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  • How Do You Solve a Problem Like a Mainstream?Charting the Musical Middle
  • Eric Weisbard (bio)
Redefining Mainstream Popular Music. Edited by Sarah Baker, Andy Bennett, and Jodie Taylor. New York: Routledge, 2013. 222 pages. $125.00 (cloth). $44.95 (paper).
Why Music Matters. By David Hesmondhalgh. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2013. 198 pages. $84.95 (cloth). $32.95 (paper). $26.99 (e-book).
Pop-Rock Music: Aesthetic Cosmopolitanism in Late Modernity. By Motti Regev. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2013. 208 pages. $69.95 (cloth). $24.95 (paper). $19.99 (e-book).
The Persistence of Sentiment: Display and Feeling in Popular Music of the 1970s. By Mitchell Morris. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013. 248 pages. $70.00 (cloth). $29.95 (paper).
Sweet Air: Modernism, Regionalism, and American Popular Song. By Edward P. Comentale. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013. 274 pages. $90.00 (cloth). $28.00 (paper).
Blockbusters: Hit-making, Risk-taking, and the Big Business of Entertainment. By Anita Elberse. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2013. 307 pages. $30.00 (cloth). $15.99 (paper).
Let’s Talk about Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste. New and Expanded Edition. By Carl Wilson. New York: Bloomsbury, 2014. 303 pages. $19.95 (paper). $16.99 (e-book).
Consuming Pleasures: Intellectuals and Popular Culture in the Postwar World. By Daniel Horowitz. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012. 491 pages. $34.95 (cloth). [End Page 253]
The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock ’n’ Roll, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia. By Matthew Delmont. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012. 294 pages. $68.95 (cloth). $29.95 (paper).
Love, Peace, and Soul: Behind the Scenes of America’s Favorite Dance Show Soul Train: Classic Moments. By Ericka Blount Danois. Milwaukee: Backbeat Books, 2013. 243 pages. $24.99 (paper).
The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture and Style. By Nelson George. New York: William Morrow, 2014. 256 pages. $27.99 (cloth).
Soul Train: The Music, Dance, and Style of a Generation. By Questlove. New York: Harper Design, 2013. 288 pages. $45.00 (cloth).
Rednecks, Queers, and Country Music. By Nadine Hubbs. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014. 225 pages. $60.00 (cloth). $34.95 (paper).

Mainstream is a word we use without much questioning, and notions of mainstream music can be particularly fraught. Mainstream music is too safe, too apolitical, too pop sounding, too middle class or too working class, too white. The problem, as the field-defining scholar Simon Frith points out (echoing Marcel Proust), is that the songs we are most ready to dismiss intellectually connect us emotionally—they are the ones we sing together.1

American music has long been rich in mainstreams. The show business variant, evolved from vaudeville and Broadway, gave us pop, a quickening of popular. But there were black and southern white mainstreams too by the 1920s, as first noted by Philip Ennis. Ennis, hired young onto an early 1950s BMI Music Publishing study of radio DJs meant to refute charges of commercial manipulation, was already an emeritus sociology professor when he published his one solo work of music scholarship, The Seventh Stream: The Emergence of Rocknroll in American Popular Music (1992). The book placed the three streams of commercial pop against three smaller streams connected to authenticity and musical genre: gospel, jazz, and folk. Its opening half remains the best attempt to capture the multiple formulations of sound, identity, and capitalism that rock and roll drew on. This may be because Ennis, who disparaged rock and roll in its heyday, felt no investment in his streams or in debates between pop and less overtly commercial styles. Flows were flows. [End Page 254]

Perhaps this era’s distance from the late 1960s to early 1970s peak of countercultural insurgence gives us a renewed fondness for the work started by Ennis, for seeing the worth of those who are included in pop mainstreams as much as those who lampoon them. Climbing charts and social mobility are kissing cousins. When Bruno Mars—of complicated ethnicity, interwoven genre affiliations, and a background as a child Elvis impersonator—performs his “Billionaire,” one should draw conclusions carefully, especially as the...


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