I must give this book the highest recommendation possible. Wald has gathered a huge amount of information and sifted it thoroughly so to write a hugely informative and readable history of pop music in the US - from the 1920s to early-1970s.
His point about the Beatles focuses on their transition from rock'n'roll entertainers to selfconscious art rockers: he follows this by demonstrating how black and white American musics, separate yet mirror images (of sorts) across the 20th C, then shifted into very different arenas - where James Brown lead black US music in the early 70s Crosby Stills Nash lead white in the early 70s.
I'm simplifying his reading and arguments - this is a book to be read and deliberated upon - but do not be put off by the title: this is a book that I believe most serious music fans will find pleasure in perusing. Which is true of all Wald's books - Narcocorrido gives more information of Mexico's drug wars (only now being touched upon by the UK media) than any other text or medium I can think of; his book on Robert Johnson places that great artist firmly in the music making community he existed in (rather than glorifying him as some sold-his-soul-to-the-devil proto rock star that much writing on RJ does). While Guralnick's hagriographic treatises on dead pop legends and Marcus's pompous treatises on Dylanisms have got much attention over here across the last decade Elijah Wald has been oddly overlooked. Revision time: check this guy!
Anyone buying this book, as I did, believing it to have anything to do with The Beatles will be sorely disappointed. The Beatles feature on only about a dozen pages. However, don't be put off because this is an amazing trail through American popular music of the eighty years ending in 1970 and is a fascinating read. The detailed analysis of music's development is almost textbook stuff but it is handled in such a light manner that it is a very easy read and it is a must for all music lovers of whatever genre. Highly recommended!
I bought this book in the hope that it would provide me with an explanation of how some people feel that the Beatles ripped off American musical genres such as blues and jazz. Although the writer clearly knows his stuff and I now know a lot more about jazz and blues than I previously did, I found it a little heavy going, being only a general reader, and not very well linked to the Beatles which is my main area of interest and why I bought the book. I think this book would suit someone that is more familiar with blues and jazz and would not recommend it for someone like myself who was just interested in the Beatles.