Like the print version of an endless, time-filling BBC series—even the most interested readers will likely do a lot of...




Exhaustive, exhausting history of pop music.

Like so many popular histories that aim for comprehensiveness, this plodding assemblage staggers under its own weight. Even though he claims that “this book is not meant to be an encyclopedia,” in trying to tell the story of pop, music journalist, DJ and Saint Etienne founding keyboard player Stanley gets so swamped in name-checking every band and song title that he loses the plot and characters. Instead of focusing at some intelligent length on key figures, genres, trends or shifts in tastes, he is more concerned with touching on everything than doing justice to anything. He’s all about connecting the dots, usually patching them together with well-worn anecdotes or conventional wisdom. The book’s real juice is in Stanley’s scattered opinions, which range from the unusual to the obnoxious. His Brit-skewed viewpoint offers less-than-reverential takes on the Clash and Elvis Costello and stirring defenses of The Monkees, Sex Pistols and Abba, and he delivers a cogent and interesting history of the Bee Gees. Among his many questionable judgments: that “New Morning” (1970) is possibly Bob Dylan’s best album or that Bob Marley’s music was as “musically simplified as the Bay City Rollers.” Stanley, however, does score the occasional apt phrase: Joy Division was “modern pop viewed through night vision goggles—grimy and murky.” Abba’s hits “sound like a music box carved from ice.” The author also writes of the Smiths’ “bedsit bookishness” and Belle and Sebastian’s “librarian chic,” and he correctly notes that “indie” has now “stretched out to become a meaningless catchall term.” Unfortunately, all these scattered perceptions fly by in a hazy, numbing blur as Stanley hits the pedal on this breakneck trip through the past 60 years, and his tone becomes increasingly grating.

Like the print version of an endless, time-filling BBC series—even the most interested readers will likely do a lot of fast-forwarding.

Pub Date: July 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-393-24269-0

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.


A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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