Did you know that Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote an essay on the Top 40? Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin, both writers and teachers of popular music, have compiled the first comprehensive survey of critical approaches to pop music. Usefully divided by general theoretical category, On Record serves as a guide to the growing sophistication and shifting emphases in the field. There are classic sociological analyses of "deviance" and rebellion; studies of technology; subcultural and feminist readings, semiotic and musicological essays, and close readings of stars, bands, and the fans themselves. Each section opens with a clear and concise introduction that places the essays in their proper context and explains the editors' choices.
This comprehensive anthology of serious writings on popular music should prove to be a breakthrough in the field. Frith and Goodwin have assembled an excellent compendium of articles that examine popular music from sociological, feminist, and deconstructionist vantages (to name a few). Because they are ``concerned with arguments about music and its meaning,'' they ignore articles on rock and pop music history as well as ``judgments of personal taste,'' such as reviews. Instead, they examine multiple aspects of music and the music industry in eight sections, each prefaced with a fine bibliographic essay. The articles themselves, spanning four decades, are uniformly fine; remarkably, few seem ``dated.'' Highly recommended with a caveat: this is not a ``typical'' piece of rock music fluff but a serious work more at home in academic libraries.-- James Stephenson, Society of the Cincinnati Lib., Washington, D.C.