Timothy D. Taylor. 2012. The Sounds of Capitalism: Advertising, Music, and the Conquest of Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Whyte, Ralph Richard

If some associate Christmas with “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” or “Jingle Bells,” it takes only a mention of the word “holidays” to set off the chugging rhythmic ostinato of an old earworm in my mind: “Holidays are coming, holidays are coming.” Whether or not this song has convinced me to buy more Coca–Cola at Christmas, it has made an indelible impression on my imagining of the festive season. Music’s power to impart impressions and to make the forgettable maddeningly memorable was recognized by advertisers long before Coca–Cola released its ads of branded trucks traversing winter landscapes. It is the task of Timothy Taylor’s The Sounds of Capitalism to detail the history of this field in which musicians, record companies, and advertisers have all interacted. The narrative is largely chronological, although some chapters are organized thematically. The historical account is infused with copious examples, which can be experienced on the companion website, Despite these profuse examples, Taylor steers clear of close readings, preferring to engage with the words of those involved in the world of advertising music. Taylor wears his two hats as historian and ethnographer, drawing on large quantities of trade discourse and numerous interviews: 37 in total, 24 of which he carried out personally. Such a study looks beyond the facts of the history of the business and seeks to understand how participants have understood what they do, not merely as individuals, but en masse. The volume of information Taylor includes towards this end is impressive. It is unsurprising that the book was a decade in the making (xvii).


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January 27, 2017