Simon Napier-Bell,
Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay: The Dodgy Business of Popular Music
(Random House, 2016)

This is THE book for anyone with an interest in the music business. It is written by a business insider -- Simon Napier-Bell was manager of the English group, The Yardbirds -- but the scope of the publication is much more wide-ranging. It is slightly anarchic but always true and interesting as it traces the music industry as we have come to know it from the earliest days of sheet music to the downloads and online listening of 2015.

There is no better way of reviewing this book than to select random quotes to give you a real flavour of the book and the often amazing titbits of music history.

"In 1710, the British parliament passed a law protecting an author's rights in his written work -- the Statute of Anne."

"In the music business, 'The British Invasion' usually refers to the period in the 1960s when the Beatles burst into America followed by a stream of British pop groups. In fact, the first British invasion was much earlier. It was at the start of the twentieth century, when Broadway was invaded by a new style of British stage show from which the classic American musical would evolve."

"The first big hit of the First World War was sold for £5. Jack Judge, a British music hall artist, made a five-shilling bet with a friend that he could write a song in an afternoon good enough to sing in his act that night. He wrote it, sang it, and collected his five shillings. When music publisher Bert Feldman offered him a flat fee of £5 to buy it outright, Jack Judge took the money and ran. "Not bad for an afternoon's work", he thought. Well it certainly wasn't bad for Bert Feldman; the song was 'It's a Long Way to Tipperary'. It sold over a million copies of sheet music and became the biggest-selling British song of World War I. And Feldman wasn't even paying a royalty."

"In 1923 the top-of-the-range radio set in America was the Radiola Grand made by Westinghouse. It cost $325, came in a mahogany case, had four valves and a horn speaker. To raise or lower the volume you pulled out or pushed in one of its four valves."

"In 1935, in a songbook distributed to listeners of an L.A. radio show, Woody Guthrie wrote, 'This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin' it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of our'n, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do.'"

These as just a VERY FEW of the gems on offer in this book that will allow you to say "Did you know?" a million times over such as that The Beatles last concert in Britain was in 1966; the fabled NME concerts in Britain were televised but the manager of the Rolling Stones refused to have their segment transmitted; "Tennessee Waltz" was sold for a few dollars, was not thought worthy of being an "A" side but still went to No. 1 on the Billboard chart.

The book ends with a fascinating cast of characters from the music industry, full details of songs used as chapter titles, a bibliography and an index of quotations. It is hard to see this book being outdone as a text on music as we have known it for many years to come.

music review by
Nicky Rossiter

5 March 2016

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