Hang the DJ: An Alternative Book of Music Lists by Angus Cargill (Editor)

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Hang the DJ: An Alternative Book of Music Lists by Angus Cargill (Editor)

Category: Trivia
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Paul Harrop
Reviewed by Paul Harrop
Summary: Top tens of popular music chosen by writers and musicians. A treat for music fans. And while some of the more obscure choices may frustrate, there's plenty of fun and enlightenment to be had from the more personal or quirky lists.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: October 2008
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571241729

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Ah, the music list... balm to pop obsessives (see Nick Hornby's High Fidelity), makeweight of copy-starved magazine editors, and staple of self-indulgent writers (see 31 Songs, also by Nick Hornby). The contributors to this volume fall mainly into the latter category. No fewer than thirty five of them supply their musical top tens, ranging from the fanatical to the frivolous, via the frankly frightening.

Thus we have literary luminaries such as DBC Pierre and titans of rock journalism – well, one at least, in the form of Nick Kent – as well as a smattering of musicians. Many of the other listmakers seem also to be published by Faber and Faber, who may have seen the cross-promotional potential of this book.

Most of the writers give us 100-200 words on each of their choices, often with an explanatory preamble. As you might expect, these are well-written, well-informed and often witty. Editor Angus Cargill splits the top tens into a dozen fairly arbitrary categories such as Covers, Soundtracks and Songs of Terror.

Befitting its status as a collection of alternative lists, most of the music choices tend towards the obscure. This is always a risk when asking any true music fan for a playlist, and almost unavoidable when journalists are involved. The most wilfully recondite include a top ten of Japanese bands – all new to me – and a list of pre-war female murder ballads: well, at least I'd heard of Bessie Smith. And you're always going to get an over-representation of critical darlings. So artists who are seen as 'authentic' tend to re-appear. Tom Waits and Nick Cave particularly keep cropping up, the former even getting a whole list to himself.

The advantage of such esoterica is of course that it opens up new avenues of musical exploration, and I certainly found myself looking afresh at well-known acts, as well as seeking out new discoveries after reading some of the lists. But you do find yourself falling hungrily upon a familiar name. Those contributors brave enough to admit to a sneaking regard for a Mariah Carey song or a cheesy nugget of 70s glam rock tended to earn more admiration from me than any of the furrow-browed obscurantists.

In fact, probably tellingly, the two most honest and personal lists come from musicians. The excellent British singer-songwriters Tom McRae and Kathryn Williams both have their tops tens listed here. I sensed that they chose their favourites less in order to appear credible, and more on genuinely musical or emotional criteria.

Choices like that, and the unexpected delights thrown up by some of the quirkier lists (songs about chickens; greatest moustaches in rock) leaven the mix and make the book overall a well-balanced exposé of the idiocies as well as the sublimities inherent in popular music. To borrow a phrase, it treats the music it loves with the ridicule it so thoroughly deserves.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

There's also a blog if that takes your fancy.

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Buy Hang the DJ: An Alternative Book of Music Lists by Angus Cargill (Editor) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Hang the DJ: An Alternative Book of Music Lists by Angus Cargill (Editor) at Amazon.com.


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