Murray Forman‘s new book, One Night On TV Is Worth Weeks at the Paramount: Popular Music On Early Television is an invaluable history, but one with a frustrating premise at its heart. The history, out now through Duke University Press, does an excellent job of setting up and proving the notion that “music television” didn’t start with MTV in the early ’80s.
In addition to the myriad shows that would feature music as part and parcel of their programming as the medium went forward, television used music from its very inception. Singers and musical combos were part of the first broadcast tests. It’s a natural progression from radio, from whose networks television would arise. It’s only logical that the earliest things to come across the airwaves into the sets would be a visual representation of the most predominant aspect of radio. Namely, music.
If the name Kembrew McLeod means anything to you, it means you’ve seen the 2010 documentary he co-produced, Copyright Criminals. This book he’s co-written with Peter DiCola, Creative License, might as well be a companion piece to that film, covering as it does the same territory – namely, the book’s subtitle, “The Law and Culture of Digital Sampling.”
The “law” portion of the subtitle factors into Creative License more than the culture does, although the culture is where the law becomes difficult to understand. However, the first two chapters are all about the “golden age” of sampling. These two chapters are lyrical descriptions of a historical era wherein the turntable went from an object that reproduced music to one that made it. After that, we hit the third chapter, which is when everything gets quite legal. “The Competing Interests In Sample Licensing” is complicated, confusing, and dense. Considering that this is probably the most simplified version of copyright law I’ve yet to read, that says more about the legalese itself than it does about DiCola and McLeod’s writing style.