on 7 January 2004
What a great book. I cant explain how much it means to read honest, insightful and funny thoughts about music. But if music is your bread & butter (& jam) then you'll read it and just get it.
The chapters are song titles, but Hornby’s book is less like 31 song reviews, and more like a collection of essays about what music means and has meant to him, and how he has evolved musically. This is a passionate man who makes a lot of sense. As well as exploring a big bag of beautiful, personal, classic tunes that have shaped his musical development & generally made life more enjoyable, he talks about the value of a good pop song, puts musical intellectuals in their place, and admits to all kinds of uncool favourites. Cant really say more except, read it. If you're a happy music addict, you look back fondly at all the stuff you used to like, the stuff you didn’t used to like but now do, and now look forward to all the great stuff you’ve yet to hear and love - this book is for you. Thank you NH.
on 22 January 2004
“Songs are what I listen to, almost to the exclusion of everything else. I don’t listen to classical music or jazz very often, and when people ask me what music I like, I find it very difficult to reply, because they usually want names of people, and I can only give them song titles”.
So began the illustrious gathering of 31 songs – most of them loved, some of them once loved and all of them significant to Nick Hornby. They begin with Teenage Fanclub’s ‘Your Love Is In The Place Where I Come From’, ending with Patti Smith’s ‘Pissing In A River’, and encompassing singers as varied as Van Morrison and Nelly Furtado, songs as different as ‘Thunder Road’ and ‘Puff The Magic Dragon’ (reggae style). He discusses, among other things, guitar solos and singers whose teeth whistle, and the sort of music you hear in ‘The Body Shop’.
The mind of a musician is a difficult one to fathom, that of a music fan is even more so. Hornby lists his favourite songs and albums, by way of anecdotal explanation, and describes just what it is about music that stirs the blood in his trademark succinct and sparse fashion. He reveals intimate details about his family with touching references to his autistic son and his hope and fears for his future.
We might not agree with Hornby’s eclectic song choices, but will be more likely to side with his topography of the musical mind. He is unashamed in his adulation of songwriters, and admits that he writes books because he cannot write music: “Maybe it’s only songwriters who have ever had any inkling of what Jesus felt like on a bad day”. Hornby loves the relationship that anyone has with music: “because there’s something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out”. This is as good an attempt as you’re likely to get. It is at best interesting and informative, as well as entertaining, and will have you humming by the final page. I have to admit I knew only of half the musical material written about. Maybe, and if it ever goes into reprint, a complimentary CD will be supplied. Apparently, some National Sunday newspapers are doing this already…
on 15 January 2004
We already know Hornby's a music obsessive - it would've been impossible to write High Fidelity otherwise - but rather than Rob's obsessive cataloguing, this book presents Hornby's own reactions to some of his favourite songs.
It's not really a music book, as such - although he says a fair bit about the artists and the songs, what Hornby's really exploring in this book is how particular songs have influenced, evoked and helped him remember particular parts of his life - it's about the assocations music makes with his memories and emotions, and as such is actually more of an autobiography.
The style is light and readable, as you'd expect from Hornby, and the choice of tracks just surprising enough to keep you reading.
There are few shocking insights here, quite a few laughs and a few poignant moments, and a good slice of pop-cultural memories. It's fun, nostalgic, entertaining, and you'll have lots of fun arguing over which tracks you would've put into your own version!
Solid entertainment from a writer who understands just how music can take you back to a particular time, place and mood.
on 5 December 2003
I read Songbook (the US version of 31 Songs) before a trip to the UK, and Fever Pitch (that I picked up at Harrod's) on the flight home. It's a similarly personal, almost autobiographical, book, but 31 Songs is obviously a more mature work, at least in tone. He's now ten years on from the man he was when he wrote Fever Pitch, and the depth of feeling about the songs, his experiences (particularly when writing about his son, and his friend the record store owner) is far more profound than his description of his football mania. But no less hilarious, frequently. Another fine work from one of my favorite contemporary writers.
on 23 May 2004
Half of the songs in this book I'd never heard of, but it didn't matter. These are 31 songs that Nick Hornby wanted to tell us about, and I'm glad he did. For anyone that has loved any kind of music this wont disappoint. It feels very personal as he talks about why he's loved music through his life, from the songs he listened to as a boy to the songs his autistic son listens to now. It's also very funny in parts, have a read of 'Needle In A Haystack' by The Velvelettes.
When I used to read the NME in the eighties, I always enjoyed when the reviewer would stop talking about the band or singer and talk about the emotion and feeling that their music stirred up. 31 songs does this beautifully. I started by reading the artists I liked first, thinking I'll save The J. Geills Band for another time (all I knew by them was 'Centrefold'). After a few of the songs though, you dont really care what music it is to a certain degree, he writes so well.
I was becoming too busy to listen to the music I loved, but after reading this I'm going to find a bit more time. It is as engaging as his novels, I found it quite inspiring in parts, 31 musical 'thought for the days' that can be as meaningful or as meaningless as you like, but always passionate and entertaining.
on 6 March 2016
Anyone who has read ay of Hornby’s fictional books before will know that music plays a huge part of his narrative voice; High Fidelity is set in an independent music shop and Juliet, Naked is a story about the impact of music on people’s lives and how fandom can come across as a bit creepy at times. So it is no surprise with 31 Songs (Penguin, 2003) that Hornby’s passion for music is fervent from the very first line.
The book is essentially a list of 31 songs, enough to fill a double album that have resonated with Hornby throughout his life. Some of these songs have held the same power and punch whereas others have faded away and where there was once love is now a mild acceptance. What makes it stand out from other books of this ilk is that Hornby almost uses these stories, or his memories of these songs, as a measure of culture. How they shaped the world around him and everyone else. How the music’s relevance is intrinsically linked to the time and place that it was released. It could be argued that it becomes almost a cultural study.
