Don’t stop this book 

3 November 2023 tbs.pm/80261

Declaration of interest: I have been friends with Justin Lewis online for over a decade.

Dry lists of facts have always appealed to me. I grew up in the years Before Internet with my parents buying me that year’s Whitaker’s Almanack for Christmas each year, a perfect present because I could sit for hours and hours just absorbing lots of facts. They were expensive and we didn’t have much money, but it bought my parents many hours without my constant babble so must have been worth it.

The best part of the Whitaker’s was the review of the previous year, with the main headline (or an eccentric one on slow news days) for most days since the last publication. An old Whitaker’s was great to pick up and be reminded of what had happened 5, 10, or 20 years ago on that day. The older the edition the better: one of my schools had a collection in the library from the 1940s and 50s donated by an ex-pupil, and I could sit for an entire lunch period engrossed in what happened this week in 1951 or 1944. “Bookish Effeminate Boy On Spectrum Spends Lunch Reading Old Books Alone” would be the headline here.

Russ J Graham at home, reading "Don't Stop the Music" by Justin Lewis

Adulthood and the internet have taken that away. I have a very busy life (no, honestly, it’s filled with sex and violence) that tends to blunt my noble aims of reading more; the internet, which is within easy reach 24/7 to the point that I get distressed going through a railway tunnel because I’m out of touch for 3 minutes, means that knowing what happened on this day back then is a brief bit of two-thumbed typing away at all times. Adulting and interneting is better, but also worse.

Nevertheless, when a book of facts appears, I am still inclined to buy it. But a lot of “book of facts” these days are actually “book of facts taken from Wikipedia”. And Wikipedia, with all its best intentions, is not the place to start your research, let alone end it. It’s also, like the rest of the internet, very US-focused. What happened on this day in 1952? Well, Harry Truman announced the Federal Reserve would be paying sorghum farmers 6¢ on the barrel extra next Fall. No matter that King George VI died or anything.

That’s not to say I want an exclusively UK-focused book. I’d just like the UK to at least get a mention now and again. And if you’re doing a book of facts, then I’d like it to be a rigorously and meticulously researched book of actual facts. If it could also be amusing in the right places that would be good too.

And if it could be about pop music? Yes please.

Don’t Stop the Music is that book. Justin Lewis, a writer of talent and a researcher of real note, decided to sit down and find out something about pop music for every day of the year. Some of the facts are Things I Should’ve Known™ (2 January 1986, The Bangles release the LP Different Life which contains the track Manic Monday, which was written by Prince??). Some of them are delightfully obscure (30 April 1957, Elvis records Jailhouse Rock. Between 10:00 and 13:45 local time, if you must know… and we must).

Some are a hint of future greatness (28 April 1963, two guys go to the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, like a band there, and offer to manage the group who call themselves ‘The Rolling Stones’). Some are infamous (1 December 1976, a ‘punk’ group appear on Thames TV’s news show Today, and kill the career of the presenter and, by a thousand cuts, the programme itself).

Look and Read

There are three ways of reading this book.

The first, and it’s the one you’ll start with because of course it is, is to look up what happened in music on your birthday; from there you’ll look up your partner/parent/friend’s birthdays plus any other significant dates in your life. This works.

The second is to ration yourself and just look up each day as it happens when it happens. This is what you’ll want to do, but will not manage because you are human (I assume. Hi ChatGPT!).

The third, the one you’ll end up doing anyway, is to sit down and start reading from 1 January (Johnny Cash at San Quentin, 1958) to 31 December (Radio Luxembourg’s English Service closes on AM, 1991). This one is a wild ride. You’ll love it.

Oh, and because I’m all about me: 23 May 1975, 10cc release I’m Not in Love, and a few hours later I entered the world headfirst.

 

Don’t Stop the Music by Justin Lewis, published by Elliott & Thompson, £16.99 hardback. Also available as an ebook. Buy here on Amazon UK (Transdiffusion will make a small commission if you do, which will be used to offset webhosting expenses).

 

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