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33 Revolutions per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, from Billie Holiday to Green Day

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  364 Ratings  ·  46 Reviews
Dorian Lynskey is one of the most prominent music critics writing today. With 33 Revolutions Per Minute, he offers an engrossing, insightful, and wonderfully researched history of protest music in the twentieth century and beyond. From Billie Holiday and Woodie Guthrie to Bob Dylan and the Clash to Green Day and Rage Against the Machine, 33 Revolutions Per Minute is a movi ...more
ebook, 688 pages
Published April 5th 2011 by HarperCollins e-books (first published January 22nd 2011)
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(showing 1-30)
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Donovan Richards
A Pet Named Peeves

One of my wife’s biggest pet peeves occurs when I mumble meaningless words to the melody of a song. For her, if you don’t know the lyrics, don’t sing the song. I, sadly, find lyrics difficult to remember.

Since I play guitar, my ears focus on the music first. I can hum textured instrumental melodies much quicker than I can sing a chorus. In fact, sometimes lyrics aren’t necessary. Sigur Rós, one of my favorite bands, sings partly in Icelandic and partly in a made-up language wit
...more
Amy Laurens
As music writing goes, this is surely on the more noble end of the scale, right? I like Dorian Lynskey as a journalist. So I was excited about reading this even though I've always felt (with some exceptions) that protest music is what happens when John Lennon starts taking heroin and stops being funny, and therefore something to be sorely lamented, not an ideal topic for a near 800 page breezeblock.

I ended up a bit conflicted about this book. It's ambitiously researched and detailed in its (obv
...more
Du
Oct 08, 2011 Du rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
I didn't warm up to this book. It was another one, I thought sounded great and grabbed, without flipping through it, at the library. I am not exactly sure what was wrong with it, other than it didn't grab me. The book is broken down into chapters, each chapter focuses on one song and the formulation of it, as well as its importance. Initially I thought I'd learn new things and be entranced. Reality was that the chapters slogged and didn't flow well. Like a reference book, you don't need to read ...more
Rob Murphy
Starting with Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit and moving through musical history ending at Green Day's American Idiot, this is more than a list and description of great protest songs, it as a story of our shifting culture with music as its soundtrack. Each chapter focuses on one protest song but rather than an in-depth analysis of the song, each chapter describe what was happening in the culture, socially, politically and economically which made each song particularly powerful, relevant and histo ...more
John
I admit it, I skimmed the last half or more of this book. I really liked chapters 1-12, which covered from Billie Holliday and her song 1CStrange Fruit 1D to Stevie Wonder and many of his songs. The author wrote the book so that it covered a lot of the song writers and singers of the eras of the title songs and/or singers of each chapter. My own era of songs, the 50 19s and 60 19s and early 70 19s, were fascinating to me when he got into the infinite detail of the people and songs and events of ...more
Khris Sellin
I was excited to read this book, to learn, or review, some important moments in history - musical and political - and initially it was doing all that for me. The book moves chronologically in time, each chapter at first focusing on one song and the meaning and movement behind it. In later chapters the author seems to move to focusing on a whole genre, or what one band was working on during that period, and that's where it started getting fuzzy and where I started losing interest. I found myself ...more
Mark
Jun 09, 2012 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books I've read this year - four stars as it could do with volume two (for all the missing songs)
Sandra Ross
An good history of protest music (more than 33 songs are included), as well as a big-picture overview of major music revolutions that created genres (noticeably absent is grunge and the Seattle sound...this is a major oversight, IMO). Interesting to learn that Dylan was appropriated as an icon in protest music in the 1960's, but he wasn't interested. Springsteen's inclusion is iffy as well (and I'm an early Springsteen fan - anything except for "The Ghost of Tom Joad," after 1991 is, IMO, not as ...more
Pamela
Jul 04, 2015 Pamela rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2015
I bought this book because there is a chapter on Public Enemy's Fight the Power. When you listen to that song today, it doesn't have the same faded and familiar feeling that other music from the era does. You can't listen to it and think it sounds naive or simplistic or even irrelevant with age. If anything, I hear it and wonder how it ever got released. It doesn't sound like the kind of thing that would get within a million miles of mainstream play today. So, the chapter on Fight the Power and ...more
Stephen
May 16, 2015 Stephen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"I began this book intending to write a history of a still vital form of music. I finished it wondering if I had instead composed a eulogy."

