"SHE BOP: The Definitive History of Women in Rock, Pop and Soul" by Lucy O'Brien

"SHE BOP: The Definitive History of Women in Rock, Pop and Soul"

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An overambitious and underwrought attempt to explain the context, obstacles, and achievements of every woman ever to have a career in pop music. British music journalist O'Brien (Annie Lennox, not reviewed, etc.) trots out a handful of unsurprising themes: Women historically have been expected to be decorative ""girl singers,"" not serious musicians; jealous or nervous men have limited the careers of female instrumentalists; women are often at the mercy of sexist record company packaging; black women encounter different obstacles than white women; Madonna is an admirable careerist. O'Brien supports these assertions by quoting from her interviews with dozens of women in the industry, including a few luminaries, such as Nina Simone, Alison Moyet, and Cyndi Lauper. Generally, though, the list of those she has spoken to over the years is weighted heavily toward the British and the obscure. And because she's aiming at encyclopedic definitiveness, it's impossible not to notice the arbitrariness of her biographical snippets and her scattershot forays into analysis. ""Like an inverted saint, [Sin‚ad O'Connor] has followed the edicts of her own faith to come up with a pure spirituality both piercingly original and tender,"" she offers pointlessly; and while elsewhere she discusses Prince's influence on women in pop, nowhere does she mention O'Connor's biggest hit, the Prince-penned ""Nothing Compares 2 U."" One such omission would be a quibble, but the book is built on holes like these. O'Brien's most incisive chapter, on women in punk, illuminates the anarchic freedoms that punk allowed women, as well as the old gender prejudices that paradoxically underlay punk's would-be anarchy. Too often, however, this reads like a catchall for whatever stray reference material came to hand. Until a more astute overview comes along, She Bop--whose title comes from a song about masturbation--makes for an unsatisfying stopgap.

Pub Date: Jan. 9th, 1996
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Penguin