Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop

Author: 
Bob Stanley
It's about: 
A wonderful book about the history of modern pop and rock music from the very first music chart in 1952, up until around 2002 and the rise of digital music. The book is split into five parts( each part being roughly a decade) and in each part the book looks at all the genres of music which evolved during that time, many overlapping each other. So from the first chart it takes us through the crooners of the early fifties, the birth of rock and roll, skiffle , then into the sixties and the Brill Building era, Merseybeat, Dylan, Tamla Motown, Soul, and on and on through each decade and each new genre of music. The subject range is huge, so each band, group or singer can't be gone into in great detail but nevertheless there is so much interesting information in this book it has to be a music lovers bible. Definitely one to read again and again. Be warned though, it will take you ages to read as you will be stopping after each chapter to listen to the songs previously mentioned.
Length of read: 
Long
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
Anyone who loves their music and pop history ( this book was surely written with the Afterword in mind) and are interested to find out more about how modern music evolved from the big bands of the late forties,early fifties to Heavy Metal less than twenty years later, and punk fifteen years after that and so on.
One thing you've learned: 
That the fifty years this book covers was indeed a golden era and one sadly that we will probably never see again. When bands had to sell half a million or more to get to number 1 in the charts. Also, the rise of digital media, whilst being a wonderful thing and one which I indeed use myself, meant the death of most record shops in this country which means there is a whole generation growing up who don't know what a thrill it was to buy a record. Not that exciting clicking "Buy Now" is it?

Comments

...that the vacuous and banal nature of downloading music will encourage more and more people back to record shops. There has already been a small surge, and I believe the aging MP3 generation will realise the utter meaninglessness of downloading 30000 'free' songs that they will hardly ever listen to and will start to buy hard copies again. Maybe not in the same numbers as before, but enough to keep the fire burning a little bit longer.

and was going to write about it for this august site, so I may as well put together my thoughts together and attach them to this wonderful precis of a volume that's packed with more information than any book about popular music I've ever read (with the possible exception of The Rough Guide to World Music). It's hard to come up with any act of any significance or any micro-genre that ever existed which fails to show up in Yeah Yeah Yeah's 700-plus pages. But the pages are far more than just a parade of names and riffs--Stanley does a terrific job of pointing out how pop music has developed according to a pattern of creating a fresh sound, exploring it until it's used up and/or its limitations are exposed, then enduring a period of stasis until someone reacting against what's out there finds the next fresh sound.

Stanley's an encyclopaedia of chart positions, historical facts and esoterica (who knew, for instance, that Bob Gaudio was introduced to the Four Seasons by Joe Pesci--too perfect!) but never comes across as a haughty know-it-all. Rather, he's an obsessive who delights in sharing cool tidbits. It also helps that he has a journalist's gift for the vivid, precise observation (Gene Pitney 'picked other writers' songs for himself that tended to see his composure gradually crumble inside three minutes, either through love's intensity...or through love's despair....most extreme of all was 1968's "Billy You're My Friend", a traumatic love triangle that sounded like it was being sung with Gene inside a straightjacket.').

Stanley wisely, I think, draws a curtain over the proscenium of pop at the year 2000, though in an especially strong final chapter he limns the broader currents of the business over the last decade or so--focusing mostly on the shift from 'the pop era' to 'the digital age, in which great records will continue to be made, but with such a choice of influences a click away, it will be much harder to create a brand-new form of music.' Not that he for a moment succumbs to nostalgia or ill temper regarding this development. 'All that a musician needs to do it to rearrange the constituent parts of the modern pop era in a way that no one has done before, and I hope that some fifteen-year-old in Newark, New Jersey, or Newark, Notts, is working on it right now'.

Much has been made in various reviews of Stanley's championing 'pop' and disdaining 'rock', but this strikes me as a simplistic reading of this most generous-hearted book. Yes, he finds the Clash wanting (especially in side-by-side comparison with the Sex Pistols), and is not notably charitable to groups like Pink Floyd or the Doors. But you don't get the feeling that he's on an anti-"rock" crusade--he just finds that the music doesn't live up to the posturing.

