Cowboys and Indies: The Epic History of the Record Industry by Gareth Murphy (Thomas Dunne Books, $27.99, 400 pages)
This book held out the promise of being a fascinating look into the radio and record industries, from 1853 until the present day. Unfortunately, it’s a bit more pedestrian than exciting as the account veers between focusing on record executives and producers, and the artists themselves. It’s more successful when it does the former; the latter is a pretty standard history of rock and pop music.
The story at times becomes incomprehensible, as in Chapter 30, “Bubblegum Forest,” where one reads that, “The gaudy covers of manufactured bands (in 2000-2001) paid their way into the end caps and began scaring away older audiences.” What?
Cowboys and Indies succeeds when it focuses on small, interesting tidbits of information, such as telling us about the production of Millie Small’s breakthrough cover of “My Boy Lollipop” in 1964. There’s also some good stuff on George Martin and the history of Abbey Road (whose studios were last significantly refurbished in 1931). And kudos to the writer for pointing out that the debate about the compression of music has been going on since 1953 – when John Hammond wrote a New York Times article “blaming modern production methods for compressing the sound on jazz records….”!
All in all, this book is likely to be too much “inside baseball” for most readers. There are other, truly fascinating, books out there about the music trade.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Note: Publishers Weekly stated that, “Murphy captures the ever-changing nature of the record industry as it ebbs and flows…” However, the publication also noted that this is an “oft-covered topic.” Indeed.