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Bob Stanley: Yeah Yeah Yeah - The Story Of Modern Pop (Faber)

There has always been something of the pop archivist about Bob Stanley.

As a member of 1990s indie dance troupe Saint Etienne he was responsible for nailing a beat on to a Neil Young song (Only Love Can Break Your Heart), working with both Kylie Minogue and David Essex, namechecking the KLF and Karen Carpenter in songs, and even recording a single made slightly famous by Candlewick Green, one-time winners of Opportunity Knocks. Partly that is the typical bricolage you might expect from a post-sample era dance outfit. But it is also a reflection of the group's immersion in and affection for the whole pattern of pop.

Stanley has taken that immersion to a new depth in Yeah Yeah Yeah, a fat brick of a book in which he has given full rein to his archival tendencies. The result is a giddy, grandiose, now and again maddening, but mostly very moreish history of pop music from 1952 - the year of the first chart - to the turn of the 21st century; or from Al Martino's Here In My Heart (the first UK No 1) to Beyonce's Crazy In Love (more or less).

Stanley maps his story on to the history of the charts as an organising principle. He touches on all the usual suspects, from Elvis to Nirvana and Oasis, but also runs up a flag for the Sweet, Sam Cooke and TLC. "I wanted to argue that the separation of rock and pop is false, and that disco and large swathes of black and electronic music have been virtually ignored by traditional pop histories," he writes in his introduction.

As such, he is as keen to reclaim The Monkees and The Bee Gees for pop's pantheon as extol the genius of The Beatles and Dylan (though he does that too). But that is not to suggest the result is coquettish in any way. It is just that his tastes range wider than Mojo cover stars. (Stanley's musical tastes are so close to my own that it feels like a slap on the face when he overlooks someone I love; his chapter on Motown hardly mentions Smokey Robinson, and while Factory never-weres Biting Tongues get a mention, Bjork doesn't and I am still irked by her absence.)

What is striking about Yeah Yeah Yeah (as perfect a title for a book about pop as you could imagine) is that Stanley's interest is principally in the music. Yes, he writes about pop image, the music press and the record industry when he has to. But it all starts with the sound. And it is clear he has been listening hard. "The tempo of Keep On Movin' is close to that of the Cure's All Cats Are Grey," he points out about the Soul II Soul hit in one footnote.

It is a book of broad sweeps and acute detail then. And it is the kind of book that will send you off to search for obscure Gene Vincent songs and Italian house tracks.

Whether you agree with his judgements or not, you will stay for the writing. Stanley is able to sum up a singer or a song in a few well-chosen words. His description of Van Morrison's "ruddy, sponge pudding face" is a joy, and his summary of Abba's divorce pop 45 The Winner Takes It All as the "sound of the Shangri-Las grown up, two kids upstairs asleep, a bottle of red wine on the kitchen table" is almost as good as the record.

It is also a book full of wonderful I-didn't-know-that asides. The only pop star on Michelle Pfeiffer's wall when she was a teenager was Reg Presley of The Troggs. And The Bee Gees' Robin Gibb was involved in the Hither Green train crash, London, in 1968, which killed 49 people. He even pulled bodies from the wreckage.

In passing, of course, this is also the story of post-war culture. The way we see the world has been filtered through pop; our notions of sexuality and glamour and decadence and radicalism were all tied to vinyl and latterly CDs, "the Trojan horse of digital technology". Is that still the case? It is tempting to suggest not. Industry greed and stupidity, allied to changing technology, means, as Stanley points out, that pop's principal forms, the single and the album, are increasingly irrelevant. "Without the detail, pop music does not have the desirability it once had; it is not as wantable," suggests Stanley.

Of course, that is a man of a certain age speaking, you might say. Rihanna fans may believe otherwise. And in the year of Daft Punk's Get Lucky, pop music is clearly far from dead.

But there are so many yesterdays in the story of pop that they tend to obscure the form's future (and Get Lucky, after all, looks back to Chic-era disco as well as Daft Punk's own back catalogue). What does that make Yeah Yeah Yeah? An obituary just waiting for the death certificate perhaps. If so, it is a glorious one.

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