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The People's Songs: The Story of Modern Britain in 50 Records by [Maconie, Stuart]
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The People's Songs: The Story of Modern Britain in 50 Records Kindle Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews

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Length: 448 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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"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

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1040 KB
  • Print Length: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Ebury Digital; Reprint edition (6 Jun. 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00CA88FTS
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #97,002 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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. It's just that it isn't as good as I hoped it would be.

This is a tie in to a BBC radio series and that is probably key to the weakness of the book which, without being a massive coffee-table endangering tome, is going to struggle to have the depth and richness of a 50 part radio series. I didn't hear the radio series, but the blurb about it on the BBC website suggests that it was centred around listeners's views. Crucially that is an element missing here.

On the plus side, Maconie is an interesting and engaging writer, although perhaps not quite at his waspish best. There is nothing here quite as funny or scurrilous as his comparison of Chris de Burgh writing Lady in Red and the leader of the Third Reich, a comparison in which the former fares badly. Furthermore any book of lists always generates the pleasure of disagreeing with inclusions and exclusions. One undoubted strength of this collection is the extent of Maconie's net which spreads from the Bay City Rollers to Black Sabbath, from My Boy Lollipop to Ebeneezer Goode. A fascinating exclusion is a song which, when I got to the end of the book, I thought, "How can he call this the people's songs and omit that?" However the book which claims to be the 50 people's songs only includes 49. For the radio series, listeners were invited to propose the final entry. Given the timing of the final show, the identity of the chosen song was utterly inevitable.

Being that eclectic is also one of the weaknesses of the book. The vox pops of the radio series probably gave it a coherence which this doesn't have.
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In the introduction to this book, Stuart Maconie explains that he has chosen 50 pop songs which will illustrate changes in society. He then focuses on them one at a time and relates the song to societal change. It's a big ask to use such a restricted structure but it works really well with the narrative moving between general history and the music industry. He also has a factual and easily accessible style which works well in this format of short chapters.
Like most people, I enjoy music but often find that this type of book can be very rock focused with the author being swayed by their opinion of what is a "classic" record. Stuart Maconie doesn't so this - the songs are not necessarily his favourites and they are not all amazing songs but they are all chosen to illustrate some sort of progression in the industry and how this mirrors society.
The book took a while to read as I decided to listen to each song as I went through which I really enjoyed - there were one or two that I hadn't come across before but most were very familiar and great to hear again. Many genres are visited and I particularly enjoyed the contrast of song when moving to a new chapter - eg a heavy metal song sits next to a folk song.
There are many great stories, some of which I have heard before (the organisation of Band Aid) but many which were new to me (the naming of the Bay City Rollers), and there is something in here for everyone. The stories are all presented in a gently humorous way which kept a smile on my face.
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