Exhaustive historiography of New York City’s role in shaping 20th-century American popular music.
Music journalist Fletcher (The Clash: The Complete Guide to Their Music, 2005, etc.) offers a reasonably substantive 50-year survey of New York’s lasting contributions, encapsulating everything from Afro-Cuban jazz, to the early 1960s Washington Square grassroots folk-music scene, to the oddly intertwined arenas of punk rock, disco and hip-hop. The author, a British expat and longtime New Yorker, exudes a sentimental Ken Burnsian reverence for not only New York’s contributions to music history but also for its social and cultural history. Using previously picked-over musical subjects, Fletcher ably recycles and reorganizes this information in a well-engineered synthesis. Don’t expect many theoretical conclusions, however. The author is more effective at reconstructing the note-by-note rise of musical movements and the often chaotic NYC neighborhoods that spawned them. There’s plenty of relevant but overcirculated oral history on the Harlem Renaissance, the Dizzy Gillespie/Charlie Parker bebop era, the early-’60s girl-group/Brill Building years, the Bob Dylan/Woody Guthrie folk connection and the original CBGB scene. Fletcher does fill in a few crucial historical blanks, especially regarding the development of the early-’70s Manhattan dance-club scene. He gives an intimate portrait of some all-but-forgotten impresarios whose late-’60s/early-’70s dance-oriented loft parties later exploded into Studio 54 disco-era excess and exclusivity. Fletcher also digs into Manhattan’s undervalued pre-disco gay dance-club scene, which effectively initiated the DJ and turntable artistry that would influence the Bronx-bred musical revolution known as hip-hop.
Often short on revelation and analysis, but an informative historical record of NYC’s half-century of unparalleled musical achievements.