Top positive review
2 people found this helpful
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.