There is a great pleasure in reading the history of your own times, especially when it is good enough to remind you what you missed. And Bob Stanley offers great pleasure for almost everybody in Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story Of Modern Pop.
He had to find somewhere to start and somewhere to finish and he makes a case for coming in just before the advent of the vinyl 45, the portable Dansette and the NME singles chart, in 1952, followed by the beginning of ongoing Transatlantic crossover. He finishes with the decline of the CD, beaten by the internet, from around 2000.
The result is a mighty and entertaining read, full of references to follow up, facts and stories to store away and judgements to relish. I liked, for example, his withering sketch of Vanilla Fudge as the inventors of “stoner rock”, defined as “loud music to pass out to”. I laughed out loud at the summary of Mott The Hoople – “aimed for the sky and hit the pub ceiling”. And I enjoyed the story of Adam Ant paying £1000 to Malcolm McLaren for guidance and getting his band nicked, to make Bow Wow Wow, and a tape of Burundi drummers in compensation. Punchline: the drummers were a crucial part of the mix for Ant’s first hits.
Stanley was born December 1964 and is good on how hip-hop begat rap and then techno and the differences between hardcore and emo, jungle and drum-n-bass, grime and grunge, baggy and Britpop, and all that stuff which happened after the likes of me decided the world was going to hell in a handcart. But he is also surprisingly good on the decades he had to learn about retrospectively. In a rundown of 1950s female singers on the UK scene, for example, he has done enough research to observe that Eve Boswell, a veteran trouper of the pubs and piers circuit, “somehow always gave the impression of having ladders in her tights”.
In his contribution to the endless discussion of who made the first rock-n’roll record, he makes a good case for a new one to me, Rock The Joint, composed and recorded by Bill Haley and the Saddlemen, in 1952, for the flipside of a straight country track called Icy Heart . Stanley suggests: “No-one had blended country and R’n’B before Haley wrote Rock The Joint.”
After it was picked up in the cities, the Saddlemen were instructed to swap their Stetsons for tuxedos and drive north fast, and were canny and slick enough to have a good run until Haley blew his remaining mystique with a live tour of Britain in 1957, when the bags under his eyes and the sweatstains under his armpits came into focus, the way Stanley tells it.
His essay on the Stones includes the observation: “Their nonchalance has been taken up by hundreds of bands … from the Doors onwards, to excuse lethargy, tedium, childishness.”
Stanley has made his living from making music and writing about it and has a breadth of view which leads him to make some interesting connections. He sees similarities between Johnny Ray and Justin Bieber, for example. He argues that the Hollies, who were huge in Sweden, begat Abba; Steely Dan begat 10cc; the Bay City Rollers begat the Ramones’ only hit, Blitzkrieg Bop; and Orange Juice begat The Smiths. Discuss? I’d love to, wouldn’t you?
It might be obvious once it is said but I had never previously seen the Northern Soul boom, as Stanley does, as a working-class reaction against psychedelia … “those who didn’t buy into it went home, took out their Tamla and began to scour junk shops and market stalls for more”.
He also recalls that anti-hippy revolt was an element in the success of glam – “garish as a Dulux paint chart”. He loves mainstream and is rightly complimentary about both Sweet and the Monkees
From my point of view, Stanley is a little light on the influence and popularity of country, although he acknowledges it as “the underfelt of modern pop”. We get plenty on obscure punk acts of the 1990s but nothing on Steve Earle or Gillian Welch and not much even on Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson.
But what he covers, he covers well. I read the book as a bargain Kindle download and decided I wanted it in book form, in order to use it as a work of reference, next time I want to differentiate Deep Soul from Northern Soul and Northern Soul from Southern Soul and Philly Soul from funk. But, in my Kindle version at least, the index was a disappointment and I will be looking for a further edition in which it is properly finished.
Bob Stanley is a member of St Etienne and at the band’s YouTube site
you can hear them and call up their playlist of the best records for every year from 1950 to 2013.
The book opens with a second-hand memory of record shoppers in the 70s trying to track down a 1957 rockabilly number called Cast Iron Arm, by Peanuts Wilson. Nowadays, as Stanley points out, you can find it in seconds on YouTube – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBmXU7OuRRI/
Among the many other irresistible tips to follow is a recommendation for a “filthy” (well, possibly) early Supremes record, Buttered Popcorn, featuring Flo Ballard on lead vocals –
It was news to me that Ringo Starr made an entire country album, Beaucoups Of Blues, but I have now bookmarked it to check out at
Bob Stanley names Into The Groove as Madonna’s best record. And there are many more good tips, which I’ll be back for when I’ve got that proper index.
Meanwhile, more in this series of blogs, Online & Off, at