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Anatomy of a Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop
     

Anatomy of a Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop

by Marc Myers
 

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Every great song has a fascinating backstory. In Anatomy of a Song, based on the ongoing Wall Street Journal column, writer and music historian Marc Myers brings to life five decades of music through oral histories of forty-five transformative songs woven from interviews with the artists who created them.

Bringing readers inside the making of a hit,

Overview

Every great song has a fascinating backstory. In Anatomy of a Song, based on the ongoing Wall Street Journal column, writer and music historian Marc Myers brings to life five decades of music through oral histories of forty-five transformative songs woven from interviews with the artists who created them.

Bringing readers inside the making of a hit, Anatomy of a Song includes the Isley Brothers' memorable song "Shout," Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love," Janis Joplin's "Mercedes Benz," and R.E.M's "Losing My Religion." After receiving his discharge from the army in 1968, John Fogerty does a handstand and reworks Beethoven's Fifth Symphony to come up with "Proud Mary." Joni Mitchell remembers living in a cave on Crete with the "mean old daddy" who inspired her 1971 hit "Carey." Elvis Costello talks about writing "(The Angels Wanna War My) Red Shoes" in ten minutes on the train to Liverpool. And Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Rod Stewart, the Clash, Jimmy Cliff, Roger Waters, Stevie Wonder, Keith Richards, Cyndi Lauper, and many other leading artists reveal the emotions, inspirations, and techniques behind their influential works. Anatomy of a Song is a love letter to the songs that have defined generations of listeners.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
08/08/2016
Four years ago, Myers launched his “Anatomy of a Song” column in the Wall Street Journal, and he offers this mostly interesting but hardly hit-making collection of previously published columns. Like many pop songs, the structure is pretty simple. Myers (Why Jazz Happened) provides a new introduction to the songs, which were written between 1952 and 1991, setting each in its cultural context, as well as indicating its historical significance. For example, according to Myers, in the late 1980s R.E.M. thrived in a growing alternative music scene in which listeners developed deep personal attachments to bands that were singing about issues that concerned them. Following these introductions, Myers then turns the mike over to the artists, writers, musicians, and producers behind each song, who tell us about the stories behind it. Many artists are reflective: Bonnie Raitt says that writing her hit “Nick of Time” gave her a “sense of confidence and self-awareness that helped break through some stifling self-doubt.” Some point out that we can invest too much meaning in simple lyrics, as when Mick Jagger reminds us that his song “Moonlight Mile” is “definitely not about cocaine.” Some, like the Marvelettes’ lead singer, Katherine “Kat” Anderson Schaffner, reveal a song’s origins: “Please Mr. Postman” was an unfinished blues song written by William Garrett about a “nice postman in our projects” that the group finished and then recorded. Music fans will enjoy the behind-the-songs stories, but the book would have been even more compelling if Myers had provided a clearer sense of why he selected these songs and not others, and why songwriters such as Bob Dylan are glaringly absent from the collection. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Anatomy of a Song:

An Amazon Best Book of the Month in Nonfiction

“Marc Myers’s Anatomy of a Song [is] a winning look at the stories behind 45 pop, punk, folk, soul and country classics . . . A smart, gracious book. His interviews yield some fascinating details.”Washington Post

“A detailed look at 45 iconic popular songs . . . This will entice general readers and music lovers alike. In his introduction, Myers calls the book an ‘oral history jukebox,’ and popular-music fans everywhere will want to be ready with a pocketful of dimes.”Booklist

“A cultural history of the elusive hit single, focused on artists' recollections and studio alchemy . . . The book's strength lies in thoughtful, wry reflections from artists including Elvis Costello, Jimmy Cliff, Stevie Wonder, Booker T. Jones, Dr. John, and Debbie Harry. An entertaining record of the soundtrack of the baby boomer era.”Kirkus Reviews

