Peter Keepnews: Review of Sean Wilentz's "360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story"

Roundup: Books

Peter Keepnews is an editor at The Times.

The history of Columbia Rec­ords is inseparable from the history of the rec­ord business itself. “360 Sound” recounts that entire history, from the label’s modest beginnings 125 years ago as the American Graphophone Company to its current status as one of the last remaining giants of an industry in turmoil. The scope of this story explains why “360 Sound” is so fascinating. It also explains why it’s so frustrating.

Judged as a coffee-table book, “360 Sound” (the name comes from a slogan that appeared on Columbia labels in the 1960s) is an unqualified success. It looks great, it’s smartly designed and it’s filled with beautiful pictures.

How could it not be? Columbia’s roster over the years has included many if not most of the biggest names in all genres, and “360 Sound” is bursting with gorgeous photographs, many of them rare, of Louis Armstrong, Leonard Bernstein, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen — the list really does go on and on — as well as equally striking reproductions of covers, labels, advertisements and other memorabilia....

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