If you’re feeling nostalgic and want to tap into a great playlist of Baby Boomer music to see what made these particular songs icons, look no further than Marc Myers’ Anatomy of a Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop. Myers’ pop recap, told through interviews with the songs’ composers/lyricists, are collected from his column of the same name for the Wall Street Journal — where he has been covering music since 2010. Dubbed an “oral history jukebox” by the author, Myers’ book takes us through five decades of musical history and sets each song within the context of that artists’ experiences, their inspirations and the zeitgeist.
Starting with the intro Myers shows us how, starting in the early ‘50s, pop music was exploding thanks to both the 45 and the magnetic tape recorder, as each made music more accessible and reproducible. One exec involved in this transformation, Art Rupe, traveled to New Orleans, home of Fats Domino, in search of new talent “with Domino’s magic.” Instead, Rupe “wound up auditioning a 19-year-old singer named Lloyd Price.” Rupe recorded Price singing “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” with Fats on the keyboard and musical history was made: This song spent “seven weeks at number 1 on Billboard’s R&B chart” and became “an early template for teen-directed rock ‘n’ roll.” As we hear the rich history of this song unfold from the memories of Price, Dave Bartholomew and Rupe, it all comes to vivid life. Just listen to Price talk about the moment he was discovered:
“Around this time, my girlfriend, Nellie, broke up with me. I was crushed. At my mom’s sandwich shop, I was playing the piano and working on my song, “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” with pitiful sorrow in my voice. Halfway through, I just stopped in frustration. A customer asked what I was playing. I told him without turning around. He told me to play it again and sing all the words. When I finished, I looked up. David Bartholomew was standing right next to me. I nearly fell off my chair. “
Myers obtained interviews with everyone from Grace Slick to Linda Ronstadt to Booker T. Jones to Mick Jagger to Joni Mitchell to Jimmy Cliff. He ends his book with R.E.M. in 1991 because he feels you need a generation to see if a song will become iconic.
Photo Credit: Image of Mick Jagger by Marcel Antonisse (ANEFO)