Roots, Radicals, and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World

Singer-songwriter Billy Bragg has always been a firebrand, using his music and public persona to push for progressive causes. It's no surprise, then, that he'd be fascinated by the intertwining of politics and pop culture in his homeland of Britain. Roots, Radicals, and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World is a look at how one short-lived musical craze based on American blues, jazz and folk ended up leading to the British Invasion and modern rock 'n' roll.

Bragg traces the history of skiffle, "a uniquely British take on American folk and blues," from its beginnings in England's inchoate jazz scene to its direct influence on the founding of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and other important British rock bands. Unlike most popular music of the time, skiffle was a grassroots movement, where young working-class teenagers and folk agitators sang songs with reckless abandon (to the dismay of some of the jazz players who gave the genre its start). Bragg's writing is perfectly matched for his subject matter: funny, informative without being laborious, and always willing to knock someone down a peg if he feels it's necessary. Anyone with an interest in the history of pop music will heartily enjoy this book, and most likely learn about singers and musicians that they'd never heard of who changed the course of music. And while politics do appear now and again (Bragg did once rewrite lyrics to "The Internationale"), Bragg isn't interested in making a political argument here. Instead, he's content to show how leftist activism is intertwined with the origins of rock. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

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