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Review: Critic writes personal history of pop music

Associated Press

‘Love for Sale: Pop Music in America’

By David Hajdu

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Ever wonder what makes pop music so irresistible? David Hajdu, a music critic and professor at Columbia’s School of Journalism, has spent a long time thinking about the question.

In “Love for Sale,” he explores the combination of luck, talent and hard work that goes into making a hit: this “product of mass culture that reaches millions of people … at one time and works for each person in a personal way.”

He begins his story in the 19th century with the cultural changes wrought by the widespread publication of sheet music and continues into the 20th and 21st centuries with the rise of new music-making technologies.

Along the way he pauses to explore the significance of the Cotton Club, Billboard charts and transistor radio.

For the most part, it’s an exhilarating read, though not surprisingly for such a self-described music nerd, Hajdu is prone to digress and never misses the chance to untangle the convoluted genealogy of a song.

A little more than halfway through, he makes a confession: He has a “soft spot” for monaural sound. “The way I feel about it cannot be wholly explained as the fetishistic glamorization of archaic technology that typically afflicts geeks like me,” he notes wryly.

Rather, it’s because he can’t process stereo sound well, the result of hearing loss he suffered in his youth from falling asleep night after night with one ear glued to his beloved transistor radio.

Similar reminiscences throughout the text serve to establish his musical bona fides and make this more lively and personal than a standard historical survey. He’s critic and fan.

He ends with a touching coda on the difference between his musical taste as a youthful boomer and that of his teenage son, whose playlists include such contemporary artists as Jeremih, Natalie La Rose and Kid Ink.

— Ann Levin


For the week ending Oct. 2, 2016.

Hardcover fiction

1. “Two by Two” by Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central)

2. “Woman of God” by James Patterson (Little, Brown)

3. “Home” by Harlan Coben (Dutton)

4. “Twelve Days of Christmas” by Debbie Macomber (Ballantine Books)

5. “Commonwealth” by Ann Patchett (Harper)

6. “The Trespasser” by Tana French (Viking)

7. “Today Will Be Different” by Maria Semple (Little, Brown)

8. “Winter Storms” by Elin Hilderbrand (Little, Brown)

9. “The Woman in Cabin 10” by Ruth Ware (Gallery/Scout Press)

10. “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)