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Recorded Music in American LifeThe Phonograph and Popular Memory, 1890-1945$
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William Howland Kenney

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780195171778

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195171778.001.0001

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A Renewed Flow of Memories

A Renewed Flow of Memories

The Depression and the Struggle over “Hit Records”

(p.158) 8 A Renewed Flow of Memories
Recorded Music in American Life

William Howland Kenney

Oxford University Press

The economic depression of the 1930s decimated the recording industry in the United States: hard times so undermined the phonograph companies that many never recovered. Victor and Columbia survived by merging with other media corporations. The Depression's long-term economic effects, combined with the development of new communication technologies, served to accelerate the expansion of a few leading recording companies into business conglomerates that supplied recorded music for movies, radio, and jukeboxes. These multimedia consolidations led to the simultaneous playing of a limited number of popular songs on movie sound tracks, radio broadcasts, and jukeboxe sounds, saturating the media with hit songs, overwhelming young and musically unformed Americans, and absorbing ethnic and race music traditions into popular music formulas. The hit record phenomenon, so often exaggerated by phonograph critics, highlights a fundamental process in popular recorded music in the United States and a phonographic paradox: the power of a particular musical performance diminishes with repeated listening.

Keywords:   Depression, United States, recording industry, recording companies, consolidation, recorded music, jukeboxes, popular music, phonograph, hit songs

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