Top 40 Democracy: The Rival Mainstreams of American Music


Product Details

University of Chicago Press
Publish Date
5.4 X 8.4 X 0.6 inches | 0.55 pounds

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About the Author

Eric Weisbard is assistant professor of American studies at the University of Alabama and the founder and longtime organizer of the acclaimed EMP Pop Conference.


"Consistently provocative and engaging. Compared with record producers, broadcasters have been shown limited respect by both scholars and critics, and Weisbard's book deserves much praise simply for taking them seriously. His pointed business narrative gives a fascinating look at how programming decisions actually get made, and unmade."-- "Wall Street Journal"
"Smart but not inaccessibly so. . . . In Weisbard's view, Top 40 isn't simply the place where Rick Dees and Casey Kasem's voices oozed from transistors, but a vast virtual stage for Elton John to import a brash British pop sensibility to American rock audiences, queering the top of the pop charts long before he was out of the closet."-- "Pitchfork"
"[A] sharp, detailed history. . ."-- "Planet Weekly"
"Weisbard wrote not just for fellow critics and scholars, but for serious music fans wishing to go deeper."-- "Tuscaloosa News"
"Combining a close attention to sound, money, demographics, and the ties that bound them together in an ever-shifting constellation of radio formats since the 1970s, Weisbard brilliantly rewrites pop music as we know it. Weisbard is one of our top pop music scribes, and Top 40 Democracy is the best kind of revisionist history. It takes something familiar and makes it strange again. It enables us to listen with fresh ears and find beauty and meaning in music too often dismissed for lacking both. I wanted to turn it up and sing along at the top of my lungs."--Karl Hagstrom Miller "University of Texas at Austin"
"Weisbard was a smart music journalist and is an even smarter music academic. I used to read his reviews and feel compelled to listen to music I didn't know. Reading this book compelled me to rethink music I thought I knew only too well. Weisbard's history of the mainstreams of American popular music and his analysis of the surprising complexities of American format radio is persuasive and entertainingly detailed. As an account of the cultural and political effects of the kind of commercial pop music that is usually taken for granted, Top 40 Democracy shows eloquently and exuberantly why pop music must be central to our understanding of social history."--Simon Frith, author of Taking Popular Music Seriously "University of Texas at Austin"
Forget the canonical version of pop's past and learn to think like a radio, that surprisingly persistent force in shaping our listening lives. It can tame and it can maim, but it adds a jostling vitality that crackles with the tensions of history. Weisbard is a wide-viewed, big-eared, provocative analyst of how it's all worked via fickle formats, tuned-in stars who've never received such smart critical attention (Dolly! Elton! The Isleys! Herb Alpert!), 'record men, ' meathead rock jocks, and more. There's a fact or insight on every page that will spin your dial. So you better do as you are told: you better read about your radio.--Carl Wilson, author of Let's Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste "University of Texas at Austin"
"This spin around the radio dial is an engrossing, unpredictable tour of the multiplicity of imagined communities inhabiting the pop mainstream, and Weisbard's innovative theorizing of format as an alternative to genre logic transforms the idea of a Top 40 democracy from a utopian metaphor into a material political economy. It's a book for everyone who takes music seriously and every auto executive who would consider producing a car without a radio receiver."--Diane Pecknold, author of The Selling Sound: The Rise of the Country Music Industry "University of Texas at Austin"
"Top 40 Democracy is not only smart and interesting and fun, but insightful, and done in such a way that makes how much you learn from it feel as surprising as discovering Doritos-flavored broccoli."--Diane Pecknold, author of The Selling Sound: The Rise of the Country Music Industry "Corduroy Books"
"Inventively researched and subtly argued."--Diane Pecknold, author of The Selling Sound: The Rise of the Country Music Industry "Rain Taxi"
"A brilliantly expansive tour of American pop radio, in all its sleaze and conflict, as a fantasy republic that stretches through the nation. Eric Weisbard, a true scholar and a true fan, masterfully follows the yellow brick road through the boomtowns and wastelands of American culture, from Vegas to Dollywood, with revelatory and challenging insights about how these competing musical visions both unite and divide."--Rob Sheffield, author of Love Is A Mix Tape and Turn Around Bright Eyes "Rain Taxi"
"Rare is the scholar who is willing to make a signifi­cant case for mainstream acts or labels. In this sense, Weisbard's Top 40 Democracy is an ambitious corrective. . . . Weisbard provides a significant illu­mination of a slice of American popular his­tory."--Rob Sheffield, author of Love Is A Mix Tape and Turn Around Bright Eyes "Journal of American History"
"Top 40 Democracy is rooted in a cultural studies tradition that advocates the progressive and political nature of popular culture. From this perspective, Weisbard challenges the tendency to frame rock (and its subgenres) as a force of authenticity and supremacy over popular or mainstream culture. Citing recent debates and questions about rockism and poptimism, Weisbard critiques our affinity for identifying with genres over formats. After all, formats are a means by which to reach listeners."--Rob Sheffield, author of Love Is A Mix Tape and Turn Around Bright Eyes "Popular Music"