33 Revolutions Per Minute is an engaging examination of, and unique approach to, a social-political history using "pop" "protest" music (air quotes emphasized and explained by Lynskey up front to help readers like me not pick it apart by the minefield of such terms). This is a musical history of dissent in the US and Britain--with nice side-roads into Chile,
...more
Bree
Nov 08, 2014 Bree rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This may be the first time I've ever had a love/hate relationship with a non-fiction book.

It's safe to say that for nearly the first half of this 600+ page exploration of protest through song, I was enraptured. As a historian and a music-lover, I was in awe of the way Lynskey folded global historical events in with the chapter title songs. The first chapter, on Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" as well as the chapter on James Brown's "Say It Loud-I'm Black and Proud" are excellent examples of whe
...more
Karen
Jan 15, 2014 Karen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, non-fiction
I feel pretty guilty about this book. It was a bit like those university alumni magazines, or glossy company bulletins, that I have great intentions of reading cover to cover, in order to become educated, inspired and motivated, then end up skimming purely to see if I recognise any names or faces.

Part of the problem was its being on Kindle format. Call me lazy, but it was disheartening wading through a seemingly interminable chapter to find that you’d only moved on around 2%. Whereas it would’ve
...more
Jess
33 Revolutions per Minute covers the history of the 20th century protest song through 33 songs from different eras, covering a period of roughly seventy years. A passionately told socio-cultural history of the music and the times it was written for, it does, as the author notes toward the end, feel like something of an elegy. That political music has no place in our contemporary cultural landscape feels like something of a loss, no matter how commercially co-opted the protest songs of the past h ...more
Steve Gillway
Jan 09, 2012 Steve Gillway rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: musicians, politics
There is a great book in here trying to get out. I like the idea of the book - to go through the background and the impact of protest/ political songs. My main gripes come under 3 main headings. Firstly, the author manages to find protest in disco music - but to me protest music is more than a turn of phrase - if you look hrd enough you can find it anywhere. My secong gripe is there is too much filler at times. For example, with some records like "The revolution will not be televised", the autho ...more
Rachel
Jun 27, 2012 Rachel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
For anyone interested in music and its function in the political and social realm, here's a useful compendium on western protest songs in the 20th century. For the most part, the information is very readable, despite each chapter being packed to the gills with references to specific people, places, events, and music.

Lynskey has taken an almost unmanageable amount of music history and pared it down to the most important protest music from each definable chunk of the last hundred years. Although t
...more
Broadsnark
Jan 02, 2013 Broadsnark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recommended
The subtitle of this book is “A History of Protest Songs, From Billie Holiday to Green Day.” But it should really say that it is a history of (mostly) the U.S. and U.K. through protest songs. I don’t say that as a criticism. The book actually turned out to be more interesting than I thought it would be.

I have some gripes here and there, but overall Lynskey did an admirable job of smashing 100 years of history and hundreds (thousands?) of musicians into one book. Whatever details I wish he would
...more
George
Apr 03, 2013 George rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really 2.5 stars This seems an appropriate topic for a Labor Day review.

I'm deeply conflicted about this book. A 600+ page historical tome on protest songs from the 40s to the present should be right up my alley's. It's stylishly written in places, with fine reportage, and the occasionally startlingly gripping insight. And yet . . . I can't help wishing there was both more and less here. Less coverage of songs, though that would mess with the hokey 33 numerological riff (shouldn't it really be 4
...more
Nick
This book is subtitled "A History of Protest Songs from Billie Holiday to Green Day" and Lynskey pretty much achieves that goal in a bit more than 500 pages. Perhaps not totally comprehensive--there's nothing in here about protest songs in, for example, Europe--but amazingly comprehensive when it comes to songwriters, singers and bands who've had some wider or lasting impact on music, society and the English speaking world. He covers Jamaican music, and while I wish he had said more about some J ...more
Tricia
Dec 05, 2013 Tricia rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club, 2013
While the information contained in this book is fairly interesting, I found it difficult to get through, and did not end up reading all of the chapters, as some were very slow going and I didn't really know or care about some of the songs/artists.

After going through it, I felt this could have been split into smaller volumes, with dedicated themes like political uprising, civil rights, war, women's rights, third world protest, etc, as well as better headings for the chapters. For example, I was r
...more
Paul Quinn
An interesting catalogue of how music has been used to speak about/against topics of the last several decades. Each chapter focuses on one song and the situation it was written about but goes deeper into each topic covering other material of the same period.

