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4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars

TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 15 August 2008
I found this in a remaindered bookshop a few weeks ago. It's a pleasant read, being a fairly brisk survey of the history of pop music from the point of view of the end of the sixties. Cohn quickly introduces each performer (e.g. "Gene Vincent had a bad leg.", "Eddie Cochran was pure rock.", "Paul Simon was a small, serious, fuzzy-haired man..."), before sketching in their origins and achievements. For a critic, he shows a commendable lack of objectivity in his assessments, even betraying a certain impatience with some artists as he admits that he can't be bothered to say much about them.

For the most part, I think his assessments have held up very well over the forty years since this book was written, although it's inevitable that some of these no longer fit with current views of this period: I was surprised to see a whole chapter devoted to PJ Proby, for example, and I don't think anyone would still believe that Cliff Richard's "Living Doll" was "by far the most influential British single of the whole decade" (p68); although such an argument could perhaps be made for "Move It", which is ignored by Cohn.

Finally, there are an interesting couple of neologisms in the text which I don't think I'd come across previously: I think "schnide" (p201) and "psychedelphia" (p257) might have been synonyms for "snide" and "psychedelia", but they don't seem to have caught on.
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#1 HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERon 2 June 2014
Written in 1969, this remains for me one of the best books about rock and pop music between 1955 and 1968. It documents the rise of Rock & Roll, the Beatles and the Stones, flower power, psychedelia and so on, all of which has been very well done by others, too, but Nic Cohn was *there* and had been there recently. Not only that, but he has a wonderful writing style and a sharp, incisive take on things.

Cohn's style is fairly hip, cool and opinionated. I like it a lot, like his summing up of the difference between music in Britain and the USA in the early 60s: "Elvis became a god. Tommy Steele made it to the London Palladium." Or, on hearing Little Richard: "The message went
'Tutti frutti, all rootie,
Tutti frutti, all rootie,
Tutti frutti, all rootie,
Awopbopaloobop alopbamboom.'
As a summing up of what pop is really all about, this is little short of masterly."

Or try this more extended example of his style, describing Tina Turner (remember this was in the mid 60s):
"I remember seeing them [Ike and Tina Turner] in a London Club one time and I was standing right under the stage. So Tina started whirling and pounding and screaming, melting by the minute, and suddenly she came thundering down on me like an avalanche, backside first, all that flesh shaking and leaping in my face. And I reared back in self-defence, all the front rows did, and then someone fell over and we all immediately collapsed in a heap, struggling and cursing, thrashing about like fish in a bucket.
"When I looked back up again, Tina was still shaking above us, her butt was still exploding, and she looked down on us in triumph. So sassy, so smug and evil. She'd used her arse as a bowling ball, us as skittles, and she'd scored a strike."

If you like that, you'll like the book. You certainly won't agree with everything he says because he's opinionated, slick, controversial and sometimes downright wrong, but I think this is a fascinating, funny and really enjoyable read. 45 years on it's still very rewarding and I recommend it very warmly.
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on 21 September 2005
When it came out in the late 60's this wasn't the first book about pop music. There had been others which attempted an objective overview of the still-young genre, along the lines of "Bob Dylan was important because he fused folk music and pop music, making the lyrics as important as the music with a combination of social commentary and surrealism.....". Cohn's take on Dylan was that he couldn't sing, couldn't play guitar or mouth harp but looked sexy. Quite a different emphasis!

Cohn was an ex-rock journalist and the book is written completely subjectively, to celebrate rock not to analyse it. It traces the history of Pop from Frank Sinatra to the late 60s, with my paperback first edition having a update from the original hardback. The title refers to Cohn's assertion that Little Richard's 'Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom' says more about rock and roll than any of Bob Dylan's lyrics.

Cohn seemed to have a knack of being in the right place at the right time- he was at the Club A Go-Go in Newcastle watching the Animals, was at the Empire in Liverpool to see the carnage after a Rolling Stones concert. Also 'Saturday Night Fever' was taken from his short story, so presumably he still had the knack after the book was written- although I'm not sure what he'd have made of disco!

He tells some great stories in the book, describes some great charaters from the 50s and 60s- Bert Berns, Phil Spector- if you want to know what rock and roll was really like, read this book. It's a lot more fun than lots of the 'historical' accounts and I bet it's a lot closer to the truth.

How about an update Nik?
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 12 July 2010
The thing to remember if you're going to read this is that it was written at the end of the 60s. The Beatles were still together; Elvis was still alive; "prog" was just beginning, and there was no Queen, no Sex Pistols, no Nirvana, no Michael Jackson etc. etc.

Added to this there was virtually nothing in the way of "pop" or "rock" reference material for Cohn to work on, bar the weekly music press, and the mainstream media.

Accordingly, a great deal of the material in this book comes out of Cohn's head, and it is refreshing to read a "critic" willing to actually say something straight, complimentary or not, rather than indulging in the usual fanciful over-analysis, navel-gazing, and retro-fitting.

He covers most of the bases briefly, but lucidly, and most of the time his views have stood the test of time. He gets a few wildly wrong of course - Led Zeppelin are dismissed as an irrelevance; The Rolling Stones wouldn't (or shouldn't) last beyond their 30th birthdays; and P.J.Proby was the greatest entertainer of them all!

While you may disagree with a lot of what he says, in most instances he devotes about the right amount of space to each act, but the book works best as a potted history, or a starting point. It's far too outdated to be taken as gospel, or as a definitive guide, and can only be read now as a curio, albeit a very entertaining curio.
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on 27 September 2008
Incredible book ....with brain rushing insights into the power of music, its bit part actors, its dreamers, its summit of the mountain players and its emergence as a potent force amongst the masses. Written with a white light abandon that todays people pleasing hacks could only dream of. Get one then start buying it for your friends. Enjoy.
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on 29 December 2013
This book is an entertaining snapshot in time if read as one man's opinion of popular music. The problem is Cohn has padded his opinions with information about the lives of entertainers he didn't know and in most cases never met. It's obvious his information was poorly researched and came in large part from unreliable sources. Buying into the stereotypes his sources described, Cohn has presented caricatures that support his personal opinions.

After reading Cohn's other works it's clear he spent a good deal of time with a rather obscure American-born singer named P.J. Proby. Not only does this book include an entire chapter about the singer, but Cohn's fictional Johnny Angelo character (I Am Still the Greatest Says Johnny Angelo) was inspired by his meetings with Proby.

The 25 year old Proby was unknown in America when he was brought to England by producer Jack Good. Dressed up in 18th century attire (ala Henry Fielding's fictional Tom Jones) including a beribboned ponytail, Proby was featured in the cast of performers in various Jack Good productions. British magazine writers liked his easy availability and some even believed his wild stories about knowing everyone in Hollywood from Elvis Presley to Paul Newman. Proby continues to tag along on the occasional oldies tour with better known survivors of the sixties.

Cohn is reported to have admitted his "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night" (published originally as a factual account of working class Brooklyn teenagers) was fabrication. This book should be read with that in mind.
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on 29 September 2015
The story of rock 'n' roll up to the mid-60s in Nik Cohn's wonderfully evocative and provocative words. Essential for any rock fan.
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on 21 October 2010
the best pop book ever written about possibly the most interesting time in modern music development,in other words a great read.
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on 13 December 2016
This was bought as a present for someone and they were very pleased with it.
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on 4 April 2016
Fast, slick and vacant, much like its subject matter.
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