Don’t Stop the Music: A Year of Pop History, One Day at a Time

❉ Brilliantly simple as an idea but also ambitious, Justin Lewis creates a glorious interlocking history.

The premise of Justin Lewis’s excellent new book, Don’t Stop the Music. A Year of Pop History One Day at a Time is brilliantly simple. Take the whole of pop culture. Then take the 365-day calendar. Then for each day of that calendar choose some events and occurrences that happened on that day. Then see the richness of the connections and let the full picture of our pop culture be revealed in all its glory!

In Lewis’s own words; “Consider it a kaleidoscopic sampling exercise, pinballing across the decades in, hopefully, a genre-defining fashion.” Brilliantly simple as an idea but also gloriously ambitious. It’s surely an idea that only someone with such an encyclopaedic knowledge and knowing wit as this author, could have successfully pulled off and pulled off in quite such an entertaining way.

For anyone who enjoys Justin’s twitter @WhenisBirths account, or has read the fascinating interviews on his “textpod”, First, Last, Anything blog, the extent of his knowledge will not be surprising. The Kinks, who appear in the book more than a few times, had a song called Autumn Almanac, one of my favourite songs. This book is very much also a winter, spring and summer almanac.

Read it from cover to cover first and then pick out a few dates and then delve back in. The detailed knowledge is outstanding. Pick out your birthday for example (on mine Ritchie Blackmore left Deep Purple and Wham! played the first of their pioneering China gigs). Pick out the day you read it (Django Reinhardt is born and the Teardrops release Reward “on this day”). There’s even something for Christmas Day (George Michael dies and the Sex Pistols play Ivanhoe’s, Huddersfield for their last ever UK concert). Disparate facts across the decades only connected by the day and month they happened but when you see them together, they have a weird connection that strangely makes sense.

The book covers events of different kinds and music of different kinds but background happenings that enable these events and this music to occur are vital. Technology is particularly important (the creation of the 45 single, the invention of the Walkman, the early days of the internet for example) and just about every popular music genre makes an appearance.

Just about every popular music genre makes an appearance right up to current times. Lewis has knowledge of skiffle, rock and roll, punk, post punk, country, rock, folk, Britpop, grime, hip hop…. The great skill the author has is to pick out the “interesting facts”, which are not necessarily the most obvious facts, and see how and why they are interesting. One theme I picked up is that the importance of sampling of various kinds in various decades is mentioned a number of times. Lewis is in a way sampling facts to create a glorious interlocking history.

I like to think I’ve got a reasonable knowledge of pop culture myself, as will all readers of We are Cult, and many of the facts here I already knew but it’s great to see the connections when these are presented in this way. Picking out a few fascinating facts at random that I didn’t know is also an education. Who knew that Sooty and Sweep (Yorkshire born glove puppet children’s TV entertainment) covered Boredom by Buzzcocks in an almost totally unrecognisable version. Or that Giorgio Moroder played on Chicory Tip’s Son of My Father. Or that harpist Sheila Bromberg not only played on the Beatles She’s Leaving Home but also on Heatwave’s Boogie Nights. Or that Bobby Farrell of Boney M died in St Petersburg exactly 94 years after Rasputin died!

The main framework of the book, apart from the days of the year and dates of occurrences on that particular day, are the abbreviated categories BOTD (born on this day), DOTD (died on this day) and ROTD (released on this day).

Within this framework the number of facts is impressive and covers events from as early as the late 19th century to the present day. The facts are about pop culture of all kinds. The earliest date I can find listed in the book is the 11th of January 1895 when Lewis reveals that Laurens Hammond, the inventor of the Hammond organ, was born before adding that Hammond also invented the first polyphonic synthesiser. Am example of what makes this so informative and thrilling is that Lewis then adds this synthesiser was used on Vera Lyn’s We’ll Meet Again.

The book reminds me of Bob Stanley’s books on popular culture and Stuart Maconie’s the People’s Songsdifferently themed books but ambitious books by people with a similar breadth of knowledge. For me this book will go on the bookshelf beside those and is equally entertaining.

It’s not a boring collection of facts, not a turgid encyclopaedia. It’s a glorious history of our pop culture with all its coincidences, connections and shared enjoyment. A lovely book.

❉ Don’t Stop the Music: A Year of Pop History, One Day at a Time by Justin Lewis is out now. ISBN: 9781783967162

 James Collingwood is based in West Yorkshire and has been writing for a number of years. He currently also writes for the Bradford Review magazine for which he has conducted more than 30 interviews and has covered music, film and theatre.  His Twitter is @JamesCollingwo1

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