Thursday, 19 May 2011

Where Have All The Good Times Gone?

It's hard to think that 120 years ago the only way of sharing a song was to sing it or play it on the piano that sat in most middle class families' parlours. 

Sub-titled "the rise and fall of the record industry" this book by Louis Barfe is one of the best I've read about the history of commercial recorded sound.  The benchmark here will always be Roland Gelatt's "The Fabulous Phonograph" and this comes close but as the former was written during the sixties boom there is a lot to say by way of updating the history.  This does so admirably, pulling on interviews with those who were there, from artists, managers and industry figures - reflecting on innovations like the advent of CD; the decline of former majors like British Decca; or giving a picture of the personalities who drove an industry both up - riding the various booms of the post war baby boom teen explosion or the re-marketing of established catalogues on new formats and; down - failing to realise that you can't control internet distribution in the same way that you can physical product.

I was particularly interested in the sections covering the rise of PolyGram and the launch of CD as I was there and I know that Barfe has captured the mood of the industry at the time perfectly.  The earlier sections covering the format battles of Phonograph and Graphophone, the mono and stereo debate and the "speed battles" of the 40's and 50's with the arrival of 45 and 33rpm microgroove reflect similar battles repeated later over VHS/Betamax, Cassette, MiniDisc, 8-tracks etc.  Makes you wonder why they didn't learn.

The epilogue chapter in the book (which was published in 2004) covers the aftermath of the Napster cases; the resulting threatening stance of the industry taking legal action against users of peer to peer networks and filesharing sites in a dogged determination to hold onto the past irrespective of technical innovation and; the arrival of Apple into the music business with i-Tunes and the i-Pod.

I would highly recommend this to anyone interested as a background to what's sitting on their shelves (or indeed stored on their hard drives) - it's not only an informative but a well written and entertaining history of our times and those of our parents and grandparents.

link to amazon page - Louis Barfe


Louis Barfe said...

Many thanks for the kind words on WHATGTG. It appears to be out of print, so I should look into doing an updated edition. Two other books worth adding to your core library of record business books are The Other Side of the Record by Charles O'Connell and Exploding by Stan Cornyn. The former a bitter farewell to an industry that the author has come to despise, the latter a warm recollection of a company that led the way and people who had a lot of fun in the process.

BoyRed said...

Thanks for commenting. You should write the second updated edition as there is more story to tell - what with EMI, Apple, HMV even, etc etc.
My other two favourites are Federic Dannen's Hit Men and The Mansion On The Hill by Fred Goodman. I must admit i've accumulated quite library on the subject over the years. The more recent Long Player Goodbye by Travis Elborough is my current read.