Anatomy of a Song:
The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits
That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop
By Marc Myers
Grove Press, $26.00
For those who aren’t previously acquainted with this writer, Marc Myers is a trained historian who writes about jazz for the Wall Street Journal and also posts daily to his blog JazzWax.com. He has been honored twice by the Jazz Journalists Association with its Blog of the Year Award.
Whereas this book doesn’t review jazz tunes, Myers has selected forty-five songs—popular, R&B and rock—to relate the reader to the performers and to examine the song’s effects on the individual listener and also popular culture. He indicates that some have been selected from his previous WSJ columns and that many have been expanded to include additional information and anecdotes.
To give a few examples, In the chapter called “Suspicious Minds,” Myers interviews songwriter Mark James and producer Chips Mohan. They give the background of how the song was written and circumstances of how it was produced in the recording studio with Elvis Presley on vocals. In addition, there are a couple of photos of Elvis.
For the “Proud Mary” chapter, Creedence Clearwater Revival singer-songwriter-lead guitarist John Fogarty is interviewed. He related the circumstances of how the song was written—he’s just gotten his honorable discharge from the service, 1967, and was therefore not likely to have to serve in the Vietnam war. He was fascinated by riverboats, though he’d never previously seen one. And he used Beethoven’s introductory chord changes for Fifth Symphony.
Other artists and songs covered include The Dixie Cups, The Temptations, Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard and Pink Floyd.
This is a book with self-contained chapters—45 in all—so one can read at random or straight through as desired. It’s also an ideal gift for a musical friend. And, with the availability of YouTube and similar features, one may review the song while reading its background.
Myers’ previous book is entitled Why Jazz Happened. He takes a unique point of view and tells how technology had influenced the music—first came recorded sound, then radio followed by television; 78 RPM recordings then to 45 RPM and LPs transitioned to CDs and now streaming sound and video; and, how sound amplification contributed to Rock ‘n’ Roll. This was all engagingly told from a historian’s perspective.
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