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A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: History, Under the Supervision of Professor Benjamin G. Rader. Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2008

Copyright (c) 2008 Christopher Rasmussen


Abstract: Lonely Sounds: Popular Recorded Music and American Society, 1949-1979 Lonely Sounds: Popular Recorded Music and American Society, 1949-1979 examines the relationship between the experience of listening to popular music and social disengagement. It finds that technological innovations, the growth of a youth culture, and market forces in the post-World War II era came together to transform the normal musical experience from a social event grounded in live performance into a consumable recorded commodity that satisfied individual desires. The musical turn inward began in the late 1940s. Prior to the postwar era, the popular music experience was communal, rooted in place, and it contained implicit social obligations between the performer and the audience and among members of the audience. Beginning in the late 1940s, technological, social, and cultural innovations, including new radio formats, automobile radios, and an expanding recording industry liberated popular music from some of the restraints of place and time. Listeners in the 1950s acquired expanded opportunities for enjoying music in ways that were more private, mobile, and intensely personal. Not only did the opportunities to listen alone expand enormously, but so also did the inclination. The postwar youth culture that grew up around the Top 40 radio format and 45-rpm singles stood at the vanguard of this revolutionary change in the musical experience. For many young listeners, rock and roll records represented a singular authentic experience. By the middle 1960s, these listeners believed that correctly listening to rock records not only revealed a unique self but also reintegrated alienated individuals into supportive communities. The isolated nature of the listening experience, however, poignantly frustrated such hopes. The dream of social renewal through rock records collapsed in the early 1970s. In its place came a more aggressive emphasis on self-sufficiency and personal control. In the subsequent decade devices such as the Sony Walkman successfully colonized public space, shielding listeners from other sounds while enclosing them in a private sonic environment of their choosing. This revolution in the musical experience, I contend, reflected and contributed to the pervasive sense of loneliness associated with the postwar era.

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