Bookshelf #14


Hmm, where were we again?

98. Behind the Hits: Inside Stories of Classic Pop and Rock and Roll (Bob Shannon and John Javna) – More or less as advertised. Back stories on some 200 or so chart songs, divided into such topics as “Accidental Hits,” “Real People” (i.e., “Layla,” Hey Jude,” et al.), “Weird Inspirations,” “Translated Hits” (i.e.,”The Lion Sleeps Tonight”), etc. etc. Well thought out and the songs are diverse and smartly chosen, from “Johnny B. Goode” to “Dead Skunk” to “Like a Virgin.” Purchased for $4, don’t recall when or where, and no, I haven’t read it from start to finish and probably won’t. But I’m glad it’s here.

99. Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Irwin Stambler) – Library remainder, purchased for 50 cents. Interesting collection from ’64 that attempts to “present the full spectrum” of popular music, which for the author means “running the gamut from musical comedy to rock ‘n’ roll,” though the main focus is probably crooners and jazz guys. Still, it’s interesting in hindsight to note just how he handles rock ‘n’ roll (and certainly commendable that he even does so) in the year of you-know-what. Yes, the Fab Four are there, no, the Stones are not; yes, Chubby Checker makes the cut, no, Chuck Berry doesn’t; Ray Charles and Elvis are included, Buddy Holly and Little Richard aren’t.

100. This is Uncool: The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk and Disco – Purchased as a remaindered copy a couple years ago at Chapters. A singles tome written partially in response to Marsh’s singles tome — this is stated right upfront — by a guy who’s a) younger than Marsh; b) more British than Marsh; and c) quite possibly a bigger Smiths fan than Marsh (he lists six titles by them; I forget how many Smiths songs Marsh includes in The Heart of Rock and Soul, I think they’re tied with Sam & Dave, at least if you include Morrissey solo singles).  It’s an okay read in places, and I did enjoy the intro which laid out Mulholland’s premise re: using Marsh’s book as a gauntlet. But even if I agree with the oft-stated criticism that the top half of Marsh’s book hews far too obviously to played-out ’60s classics, a “modern” spin on the subject with five Madness, seven Public Enemy, seven Jam, eight Pet Shop Boys, and um, six Smiths singles strikes me as no less predictable — and possibly moreso given that Mulholland has less titles and less years to work with here.  (And the truth is, I’ve discovered lots of weirdo records via Marsh’s book, too, stuff like “Killer Joe” by the Rocky Fellers, “Captain of Your Ship” by Reparta & the Delrons, et al.). Maybe it’s the slightly disingenuous “uncool” in Mulholland’s title that irks me a bit. Or the book’s back cover promise of an “homage” that is “provocative, outspoken, and irreverent” and “bound to cause controversy.”  More likely I’m just a little jealous because Mulholland beat me to the punch on a premise I thought for years of attempting myself (I’d probably include one Smiths song).

101. The Clash: Return of the Last Gang in Town (Marcus Gray) – Mint condition promo copy. As yet unread, but hopefully not forever. Crossing my fingers that it delves at least somewhat into the animosity so many British critics felt towards the Clash, something I’ve always been more than a little curious about. It’s bizarre in a way to witness so many British critics — Simon Reynolds, for instance — tie themselves in knots just to admit that the Clash aren’t completely useless. Weird. There’s a context there, obviously, and I have a feeling it ties in with the whole rockism debate. Anyway, it’s one reason I hope to read this.

102. & 103. England’s Dreaming & Time. Travel: Pop, Media and Sexuality (Jon Savage) – England’s Dreaming is monumental, and it sucked me in twice. It’s been a while, though, and I don’t know what else to say about it right now. Probably the first book on punk I’d recommend to someone who wanted the best overview possible (not that I’m saying it provides the best overview, necessarily, but it’s certainly the most comprehensive version of the story I’ve read, at least from the UK side of the fence). Time. Travel collects Savage’s writing during and after punk.

104. Bob Dylan (Anthony Scaduto) – More than monumental: life-changing. Anyway, that’s how it hit me when I read it, which was, what, 27 years ago? Just as I was really delving into Dylan (and Dylanology) for the first time, and the story — told fairly straightforwardly, I seem to recall — was blinding in its capacity for myth-building (exactly what I wanted at the time), especially the ’64-’65 period, which I mostly just remember now as a number of funny and thrilling tales about Dylan driving around America with his cohorts and a big jar of marijuana. Good times.

6 thoughts on “Bookshelf #14

  1. Regarding Dave Marsh’s singles book mentioned above, Marsh is the only person to ever change my opinion of a record 180 degrees. He does it twice in that book, first with Billy Stewart’s “Summertime” ( I used to LUNGE for the dial when that came on the radio; now, thanks to his essay, I crank the volume with perverse glee), and , secondly, the Shirelles “Soldier Boy” which I considered almost tolerable but inferior by Shirelles’ standards. His essay re: that song is probably the best thing I’ve ever read by him and one of the great rock-crit pieces ever, IMO.

  2. I also keep coming back to Marsh’s book. If you can get past his Springsteen bias (something that hampers most of his work) the book does its job destroying the myth that rock and roll was dead after ’59. His cheerleading in this area almost makes me forgive his bone-headed devotion to the Boss.

  3. FWIW there are 5 Springsteen singles in Marsh’s book (out of 1,001, which my calculator tells me = .5%). I don’t think he’s near the top of most-repeated artists, but I’ll have to get my stats team on that one.

  4. All I’m saying is the “bias” you’re referring to is not particularly evident in the singles book; or anyway, it’s one of many biases, and not by any stretch the most predominant one.

  5. In 1999, Marsh’s book was reissued. None of the original entries were changed, but there was a new preface. And Marsh listed 101 songs since 1989, that he said could have supplanted some of the songs in his original 1001. The most interesting thing about his newer 101 is that 34 of them are Rap songs. There are 4 by another Marsh fave, Pearl Jam. And Springsteen is represented by 2: “Streets of Philadelphia” and Rage Against the Machine’s remake of “Ghost of Tom Joad”.

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