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His book is “Black Vinyl White Powder” and is an excellent read. It looks at the history of the pop-rock era from 1956 to the present charting the events and personalities that presided. His chosen contexts are the influence of drugs, and the part played by gays, especially managers of boy bands.

He says image is of the greatest importance for success in pop. Backing singers, musicians etc can be hired as necessary, songwriters can be brought in, producers found. Only the image has to be real.

Curious that. Conventionally, you would think that those doing the actual jobs i.e. writing, performing, producing etc are the real thing. Napier Bell reverses that and does so convincingly. What’s wanted is not musical artists but marketable faces with which to exploit copyrights. This is like the old Tin Pan Alley with invisible producers, where performers are manufactured and songwriters are important in the time honoured fashion.

The most interesting insight of the book is SNB’s argument that relationship is key. That the bond set up in a band situation is the driving aspect of success. It is also the world’s greatest publicity image. Even when they don’t get along it still generates publicity - maybe more even.

written 2002 after reading Napier-Bell's book

about the history of British pop music



music • 18.02.02