15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 12 March 2011
This is a vast and meticulously researched book which is accessible enough to sustain interest through many periods and styles of music in search of protest songs on a wide range of issues. It is both good music criticism and fascinating social history. The reader's pleasure is further enhanced by the opportunity to read whilst listening to the songs in question and make one's own judgement on their impact. There is perhaps over-sensitivity to potential criticism about which songs have been "left out" by the inclusion of sprawling appendices and lists of other worthy songs. The writer could have more confidence to stick to the chosen 33 songs, all of which merit their place in a general survey, including an interesting turn away from Britain and the US in the middle. Having said that, one of the joys of such a book will be the pub debate about what should be in it: where, for example, is "Gimme Shelter"?!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 9 November 2012
Dorian has produced a very well researched and well written book covering the history of protest songs from Billie Holiday and Woody Gutherie in the US, through disco (yes, not what I would have thought of as a hotbed of the protest song), rap, punk (including the wonderful Crass) and much more.
The sections that cover my personal music tastes (such as the chapter that looks at The Clash, particularly comparing them to the Sex Pistols) are of more immediate interest in some ways but the whole concept is very well conceived and conveyed in writing which, to my mind, stands above much of what I've read in non-fiction recently.
I didn't give it five stars only because there are times where it is perhaps a little too much like a history text book with very detailed dates on who did what on which day which demonstrates a thorough approach to research and a knowledge and understanding of the subject matter (which is partly what you're paying for) but can impact on the readability.
Overall, however, it's a great social history. There is a common thread through all the artists featured, despite the huge disparity in musical styles, which pulls the whole thing together into what is a great read for anyone with an interest in music.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 15 August 2011
They say don't build your hopes don't they - having seen this talked up by Lynskey's fellow journalists I bought the hype, and the book, and as with the equally lauded Rob Young's 'Electric Eden' and Alex Ross's 'The Rest Is Noise', found the content erring on the cut and pastey papier mache side of things. It's curious to find a book so long which deals so lightly with its subject - perhaps the author tried to cut the cake too many ways in order to agree with the snappy title. I'd read much of the stuff on Strange Fruit before in David Margolick's brilliant book on the song, and overall Lynskey's book reads like 33 newspaper columns stitched together. Which, as he is a newspaper writer, it may well be, for all I know. So, a coherent book on this very important subject still needs to be written, and I'll be browsing more closely before buying the next tome championed in the press.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 11 April 2011
It's hard to believe that no-one seems to have attempted a history of protest songs before, but it's pretty safe to say that no-one need bother now, as it's impossible to imagine that anyone will do it better that Dorian Lynskey does it here. It's a huge book, but crammed to bursting with fascinating stuff.
The book starts with Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit", about the lynching of black men in the Southern states, moves through "This Land Is Your Land" and "We Shall Overcome" and on to the work of Dylan, Lennon, Stevie Wonder, The Clash, Billy Bragg etc, right up to Green Day, and not just looking at one particular song, but the performer's body of work.
Most of all, Lynskey provides a very astute social commentary of the circumstances that produced the songs of those times. It's not so much a wallow in nostalgia as a hard-nosed reminder of the way things really were back then.
And along the way there's a thousand little nuggets for your enjoyment. Did you know, for instance, that Chic's Nile Rogers used to be in the Black Panthers? Or that Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five were bitterly opposed to releasing "The Message", much preferring a song called "Dumb Love"?
Alas, it also feels a little like an elegy. There's nothing out there now to be mentioned in the same breath as the songs discussed in this book. These songs may not have changed the world but they surely gave a focus to people who were working for a cause. This has gone now and it's impossible to imagine it coming back to any great extent and we're much the poorer for it. And, hey, one or two, like Special AKA's "Nelson Mandela" actually did change the world.
One small caveat. It would have been nice to see the the whole lyric of the discussed songs printed, especially for the songs we might not know quite as well, so we could see the songs for ourselves, but I daresay this was not possible due to copyright restrictions.
My ultimate test of how much I'm enjoying a book is how much I want to get back to reading it and how sorry I am when the reading finally comes to an end. This book passes the test on both counts.
Very highly recommended. I wish you happy reading.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 4 April 2011
33 Revolutions Per Minute is an excellent and fascinating insight into the 20th/21st Century history of the protest song, taking you from Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit all the way to Billie Armstrong's American Idiot. As well as being meticulously researched, including a wide range of exclusive interviews, it's beautifully written. And, as with all the best music journalism, along the way you're bound to be introduced to some new music that had passed you by, and to reminded of some great stuff that you knew already. If the subject even vaguely interests you, go and read it.
