33 Revolutions Per Minute, by Dorian Lynskey (Faber)
Comprehensive history of protest music
While acknowledging that the protest song has its roots way before the 20th century, music journo Dorian Lynskey kicks off his impressive and extensive history book in 1939 because ‘that is where things get interesting’. This was the year of Grapes of Wrath, Gone with the Wind, the climax of the Spanish Civil War and Britain’s policy of appeasement. It’s also the moment when a 23-year-old jazz singer from Harlem called Billie crooned ‘Strange Fruit’, delivering a tune about lynching straight to the doors of the masses.
From there, he gives us detailed and breathless chapters about Woody Guthrie, Gil Scott-Heron, Fela Kuti, The Clash, Public Enemy and Green Day, including anecdotes about the despair felt by Red Wedge at the Thatcher victory of 1987 and a cage-rattling section on the ‘puzzling politics’ of John Lennon. Even with a book of such breadth and heft (the index closes proceedings on page 843), it’s never going to please everyone. Wisely, Lynskey has sought to undercut the inevitable whining with an appendix of a further ‘One Hundred Songs Not Mentioned in the Text’.