Hound Dog & How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll

Michael E. Young
The Dallas Morning News (MCT)

Meet the songwriters who helped make Elvis a star, and find out why one author curses the Beatles.

Hound Dog: The Leiber and Stoller Autobiography

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Length: 336 pages
Authors: Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller
Price: $25.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2009-06

The history of 20th-century popular music in America has often been a story of race. Genres grew and evolved, young practitioners borrowed from old masters, and the resulting gumbo owed its heart and soul to both black and white.

Both Hound Dog and the provocatively titled How The Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll emerge as histories that couldn't be more different. But both follow the same muddy stream.

Hound Dog, by storied songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, with an assist from David Ritz, is a pull-up-a-chair sort of book, a dual first-person telling from a pair together so long they complete each other's thoughts.

Leiber, a Jewish kid from Baltimore, was enthralled by the music he heard working in black neighborhoods. Stoller, a New Yorker, had a similar story. The two big-city boys set out to write the blues, penning songs for artists such as Willa Mae "Big Mama" Thornton and Charles Brown.

And somehow, they ended up as founding fathers of a new music called rock 'n' roll. Their conversation in Hound Dog lays out the path.

They meet as teens in Los Angeles, where their families have relocated, decide to write songs together for blues and R&B acts, and somehow make a go of it. One day, they learn a hit song they wrote for Big Mama has become a blockbuster for a young white boy from Mississippi named Elvis Presley.

“Hound Dog” changed everything. Leiber and Stoller became Elvis' "good luck charms".

In one frantic four-hour session, they wrote four hit songs for Elvis, including "Jailhouse Rock". Their songs were covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee to the Drifters and the Coasters to the Beatles. And they put together more hits than any other writing pair except for a couple of guys named Lennon and McCartney.

Book: How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music

Author: Elijah Wald

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Publication date: 2009-06

Length: 336 pages

Format: Hardcover

Price: $24.95

Rating: 6

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/b/beatles-rock-cover.jpg

While Hound Dog stands as a compelling piece of oral history, Elijah Wald's How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll is a full-bore academic treatise, "an alternate history of American popular music," as the subtitle says. He certainly takes a different approach.

To put the music in context with its era, he looks both at the ways music reached its audience (from the piano in the parlor to concerts in the park to vinyl, CDs and iPod downloads) and the most popular performers of the day. In the early jazz era of the ‘20s, for example, that means occasional references to the quintessential music of Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five, but a much more detailed focus on Paul Whiteman, the "King of Jazz."

Whiteman took "hot jazz" and de-emphasized "African rhythm" to accentuate "European melody", Wald writes. By doing that, he broadened his audience significantly. The Beatles did much the same, he said.

Wald says he grew up a fan of the Beatles, at least the matching-suited, Beatle-booted version. But he painstakingly presents his case for how they, as his title says, destroyed rock 'n' roll.

It began, he says, when the Beatles abandoned live performances.

Rather than releasing a new album every couple of months, each packed with chart-topping singles, the band headed into the studio for months to realize their artistic ambitions. The brilliance of those releases (Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band among them) changed the way artists worked. The album, rather than singles, became the focus, spawning the rise of FM radio and its broadcasting niches.

Did the Beatles destroy rock 'n' roll? Wald makes a strong argument that they did. But even if that isn't exactly true, his book provides a powerfully provocative look at popular music and its impact on America.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

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