Anatomy Of A Song –
The Inside Stories Behind 45 Iconic Hits
By Marc Myers
Grove Press/Atlantic – £9.99
Writing about songs and songwriting in general, can on occasion, make for fascinating reading; although so much depends on a number of very important, varying issues: what’s being discussed, what’s not being discussed, the story behind the writing and of course, the actual song itself.
With this in mind, any book of this nature is also utterly dependent on what the artists may or may not have to say. As such, Anatomy Of A Song – The Inside Stories Behind 45 Iconic Hits is a little hit and miss.
The background behind a number of the forty-five songs chosen herein, read like something of an elongated, rather dull biography of some of the artist(s) involved. For instance, the horribly over-rated ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ by Steppenwolf, is a prime example of much ado about fundamentally nothing.
I for one, really couldn’t care less about where the band’s lead singer, John Kay lived, how his band secured a record deal or how he met his girlfriend. I think I’d sooner read about the history of knitting – which, in and of itself, is a pretty dismal pastime if ever there was one. Likewise, a number of the songs discussed: ‘Groovin” by The Young Rascals, ‘White Rabbit’ by Jefferson Airplane and even ‘Carey’ by Joni Mitchell.
All three are hardly stand-out songs; but, so far as this collection is concerned, the stories behind them don’t exactly make for inspired reading.
Yet, luckily for Marc Myers, Anatomy Of A Song does miraculously leap into life towards the final third of its 323 pages, when such far more interesting artists as Jimmy Cliff (‘The Harder They Come’), Elvis Costello ((‘All The Angles Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes’), The Clash (‘London Calling’), and R.E.M. (‘Losing My Religion’) are discussed.
Moreover, it is when the author interviews Stevie Wonder in relation to ‘Love’s in Need of Love Today,’ that the book really comes to life: ”To this day, I never sit down and formally write songs. They emerge from the process of listening to what I’m doing on the keyboard. I just play, and songs sort of happen. Like a painter, I get my inspiration from experiences that can be painful or beautiful. I always start from a feeling of profound gratitude – you know, ”Only by the grave of God am I here” and write from there. I think most songwriters are inspired by an inner voice and spirit. God gave me this gift, and this particular song was a message I was supposed to deliver.”
So yeah, books that essentially traverse and dissect the coming together of songs, are in themselves, reliant on those songs. This goes a long way in explaining why this particular book is, on the whole, linear and lifeless.