Tag Archives: The Beatles

Bob Stanley: Yeah Yeah Yeah – The Story Of Modern Pop

YeahYeahYeah

This’ll be the second month in a row I’ve been spending most of my free time wading through a big old book that details important events in the history of pop music. The major difference is that whereas Mark Lewisohn’s The Beatles Tune In focused tightly on one five year period in the career of one group Bob Stanley’s Yeah Yeah Yeah is in stark contrast a brave attempt to cover pretty much everything significant in the fifty years that popular songs were consumed chiefly via the single record (initially 78rpm discs, then 45s, cassettes, CDs and ultimately downloads). The result is a tome that’s maybe slightly too opinionated to qualify as definitive but is certainly informative, passionate and well written with welcome touches of wit. It’s also formidably well researched, as you’d expect from a true music obsessive like Stanley, whose day job is as part of pop classicist outfit St. Etienne – if he mentions in a footnote that When Doves Cry was the first hit not to feature a bassline since Andrew Gold’s Never Let Her Slip Away six years previously you can be damn sure he’s listened to every record that got into the charts between them to check.

The author takes a sensible broadly chronological approach, starting in the early 50s and using each chapter (of which there are 65) to concentrate on a particular development, genre or, occasionally, single artist. Each chapter can thus be read as a stand-alone essay, though it’s undoubtedly easier to perceive the various throughlines that Stanley carefully sets out if you start at the beginning and work your way through. Some of the subjects here have already been copiously documented (Elvis, Beatles, Dylan, Motown, Pistols) and these chapters don’t add too much to what’s already been said, but the bulk of the book deals with musicians and subgenres that I can’t remember being covered in this depth before outside of ponderous and over-earnest features in places like Mojo and Uncut, and Stanley’s readable and funny (breezy, even) writing style is a cut above what you generally find in those magazines. In particular, the sections on the era immediately before rock’n’roll kicked in and those on mid-sixties rhythm and blues are packed with information and enthusiasm and make you want to go out and try to find the original singles right away.

Where the book is less effective is in those passages where Stanley lets his own preferences and idiosyncracies colour his descriptions. He makes no secret of his disdain for much of the music of the early 70s and sometimes comes out with comparisons that seem calculated to wind up rock-snobs: was the music of The Sweet really on a par with that of Led Zeppelin? Later on he seems a bit sniffy about my beloved post-punk and overly dismissive of certain massively successful acts (The Police were undoubtedly a bit cynical and sometimes horribly pretentious but they did put out some cracking singles). I found the last part of the book the hardest to get through, though that’s probably more down to my lack of understanding of the appeal of techno and the myriad subdivisions of house than any failure of the author.

Stanley doesn’t quite succeed in conquering his impossible self-imposed brief – certain artists and genres (The Velvet Underground, lots of 90s alt-country stuff) get short shrift from his habit of squeezing less mainstream trends into pithy capsule summaries – but this is still a mightily impressive project, and a very handy reference for things you might catch on the radio and not instantly recognise. And also it’s a fun book to pick fights with. Just don’t slag off The Beach Boys within earshot of the author.

Norwegian Wood: I crawled off to sleep in the bath

Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood was always going to be a difficult book to make a film out of, being as it is an extended interior dialogue with very little external incident. The story, if you can call it that, is set in late-60s Japan, and is related by a sensitive 19 year old student whose relationship with the fragile girlfriend of a boyhood friend who has recently inexplicably committed suicide is complicated firstly by her depression and withdrawal, and later by a rival who has her own problems. The Da Vinci Code this is not.

Anh Hung Tran’s adaptation is respectful and tasteful and sensitive and all that, but you’ve got to wonder why they bothered. It looks beautiful, particularly the bits that take place in woodland and by rivers, but it’s really just two hours of attractive young people talking earnestly to each other, looking upset, having the occasional bout of crying or joyless sex, or just looking meaningfully in the middle distance. There’s lots of voiceover, which sounds like it’s lifted straight from the book. It’s notable for some unusually frank discussion of sexual dysfunction, and for its quietness (although the soundtrack does ramp up towards the end with some mournful violins), but I found it a real struggle to keep my attention on it. Murakami’s prose is airy and highly readable (in the English translation anyway) – this is just stodgy, and made me dread the thought of a film of The Catcher In The Rye even more than I did already.

Footnote: This film doesn’t have much to do with the Beatles song of the same name, but a character does play it on acoustic guitar at one point, and they did manage to license the original to play over the end credits. Wonder how much it cost them?