Is It Still Good to Ya?

Fifty Years of Rock Criticism, 1967-2017

Is It Still Good to Ya?

Book Pages: 456 Illustrations: Published: October 2018

Cultural Studies, General Interest > Reference, Music > Popular Music

Is It Still Good to Ya? sums up the career of longtime Village Voice stalwart Robert Christgau, who for half a century has been America's most widely respected rock critic, honoring a music he argues is only more enduring because it's sometimes simple or silly. While compiling historical overviews going back to Dionysus and the gramophone along with artist analyses that range from Louis Armstrong to M.I.A., this definitive collection also explores pop's African roots, response to 9/11, and evolution from the teen music of the '50s to an art form compelled to confront mortality as its heroes pass on. A final section combines searching obituaries of David Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen with awed farewells to Bob Marley and Ornette Coleman.


 "You either love Christgau or you don’t, but his cantankerous, affectionate, cut-to-the chase reviews and essays over the past 50 years have defined music journalism, and this collection offers an opportunity to re-read the best of the self-proclaimed Dean of American Rock Critics." — Henry Carrigan, No Depression

"At a moment when music criticism seems less empowered for being more fragmented, Christgau still offers an informed, authoritative perspective, self-aware regarding cultural aging and mortality, not stodgy but wry. A vital chronicler of rock's story, several decades on."
  — Kirkus Reviews

"The self-proclaimed dean of rock criticism is now in his 70s, and his ongoing influence is felt wherever thoughtful music writing is valued. This collection of work spanning 1967–2017 highlights his omnivorous taste, showing Christgau to be just as comfortable reflecting on Woody Guthrie, Sam Cooke, and the Spice Girls as he is on Radiohead, Mary J. Blige, or Youssou N’Dour." — Steve Futterman, Publishers Weekly

"These pieces from a preeminent critic will reward a wide swath of music fans who will perhaps be provoked to discuss the mosaic that is popular music in the 20th and early 21st centuries." — James Collins, Library Journal

"Gleeful flurries of verbal shadow-boxing make this a book which can be enjoyed for the writing alone. . . . His curiosity and sass remain un­diminished at the age of seventy-six and his own musical preferences acknowledge no frontiers." — Lou Glandfield, TLS

"Though Christgau is best known for his pithy, graded Consumer Guide blurbs, this monumental tome collects his longer essays on both essential figures in popular music and his own pet favorites, at least a few of which he’ll convince you deserve to be considered essential themselves. Buy two copies—one to throw angrily across the room, one as a reference." — Keith Harris, City Pages (Minneapolis)

"A treasure trove of the most incisive, witty pop music reviews and commentary ever committed to print." — Ken Tucker, Fresh Air

"This is complicated work, but for a dean it’s plenty fun, and joy to dip into or explore in depth, both for full appreciations and single lines. Offering some tips for 'growing better ears' on the book’s first page, he suggests you 'spend a week listening to James Brown’s Star Time.' The ensuing pages will keep you listening and thinking for many, many more weeks besides."
  — Mark Athitakis, Critical Mass blog

"If the New Journalism movement of the early '60s sought to remove the never-wholly-real concept of objectivity from news reporting, so too did Christgau and his Village voice colleagues remove it from music writing. In fact, that's why this collection is such a worthy read even for those who haven't read much Christgau over the years. You may or may not be compelled to seek out the music he writes about, or you may wholeheartedly disagree with his assessment of that music, but you will enjoy the way he writes about it. Music is personal for him—it's personal for all of us, really—and he writes like it is, only with way more erudition than a common Facebook post." — Mark Reynolds, Popmatters

"Christgau is . . . one of America’s sharper public intellectuals of the past half century, and certainly one of its most influential—not to mention one of the better stylists in that cohort. Fun is a big part of why." — David Cantwell, The New Yorker

"One of Christgau’s greatest strengths is that he relentlessly keeps up with the times. At least seven or eight presidents ago, Christgau was already the indispensable guide to the Ramones, Talking Heads, and Parliament Funkadelic. Now he’s even more necessary, the only critic who can sift through new pop from Africa and Egypt and nudge us in the right direction. To paraphrase Dylan, Christgau was older then, and he’s younger than that now." — Allen Barra, National Book Review

“The reason I was attracted to Christgau in the first place was that his writing was better than that of any other music critic…. ‘A f***ing tour de force,’ Christgau concluded of a 1974 Earth, Wind and Fire album, and the same punchy summary could be applied to [this] absorbing collection.” — Dai Griffiths, Popular Music

“Christgau is the last true-blue record critic on earth. That's pretty much who I make my records for. He's like the last of that whole Lester Bangs generation of record reviewers, and I still heed his words.” — Ahmir Questlove Thompson

“All these years later, Robert Christgau is not just rock criticism's ‘Dean,’ he's its most rabid defender and most withering internal vetter. His prose is still brilliant, offering as much pleasure, sentence by sentence, as anyone's. This book nearly always excited me, and the writing buoyed me along even when the ideas made me want to hurl it across the room. I'm glad I didn't: this is a book to be treasured.” — Jody Rosen

“Robert Christgau is music writing's great omnivore, and his appetite hasn't diminished in the sixth and seventh decades of his life. The twenty-first century has been a tumultuous one in popular music and Christgau brings his gimlet-eyed wit, deep knowledge, and inimitable heart to this era with the same verve he had as a countercultural kid. Long may the Dean live; as this collection proves with ease, we still need him.” — Ann Powers


