Taste-making and trend-spotting

the folk revival journalism of Robert Shelton


  • David Laing Independent Writer and Editor




folk music industry, Robert Shelton


This article explores the work of American folk music journalist Robert Shelton during the folk revival years of 1958 to 1968. It considers his status as a New York Times critic and his contributions to a range of other publications, with particular emphasis on the various readerships addressed by his journalism. Shelton’s idiolect, or personal style, is analysed with particular reference to his use of humour to attract the attention of his readership. His main critical strategies are defined as taste-making and trend-spotting. His relationship with the folk music industry is explained in the context of the critical stance towards Shelton of folk ideologues associated with the magazine Sing Out!, with whom Shelton had a fierce dispute over the legitimacy of the folk-rock genre. A final section considers ways of theorizing Shelton’s and other music journalists’ practice, and concludes that the application of actor-network theory might provide a fruitful way forward.

Author Biography

David Laing, Independent Writer and Editor

Dave Laing is an independent writer, researcher and editor. His books include The Sound of Our Time (1969) One Chord Wonders (1985) and The Guerilla Guide to the Music Industry (2006, with Sarah Davis). He is an editor of the Equinox Publishing series Icons of Pop and of the Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World. 27 Hiley Road London NW10 5PT


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How to Cite

Laing, D. (2004). Taste-making and trend-spotting: the folk revival journalism of Robert Shelton. Popular Music History, 1(3), 307–328. https://doi.org/10.1558/pomh.2006.1.3.307




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