14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 19 October 2011
I had been looking forward to getting this book for ages. I have to say I've nearly finished it and it has been a bit of a let down. The book itself promises insights and detailed backgrounds to the songs themselves that I was looking forward to, as many of my favourite musicians are included. However only after the first few chapters I quickly realized that Lynskey should of just called the book 'Protest Songs, A general history' as when you start a section about a particular song he quickly whisks you off to what someone else was doing around that time.
There is obviously a need for setting the scene but the way the book is written you learn more about the times than the songs for example Gil Scott Heron (one of my all time favourite poets) only gets about a paragraph on what his song was about in the whole ten pages and the only inspiration Lynskey can think of is a possible stealing of someone else's title.
All in all I think the book should have not promised any kind of insight into any of the songs included. If you are new to musical knowledge and want to a know a 'general' background to protest songs then buy it but if you really want to know about the musicians and what inspired them...go somewhere else or you will be bored!
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 19 March 2011
This book sets out to treat protest songs as pop music, in a context. It starts out with a quite compelling chapter on Billie Holliday's "Strange Fruit" and through another 31 songs (amongst others), and a well-written 680 pages, takes you to Green Day's "American Idiot". Along the way it paints a picture of the people, ideas and events that shaped pop music as protest music. For those, like me, who thought Americans don't understand socialism, the chapters on Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger make fascinating reading. The research behind the book is comprehensive and the appendices are packed with some great ideas for playlists - not surprisingly the author had previously written the "Guardian Book of Playlists". And of course, you can guarantee he has missed your favourite protest song!
If you have a social conscience, enjoy understanding the various threads that have contributed to contemporary popular music or are just looking for a good read, this is a book you will enjoy.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 27 November 2011
Love this book - in a world of disposable nappy music blasted out on mp3s and heard through cheap tinny speakers just for a few moments you can connect to another world where musicians tried to make sense of the madness around them. The chapters where I had no initial interest in the musician but which had me hooked from start to finish are numerous - eg Fela Kuti and his fight against the military, persuaded me to search and listen to his music,; others who were famous eg Billie Holiday and Strange Fruit, made me listen again and re-live the meaning behind the lyrics; and even in England where Lynton Kwesi Johnson whose era I lived through but didnt pay attention to, comes alive as I recall the racism and the riots.
It's a shame Mr Lynskey didnt devote a whole chapter to Phil Ochs whose songs burn with protest and anger. I guess he has to devote a chapter to Dylan because he's expected but frankly thats my own personal opionion, but I doubt Dylan ever protested about anything more than the size of his royalty cheque. Dylan called Ochs a journalist, but its a shame Ochs never had the guile to retort that Dylan was just an advertising man.
But even if you arent a keen music listener, or into "protest" whatever that may mean (and frankly today it probably is as dead as a dodo) the writing style and coverage of songs that meant something to their writers and belonged to a particular period of history, I think you will find this a book that stimulates your mind and soul.
Me, I couldn't put it down, and I was enthralled by the passion that rages in some musicians hearts, and I wish it still did (though perhaps I do an injustice to Eddie Vedder whose energy to benefits and causes seems to hark back to another age).
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 12 April 2011
I have been surprised by books before but never in such a pleasant way- when I first ordered the book I assumed it would be a thinnish volume about 33 different songs- something I could dip in and out of, so when I opened the Amazon box the weight and thickness of the tome was unexpected- it was then I realised this was a more indepth piece of work and I would get much more out of it than I first thought.
I'm a big fan of, as Billy Bragg would say, mixing pop and politics and to see Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs and more all brought together, with great songs put into context makes this a fascinating and well researched work. It acts as a crossroads, showcasing the history of political song through the 20th into the 21st century. The 33 songs in the title form the basis for each chapter, but the book looks at many more. My one small gripe is that while Phil Ochs keeps cropping up and has a major role in the book, there is no chapter looking at him or any of his songs. However he makes enough appearances to keep even the most die hard Phil fan happy.
Placing these songs in context heightens my appreciation of them even further, and the different motivations behind the characters who wrote and performed the music laid bare- so you may find yourself emerging with a new respect for certain artists who may nowadays be seen as naff or mainstream, and also slightly annoyed at the more mercenary who simply jumped on the bandwagons of their time, profiting while people were suffering.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone who believes that music has still a role to play in raising consciousness or acting as a standard for activists to collect around.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 12 May 2011
Loved this book. Greater political and historical content than I was expecting and that improved it. Well researched, well delivered, fantastic idea for a book. Caused me to rediscover a lot of my old vinyl. Hope the 'eulogy' conclusion is wrong, and suspect the author wants to revisit it in the light of the role of protest songs in the Arab spring.