on 4 November 2013
I loved this book, and I love it even more the more I think about it. He just gets so much right. A proper appreciation of Nat Cole, Philly soul, Todd Rundgren, Big Star, The Beach Boys, Abba, Red Bird records,'Sugar Sugar', the KLF, Pistols over Clash, Blondie over Patti Smith, etc etc etc, is balanced with a magisterial dismissal of Queen ('more a multi-national company than a band') post 'Exile' Stones ('forty years a Stones tribute act') and the woefully over-rated post Syd Floyd. Metal is equated with country (Stanley rightly sees them both as conservative genres,) and I've spent a few happy few days revisiting acid house, SOLAR, early-mid-period Bee Gees and Fleetwood Mac, and facing up to my enjoyment of Beyonce's 'Crazy in Love' and Whitney Houston's 'It's Not Right But It's OK'.
I spotted one sort of mistake, and even then I saw his point. John Waite's 'Missing You' was mentioned in the chapter on American Rock; but John Waite is a Lancastrian (and as an adopted son of Lancaster and a pal of his brother Jo, I just wanted to give credit to the Bay City). But I guess if you're going to mention John Waite at all, American Rock is very much the place for him, given the absence of a chapter devoted to Lancaster's rock aristocracy.
With its excellent bibliography and index, this deserves to be the standard introduction to the subject for years to come.
on 7 November 2013
Some may be put off by the sheer size of this book - but it's an easy read and not a word is wasted. The story of modern popular music is told from the 1920s on to the present day with plenty of Temptations, Abba, Nirvana and Josh Wink along the way. By necessity it does tend to skip over some periods, genres and key artists more quickly than others but the end result is a clear and entertaining overview of the progression of popular music over the past century.
The story is told in a series of digestible nuggets with chapters which are more than manageable. It crosses continually back and forth from one side of the Atlantic to the other, with continental Europe touched upon reasonably regularly as well.
The author is thankfully unafraid to express an opinion, usually subtly but occasionally not, which gives the story a human touch. It's clear throughout that this is written from the point of view of a genuine lover (and maker) of music rather than that of a detached snob with a holier-than-thou record collection.
As a child of the mid-90s, I was looking forward to reaching this part of the story and wasn't disappointed. It was also quite pleasing to see the likes of Pulp and Suede being given more attention than Oasis and Blur.
Where it does perhaps fall down slightly is in the post-90s chapters. American R&B is quite rightly covered in depth but the story finishes rather abruptly there, with an epilogue focussing on the new ways music tends to be digested since the advent of Napster and iTunes. Presumably the author feels that music produced over the last seven or eight years is still a bit too recent to be properly analysed and perhaps he's right - but nevertheless it does feel that the story finishes a bit prematurely.
That's my only criticism of what really is a terrificly fun and passionate piece of work. The best compliment I can pay this book is that it's made me want to read through again more slowly so I can try and fill in some of the gaps in my pop education! Probably using Spotify and YouTube rather than 7" vinyl of course but that's progress for you...
It is surely no coincidence that the title of this book comes from one of the most exuberant and joyful pop records ever made, because this is certainly written with boundless enthusiasm and a real love of music, which shines through. In five parts, the author takes you on the journey of popular music from 1952 until the early 1990's. The book begins with the first UK singles chart, the advent of the 45 and early rock 'n' roll. In the first part the author looks at the importance of skiffle, Larry Parnes and fledging British rock, Joe Meek, Phil Spector, the Brill Building and Elvis, among others.
Generally, each part of the book concentrates on a decade - the fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties and the start of the nineties. I have to admit that I found the first half of the book the most interesting, but that probably just reflects my musical tastes. However, whether you are a fan of the Beatles, Dylan, Motown, Glam Rock, Punk, Britpop or anything in between, they are all covered. Although the author obviously cannot give detailed biographies of every artist involved in popular music, he puts bands and styles of music in context and assesses their legacy as well as listing musical influences and who, in turn, each successive generation influenced. Also, despite the huge time period and amount of musical styles and bands covered, there is an abundance of interesting and funny stories, which bring each section to life. This is a book that you will be quoting from for some time if you read it and I cannot think of a better gift for a music lover. Considering the task that the author set himself, this is a magnificent achievement.
on 1 February 2014
I'm a big music fan of types and so, at more than 700 pages, this was ideal holiday reading for me. Bob Stanley's book covers the first 50 years of "modern pop" (a broad definition, which covers most types of music which charted between the 1950s and 1990s) and he focuses on the main trends and trendsetters rather than the most popular. By and large, he does an excellent job and I was particularly interested in the new stuff: the 1950s (when I wasn't around) and emergence of house and techno in the late 1980s which passed me by at the time). The book is excellently researched and highly readable throughout. The only gripe I had with it was that the book was subjective when covering the formative years of the author (basically the late 60s and 70s) - which means you don't get any Bohemian Rhapsody (surely one of the most impactful singles ever), Janis Joplin (who blazed the trail for so many female singers), Peter Frampton (one of the best selling live albums ever), Steppenwolf (whose Born to Be Wild introduced the term "heavy metal") or Jackson Browne (despite a chapter on Laurel Canyon). There was also an amazing assertion that Led Zeppelin and the Sweet sound alike and that 1970 was a weak year (which works well as an "end of the sixties" storyline , but ignores the fantastic hard rock, motown, soul, reggae which came out that year, not to mention the emergence of T. Rex. In my book, 1970 was like any other year - some great, some good and some downright awful!
