cover image Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music

Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music

Ann Powers. Dey Street, $26.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-06-246369-2

In her ambitious history of American pop music, NPR critic and correspondent Powers delves into a diverse range of music forms including Creole love songs and tracks to twerk to on MTV. Above all, Powers (Weird like Us) embraces the profound, and often illicit, influence African-American music had on mainstream culture. Beginning her book in early 19th-century New Orleans, Powers examines the exotic appeal of the city’s diverse cultures on the divided nation that absorbed it. From there she speeds through two centuries of music including ragtime, gospel, R&B, rock and roll, punk, disco, and hip-hop, focusing on artists and genres that transformed the way people move on the dance floor and in the bedroom. The sweeping themes and expansive time span make for a daunting endeavor, one that Powers further complicates by tackling big related topics such as marriage and the internet. Broad overviews of musical eras highlight important artists, some well-known (Elvis, Hendrix, Madonna, Beyoncé), others less so (Florence Mills, Dorothy Love Coates, Tribe 8). Powers alternates between basic Wikipedia-level historiography and academic theorizing, focusing on the interchanges between song, identity, and the body. Powers’s inevitable neglect of dominant genres (swing-era jazz) and essential figures (James Brown) exposes the impossibility of her undertaking. Still, as an introduction to the racially and sexually charged legacy of pop music in the U.S., this book is well worth a spin. (Aug.)