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The People's Songs: The Story of Modern Britain in 50 Records [Hardcover]

Stuart Maconie
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 Jun 2013

These are the songs that we have listened to, laughed to, loved to and laboured to, as well as downed tools and danced to.

Covering the last seven decades, Stuart Maconie looks at the songs that have sound tracked our changing times, and - just sometimes - changed the way we feel. Beginning with Vera Lynn's 'We'll Meet Again', a song that reassured a nation parted from their loved ones by the turmoil of war, and culminating with the manic energy of 'Bonkers', Dizzee Rascal's anthem for the push and rush of the 21st century inner city, The People's Song's takes a tour of our island's pop music, and asks what it means to us.

The story of modern Britain is told chronologically over 50 chapters, through the records that we listened to and loved during the dramatic and kaleidoscopic period from the Second World War to the present day. This is not a rock critique about the 50 greatest tracks ever recorded. Rather, it is a celebration of songs that tell us something about how we have felt about things in our lives down the eras - work, war, class, leisure, race, family, drugs, sex, patriotism and more.

In times of prosperity or poverty this is the music that inspired haircuts and dance crazes, but also protest and social change. The companion to Stuart Maconie's landmark Radio 2 series, The People's Songs shows us the power of 'cheap' pop music,­ one of Britain's greatest exports. These are the songs we have worked to and partied to, and grown up and grown old to - from 'A Whiter Shade of Pale' to 'Rehab', 'She Loves You' to 'Star Man', 'Dedicated Follower of Fashion' to 'Radio Ga Ga'.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Ebury Press; First Edition edition (6 Jun 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009193379X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091933791
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.4 x 4.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 155,734 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Stuart Maconie is a writer, broadcaster and journalist familiar to millions from his work in print, on radio and on TV. His previous bestsellers have included Cider with Roadies, Pies and Prejudice and Adventures on the High Teas, and he currently hosts the afternoon show on BBC 6music with Mark Radcliffe as well as weekly show The Freak Zone. Based in the cities of Birmingham and Manchester, he can also often be spotted on top of a mountain in the Lake District with a Thermos flask and individual pork pie.

Product Description


"One of the most insightful and purely readable books on pop music I think I have ever encountered" (Marcus Berkmann Daily Mail)

"An unequivocal pleasure and highly recommended" (Marcus Berkmann Daily Mail)

"The blend of research and conjecture is impressive" (Will Hodgkinson The Times)

"Maconie succeeds in being at once elegant and approachable, definititive but also self-deprecating" (Guardian)

"A fine writer: sharp, funny, tender and thoughtful" (Spectator)

Book Description

An original book to accompany Stuart Maconie's landmark Radio 2 series: a history of post-war Britain through pop music

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The People's Songs 22 Jun 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This wonderful book covers seven decades of music, looking at songs that have tracked the changing times of the country. It is a people's history of modern Britain, told through shared musical memories and each chapter has an emblematic record. Of course, this book accompanies the radio series by Stuart Maconie, and, if you enjoyed that, then you will certainly like this too. It is not only a musical history of the country, but also a social history, encompassing many different aspects of our shared memories as a nation.

The book begins with "We'll meet again" and ends with hip-hop. In between, many different musical styles are represented, including skiffle, rock and roll, progressive rock, heavy metal, folk music, disco, Britpop and punk. Some songs are truly universally known, such as "She Loves You" by the Beatles - an euphoric beginning to the Sixties. Others are of importance for other reasons - "Move it" by Cliff Richard, which kicked off British rock or "Rock Island Line" by Lonnie Donegan, which started the skiffle boom and caused so many great future artists to form groups all over the country. Other songs are truly of their time, and not remembered widely now, unless you were actually around at the moment - for example, Dickie Valentine's "In a Golden Coach", which was hugely popular during the Coronation in 1953.

This is a fascinating account of the times and encompasses diverse events, such as package holidays, education, the home and family life, Thatcherism, Band Aid, talent shows and music festivals. It charts not only the history of the country, but that of our music; looking at the first singles chart, radio, those whose influence lasted and musical trends. From Joe Meek, the Beatles, Bowie, the Bay City Rollers, boy groups to pop divas, musicals and novelty records, all are covered in this celebration of our musical tastes. Stuart Maconie writes with humour and intelligence and this is a great read for music lovers.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Just like a great song 15 Aug 2013
Stuart Maconie has done a great job of doing what a clever pop song does: capture something pithily, astutely and wittily, without being too pompous or overbearing, yet without compromising on opinion and passion, and with an occasionally brilliant turn of phrase. This is to music what Andrew Marr's History of Britain Since 1945 was to modern British history; easy to enjoy, of course open to criticism from those who like to see everything as much more complex than the general public can cope with, but (to use a very British phrase), really rather good.

