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on 26 April 2016
Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop' by Bob Stanley is the best book written about popular music, maybe even popular culture in general, that I have ever read. Stanley takes the reader on a compendious tour through the beginning of what he describes as the modern pop era in the early 1950s to what he considers as its demise in the late 90s with the beginning of our own digital era.

Unlike Peter Doggett's gigantic 'Electric Shock: From the Gramophone to the Iphone- 125 years of Pop music' - which tries to be all things to all people by including pre-WWII pop trends and a sampling of world music - Stanley is unapologetic in his focus upon the Anglo-American development of popular music from the 50s-90s, aside from a paragraph on Krautrock and single chapters devoted to Abba and the influence of Jamaican music respectively. I am of the opinion that Stanleys book compares favourably to Doggett's as a consequence.

Stanley is acute in his observations - Heavy Metal is: 'starter-pack rock. It works as both a gateway to other forms of modern pop, via volume, speed and power, and as a model of pure escapism –the roar of the fairground, the cheap thrills of the slasher movie, sex and horror..... It is also deeply conservative, with its own canon, its own heroes, a true metal code of conduct. Along with country, it’s quite likely it will outlast every other genre in this book.' Bob Dylan's back catalogue meanwhile is described as: 'a library, with narrow, twisting corridors and deep oak shelves drawing you in: start leafing through the pages and you may never want to stop.'

Often brilliantly catty in his portraits - Kim Wilde 'emerged in 1981 with a three-years-too-late budget-Blondie sound she’d bought from a petrol station in Hertfordshire.' Martin Fry from ABC looks like an 'emaciated but victorious lion.' Smokie 'sounded like an Eagles covers band playing on a sightseeing boat,' whilst the Boomtown Rats are like 'Showaddywaddy on their way to a swingers party' -

Frequently surreal yet oddly accurate in his descriptions - so Fleetwood Mac 'sound like a walk beside a sea shore on a windy day, collar pulled up against the spray' whilst Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit 'took the Pixies’ quiet/loud aesthetic and nailed it to something that sounded like Hüsker Dü covering ‘More than a Feeling’ and the Velvet Underground were like 'a tear in the space-time continuum, this was 1967. But is was also 1977. And 1987.'

Stanley has a gifted writer's knack of finding a turn of phrase to sum up and describe an artist, an era or a genre that pithily encapsulates what you may also have thought but were not able to describe as wonderfully well as Stanley.

I dont necessarily agree with all his assertions. Im not convinced that The Monkees were as amazing as Stanley claims (love his description of them as the 'pre-fab four' however) plus I think his assessment of U2 is harsh but that would be to miss the point. I think that one of the main reasons this book is so appealing is BECAUSE Stanley is so opinionated and tendentious as well as the fact it is extremely well-written, researched and witty. Stanley starts the book with a cri de coeur about the inverse snobbery of what he describes as 'rockism' in musical criticism (think the 'disco sucks' movement as 'rockism's' apogee with its thinly veiled misogyny and homophobia) and a call for musical elclecticism: 'the separation of rock and pop is false.... disco and large swathes of black and electronic music have been virtually ignored by traditional pop histories.' Stanley's passion for pop music animates the whole book and makes it a fantastic read. He is a fan! So of course he is opinionated! Why wouldnt he be? Thats part of the the charm and appeal of the book as far as Im concerned.

Overall I think this is a significant achievement of pop culture scholarship and erudition (hopefully thats not an oxymoron!) that is also immensely readable. Ive read it twice and its an even better read the second time around, that speaks volumes. By far and away my favourite book about music. Anyone with a love for popular music of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s (pretty much 99percent of us I would have thought!) should read this. It can be read from start to finish or, if you prefer, dipped in and out of, due to the style in which it is written with self contained chapters about particular artists or genre's. Recommended to all who love popular music.
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on 31 August 2014
This book is packed with detail on just about every 'pop' artist of note from the last 50 years. I read it cover to cover apart from a few of the later chapters which didn't much interest me. I didn't agree with everything he wrote and sometimes it felt like working my way through an almanac of the NME but this is the nature of the work so it's not a criticism. The book is as far as I know unique, I can't think of another that covers popular music in such breadth and depth.
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on 6 April 2017
Fabulous book full of interesting facts about different stars and will jog ones memories of songs maybe long forgotten. Would recormmend book to those who love music.
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on 10 April 2015
Absolutely brilliant!!!
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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...
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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.
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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.
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on 13 December 2015
Dense read
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on 6 July 2014
In my 50+ years on the planet I have read a great number of books about popular music and its history, but I have to say that this is one of the very best that I have ever read. The book is divided into decades starting from the 1950s up until the 1990s and within each decade there are several essays on various genres, and sub genres such as pre-rock 'n' roll, early rock 'n' roll, the Brill building, Soul, Motown, Reggae,Pop and Rock.

I have always considered myself to be fairly knowledgeable on pop/rock music and its general development, but I have to say that this book has surprised me in how little in depth knowledge I had, and reading it has taught me a great deal more, yet the book whilst being very informative, is also extremely entertaining and written in a very easy to read and understandable style.
It has enough information on such a variety artists and genres that you could probably write a dissertation on the growth and development of pop music just from reading it.

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and cannot recommend it highly enough to music fans of all ages.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 April 2014
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.
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