The Selling Sound: The Rise of the Country Music Industry

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Few expressions of popular culture have been shaped as profoundly by the relationship between commercialism and authenticity as country music has. While its apparent realism, sincerity, and frank depictions of everyday life are country’s most obvious stylistic hallmarks, Diane Pecknold demonstrates that commercialism has been just as powerful a cultural narrative in its development. Listeners have long been deeply invested in the “business side” of country. When fans complained in the mid-1950s about elite ...

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The Selling Sound: The Rise of the Country Music Industry

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Overview

Few expressions of popular culture have been shaped as profoundly by the relationship between commercialism and authenticity as country music has. While its apparent realism, sincerity, and frank depictions of everyday life are country’s most obvious stylistic hallmarks, Diane Pecknold demonstrates that commercialism has been just as powerful a cultural narrative in its development. Listeners have long been deeply invested in the “business side” of country. When fans complained in the mid-1950s about elite control of the mass media, or when they expressed their gratitude that the Country Music Hall of Fame served as a physical symbol of the industry’s power, they engaged directly with the commercial apparatus surrounding country music, not with particular songs or stars. In The Selling Sound, Pecknold explores how country music’s commercialism, widely acknowledged but largely unexamined, has affected the way it is produced, the way it is received by fans and critics, and the way it is valued within the American cultural hierarchy.

Pecknold draws on sources as diverse as radio advertising journals, fan magazines, Hollywood films, and interviews with industry insiders. Her sweeping social history encompasses the genre’s early days as an adjunct of radio advertising in the 1920s, the friction between Billboard and more genre-oriented trade papers over generating the rankings that shaped radio play lists, the establishment of the Country Music Association, and the influence of rock ‘n’ roll on the trend toward single-genre radio stations. Tracing the rise of a large and influential network of country fan clubs, Pecknold highlights the significant promotional responsibilities assumed by club organizers until the early 1970s, when many of their tasks were taken over by professional publicists.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
The Selling Sound is the best book on country music that I have ever read. It is an important, valuable, and pleasurable book, likely to set the standard for years to come. Diane Pecknold brings the past alive, painting a rich picture of the cultures of consumption behind the stars and songs that comprise most historical studies of popular music.”—Aaron A. Fox, author of Real Country: Music and Language in Working-Class Culture

“A thorough and thoughtful historical account of how country music was ‘made to mean’ by fans, producers, and social critics. Diane Pecknold offers a definitive analysis of how the genre’s status and values are intimately connected to commercialism and ‘consumer democracy.’ A remarkable contribution to our understanding of how social class, cultural authority, and mass mediation shape the meanings of popular music.”—Joli Jensen, author of The Nashville Sound: Authenticity, Commercialization, and Country Music

“Any intelligent reader will enjoy The Selling Sound. Tackling an element of country music that few other writers have addressed, Diane Pecknold redefines the relationship between the ‘financial economy’ and ‘cultural economy.’”—David Sanjek, coauthor of Pennies from Heaven: The American Popular Music Business in the Twentieth Century

“I know of no other book in the realm of country music scholarship quite like this one, and I can think of few topics more deserving or neglected. Focusing on country music since it first emerged as a commercial entity in the 1920s, Diane Pecknold argues that commercialism itself has been a means of establishing the music’s legitimacy in the world of American popular entertainment. I applaud Pecknold’s originality and creativity. All country music scholars should embrace this book and its ideas.”—Bill C. Malone, author of Don’t Get above Your Raisin’: Country Music and the Southern Working Class

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822340591
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2007
  • Series: Refiguring American Music Series
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Diane Pecknold is a Postdoctoral Teaching Scholar in the Commonwealth Center for Humanities and Society at the University of Louisville. She is a coeditor of A Boy Named Sue: Gender and Country Music.

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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments     vii
Introduction: Commercialism as a Cultural Text     1
Commercialism and the Cultural Value of Country Music, 1920-1947     13
Country Music Becomes Mass Culture, 1940-1958     53
Country Audiences and the Politics of Mass Culture, 1947-1960     95
Masses to Classes: The Country Music Association and the Development of Country Format Radio, 1958-1972     133
Commercialism and Tradition, 1958-1970     168
Silent Majorities: The Country Audience as Commodity, Constituency, and Metaphor, 1961-1975     200
Conclusion: Money Music     236
Notes     245
Selective Bibliography     273
Index     287
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