Martha Bayles Hole in Our Soul: The Loss of Beauty and Meaning in American Popular Music.
The Free Press, 453 pages, $24.95
reviewed by Mark Steyn
Martha Bayles holds out till page 20 before slyly sidling into pop culture’s all-purpose anthem: “At some point,” she writes, “every critic tries to unpack Ellington’s famous title, ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.’” No need to feel so sheepish. As a distillation of the key distinction between pop music and the conservatory crowd, it’s hard to beat. But is the title Ellington’s? He sure enough wrote the tune, but the lyric is credited to Irving Mills, Ellington’s (white) publisher, an old-school Alleyman with an eye to the main chance, who wasn’t above passing off staff lyricists’ work as his own and cutting himself in on the songwriting royalties.