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Playback: From the Victrola to MP3, 100 Years of Music, Machines and Money Hardcover – 18 Dec 2003

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2.8 out of 5 stars 9 reviews from the U.S.

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Product description

About the Author

Mark Coleman is a journalist who has written for Rolling Stone, Details, New York Newsday, the Village Voice, and Mojo, among others. He was a contributor to The Rolling Stone Album Guide and lives in New York City.

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Amazon.com: 2.8 out of 5 stars 9 reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars fine! 21 Mar. 2014
By Evelyn G. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was just what I needed to prepare for my study club program on History of Listening to Music.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Factually inaccurate and poorly written 14 Jan. 2014
By Mister Coffee - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
There are numerous inaccuracies that undermine the entire book's credibility.

I'll focus on the brief Theramin section just as an example. The author refers to the first Theramin as "portable" -- has he actually seen an original one, or just the 1990s hobbyist versions? Like early household radios, they were designed to be pieces of furniture, not least because a decent sound required a large speaker enclosure. He also describes the instrument as not needing to be played in tune. On the contrary, that is the number one requirement to playing it successfully. Again, I think he is confusing the actual Theramin instrument with the current cheapo devices "played" by hipsters as sound effects. Also, the author repeats the decades-old misstatement that a Theramin is used on the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations." The recording sessions have been extremely well-researched and documented -- it's easy to fact-check and find out that it was not a Theramin, but a wire-based device invented (and played) by a Dr. Tanner.

The author summarizes the entire 1950s as the era of homogenous Top 40 radio. Actually, Top 40 didn't become ubiquitous till after the Payola scandal of 1959, when the industry needed to take control away from individual DJs. Before then, rock and roll was driven by independent DJs who programmed their own shows and fostered regional hits.

These are just examples. There are enough bad mistakes (regarding who produced the music in Warner Bros. cartoons, when the Moog was first heard on popular records, and more) that the whole book is suspect on a factual basis.

Furthermore, the writing itself is meandering and annoying. He insists on referring to Edison cylinders as "software." He spouts the tired and ridiculous cliche that nobody used the recording studio artistically until the Beatles. His Beatles-centric view extends to his low opinion of all pre-British Invasion rock and roll ("...before the Beatles invaded, in sleepy 1960..."), including his ignorance of Joe Meek's technical abilities as an engineer. He dismisses Meek as a crazy guy (yes) who stumbled his way (no) to lo-fi (no) momentary (no) success.

There are a couple of good alternatives to this book:
From Tin Foil to Stereo by Oliver Read and Walter Welch (Apr 1976) is out of print but worth tracking down.
Record Makers and Breakers: Voices of the Independent Rock 'n' Roll Pioneers (Music in American Life) by John Broven (Jan 13, 2010) is in print and real gem. I can't recommend it enough.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Bad Editing, Light on Technical Info, Heavy on Hip-hop 3 Nov. 2014
By James J. Lundy Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I had to give Playback 2 stars because of what this book purports itself to be and what it actually is. While it does try to stay on task and talk about recorded music technology history, it ends up focusing more on the evolution of popular music itself and it's very light on technology. While the author gives cursory information about how some of the recording media work, it doesn't give any info on how CDs work and that's a huge omission on a book with the mission to be "the first book to place the fascinating history of sound reproduction" within the context of the music it recorded. It spends an inordinate amount of print on hip-hop and rap apparently for the tenuous connection of what format the DJs were scratching with. I also take issue on the editing (or lack thereof). It almost seems like a collection of essays or articles the way it seems to repeat itself and go back and forth in history making the progress of the book constantly backtrack itself and repeat information, sometimes word for word.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From cylanders to MP3's and everything in between 28 April 2004
By Paul Tognetti - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Mark Coleman has certainly packed plenty of information into this little volume about the history of recorded music. The primary focus of "Playback: From The Victrola to Mp3 100 Years of Music, Machines and Money" is how the technology has evolved from the days when Thomas Edison presented the world with the phonograph. It is critical to understand that from the earliest days of recorded music there were always competing technologies. This continues to be the case today. Coleman does a great job of explaining why particular formats won the day and why others simply did not cut the mustard. He also discusses at length the resistance inventors encountered from the musicians who feared that these emerging technologies would cost them their livelihoods.

From the cylander to discs to the LP, from 45 rpm records to 8 track tapes, cassettes, CD's and MP3's, Coleman covers just about all of the formats that have emerged over the past 125 years. For a young person eager to learn all about what came before this is an excellent read. Likewise, for older folks like myself the book gets us up to speed on what is going on out there today. I found "Playback" to be very well-written book. However, I must admit that when I got to the chapter on hip-hop and mixes and club DJ's etc. I felt like I did the first time I walked into a CompUSA store many years ago.....like I was on another planet!!! All in all, "Playback: From The Victrola to Mp3 100 Years of Music, Machines and Money" is well worth your time and attention. Highly recommended!
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Easily-Researched Boners Mar Otherwise Interesting History 27 May 2004
By Bob Stahley - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I picked this up because the subject matter, sound recording, fascinates me. And Coleman's style is wonderfully readable and consistently interesting--believe me, any subject, no matter how interesting one may find it, can be make painfully tedious with bad writing (as I learned trying to read a recent biography of Michael O'Donoghue). However, as entertaining as this book is, I have to question its accuracy, with the howlers that turn up practically on every other page.

Famous DJ Murray "The K" Kaufman's name is misspelled as "Kaufmanns." Four simultaneous Top 10 hits from the "Saturday Night Fever" LP is said to be "equaling the Beatles' British Invasion coup" (in fact, the Beatles held the top five spots on Billboard's Hot 100 on April 4, 1964). And in his discussion of the RCA/CBS "Speed Wars," Coleman seems to have missed, ignored or chose not to explain the entire reason for the "big hole" in the middle of 45 rpm records: it was specifically designed to accommodate RCA's "quick-change" automatic turntable that was supposed, as they were marketed, to make the change from one side to the next virtually seamless and therefore, so they expected the consumer to believe, be a viable alternative to LPs. This seems a strange omission given that his claimed original intention was to detail the history of the turntable. He also manages to mangle the early history of magnetic tape recording in the U.S. (failing to mention John T. Mullen at all!). And these are only the most obvious boners!
Coleman's insights and speculations on the present and future of music transcription and consumption are interesting, to be sure, and, again, his writing is lively and appealing, but, given the questionability surrounding the facts as he presents them, I must therefore question his conclusions as well as the validity of this history as a whole.
But it is a fun read with a good beat and it's good to dance to, so I'll give it a sixty-three, (...)
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