Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth (Feral House, 2001).

I've got a lot of time for bubblegum pop from the sixties and seventies, even if I did not know much of anything about its backstory before reading this very fun collection of essays. There's a lot worse out there than the Monkees and the Banana Splits, that's for sure.

Still, since the Rolling Stone-dominated American media has valued "authenticity" over fun, learning about this music has often required a little work, and Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth does assume a level of understanding about its subject that was sometimes beyond me. I think that I counted three references to the songwriter-producer team of Kasenetz and Katz before any of the writers identified who the heck they were. Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz are only just the people who supposedly coined the term and were behind the 1910 Fruitgum Company and the Ohio Express. Among devotees, this would be similar to reading a book about the Ronettes and the Crystals and not knowing who Phil Spector was when you sat down.

I've been reading a lot of music history books lately - more to come in these pages! - and using YouTube to provide the appropriate soundtrack and fill in the gaps. I really liked this book's approach, using multiple writers and interviews to tell dozens of stories from multiple angles, even if some of the writers' enthusiasm overwhelms their material. A contributor called Metal Mike Saunders could really have tuned it down a notch or twelve, but that's just the dry and boring academic in me talking.

The book goes right up to the end of the 20th Century, even with bubblegum's heyday long behind it. Comic artist Peter Bagge brings the subject to the modern day with an illustrated essay about the Spice Girls and their clones and imitators (B*Witched, Billie Piper), correctly assigning credit and praise to Mel C, who surely deserves it. Did you hear her single "Think About It," by chance? It was only one of the two or three best singles of 2011. Truth, that. Recommended.

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