What is refreshing though is that Hornby holds no punches. If he likes something he says it. The same can be said if he doesn’t. This is a no apologies account of why he thinks a song is great and in turn why he things other songs are not.
My advice would be to read 31 Songs, however, if you are a pre-existing fan of Hornby’s works of fiction then please do not expect the same sort of narrative ease and flow. It is not that kind of book. If you want to be introduced to some obscure music which will melt your mind then pick it up, give it a flick through and maybe en come up with a list of your own life soundtrack.
31 Songs by Nick Hornby is available now.
on 20 September 2014
31 Songs is not really a book of music criticism. It’s an ode to music. Nick Hornby talks about music the way one might talk about a beloved friend. He focuses specifically on 31 Songs (plus 14 albums, and with a quick mention of the top ten albums when he was writing). They are not neccersarily his favourite songs but they are songs which he has played obsessively at one point or another. Sometimes they are songs which he connects with memories, and that’s part of what makes them special. Sometimes he talks about how much he loves the lyrics, or the music.
The songs do tend to be in a similar vein, with a couple which break the trend- songs like I’m Like a Bird. Sometimes he really made me want to listen to the songs- which were often ones which I wasn’t familiar with. The Beatles- Rain I still want to listen to, but it’s not on Spotify.
Actually I think I prefer Nick Hornby’s non-fiction to his stories (although I’ve enjoyed them too). There is a certain amount of passion in it, although it’s interesting to see how some of the music he loves links to some of his novels- especially (as would be expected) High Fidelity.
Probably the main thing which I’d say negative about this book is that it is a bit dated. There are a couple of extra sections which update it, but they are still a little out of date. There is a discussion of the top 10 albums in August 2001- but that’s a good 13 years out of date (wow that makes me feel old- I remember most of those albums), but it’s generally negative, so the same love for music doesn’t come through. Then there’s a list of favourite songs from 2000-2010, but it’s just a list, no discussion.
I tried to listen to the songs on Spotify. Unfortunately there were some songs missing
on 8 January 2016
I’ll be honest when I first saw this I was extremely dubious and sceptical of it but eventually I got round to getting hold of a copy and I have to say I am glad that I did. Hornby has the gift of being able to relate to his audience in a warm, welcoming way.
The beauty of this book is that you don’t have to agree with his opinions and believe me there are plenty of songs to encourage debate and disagreement, but this doesn’t stop this from being a truly absorbing and fascinating read. Another handy thing is that due to the wonders of modern technology most of us are only a few clicks away from playing most of the songs covered here to give our own thoughts. I uncovered plenty of hidden musical gems here like Til Tuesday’s classic “Voices Carry” (not a featured song, but mentioned within the chapter about the Aimee Mann), or the more obscure but still enjoyable “Frankie Teardrop” by Suicide.
This really has the mood and feel of sitting down with a good mate and listening to him going through his record collection waxing lyrical about the songs he loves and why. The beauty is you can just tune out to the ones you don’t like. I got a lot out of this and it was a real surprise package and I’m glad that I picked it up.
on 1 December 2005
31 Songs consists of essays about songs that Nick Hornby loves. As always he is an easy read. He and I are the same age, so its fascinating to find out what he listened to growing up. He has listened to a lot of music and he writes about English middle class life in a blokish way that seems both recognisable and true.
His selections from the ‘60s and ‘70s includes tracks by the Beatles, Zeppelin, Rod Stewart, Jackson Browne, Springsteen, Richard Thompson, J. Geils Band, Santana, Van Morrison and Dylan. From the punk era he selects Patti Smith and Ian Dury. He also name checks REM, Clash, Costello and The Smiths. It’s stuff that rock critics are supposed to like. He has no embarrassing duds in his selection.
As he explains in the book, in the early 1970s rock music in the UK was an underground music and difficult to hear. The BBC had two DJs who were meant to play cutting edge stuff in the early 1970s, John Peel and Bob Harris. Although highly regarded today, they seemed at the time to be a pair of out-of-touch stoners. Most of us learned about new music by word of mouth, the NME, Melody Maker and by swapping albums.
He claims to have never liked prog-rock which is surprising. Although they may deny it now, between 1971 and 1975 everybody seemed fond of either Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes, Tangerine Dream, King Crimson or Caravan.
He notes that not many people of his age are still listening to rock music. For many rock music stopped evolving in the late 1970s and numerous heavily hyped British bands since then have seemed like false prophets regurgitating old licks.
His recent favourites include Aimee Mann, Ben Folds Five, Rufus Wainwright and Badly Drawn Boy. It is music I also like, own and enjoy. But it is also gentle, safe and rather low key. He seems more interested in the words than the music.
Hornby is an intelligent writer and this is a very enjoyable book. He has lots of opinions, he made me think about music and how my taste has evolved over time. He also includes essays on artists I knew nothing about, who are probably worth checking out.
I cannot abide Nick Hornby's fiction, but 31 Songs is one of the best books about popular music you are likely to read. It's a personal and engaging account of songs that mean (or at one time meant) a lot to Hornby, and even if our own choices would be very different, we can identify with the passion and connection Hornby brings to his selections. This is a book refreshingly devoid of pretension; Hornby writes as a lover of music rather than as a critic, although he can do that rather well as additional material shows in this updated version of the text.
The book was originally limited to just pieces on 31 songs, but Penguin updated it with some pieces Hornby wrote about albums, and these are included in the Kindle version. The e-version contains numerous annoying typos and a few formatting issues, and without page numbers you could also be forgiven for thinking that some sections are actually missing, such is the messiness of the layout here and there. Disappointing, but the actual content and quality of the writing still makes this a five star recommendation; just buy the paper version.