Anatomy of a Song, by Marc Myers (2016)

Anatomy of a SongMusic historian Marc Myers has compiled an oral history that examines the back stories of, as the subtitle tells us, “45 Iconic Hits that Changed Rock, R&B, and Pop.” Spanning approximately 40 years of late 20th century music, the collection is bookended with two songs by men in search of love. It opens in 1952 with Lloyd Price’s debut release, the sorrow-filled “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” and wraps with the 1991 surprise hit “Losing My Religion” by alternative rock band R.E.M. In between we find Elvis (“Suspicious Minds”), The Kinks (“You Really Got Me), Joni Mitchell (for “Carey”, written in a cave in Crete), and many other familiar names. Each entry is a transcript of an interview or interviews, sometimes edited for brevity or essence, with the creators which could include singers, songwriters and/or producers. The interviews were conducted by Myers for his Anatomy of a Song column published in The Wall Street Journal, and in fact, each entry is based on a column he published between 2012-216. Myers opens the collection with a discussion of the origins of R&B, the so-called “race music” and the surge in popularity of music for teens that followed the introduction of the inexpensive 45 in 1949. In his introduction, Myers encourages the reader to listen to each piece of music both before and after reading the interviews, and I agree it absolutely adds a pleasurable sensory delight to learning the story behind the bells in the Dixie Cups’ Chapel of Love, or trying over and over to hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in Creedence Clearwater Revival’s opening of “Proud Mary,” after reading John Fogerty’s comment: “I didn’t like how Beethoven had composed it. I preferred hitting the first chord hard for emphasis, not the fourth.” Each song’s oral history is introduced with a photo of the original artist and a brief contextual statement. I don’t know enough about music history to comment on Myers’ selection, and would have enjoyed knowing more about why he selected each song. Was it for the song’s influence, or the nifty story behind it? My e-edition included photo credits as part of the copyright information, rather than at the end, and did not include, lamentably, an index. An excellent choice for budding music historians, with lots of appeal for those familiar with the music of the era. My thanks to publisher Grove Atlantic for the advance reading copy provided through NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.
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2 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Song, by Marc Myers (2016)

  1. Truly fascinating and most of the songs I did know. Try a library copy first, but you’ll find it takes a lot of time to really explore the stories and the music. I’m getting one as a gift for a friend.

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