Sites & Sounds | Performing Arts, Feb. 2020

This exhaustive history will please fans of obscure indie movements; covering dozens of bands in a variety of styles, Tow pens a sweeping look at a pivotal period of music history

Hale, Grace Elizabeth. Cool Town: How Athens, Georgia, Launched Alternative Music and Changed American Culture. Univ. of North Carolina. Mar. 2020. 384p. ISBN 9781469654874. $26. MUSIC
Readers may be surprised to learn that the "first postmodern rock band," according to Hale (American studies & history, Univ. of Virginia; A Nation of Outsiders), emerged not in the so-called musical mecca of New York City but in Athens, GA. Releasing their self-titled debut album in 1978, the B-52s caused a stir with their danceable art pop and campy, drag-inspired performances, drawing a national spotlight onto the bohemian art scene that flourished in their hometown. What united artists such as the B-52s, R.E.M., and Pylon was less a cohesive sound than a shared ethos. While punk rockers believed that anyone could start a band, these artists went a step further—anyone could start a band anywhere. With this egalitarian mentality, the author convincingly argues, they ushered in the alternative rock era of the Nineties. Both a historian and a participant in the music scene, Hale crafts a lively account of 1980s Athens: the artists, their stories, and the haunts they frequented, such as the Grit and the 40 Watt Club.
VERDICT This exhaustive history will please fans of obscure indie movements, though readers with a more general interest in the groups should try Robert Dean Lurie’s Begin the Begin.—Amanda Westfall, Emmet O’Neal P.L., Mountain Brook, AL

Tow, Stephen. London, Reign over Me: How England’s Capital Built Classic Rock. Rowman & Littlefield. Feb. 2020. 216p. ISBN 9781538127179. $28. MUSIC
Scores of books have explored the English groups that took America by storm in the 1960s. Tow (history, Delaware Valley Univ.; The Strangest Tribe) takes a slightly different tack, focusing on London, where the early forces of the British Invasion were mustered. Musicians such as the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones, and the Animals started putting a British spin on American blues, and this new sound blended into folk and jazz to produce acts including Fairport Convention, Pink Floyd, and Yes. Key to this musical explosion, according to Tow, was London itself. Having grown up in a city devastated by the bombings of World War II, these musicians were motivated both by the rebelliousness of many young artists and a desire to build something new—a sentiment echoed by thousands of fans across Britain. Fittingly, Tow offers readers something fresh, too; rather than regurgitating the research of others, he draws from many interviews with key musicians including artists Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Rod Argent (the Zombies), and Jim McCarty (the Yardbirds), as well as from memoirs and biographies. His writing is immediate and clearly paints a picture of 1960s London.
VERDICT Covering dozens of bands in a variety of styles, Tow pens a sweeping look at a pivotal period of music history.—Peter Thornell, Hingham P.L., MA

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