Marc Myers

Anatomy of a Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop

Published by Grove Press

Nov 30, 2016 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Anatomy of a Song is a book that grew out of Marc Myers' regular columns for The Wall Street Journal where he interviews artists about their work, exploring the intimate details behind the creation of a classic song. Featuring artists ranging from Lloyd Price to R.E.M., Myers has attempted with his book to in essence deconstruct the history of the popular song.

The book cherry picks 45 classics to examine. They are presented chronologically, from Price's "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" in 1952 to R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" in 1991. Each chapter features a different song, set up by a brief introduction placing the song in context, followed by Q+A with artists, producers, musicians, etc. who created and worked on the song. Myers suggests 1991 as a stopping year for song inclusion, justifying that a song needs 25 years, or a generation, before history can deem it "iconic."

Taken as a whole, with Myers' expressed motive of chronicling music's larger history using these particular songs as touchstones, Anatomy of a Song is somewhat suspect. Purporting to document music's history through 45 tracks spanning genres and decades is oversimplification at best. Anatomy of a Song is, however, greatly successful for its parts rather if not necessarily their sum. Yes, the overarching narrative gives the book an expressed purpose apart from a simple chronicling in book form of Myers' Wall Street Journal columns. But where the book's strengths lie are in the documentation of these songs as individual works, irrespective of any larger role in music's overall history. One could read Myers' columns all day. For each of these 45 songs, there are 45 more that one could consume with rapt attention.

Myers' explorations dig to the heart of the artists, their motivations, and their creative processes. And this is where Anatomy of a Song is most successful. One hopes that Myers someday releases a Volume 2. His work is archival. It is important. It is illuminating. (

Author rating: 7/10

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