“Who doesn’t like to listen to musicians tell their stories about the genesis of a song? Or to hear them laugh at the deep meaning that listeners often invest in it when for them it was, well, just a song about a breakup? Myers’ book has something for everyone.”No Depression

“Myers provides a new introduction to the songs, which were written between 1952 and 1991, setting each in its cultural context, as well as indicating its historical significance . . . Following these introductions, Myers then turns the mike over to the artists, writers, musicians, and producers behind each song, who tell us about the stories behind it . . . Music fans will enjoy the behind-the-songs stories.”Publishers Weekly

Library Journal
09/15/2016
This books compiles Wall Street Journal columns by Myers (Why Jazz Happened) that use the popular oral history format to examine the creation of some of rock, R&B, and pop's most important songs. The book covers 45 songs, starting in 1952 (Lloyd Price's "Lawdy Miss Clawdy") to 1991 (R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion"). Mainstream hits (like The Dixie Cups' "Chapel of Love") are given equal time with album cuts (such as Stevie Wonder's "Love's in Need of Love Today" from Songs in the Key of Life) and countercultural classics ("White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane, "London Calling" by The Clash). The most compelling entries include Joni Mitchell's "Carey," which carries (forgive the pun) an interview with the song's inspiration, Cary Raditz, and the cross-cultural tale of Aerosmith's "Walk This Way" (which later became an even bigger hit when the band collaborated with the important early rap group Run-D.M.C. in 1986). One may quibble with some of Myers's song selections: Why "Mercedes Benz" by Janis Joplin instead of "Me and Bobby McGee," or "Big City" by Merle Haggard and not "Mama Tried"? Still, most of the author's oral histories are informative and entertaining. VERDICT Recommended for libraries with a popular music section.—Brian Flota, James Madison Univ., Harrisonburg, VA
Kirkus Reviews
2016-08-09
A cultural history of the elusive hit single, focused on artists’ recollections and studio alchemy.In 2011, Myers (Why Jazz Happened, 2012) began the Wall Street Journal’s “Anatomy of a Song,” which focused on “dramatic stories” of creativity. “I realized the column would be better served as an oral history,” he writes, “with the stories told through songwriters’ and artists’ own words.” The resulting book is “a five-decade oral history of rhythm & blues, rock and pop.” Choosing 45 representational songs that topped the charts or were otherwise prominent, the author chronicles American pop from about 1952 to 1991, the era when radio could effectively “break” a song. Developing this overall narrative, Myers provides several paragraphs of context for the moment in which a song arrived, then switches to recollections of artists and producers. It’s a clever concept that becomes repetitive. Still, his interview subjects are well-chosen, and the excerpts provide insight on the constantly changing technology and industry behind the hits. Initially, pop music was segregated and viewed as marginally profitable, allowing regional scenes to become suddenly prominent, as with the Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman.” As vocalist Kat Schaffner recalls, “Motown wanted a No. 1 pop hit, but [nobody] expected that five girls from Inkster [Michigan] were going to give it to them.” While musicians like Keith Richards took advantage of new recording technologies (“Street Fighting Man”), the record industry was gradually losing control, as a reliance on “tightly controlled singles, with albums functioning merely as collections of these short records,” gave way to the creative demands of groups like Led Zeppelin. Myers ably discusses such fluctuations within the cultural landscape during the 1960s and ’70s, though he still tends toward generalizations—e.g., “Punk rock in New York had run its course by the 1970s.” The book’s strength lies in thoughtful, wry reflections from artists including Elvis Costello, Jimmy Cliff, Stevie Wonder, Booker T. Jones, Dr. John, and Debbie Harry. An entertaining record of the soundtrack of the baby boomer era.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802125590
Publisher:
Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
11/01/2016
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
809
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Marc Myers is a frequent contributor to the Wall Street Journal, where he writes about rock, soul, and jazz, as well as the arts. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book Why Jazz Happened, and posts daily at JazzWax.com, winner of the 2015 Jazz Journalists Association’s award for Jazz Blog of the Year.

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