Allen Lowe's nine-CD, 215-track compilation American Pop
provides examples of music and musicians discussed in his book, American Pop from Minstrel to Mojo: On Record, 1893-1956
. Billed as "an audio history of American popular song presented through rare records," it is obviously a massive effort, and Lowe has adopted certain criteria for his choices. He is particularly interested in relations between races, and in his liner notes (excerpted from the book) frequently makes reference to the color of the musician. Also, "rare" is a key word: though Lowe includes performances by many of the most popular musicians of the 53-year period he examines, he is actually more interested in tracing the side avenues of non-classical music, especially jazz, but also country and blues, giving relatively short shrift to the more popular music of Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, and Hollywood. Lowe manages to include at least one song by each of the major names in country music during the period, from Eck Robertson
to the Maddox Brothers and Rose
. In jazz, his black/white emphasis results in a preponderance of black artists, with all the major names represented, but such notable white figures as the Dorsey Brothers
absent (of course, this also reflects his tendency to shun the hit parade). The blues is less well-represented, reflecting Lowe's position that "the blues is, of course, quite important, but only as part of a much larger American, and African American, musical universe"; nevertheless, most of the major names have at least one song. For the most part, the selections are presented in chronological order, mixing up the genres. In practice, the transitions are not as jarring as that might suggest, and in fact the juxtapositions sometimes suggest similarities one might not otherwise have considered. At other times, it's the differences that are illuminating; this is not a collection for fans of only one style of music. Although the album is essentially a work of musical scholarship, casual listeners may enjoy a variety of discoveries. Despite its length, American Pop
is, necessarily, a survey course, not an advanced seminar, in popular music, and like any course, reflects the views of the instructor. Neophytes and experts will find much to enjoy, and the sheer bulk is impressive-listening is like reliving the eras as they occur. Further, the development of popular music after 1946, when some of these genres gained popular ascendancy, makes even the more obscure material sound accessible. But it's worth keeping in mind that this is in some ways an alternate history of American popular song.