Music Is History

Questlove. Abrams Image, $29.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4197-5143-1

“Whenever there’s a history happening, there’s more than one history happening,” writes five-time Grammy winner Questlove (Creative Quest) in this exuberant look at the last five decades of history through the lens of music. He explains how, throughout time, music has touched upon a wide range of societal, social, and racial shifts, influencing culture in instances both big and small. In an effort to examine these moments, he selects a song for each year (starting in 1971, when he was born), to unpack “what was happening in the world in general,” adding a layer of intimacy with biographical accounts of his life as a musician. The songs analyzed are quite varied: while A Taste of Honey’s 1978 hit “Boogie Oogie Oogie” may serve as the perfect encapsulation of the disco era’s carefree mindset, Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen” offers a more tongue-in-check lesson on aging. Conversely, Prince’s rerecorded version of “1999” registers as a failed attempt to resist change, and as a bittersweet reminder that the past is something that can’t be replicated. Richard Nixon’s presidency, “Black Power,” 9/11, and other key cultural touchstones are mentioned, with songs used as a springboard for further reflection into history and how memory actively shapes it. This stimulating work is sure to attract deep thinkers and music theorists everywhere. Agent: Marc Gerald, Europa Content. (Oct.)