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The Sounds of Capitalism

Advertising, Music, and the Conquest of Culture

From the early days of radio through the rise of television after World War II to the present, music has been used more and more to sell goods and establish brand identities. And since the 1920s, songs originally written for commercials have become popular songs, and songs written for a popular audience have become irrevocably associated with specific brands and products. Today, musicians move flexibly between the music and advertising worlds, while the line between commercial messages and popular music has become increasingly blurred.

Timothy D. Taylor tracks the use of music in American advertising for nearly a century, from variety shows like The Clicquot Club Eskimos to the rise of the jingle, the postwar upsurge in consumerism, and the more complete fusion of popular music and consumption in the 1980s and after. The Sounds of Capitalism is the first book to tell truly the history of music used in advertising in the United States and is an original contribution to this little-studied part of our cultural history.  

Listen to an audio interview.

368 pages | 24 halftones, 5 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2012

Culture Studies

History: American History

Music: General Music


“In The Sounds of Capitalism, Timothy D. Taylor presents a rich and compelling story about music’s emergence within the broad fields of US advertising and consumer culture. With great clarity and critical acumen, Taylor charts a complex history of the various ways in which advertisers have relied on music in order to sell consumer goods, employing strategies which, over time, have produced a complex semiotics blurring distinctions between the auditory and the material, between taste in music and desire for purchasable things. Taylor’s book is stunning in its exhaustive accounting of a vast, unexplored territory in US cultural history. And as we read through the tale, we gain something even more: a startling realization of how deeply intertwined our musical values and practices of consumption really are. The book promises to become a major text in the history of consumption as it establishes a new foundation in the study of US popular music.”

Ronald Radano | University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Today, in a business where everyone knows everything, Timothy Taylor has written a scrupulously researched, thoroughly enjoyable history of the wild world of advertising music. The Sounds of Capitalism is the engrossing story of how the musical face of America’s economy has evolved through the generations; told in the words of those who were there. This is a landmark book."

Steve Karmen | "King of the Jingle"

“This strikingly original work skillfully weaves together the author’s unmatched knowledge of modern music and perceptive reading of previously untapped sources to reveal how popular music and advertising became mutually dependent industries across a century of change. It will force us to rethink what we know about the popular arts and consumer culture.” 

Gary Cross | author of An All-Consuming Century: Why Commercialism Won in Modern America

"Timothy D. Taylor’s unique contribution is his application of the historical approach to his subject, tracing, through extensive interviews and archival research, the evolution of music in American advertising from the early days of radio to the present. In doing so, he offers both a thorough and detail-rich history of this increasingly ubiquitous part of American life, and a broader meditation on the politics of sound in contemporary culture."

Caroline Waight | MAKE: A Chicago Literary Magazine

“As the musicologist Timothy D. Taylor shows in The Sounds of Capitalism, the links between American popular music and advertising are longstanding. While he briefly covers the “prehistory” of the phenomenon in the cries of 13th-century street hawkers recorded in the Montpellier Codex, Taylor’s real starting place is radio, which, he argues, is where the marriage between music and advertising was first truly consummated.”

Evan Kindley | n+1

“Taylor is to be commended for his organization of the text (which is exhaustively researched and annotated) and accessible writing style, which invite readers into his narrative personably, effortlessly, and enjoyably. His examples ably illustrate his points, and while he competently nods to the scholarly community through his implementation of cultural theory (especially in the last chapter), the clear, jargon-free language in which he has couched his analyses will appeal to a broad audience.”


“For anyone interested in how music interacts with consumer desire and conceptions of self within consumer society, Taylor’s work is essential. It makes a compelling case that all of us interested in discussing music or U.S. culture in the last century must account for advertising as part of the story.”

Journal of the Societey for American Music

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Examples
Introduction: Capitalism, Consumption, Commerce, and Music
Chapter 1: Music and Advertising in Early Radio
Chapter 2: The Classes and the Masses
Chapter 3: The Great Depression and the Rise of the Radio Jingle
Chapter 4: Music, Mood, and Television: The Discovery and Use of Emotion in Advertising Music
Chapter 5: The Industrialization and Standardization of Jingle Production
Chapter 6: The Discovery of Youth
Chapter 7: Consumption, Corporatization, and Youth in the 1980s
Chapter 8: Conquering (the) Culture: The Changing Shape of the Cultural Industries in the 1990s and After
Chapter 9: New Capitalism, Creativity, and the New Petite Bourgeoisie


Popular Culture Assoc./American Culture Assoc.: John G. Cawelti Book Award

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