In my humble opinion, one of the things that separates truly great books on the topic of music is that they should generate robust debate on the topic at hand. Ben Yagoda’s first foray into the realm of writing about music, The B-Side – The Death of Tin Pan Alley and the Re-Birth of the Great American Song, succeeds on that front by spawning a debate about the timeline for what has been widely labeled the Great American Songbook.
Yagoda lasers his focus on a couple of decades that started in 1925, thereby cutting out much of the 1950s, which some pop music purists might argue is a glaring miscalculation. Yagoda makes a broad case consisting of names like Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Duke Ellington and Hoagy Carmichael among many others that is a stacked deck that is hard to argue with.
Yagoda also brings a journalistic thoroughness to an examination of other influences on the music industry in the period that includes the advancing technology, as simple as it may seem by today’s digital standard. He also looks at the influences of politics and worldview that shaped the content of the songs and the role they played in American life.