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5.0 out of 5 stars Not only (possibly) the most important book on music, but also the definitive history of pop and a bloody great read!, 28 July 2014
This review is from: Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop (Paperback)
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.
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