The protest song reached its zenith in 1960s America when Bob Dylan, Buffalo Springfield, Country Joe and the Fish, Jimi Hendrix, and Joan Baez wrote popular songs to protest American involvement in the Vietnam War and the mistreatment of social and economic groups. In some cases—Dylan's "Masters of War," P.F. Sloan's "Eve of Destruction," Country Joe McDonald's "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag"—the songs became anthems that defined a generation, confirming the idea that popular music could indeed bring people together to promote a common cause for the common good. Sadly, British music critic Lynskey doesn't capture the deep significance of the protest song or the cultural moments that created them. Although he admirably attempts to isolate the personal and cultural contexts of 33 protest songs, from Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" and James Brown's "Say It Loud—I'm Black and I'm Proud" to the Clash's "White Riot," Public Enemy's "Fight the Power," and Steve Earle's "John Walker's Blues," Lynskey doesn't fully demonstrate the reasons that each song qualifies as a protest song in the first place, or why the songs he gathered provide the best examples of a protest song. (Apr.)
“British music critic Dorian Lynskey offers a completely absorbing look at 33 songs, spanning seven decades and haling from five continents...Comprehensive and beautifully written.”
Booklist (starred review)
“This book is impressive in scope.”
“Lynskey has a strong command of the music and its makers.”
“[A] provocative, absorbing book”
“lovely writing…Let’s praise the agile, many-tentacled writer Mr. Lynskey can often be, because I loved bits of this book; you can pluck out the many tasty things like seeds from a pomegranate.”
“A must-read for militant-music lovers.”
“A longtime music critic, Lynskey presents up-close details to ballast the book’s larger historical sweep.”
"British music critic Dorian Lynskey offers a completely absorbing look at 33 songs, spanning seven decades and haling from five continents...Comprehensive and beautifully written."
In his first book, British music critic Lynskey delves into the protest song movement from 1939 to the present. Dividing the time into discrete sections, he focuses on particular examples but also provides information on related songs. The author traces the historical context, using valuable contemporary sources and quotations from the artists. We encounter both the familiar (e.g., Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land") and the more obscure as Lynskey explores the repertoire, from jazz to folk to punk to hip-hop and beyond, and its effect on society. He wisely does not limit himself unduly, including several songs from outside the United States, and he treats sensitive topics in a balanced, careful manner. The extensive bibliography, list of songs and albums mentioned, and 100 additional recommended songs are useful resources, and a short chapter on earlier protest songs helps ground the narrative. VERDICT Readers who lived through these decades will respond to familiar artists and songs, and Lynskey's flowing prose and well-turned phrases bring the times to life. He is especially adept at integrating the songs into the wider social milieu, which extends the appeal to cultural historians as well as music lovers.—Barry Zaslow, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, OH
An ambitious, astute summary of political songs, from the 1940s to the present.
British music journalist Lynskey uses copious research and fresh interviews with several writer-performers to chart the evolution of political thought in pop music. The titular "33 revolutions" are individual songs he employs as signposts. He frequently looks at the tunes cursorily, using them as gateways for the topics at hand—the Vietnam and Middle East wars, civil rights, the black-power movement, etc. Using Billie Holiday's 1939 recording of "Strange Fruit," Abel Meeropol's hair-raising depiction of a lynching, as the launch point, the author takes in the work of pioneering writers on the Left (Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger) and their '60s progeny (Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs et al). Lynskey focuses mostly on American and British firebrands, with side trips to Chile (Victor Jara), Africa (Fela Kuti) and Jamaica (Max Romeo, Bob Marley). The authoralso includes entries on more current acts,like U2, R.E.M., Public Enemy, Rage Against the Machine and Steve Earle. Throughout, Lynskey displays complete command of the music and the events that sparked it, and though he writes from a left-field perspective, he is no cheerleader. He is often stingingly critical. He takes John Lennon to task for his murky, off-target writing, mulls the addled, fist-pumping stances of The Clash and Rage, and takes stinging aim at Public Enemy's intrinsic contradictions and frequently misguided positions. One of the best chapters explicates the inherent folly of "stadium protest," manifested in such overblown, self-congratulatory '80s affairs as Live Aid and "We Are the World." Lynskey also notes that compositions can have their intent obscured and their essence misappropriated, as was the case with Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." The book reaches its sobering conclusion in the new millennium with Green Day's
American Idiot, which the author sees as the end of something, and a waning of the music of dissent. "I began this book intending to write a history of a still vital form of music," he writes. "I finished it wondering if I had instead composed a eulogy."
Lynskey presents a difficult, risky art form in all its complexity.
"I began this book intending to write a history of a still vital form of music," Lynskey writes. "I finished it wondering if I had instead composed a eulogy." As eulogies go, however, this is a lively and sprawling one…Lynskey writes passionately and often admiringly but doesn't stint on the criticism…
The Washington Post