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Rock, Pop, Reggae

Three new books on the music that changed the world

Jun. 28, 2017
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Electric Shock: From the Gramophone to the iPhone—125 Years of Pop Music (Vintage), by Peter Doggett

The great songwriter Irving Berlin was born before the gramophone was invented and lived long enough to hear Madonna and hip-hop—assuming he was still listening. It’s the sort of interesting cross-referencing that occurs throughout Electric Shock, one of the best books on popular music in many years. British author Peter Doggett tells the story of pop in its many manifestations, Tin Pan Alley through the worldwide web. His distinctly British perspective is acutely aware of America’s outsized influence—beginning with ragtime and building through jazz, rock and rap—while acknowledging the unique contributions of Germany (electronica) and Jamaica (reggae). He questions popular but unexamined assumptions, especially the idea that America was a musical wasteland before The Beatles landed. This thoughtful and witty account of popular music from the late 19th century through the present is framed by the march of technology. As he ruefully acknowledges about the 21st century: “technology became sexier than the music it was invented to carry.”


Garbage: This is the Noise that Keeps Me Awake (Akashic), by Garbage with Jason Cohen

Flush with the success of producing Nirvana’s Nevermind, Madison’s Butch Vig seized the momentum with longtime band mate Duke Erikson in what became the double-platinum selling band Garbage. Garbage: This is the Noise that Keeps Me Awake is credited to Garbage and writer-editor Jason Cohen because a preponderance of the text is in the words of Vig, Erikson, Steve Marker and Shirley Manson. The coffee table book features many insightful quotes along with a trove of photographs and clippings. Garbage’s roots in the regionally popular Madison power pop band Spooner are acknowledged and a two-page spread is devoted to Vig’s Smart Studios, a shoebox operation that produced important and hugely selling music in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.


So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley (W.W. Norton), by Roger Steffens

Although Bob Marley didn’t single-handedly create reggae, he was among its progenitors and—on the strength of melodic gifts, charisma and lyrics that universalized the particular—became its most widely recognized voice. Reggae DJ and writer Roger Steffens has been interviewing Marley’s associates for decades and even talked to the man himself. So Much Things to Say is composed of quotes from those sources occasionally interspersed with the author’s own comments. Prevalent in the weave of voices are Marley’s early collaborators Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh along with Coxson Dodd, the Jamaican producer behind Marley’s early recordings. Conflicting accounts are left to stand, including contradictory stories of how Marley met his wife, Rita, and accusations that Island Records’ Chris Blackwell ripped off the reggae star (Blackwell denies this). The Jamaican patois will be tough going for casual readers, yet So Much Things to Say will entertain fans and serve a source for reggae scholarship.


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