Electric Shock: From the Gramophone to the iPhone – 125 Years of Pop Music

Peter Doggett’s sweeping overview of popular music from the 1890s to today (well, 2015, anyway) had a huge challenge: Cover the major and minor trends, and find the threads connecting it all.

He succeeded, in an amazing way.


“Electric Shock” is one critic’s look at popular music and will have its detractors – I’ve read other reviews saying it’s too broad, or he wasn’t critical enough, etc. But in the Introduction, Doggett made clear what he was up to. He wanted to look at popular music, and couldn’t go back far enough. ’50s? ’40s? ’30s?

Eventually, he settled on the 1890s for two reasons: The beginning of ragtime, one of the first “popular” non-European music styles in the West, and it was the start of sound recording. Both events began to change music.

Another thing Doggett does is set aside his own biases. He acknowledges that the mere mention of Bing Crosby or Queen would set him off. He decided to let all the music speak to him – and in turn, he became a fan of more people and styles than he used to be.

The downside is it spends little time on some bigger practitioners, but the upside is the almost encyclopedic look at styles and artists. He covers jazz, blues, rock, country and subgenre after subgenre, such as swing, boy bands, electronica, bebop, exotica, folk, metal – almost anything that became popular, even for a second.

If you’re looking for a deep dive into rock or jazz, you won’t find it here. But if you want to relive the scope of popular music, decade by decade, you’ll find it here.

Highly recommended.