11/09/2014 06:47 BST | Updated 10/11/2014 05:59 GMT

REVIEW: The Only History of Pop Music You'll Ever Have to Read


I first heard the name Simon Napier-Bell mentioned at the Brit Awards in the 1980s, when George Michael accepted a gong, and thanked Simon for being such a persuasive manager of his then all-conquering duo Wham!

Then I discovered he could write with wit, panache and an all-seeing eye, proven in his bestseller 'Black Vinyl White Powder' and his compelling memoir of taking Wham! to China - 'I'm Coming To Take You To Lunch'.

Now, this talented raconteur has cast this same eye, and pen, over a far bigger landscape - the entire 300-year history of the pop music business - and the result is a fan's delight. Mind-boggling in its scale, intimate in its detail, 'Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay' is a deceptively jolly romp through the last three centuries, with Napier-Bell's keen ear for an ego-revealing anecdote, a trivia buff's factoid and a telling statistic, all intact and untiring through 43 chapters, each named after songs we all know and love.

With the author's sure hand, what could have been a dry, academic timeline detailing events since the first piece of legislation was drafted to sell a piece of sheet music in 1713, is instead a page-turning drama of many villains, a few, rare angels and countless strong characters, each with their role to play in the industry's evolution from publishing, to records, rock, roll, rap and beyond.

As up to date as the book is, with Napier-Bell explaining the business of streaming, downloading and Live Nation as clearly as anybody can, what's really evident is the way musical history is prone to more repetition than a Lindisfarne chorus.

If you thought Pavarotti was the first virtuoso to sell out his operatic credentials, you need to swot up on the shameless alto-for-hire Enrico Caruso at the turn of the last century. If it felt like the music industry's reaction to Napster was an unprecedented dummy-spit, try reading the chapter on the collective freakout when a fishmonger nearly made them all bankrupt by printing cheap sheet music, in 1905. And if you thought Gaga or even Madonna's propensity for attention-seeking was ground-breaking behaviour, then you need to check out Napier-Bell's loving tale of Canadian-born vaudeville star Eva Tanguay - a woman who enjoyed money so much, she had a dress made out of coins. Ain't nothing new in showbusiness, folks.

Napier-Bell's chapter on Michael Jackson is an exercise in dissection not disapproval, proving carefully how the child star's unique place in the music industry made a fall from grace almost inevitable. Besides, after managing the disparate talents of Marc Bolan, T Rex, Boney M and the Yardbirds, there's very little that can shock the author.

Instead, in a tone that is unforgiving of some but never judgemental, he gives us an overview of an industry, the flaws of which he gleefully holds up to the surface for inspection, but without which, he makes clear, the music would never have been there for us to enjoy.

Some creative businesses suffer for being held up to the light, for their engine rooms being exposed at the expense of the magic. Somehow, with 'Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay', Simon Napier-Bell has proved an able guide in revealing all the nonsense, greed and corruption inherent in the industry, without ever losing the wonder of the sounds at its heart.

Simon Napier-Bell's 'Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay: The Dodgy Business Of Popular Music' is out now. You can find out more, and order from Amazon here, or Unbound Books here