Yes, there will be some who feel that he should have focussed on the miners strike more, or that x or y's significance is underplayed and z's overstated, or that some of the links between song and topic are a bit questionable (though nothing like as tenuous as some of the generalisations and interpretations occasionally made by some of the more serious music journalists out there).

If you are the kind of person rarely if ever buys one but would be very happy to find a discarded copy of Q or Mojo magazine in the seat pocket on a long flight, then you will probably love it. If you are the kind of person who has subscribed to the NME for more than 5 years and have used the word 'important' when talking about pop music in the last three months, then you probably won't.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lovely book 17 Dec 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The People's Songs is typically Maconie; warm,funny,moving,insightful No-one writes so well about this quirky country of ours and the music we love and which touches all our lives in some way, even though we don't always know it at the time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining but not as good as the radio series 16 Dec 2013
Pop music is, ultimately, far more important than the orthodox canon of classic albums and iconic artists that appear in weighty lists and turgid books. Which is why I like the idea of The People's Music so much. It operates from exactly this point of view, and picks fifty pop songs from the last sixty years that encapsulate a period in time or summarise a cultural shift. Maconie's introduction articulates much better than I can why pop history is social history, so central is it to so many people.

The radio series - sorry, landmark Radio 2 series (it says here) - is essential listening for any fan of pop. The book, introduction aside, is a little lacklustre by comparison. It consists of the scripts for each programme - as entertaining as you'd expect from Maconie - but, without the interviews that are the programme's raison d'etre (it bills itself as an "aural history", after all), each individual piece seems too short and somewhat disjointed. And of course the book can't include any music at all.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read 20 July 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this as a trip though recent social History. My only grumble which is what stopped it bring five stars is he abrupt ending. I know why it was done but it was still frustrating.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Britain's musical heritage in 50 songs 19 Jun 2014
Once again , Maconie demonstrates his wide ranging knowledge of all things musical and for anyone who has been buying 'records' over the last few decades this is an essential read. Whether your tastes are eclectic or more specific, it is difficult not to be totally involved as he chooses 50 songs reflecting Britain's history. Part of the pleasure is of course nostalgic but for younger readers who have never experienced the excitement and sheer joy of listening to a new release at their local record store, they will probably learn more about modern Britain and its musical history than anything they may learn at school.
You may not agree with some of the choices but that only enhances the read and its difficult not to start composing your own list (mine would include 'Are You Sure ', 'What Do You Want', 'Blue Moods', 'Sebastian')
Not everyone will be familiar with every song but don't let that put you off-I'm sure there will be CD eventually!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A breezy social history of pop music
An informative and humorous breeze through recent British history via 50 (or 49) records - a kind of social history of pop music. Read more
Published 1 day ago by Paul
3.0 out of 5 stars Just OK
Not his best book. Gets a bit tedious.
Published 8 days ago by C. Cooper
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read
Stuart Maconie has written fine books and this is one, too. You may not agree with all the choices (and I don't) but he argues for them very well. Read more
Published 10 days ago by Steven Morrison
4.0 out of 5 stars but the author weaves this seemingly light pop into wider concerns...
The title of this book is very slightly misleading. Whilst it does indeed pick out 50 (or rather 49) songs to illustrate the changing nature of Britain, it does so in a way that... Read more
Published 22 days ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
witty and informative despite a few typos and geographical inaccuracies - Tonga in the Caribbean!
Published 1 month ago by Barney
2.0 out of 5 stars A bit stodgy and disappointing
The raw material of this looks promising: of the 50 songs Maconie's chosen, I'd be interested to read something about at least 40 or so. Read more
Published 1 month ago by J
3.0 out of 5 stars Buy a spell checker!
Enjoyable read but riddled with spelling mistakes and incorrect words ("form" instead of "from" etc.) very shoddy! How hard can proof reading be??
Published 2 months ago by Brian
4.0 out of 5 stars Mark salmon
A great read ,showing that social comments make better songs ( ghost town)in particular,as I grew up in that era and no it too well thank you Stuart
Published 2 months ago by mrs v l salmon
3.0 out of 5 stars Makes me wish I'd heard the radio series
If I could give half stars this would be a three and a half star review. This book isn't bad, and if you are looking for a nostalgic, undemanding read, it's probably worth buying. Read more
Published 2 months ago by P. G. Harris
4.0 out of 5 stars A great idea, well executed
Stuart Maconie is becoming something of a specialist in writing non-fiction that hits the right balance between humour and seriousness. Read more
Published 2 months ago by M. Pryor
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