“A winning look at the stories behind 45 pop, punk, folk, soul and country classics” in the words of Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder, Cyndi Lauper and more (The Washington Post).
Every great song has a fascinating backstory. And here, writer and music historian Marc Myers brings to life five decades of music through oral histories of forty-five era-defining hits woven from interviews with the artists who created them, including such legendary tunes as the Isley Brothers’ 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 did a handstand—and reworked 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 Wear 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 and “a rich history of both the music industry and the baby boomer era” (Los Angeles Times Book Review).
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.