I think my favorite random fact about music as an industry is that “I Write the Songs,” Barry Manilow’s signature song, was written by someone else. (Well, that and the fact that Christine McVie told her ex-husband that “You Make Lovin Fun – a song where the next line after the titular one is “and I don’t have to tell you that you’re the only one” was about their dog instead of her new boyfriend on a song he had to play on because he was still in the band, but that one’s not relevant.) So much of music is marketing and gloss that it’s sometimes easy to forget that the artist is the product, not the producer.
This book is about the producers, both literal and figurative, behind hit songs. It explores the debt that modern music owes to the Swedes as it traces the through line from Eurovision to ABBA to dance music to Max Martin, and the subsequent rise of boy bands to harder edged innuendo laden pop music. We go from ABBA to Kesha, from Sweden to Flo Rida (God, even I’m embarrassed I made that joke). It’s interesting to trace the path of modern music backward, but unfortunately once the book strays from the Swedish producers and songwriters, it lacks the cohesion to tell a story. Some of that might be that the internet has caused a death of monoculture – I couldn’t tell you who half of the artists are on top 40 radio and I haven’t heard most of the songs – but once we depart from the Britney Spears era the hit makers are less distinctive.
It’s a fun ride, even if it fishtails off the path a bit.