wayne “Buddy” Knox was twenty-three years old when he recorded “Party Doll” in 1956. He later told an interviewer that he had written the song years earlier when he was “just a kid...

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4. Crossing Over

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pp. 110-142

As a young man, the sociologist Philip Ennis joined a team of researchers at Columbia University’s Bureau of Applied Social Research charged with mapping the decision-making process...

Photographs

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5. Surface Noise

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pp. 143-169

In the fall of 1948 a small, short-lived Los Angeles record company released a record called “A Little Bird Told Me” by singer and pianist Paula Watson, her ‹rst for the company...

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6. “Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll”

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pp. 170-203

Kay Starr’s “Rock and Roll Waltz” (RCA Victor), a novelty record whose central irony is a mismatch between its playful narrative and its supporting musical arrangement...

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7. New Traditions

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pp. 204-237

On February 3, 1959, Buddy Holly boarded a plane at Mason City Municipal Airport near Clear Lake, Iowa, bound for Fargo, North Dakota, the closest airport to the next night’s show...

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Epilogue

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pp. 238-242

At the dawn of the 1950s, Billboard ran a piece paraphrasing Sinatra’s “pioneering thoughts on LP pop tune production.” The singer was “thinking in terms of the 10-inch 15-minute record,” rather than the 78 rpm single, a move that called for...

Notes

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pp. 243-264

Bibliography

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pp. 265-274

Records Cited

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pp. 275-286

Index

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pp. 287-325


E-ISBN-13: 9780472024544
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472116379

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Tracking Pop

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Music -- United States -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Music trade -- United States.
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