Pop's History in 624 Pages, Plus One Very Loud Who Book

Clockwise from top left: Boston, Madonna, Marvin Gaye, Wizzard and Beyonce all figure -- briefly -- in Bob Stanley's The Story of Pop.
Clockwise from top left: Boston, Madonna, Marvin Gaye, Wizzard and Beyonce all figure -- briefly -- in Bob Stanley's The Story of Pop.
Photos via Wikipedia (Boston)/Daniel Kramer (Madonna)/Wikipedia (Wizzard)/Robin Harper-Parkwood Entertainment (Beyonce)

Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyoncé By Bob Stanley W.W. Norton, 624 pp. $29.95

Well, that's not an ambitious title or anything, now is it? Especially when music journo Stanley (also the co-founder and keyboardist of Saint Etienne) has such a broad definition of "pop" music. This means that the doorstop-sized tome covers everyone from rockabilly to doo-wop to Merseybeat to folk rock. From Motown and psychedelia to soft rock and country and western, punk and New Wave to metal and electropop. From hip-hop and indie to grunge, acid house and R&B. Bill to Beyoncé indeed.

And you know what? Stanley seems to make this roller-coaster ride through pop history work, cramming hundreds of performers and songs into the narrative's whirlwind journey.

Though mostly sticking to the basic facts, he salts the narrative with enough tidbits of trivia to throw superfans a bone. Like Brian Wilson often cried while watching episodes of Flipper; Boston's "More Than a Feeling" was an ode to actress Mariel Hemingway; and producer Thom Bell thought Dionne Warwick's feline physical resemblance and movement so pronounced that it drove him to study books on cat behavior.

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But the book's encyclopedic take on 60-plus years of music history is also its weak point. Barely is an act mentioned, much less its place in the story, than it's on to the next one. In two pages, Stanley is done with the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Curtis Mayfield. The effect is a bit jolting.

Houston is mentioned once when Stanley credits radio station KRBE with initiating the "classic rock" radio format in 1983!

But when Stanley takes some extra time with certain sections -- glam-rock, Philly soul, the Prince/Madonna axis, there's a glint of something deeper. Take his summation of one early '70s genre: "Flash was out. So similar looking were the cheesecloth- and denim-wearing singer-songwriters, that it only took a twist, a strip of tartan, a flat cap, or a pair of oversized glasses and you stood out like a vicar in a tutu."

That's one of many more Anglo-centric twists of phrases Stanley writes. The book was originally written in England, and sometimes also details acts only known to record collectors in the U.S. Wizzard, anybody?

Still, Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! does its job very nicely as a one-volume summation of the history of pop music. And, hopefully, encourages readers to look deeper into offshoots of "pop" and performers they might not be so familiar with.

Story continues on the next page.

 

The Who FAQ: All That's Left to Know About Fifty Years of Maximum R&B By Mike Segretto Backbeat Books, 388 pp. $24.99

I adore Backbeat's FAQ series simply because each one is lovingly put together with a superfan's fetish for obscure details, rarely heard stories, and musical analysis on the level of a Shakespearian college course.

Oh, and as the series' scribes are given (and encouraged) a freer hand than standard music books, they're also full of opinion, witty asides, and music-geek argument-starting fodder.

By now most of the major classic-rock acts have gotten FAQ'd: The Fabs (twice), Sabs, Jimi, Floyd, Neil, Zep, Clapton, Doors, the Dead, and even KISS and Springsteen. Now, Segretto's two decade-plus obsession with The Who is the latest in the pantheon.

And while there is plenty of general biographical detail on the band and its supporting cast -- one section is called "The Cronies," another "Girlfriends and Wives" -- the beauty is in the tiny details.

Here you'll find writeups on Doug Sandom, the band's pre-Moon drummer. Or how the album covers were developed. Or compare-and-contrast essays of The Who's rock operas to other bands. And abandoned projects, lost songs, milestone concerts and Who guest spots with other artists. Their influences and those they influenced. There's a lot of stuff here.

Oh, and when The Who was on The Simpsons? That was Daltrey and Entwistle voicing themselves. Townshend, after agreeing to do it, never showed up for his recording session, so his younger brother Paul was drafted to imitate his famous older sibling for a $2,000 payday.

That's the kind of info that makes The Who FAQ a must for superfans. Listeners with more of a greatest hits-knowledge should steer clear, but if you know that before they were The Who, they were called the Detours and the High Numbers, then this book is right up your alley. Or pinball chute.

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