Not that you couldn't find things to quibble about in the book. I felt as if it gives short shrift to some of the important currents in the development of what came to be known as rock'n'roll--most notably the music of New Orleans. And the profusion of genres and subgenres that defines the Nineties might be beyond anyone's capacity to arrange and explain, but those pages felt like a cataloguing to me and passed by in something of a blur.

But this carping isn't much more than a chirp compared with the volumes of praise it deserves for all the things it is - exhaustive, lucid, warm, in love with its subject matter, and titanically ambitious in the best possible way. As cheap an expedient as the term often is, Yeah Yeah Yeah genuinely deserves the term 'definitive'. It's highly unlikely we'll ever see another book on this topic that reaches as far or talks about its subject as smartly and passionately as this book does.

books or articles that I have skimmed through tend to suffer from being either too US-oriented or too UK-based. By that I don't mean too much discussion of musicians from those countries, because the amount of music and musical influence from those countries is undeniable. What I mean, rather, is that everything is discussed from a certain geographical perspective. "Make it big" is defined as became successful in the place the author comes from. I'd be interested to know whether this book summers from any of this.

I find terms like "The British Invasion" particularly galling, because from an Australian point of view most pop music we hear is some kind of "invasion".

about getting this for a while. You've just tipped the balance, Alan (and ivylander!). Great review, thanks.

P.S. Only 6.99 on Kindle at the mo.

Really looking forward to reading it. Bob Stanley knows his stuff, as evidenced by his Eclipse compilations.

It's already been bought for me and is currently hidden in a secret cache in our house.

Roll on the 25th!

What a great set of reviews.

Read this quite soon after Charlie Gillett’s similar classic The Sound of the City, which, despite being a spectacular work of scholarship (how the hell did he know all that before the internet…?!), is frankly a bit of a trudge and at times little more than a list. This on the other hand is superbly readable. Particularly satisfying to see that a 50 year old bloke still clearly gets so much genuine, non-cynical pleasure from pop music. The knowledge is remarkable and the enthusiasm infectious.

What really struck me, bizarrely, is the structure of the thing. Just the organization must have taken months on its own, but the book just flows, a proper narrative. Very little is left out but nothing feels shoehorned in, everything is in it place but there are plenty of surprises. A book for everyone, from the trainspotter to the total beginner.

Even revisited Saint Etienne as a result. But apart from Hobart Paving…

Just finished it and now I'll go back and listen to all the tracks I bookmarked. Definitely one to shoehorn onto your Xmas list if you haven't already. It's very readable, remarkably thorough and it's certainly plugged some gaps in my pop knowledge.

It's a shame he stops in 2000, although that's a story as much about technology and economics as it is about music. As it happens he sets out the major changes...mp3, the demise of TOTP, the wilting of the music press, the division of mainstream pop radio into 1xtra, 6music etc, the introduction of time travel via Youtube.
He doesn't mention the curious by product of all that...the emergence of "heritage acts" and the seemingly unthinkable reemergence of recluses like Brian Wilson, and reconciliation of former foes like The Stone Roses and The Specials chasing their only viable source of income from ticket sales.

Pop has splintered off into a million sub genres, we don't share the same history like we once did. 'Stuff' has happened...the emergence of Hip Hop and R&B superstars (as gauche, extravagant and creatively malnourished as Elton, Rod and Phil Collins in their 80s pomp), the rise of the dreaded Americana (a collective snooze on a porch as reaction to all that hi-tech), Gangnam Style, The X Factor as surrogate TOTP. But  perhaps the none more fractured 00s would be impossible to document in the way Bob so brilliantly guides us through the preceding 50 years.

....and I knew I was right about Miles Hunt!

are still too recent for us to be able to get a perspective on them, probably. Will Lady Gaga be the Elvis Presley of the 2000's?Or will she be forgotten in 5 years' time? It's too early to say.

and perusing the "Selected Bibliography" I noticed Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British Folk and Blues Revival by our very own Colin H!

Edit: Colin, your wikipedia page needs an update - no mention of your latest tome.