Overall, though, these are minor gripes and like every music fan, Bob has the right to be subjective and could not be expected to cover everything in these 700 pages. This book is highly recommended for music fans of all ages and will have you reminiscing and digging out all those old records once again!
Arresting, beguiling, comprehensive, diverting, exciting, fabulous, groovy, hit-filled, inspiring, joyous... you get the idea.
"Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop" is a trove of fascinating opinions and insights from Professor Bob Stanley who - in addition to being a a member of Saint Etienne, a journalist, compiler of fine compilations, and a film producer - has a PhD In Musicology.
If, like me you ever listened with impatient anticipation to the latest top thirty chart run down, pen in hand, or pause button primed, then "Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop" is your Bible. It's all here, the entire modern pop era, from NME's first chart published on 14 November 1952 (Al Martino's "Here In My Heart" at number one pop pickers) to "Crazy In Love" when, as we know, the story becomes far less interesting.
750 pages of illuminating excellence. I came away with a c500 song poptastic playlist. Yes, it's really that good.
on 25 December 2013
A "fab" (as in fabulous), intelligent, knowledgable and well-writen book about pop music and the people who made it.
I love the way Mr. Stanley condenses huge amounts of information into each chapter. Even if you think that you know everything important there is to know about artists like The Beatles, Bob Dylan, writers like Carole King and Gerry Goffin, labels like Tamla Motown, producers like Phil Spector and Joe Meek, Mr. Stanley continally surprises you with new insights.
I can't recomment it highly enough.
on 14 January 2016
This book looks like a massive reference work - which in many ways it is - but don’t let that put you off because it’s actually a series of well written and incredibly well researched essays on just about every aspect of Rock & Pop.
Each chapter holds together on its own as an overview of a particular musical genre/movement and each can be read, on its own, if you just want to dip in & out of the book. But, read sequentially, they constitute a highly engaging overview of more than 60 years of popular music in all its multifarious forms. It’s history presented as an intriguing "story"; something that few history books achieve because few authors’ have the combination of required skills. Bob Stanley does and, coupled with his obvious love of music and his incredible knowledge of it, he’s produced something that's awe inspiring in its scope and sheer "readability".
Sure, you can nit-pick about some things, but that’s probably because he doesn’t go into sufficient detail for you about your favourite genres or artists; but, of course, if he did – which, based on what’s in here, he almost certainly could - this already large book would run the risk of becoming the encyclopaedically "dry" reference work that Stanley so cleverly avoids. You could also question some of his opinions or, how much space he devotes to some artists compared to others, but, hey, this is music he's dealing with which it's pretty impossible to write about in such an engaging manner without some degree of subjectivity.
As it is, the only real problem is that the paperback version is actually quite difficult to physically hold – the Kindle version is recommended.
on 17 July 2015
Bob Stanley’s Yeah Yeah Yeah is a brave attempt to cover pretty much everything significant in the fifty years that popular songs were consumed chiefly via the single record (initially 78rpm discs, then 45s, cassettes, CDs and ultimately downloads). The result is a tome that’s maybe slightly too opinionated to qualify as definitive but is certainly informative, passionate and well written with welcome touches of wit. It’s also formidably well researched, as you’d expect from a true music obsessive like Stanley, whose day job is as part of pop classicist outfit St. Etienne – if he mentions in a footnote that When Doves Cry was the first hit not to feature a bassline since Andrew Gold’s Never Let Her Slip Away six years previously you can be damn sure he’s listened to every record that got into the charts between them to check.
The author takes a sensible broadly chronological approach, starting in the early 50s and using each chapter (of which there are 65) to concentrate on a particular development, genre or, occasionally, single artist. Each chapter can thus be read as a stand-alone essay, though it’s undoubtedly easier to perceive the various throughlines that Stanley carefully sets out if you start at the beginning and work your way through. Some of the subjects here have already been copiously documented (Elvis, Beatles, Dylan, Motown, Pistols) and these chapters don’t add too much to what’s already been said, but the bulk of the book deals with musicians and subgenres that I can’t remember being covered in this depth before outside of ponderous and over-earnest features in places like Mojo and Uncut, and Stanley’s readable and funny (breezy, even) writing style is a cut above what you generally find in those magazines. In particular, the sections on the era immediately before rock’n’roll kicked in and those on mid-sixties rhythm and blues are packed with information and enthusiasm and make you want to go out and try to find the original singles right away.
