MacInnes book tries to communicate the atmosphere and meaning of music hall's songs from 1840 onward. The book is divided into chapters around the main themes dealt with by Music Hall songs, such as Soldiers and Sailors, Love, or Work.
This book is written by someone who really loves Music Hall and is packed with insights as to the reasons why certain songs, stars and themes were widely popular. MacInnes considers that, since most Music Hall songs were written by and for Working class people, we can see in them a sort of vox populi which is absent from Victorian and Edwardian literature.
The strengths of the book are the author's very wide knowledge of his subject, and his insistence in going into detail about the meaning and tone of a number of songs (whereas some studies have ignored this fundamental aspect). He is also very respectful and not at all patronizing about the working class people from a bygone age which he is writing about.
In 1967 this was a pioneering work. Since, more work has been done which highlight some of the book's weakness. Firstly there is a tendency to treat the Music Hall audience as if it were one homogeneous group. In fact it has been shown elsewhere that tone and content differed between those big luxurious halls which attracted a very socially mixed audience, with cheap and expensive seats, and the more working class halls which catered to the audience who lived near them only.
Secondly, although it is no doubt necessary to have a certain passionate attachment to Music Hall in order to study it, the nostalgic claims of the author are sometimes very marked - he suggests, for example, that the people of the time were happier and more able to enjoy themselves than people a hundred years later. This is a very risky hypothesis, impossible to prove, and worrying to close to other discourses of declien in the are of talking about popular culture.
Still, an indispensable book by a passionate expert.