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She-Bop: A history of women in rock and pop


It’s such a cliché to not like Mondays that I really wish I did like them. I’ve tried hard to flirt with Monday, to trick myself into pretending it’s actually Thursday, but to no avail.

*gallic shrug*

Mondays are bitty, frequently overwhelming, require the organisational zeal of a great military leader and never quite leave me feeling like I seized the day (it’s usually more as if it seized me, too hard, around the jugular and I came off worse).

Anything good that happens on a Monday therefore is magnified tenfold. Something that would warrant a small smile on any other day can set off fireworks and Motown-style strings in my head if it happens in the 24 hours between Sunday and Tuesday.

Thank you Monday June 24th for such a moment, in the shape of a new book (Dontcha just love the smell of a newly minted book? I had a brief fling with the Kindle, falling out of love with it before you could say “impressionable early adopter”).

She Bop: The Definitive History of Women in Pop, by Lucy O’ Brien, is a book I first read in the late 1990s. It had a real impact on me, opening my eyes to female musicians I had yet to discover at the time, and interpreting the work of those I had in a way my unsophisticated musical ears would never have managed alone. From the grand dames of jazz and blues to sixties girl groups (an obsession of mine that never seems to fade), punk, disco, rap, riot grrrl and reggae, it’s an exhaustive record of women’s (often overlooked) contribution to music throughout the ages and across all genres.

Of course, so much has happened in popular music since I first read it and so many influential female musicians and performers have found fame and faded away.

For some reason the book popped into my head recently, and I realised that it was yet another victim of my tendency to give books away (or lend them out and forget to ask for them back; I’m a big believer in passing on the book love!).

The topic came up over a lovely, Rioja-fuelled Sunday lunch with the boy, and we discussed who we would include if we were writing an updated edition featuring the most influential post-millennial women in popular music.

We immediately agreed on Amy Winehouse, and in our typical meandering conversational style, didn’t manage to get too far from there. We may have touched upon Taylor Swift before being sidetracked. In hindsight, we didn’t really give the question the airtime it deserves.

I later turned to my good friend Google, and realised that Lucy O’ Brien has gone and done just what we were talking about – updated the book to reflect a time period that saw Britney make way for Gaga, Rhianna, Beyoncé, Miley, MIA and more.

A few clicks later, and the arrival of the third edition brightened a busy Monday no end.

I’m very much looking forward to re-immersing myself in a book that made a big impression on me in my teens. I’m sure it will brighten many more days and nights, and will prompt me to rediscover some long-forgotten favourites.

4 thoughts on “She-Bop: A history of women in rock and pop Leave a comment

  1. Read some of the original eons ago remind me if she included any of my heroines
    Ruth Brown Lavern Baker Brenda Lee Annie Cole The Chantels Janis Martin or Wanda Jackson, latter has been produced by Jack White and Justin Townes Earle in last four years n she’s approaching 80 n still headlining gigs, real pioneer of the real bop. Btw where did Duffy vanish?

  2. Great post! Looks like the late Ari Up of The Slits on the front cover. Looking forward to reading the book when you’ve finished with it. ☺

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