Sunday, March 24, 2013
Sean Wilentz. 360 Sound - The Columbia Records Story. Chronicle Books 336 p. Hardback ISBN 978-1-4521-0756-1 (2012).
In 360 Sound, Princeton history professor Sean Wilentz chronicles the history of Columbia Records since its inception in 1887 as the Columbia Phonograph Company. Tracing the company through its 125 year history, Wilentz also provides narratives on the evolution of recording technology, the arrival of innovations like double sided records, long playing vinyl, album covers, stereo, and compact discs. He also provides glimpses into the musical styles that came and went through the artists signed to Columbia and its affiliate labels (notably blues and jazz oriented Okeh Records). It is a daunting task to trace the lineages of jazz, blues, classical, popular, rock, R&B, and hip-hop over the years, but Wilentz does this through profiles of Columbia stars such as Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, Billy Holiday, Flatt and Scruggs, Miles Davis, Eugene Ormandy, Frank Sinatra, Mitch Miller, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Simon and Garfunkel, Janis Joplin, Barbara Striesand, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen, Tony Bennett, John Legend, and Adele. The book’s main narrative is sprinkled with boxes on artists and musical trends, penned by Dave Marsh and Colin Escott. 360 Sound is a massive coffee table book, full of bold images of artists, record covers, and a recurring theme of showing how the labels of the discs evolved artistically, and through the artists whose recordings they identify.