The best thing was reading it alongside YouTube so I could listen to the songs I didn't know as I worked my way through the 33 chapters.

Worth a read to anyone with any interest in music.
Jarvo
Nov 16, 2014 Jarvo rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
At first I really liked the title of this book, but as time went on I became increasingly convinced that the book was something of a victim of its own title. Put simply the author sets out to write a history of the protest song by dedicating a chapter to 33 songs/artists, but then can't find 33 different songs/artists good enough to write about...Or to put it enough way the material seems really rich in the first half of the book, where every chapter is about something important by someone impor ...more
Wolfgang
Feb 07, 2016 Wolfgang rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The next music book for this year. And a really good one.

Weaving together the most prominent protest songs of the last 60 years with the background political and historic story that created and framed them, is a great accomplishment.

One surprising aspect of the book is that the background story of all 33 songs does not just focus on the chosen song alone but all other songs that are relevant within the same period of history.

The soundtrack of history !
Eric
Mar 11, 2012 Eric rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was fascinating and I learned quite a bit. I learned about quite a few artists that I hadn't heard of before like The Last Poets, and with Youtube it's possible to go look at obscure videos of concerts and interviews with many of the book's subjects. It sure beats tracking down obscure lp's from the 30's. Reading briefly about Sly stone's pet Baboon named Gun has made the reading of a Sly Stone documentary mandatory; but I digress. As you can see from the other books i've read, i'm a b ...more
Frank
May 21, 2014 Frank rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music, history
A fantastic book, and much more than the title lets on. Lynsky uses specific songs as springboards to examine the revolutionary periods in which they were written. For example, Nina Simone's "Mississippi Goddam" opens the door to the Civil Rights South of 1964; Max Romeo and the Upsetters'"War Ina Babylon" the turbulant mid-70s Jamaica; The Clash's "White Riot" the racially charged late 70s England. While he may stretch the central premise a bit in chapters about Huggy Bear and Riot Grrrls or St ...more
Gin Ferrara
Feb 14, 2014 Gin Ferrara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book read more as a strategy for framing history than a deep exploration of specific songs and artists. While Billie Holiday and Pete Seger had chapters that explored their lives and songs, other chapters left the song entirely behind to explore protests and civil actions. I most likely learned more than I bargained for, and it was a very interesting read. However, it was not quite what I expected from the title, and as others mentioned, was easier to read chapter by chapter.
Margaret Sankey
Jul 23, 2011 Margaret Sankey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When does a song cross over from Little Red Songbook party-meeting morale-builder to cultural phenomenon? What happens when it is co-opted or vastly misunderstood (""Born in the USA"" and Reagan/""London Calling"" in chick flicks?) Or when a ""commercial product"" sparks genuine feelings (Motown and the Detroit Riots)? How do changes in media (boom boxes, iTunes, televised concerts, radio and censorship of these) affect the message? Lynskey follows individual pieces in chapters setting up the po ...more
Lucas Brown
A book that swings between fascinating and unfocused, occasionally stopping at incoherent. The early chapters are strong, speaking with confidence around Woody Guthrie, Sam Cooke, and Billie Holiday, before taking a right turn into Chile, Nigeria and Jamaica (where a protest song might not get you blacklisted, but it may get you shot), before finishing with a whimper of 80s posturing, 90s ennui and aughts fragmentation. Some chapters seem only tenuously linked to the subject, like a chapter on t ...more
Paul Mcloughlin
Jul 24, 2015 Paul Mcloughlin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating and thoroughly readable history of 20th Century protest songs. Insights on every page. Highly recommended.
thom
Apr 04, 2011 thom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
33 Revolutions Per Minute is an excellent and fascinating insight into the 20th/21st Century history of the protest, taking you from Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit all the way to Billie Armstrong's American Idiot. As well as being meticulously researched, including a wide range of exclusive interviews, it's absolutely beautifully written. And, as with all the best music journalism, along the way you're bound to be introduced to some new music that had passed you by, and to reminded of some great ...more
Richard
Apr 05, 2013 Richard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was particularly interesting finding out about older artists such as Woody Guthrie, Billie Holliday & Pete Seeger and their contributions to protest music.

The book is well written & researched. It does not focus solely on each song covered per chapter but widens out into considering other protest songs & artists at particular important junctures.

I am surprised Ewan McColl was not given a chapter as his contribution is immense. But, I suppose, any su
...more
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Dorian Lynskey is a British music journalist who currently writes for The Guardian, among other publications.
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