This book explores the relationships between rock and roll, social protest, and authenticity to consider how rock and roll could function as social protest music. The author begins by discussing the nature and origins of rock and roll and the nature of social protest and social protest music within the wider context of the evolution of the commercial music industry and the social and technological infrastructure developed for the mass dissemination of popular music. This discussion is followed by an examination of the causes of the public disapproval originally expressed toward rock and roll, and how they illuminate its social protest and subversive quality. By further investigating the nature of authenticity and its relationship to social protest and to commercialization, the author considers how social protest and commercialization are antithetical. This conclusion, if correct, has broad implications for human culture in advanced industrial society.
Kurt Torell is associate professor of philosophy at The Pennsylvania State University.
Introduction: “But the Man Can’t Bust Our Music” (Columbia Records Print Ad, 1968)
Chapter 1: The Nature and Origins of Rock and Roll
Chapter 2: The Influence of Records
Chapter 3: The Nature and Influence of Commercial Radio
Chapter 4: Copyright, ASCAP, BMI, and Payola
Chapter 5: The Folk “Revival”
Chapter 6: Rock and Roll as Social Protest
Chapter 7: Authenticity and Social Protest
Chapter 8: Conclusion
A serious academic analysis of the contradictions between rock’s commercialism and its spirit of countercultural resistance. Writing in the tradition of Michael Lydon, Paul Hirsch, and Serge Denisoff, Torell connects the vexed marriage of authenticity and imitation in American popular culture to larger issues in western philosophy and art. This book reaches far beyond rock and social protest, too: important reading for those also interested in the commodification of folk, punk, and hip hop.
Was rock music subversive? Conservatives certainly thought so, and the counterculture's spirit of rebellion can't be understood apart from its soundtrack. Yet as Kurt Torell shows, mainstream institutions, practices, and pressures shaped the production and consumption of rock music at every turn. What emerges from his study is a deep and productive tension between the media and the message.
For decades, scholars, writers and listeners have argued about the theme of protest in popular music. Kurt Torell adds a fine and nuanced perspective to this enduring issue, providing an innovative, incisive, and timely analysis that will appeal to a wide range of readers in a variety of disciplines.