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Price: $27.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Robert Christgau currently contributes a weekly record column to Noisey. In addition to four dozen Village Voice selections, Is It Still Good to Ya? collects pieces from the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Spin, Billboard, and many other venues, including a hundred-word squib from the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine. The most recent of Christgau's six previous books is the 2015 memoir Going into the City: Portrait of the Critic as a Young Man. He taught music history and writing at New York University from 2005 to 2016.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction. Robert Christgau's Greatest Hits: Volume UUU  1
Prologue. Good to Ya, Not for Ya: Rock Criticism vs. the Guilty Pleasure  9
I. History in the Making
Ten-Step Program for Growing Better Ears  19
Dionysus in Theory and Practice  19
B.E.: A Dozen Moments in the Prehistory of Rock and Roll 27
Let's Get Busy in Hawaiian: A Hundred Years of Ragged Beats and Cheap Tunes  34
Rock Lyrics Are Poetry (Maybe)  42
"We Have to Deal With It": Punk England Report  48
Rock 'n' Roller Coaster: The Music Biz on a Joyride  65
Not My Fault, Not My Problem: Classic Rock  76
A Weekend in Paradise: Woodstock '94  81
Staying Alive: Postclassic Disco  96
Harry Smith Makes History: Anthology of American Folk Music  103
Getting Their Hands Dirty: Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life  107
A Month on the Town  111
U.S. and Them: Are American Pop (and Semi-Pop) Still Exceptional? And by the Way, Does That Make Them Better?  120
What I Listen for in Music  130
II. A Great Tradition
Pops as Pop: Louis Armstrong  135
Not So Misterioso: Thelonious Monk  140
First Lady of Song: Billie Holiday  149
Folksinger, Wordslinger, Start Me a Song: Woody Guthrie  154
Caring the Hard Way: Frank Sinatra: 1915-1998  159
Like Ringing a Bell: Chuck Berry: 1926-2017  161
Unnaturals: The Coasters with No Strings Attached  165
Black Elvis: Same Cooke  172
Tough Love: Etta James  176
The Excitement! The Terror!: Miles Davis's '70s  181
Sister, Oh Sister: Kate and Anna McGarrigle  185
Two Pieces About the Ramones:  190
1. Ramone
2. Road to Ruin
Nevermore: Nirvana  196
A Long Short Story: The Go-Betweens  200
Generation Gaps: The Spice Girls  204
Ooh, That Sound: The Backstreet Boys  206
Tear the Sky Off the Mother: 'N Sync  207
The World Is His Boudoir: Prince  208
Two Pieces About Aretha Franklin:  209
1. Queen of Pop
2. Familiar and Fabulous
Two Pieces About Bob Dylan:  214
1. Dylan Back: World Goes On
2. Secrets of the Sphinx
Ain't Dead Yet: Holy Modal Rounders  220
How to Survive on an Apple Pie Diet: John Prine  221
The Unflashiest: Willie Nelson  225
III. Millennium
Music from a Desert Storm  231
Ghost Dance  238
The Moldy Peaches Slip You a Roofie  241
Attack of the Chickenshits: Steve Earle  245
Facing Mecca: Youssou N'Dour  249
Three Pieces About M.I.A
1. Burning Bright
2. Quotations from Charmin M.I.A.
3. Right, the Record
IV. From Which All Blessings Flow
Full Immersion with Suspect Tendencies: Paul Simon's Graceland  259
Fela and His Lessers  267
Vendant l'Afrique  270
Dakar in Gear  275
A God After Midnight: Youssou N'Dour  278
Franco d Mi Amor  279
Forty Years of History, Thirty Seconds of Joy  285
Tribulations of St. Joseph: Ladysmith Black Mambazo  289
Music from a Desert War  292
V. Postmodern Times
Growing by Degrees: Kanye West  301
The Slim Shady Essay: Eminem  303
Career Opportunity: The Perceptionists  314
Good Morning Little School Girl: R. Kelly  316
Master and Sacrament: Buddy Guy  319
The Commoner Queen: Mary J. Blige  321
A Hot Little Weirdo: Shakira  323
What's Not to Like?: Norah Jones  326
No-Hope Radio: Radiohead  330
Rather Exhilarating: Sonic Youth  334
Adult Contemporary: Grant McLennan: 1958-2006  337
Titan. Polymath. Naturalist: Ray Charles: 1930-2004  338
He Got Us: James Brown: 1933-2006  339
Old Master: Bob Dylan  342
Estudando Tom Zé  343
Gypsy Is His Autopilot: Gogol Bordello  349
Triumph of the Id: Lil Wayne  353
Brag Like That: Jay-Z  357
Paisley's Progress: Brad Paisley  362
Smart and Smarter: Vampire Weekend  367
The Many Reasons to Love Wussy  372
Hearing Her Pain: Fiona Apple  377
Firestarter: Miranda Lambert  381
Monster Anthems: Lady Gaga  384
Dancing on Her Own: Robyn  388
Three More Pieces About M.I.A.:  393
1. Spread out, Reach High: M.I.A.'s Kala
2. Illygirl Steppin Up
3. Spelled Backwards It's "Aim"
The Unassumingest: Lori McKenna  400
VI. Got to Be Driftin' Along
Who Knows It Feels It: Bob Marley  407
Shape Shifter: David Bowie: 1947-2016  411
The Most Gifted Artist of the Rock Era: Prince: 1958-2016  414
Forever Old: Leonard Cohen: 1933-2016  416
Sticking It in Their Ear: Bob Dylan  419
Don't Worry About Nothing: Ornette Coleman  420
Sensualistic, Polytheistic: New York Dolls  421
Index  425
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Finalist, 2018 National Book Critic's Circle Award

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