This book’s scope is so huge that it is difficult to be able to succinctly describe it. In 2022 Bob Stanley published “Let’s Do It” (number 2 in my current Books Of The Year list) and that book was in many ways a prequel to this written more or less a decade on. This earlier book focuses on pop music really from the introduction of the first UK charts in 1952 and has as its focus the vast seismic shift – The Beatles, whose presence seems almost there from that point on but actually do not dominate proceedings here as much as I had expected them to do.
Bob Stanley completed a gargantuan task in relating the developments and shifts in popular music up to his publication date- maintaining a good balance between the UK and US markets and touching upon almost every form of popular music which had a moment in the spotlight in the past 70+ years. He does it in a way that I’m equally fascinated with reading about the major and minor performers in genres I’m not even interested in (US Country, Metal, Britpop etc) as in those areas of music I feel I know well.
There is so much to be enjoyed in this book but I must admit that compared to “Let’s Do It” I sometimes felt a little fatigued by it all here with so much information in rapid succession. I felt we were given more space in the later book and that “Let’s Do It” actually had a greater freshness because I hadn’t lived through those years. I didn’t have the feelings about acts I’d built up watching “Top Of The Pops” and reading “Record Mirror”. I felt this affected how I responded to the author’s writing. One telling point of difference is that when I read “Let’s Do It” I went overboard on looking up more about artists and putting them into Spotify playlists. This time, hardly any, I didn’t have the same openness to what I thought I might like or not like because I had lived through much of the period examined and had my own ideas which proved harder for the author to shake.
What I do love is Bob Stanley’s turn of phrase and his enthusiasm for what is joyful in music which is often laugh out loud funny, as it was in “Let’s Do It”. Once again, I love his apt descriptions. Here he is on 70’s glam-rock legends Slade;
“Dickensian singer Noddy Holder had a voice like John Lennon screaming down the chimney of the QE2; rosy-cheeked bassist Jim Lea looked as if he lived with his mum and bred racing pigeons; Dave Hill on guitar had the most rabbity face in the world; while drummer Don Powell chewed gum and stared into space- even after he’d been in a horrific car crash and lost most of his memory, he looked exactly the same.”
This book is nearly a decade old which makes The Epilogue where Bob Stanley does a bit of projection into the future fascinating. After decades of glory days there was a definite decline in the way pop music was perceived from probably the mid 90’s. The stalwart barometer of taste “Top Of The Pops” fizzled out, the UK music press lost major titles and the UK chart became about marketing, with tracks attaining their highest position in the first week of sale there wasn’t the excitement of watching singles climb their way to the top. He states he misses going to a record shop and that “Without the detail, pop music doesn’t have the desirability it once had; it’s not as wantable. Instant downloads require no effort and so demands less of an emotional connection -it’s less likely that you will devote time and effort to getting inside a new record, trying to understand it, if you haven’t made a physical journey to track it down in the first place.”
Ten years on and the unpredictability of pop means that this statement is both more so (with the predominance of streaming and the vast choice of instant access music) and less so (with the revitalisation of the vinyl market). That is one of the great things about pop music, you never really know what is going to be around the corner but something will be.
This is an essential book about pop history even if it did not fill me with quite the same love and awe as “Let’s Do It.” For anyone wanting an overview of popular cultural life in the last 50+ years this is a dream of a book.
“Yeah Yeah Yeah” was first published by Faber in 2013.