Now, this is why I don’t do my Top 10 Books of the Year until the actual end of the year (I am aware that I need to do a Books Received for Christmas post, a round-up of the challenges and reading I’ve done this year and fit in my State of the TBR and plans for challenges for 2017 …). Because if I’d already put my Top 10 together, this book wouldn’t have gone onto it. And I’m pretty sure it’s going to be up there.
Bob Stanley – “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop”
(19 February 2016)
I’ve been reading this hefty tome as my Downstairs Book (at the kitchen table and for chunks of time after lunch during the week) for quite a while now, but as the chapters are short, it’s felt like I’ve been making progress all the time. It’s the story of the modern pop era from the first singles in the 1950s to the dawn of a time when singles no longer came out on 7″ vinyl, although individual threads reach further forward and back. And pop is defined as anything popular – rap, country, r’n’b, bubblegum, doowop, shoegazing, etc., etc.).
It takes things chronologically but in short, thematic chapters – on an artist, a label, a genre – which by necessity jump around a bit, but the narrative is as coherent as it can be under these circumstances. Stanley’s amazing at pulling out tiny details and links and making connections across the whole of pop, and his footnotes are epic, amusing and human. He’s human all through it – waspish at times, with opinions: he has his likes and inexplicable dislikes, and I don’t agree with him on Erasure, but you have to be human and show your own feelings, I think, if a book like this is going to be great, and it speaks volumes that I cheerfully read chapters on bands or people I really do not care for.
The author is so perceptive on monolithic stars like Dylan, picking up on how he created his backstory and soaked up the coolness of the Greenwich Village vibe like a sponge, and he admits defeat on someone like Mickie Most, not able to give him more room because he can’t pull his story into a coherent whole. He’s great on the workings of the music business, whether it’s the Motown / Brill Building / other such song writing structures or the effect that the closing down of the pirate radio stations had on what music people heard, with The Who being lost for a while, or pointing out with a subtle reference to intoxicant of choice and hairstyle that reducing Jamaican pop to reggae and Bob Marley is like reducing British pop to blues rock and Rod Stewart.
There are Easter Egg references to Smiths lyrics and some great puns, and he doesn’t rush things towards the end, but he’s at his best when making those connections: how UK punk emerged years later in US hardcore; how the slow-mo sound of 1990s Bristol had wide-ranging routes in the 1980s and beyond; how there’s been a strand of “big men on the brink, tough guys choking back the tears” that reaches all the way back from Kurt Cobain to Frankie Laine and Del Shannon.
Masterful, amazing, a brilliant read and highly recommended.
I’ve got myself on to Iris Murdoch’s collected letters now, and am also going to try to give Woolf’s “The Years” a go, as I have a few more reading days left in the year. I might even finish the Hard Book about Dorothy Richardson I’m trying to read … watch this space for a few more reviews before the Top Ten. How are you all doing in this middly-bit of the holiday season?