Where the book is less effective is in those passages where Stanley lets his own preferences and idiosyncracies colour his descriptions. He makes no secret of his disdain for much of the music of the early 70s and sometimes comes out with comparisons that seem calculated to wind up rock-snobs: was the music of The Sweet really on a par with that of Led Zeppelin? Later on he seems a bit sniffy about my beloved post-punk and overly dismissive of certain massively successful acts (The Police were undoubtedly a bit cynical and sometimes horribly pretentious but they did put out some cracking singles). I found the last part of the book the hardest to get through, though that’s probably more down to my lack of understanding of the appeal of techno and the myriad subdivisions of house than any failure of the author.
Stanley doesn’t quite succeed in conquering his impossible self-imposed brief – certain artists and genres (The Velvet Underground, lots of 90s alt-country stuff) get short shrift from his habit of squeezing less mainstream trends into pithy capsule summaries – but this is still a mightily impressive project, and a very handy reference for things you might catch on the radio and not instantly recognise. And also it’s a fun book to pick fights with. Just don’t slag off The Beach Boys within earshot of the author.
on 28 July 2014
The best book about music since Simon Reynold's "Retromania". This really is that good.
Surprisingly, no-one has written a history of modern pop. After "Yeah Yeah Yeah", it is doubtful that anyone will. This is the definitive history. Erudite, complete and always putting pop into a social or economic context. It starts with the changes of the immediate post-war era, with chapters lovingly devoted to long-forgotten scenes, and moves through the years to, well, now. Criss-crossing the Atlantic between the UK and the US (with occasional forays outside the anglo-saxon world, to Jamaica, Dusseldorf or Sweden), most of the chapters are about musical genres. There are few devoted to persons or groups (obvious exceptions: Elvis, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys Bowie and Bolan ... but also Abba and the Bee Gees, Kraftwork, Pet Shop Boys or New Order).
There is a reason for this: Bob Stanley is in love with the single, rather than the rockist obsession with oeuvre. He manages to describe the sound of a song and the feelings it induces in you in a very personal fashion. There are fascinating details about the people involved and the way the songs were recorded, with some of the most delicious anecdotes reserved for the page notes. If anything, the book could have been longer, and Stanley would have managed to bring in even more detail. As it is, the 800-odd pages fly by in a style that is both reverent and irreverent, dry, funny and personal.
Bob Stanley's heart is very clearly on his sleeve in wanting to challenge the Mojo / Q consensus about what constitutes important music or musical events. The whole Laurel Canyon scene is dismissed as being self-indulgent, Live Aid is a disaster, the Doors are awful (as is the whole Britpop movement, and Oasis in particular). But there are also hilarious moments. When he makes a (justified) parallel between mid-1980's New Pop and American Rock,there is clear reason for this. AC/DC are dismissed as playing one song over and over again, whereas Status Quo are described as Krautrock, even like Neu. This is all very funny, but also makes important and challenging points.
But Bob Stanley is no ordinary author. ⅓ of Saint Etienne (one of the most under-rated bands in British pop history) he is also pop historian, curator of fine records, filmmaker and journalist. Modestly he fails to reference his own band, although Saint Etienne appear in a list of acts that appear on a magazine cover, and I had to laugh when he slipped in his own Cola Boy single. And Stanley can write, not only humorously but making important links (sometimes very left field) and constructing a great narrative in the development of music.
If I had to pick a hole, it is the fact that the chapters end without an idea of the influences that each genre left on pop today in 2014. I suspect that that is a deliberate choice to make this book timeless. There is another obvious comment: the book more or less ends in 2005, with 'Crazy in Love' the last great single. After that, there would appear to be no important pop movements. This is also the Simon Reynolds thesis: subsequent developments in music concentrate on the media (YouTube, Spotify, iTunes...) rather than the music itself. From that point of view, this book really is the definitive history.
That should seem like a sad conclusion, but it isn't: there is so much jumping out of every page here, with ideas for music to listen to. If pop music is important for you, your faith in music will be restored and affirmed by this important but also lovely book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
on 31 January 2015
For the most part this is an excellent read, covering the vast range of musical styles that have infiltrated the UK and US charts since their inception. Where Stanley excels is in providing an objective overview of a genre, delivered through his own research. You can tell that he's a music lover who has been genuinely fascinated in discovering music from a bygone era. Reading through it struck me what an impact some music must have had as it cut a swathe through the status quo - rock n roll in the fifties for examples.
Up until the last 100 odd pages (when we head into the 90's) I had been talking and recommending the book to friends. Unfortunately its in the 90's that Stanley's opinions start coming out, with snide remarks about certain types of music and bands. This for me casts a shadow over the book - it feels like I'm back to reading the NME with its narrow opinions and penchant for hyping up 1-2 acts from a genre that isn't its core indie guitar focus.
What you end up with is some borderline arrogant and entirely subjective statements chucked in here or there and in other areas cloying sycophancy for 'cool' artists that reflect fashion rather than anything more meaningful.
A big old shame really, but for me a great read up to about page 650.