August 9, 2014

History of pop music is sweeping, finely detailed volume

“Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Story of Pop Music From Bill Haley to Beyonce” by Bob Stanley (W.W. Norton, 599 pages, $29.95)

In 1954, Bill Haley shook, rattled and rolled. In 2003, Beyonce went crazy in love. That’s two pop stars, among the biggest of their time, using similar language (and similar grooves) to describe more or less the same thing.

But think of all that happened over the half-century that separates them: Elvis Presley, rockabilly, “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” girl groups, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, “Like a Rolling Stone,” Motown, the Beach Boys, the singer-songwriter, punk, disco, heavy metal, “Hotel California,” new wave, New Order and new jack swing. And Madonna. And country music. And “We Are the World.”

This absurdly, deliriously vast landscape is what Bob Stanley sets out to map in his sweeping but finely detailed new book.

Structured chronologically, “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” moves crisply but methodically through history as the author takes up each successive scene or sound or movement and tries to understand its place in the larger story.

Think of the book as an encyclopedia in narrative form, one shaped by the author’s subjective, sometimes contrarian taste. (His favorite Bob Dylan record: “New Morning.”) He’s got loads of trivia, too.

But in an age when virtually all of this information is readily available to any reader with a smartphone – the facts and figures on Wikipedia, the thousands of songs themselves on Spotify – Stanley is best when he steps outside the march of progress and considers the whys and wherefores silently embedded in the music.

Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times

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