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Book Review: This Day In Music by Neil Cossar

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When it comes to the history of anything, the story is built from individual slices. To the dismay of many students, almost every one of those slices is tied to a particular date. While memorizing dates isn’t the aim or purpose of history, assembling those slices allows us to assess their significance and arrive at some historic perspective

To the extent dates denote those slices, Neil Cossar’s This Day in Music is a sort of diary of the building blocks of history. For each day of the year, the book lists events and occurrences that are part of rock and pop music in the 20th and 21st centuries. With all but about a dozen pages of the book devoted to those 366 days (yes, February 29 is included), the work is self-limited.

The need to fill a page for each day means significant cultural events, such as The Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (February 9, 1963), get roughly equal billing with such things as that on December 21, 2005, “Madonna is forced to cancel a romantic holiday … in Scotland after her private jet breaks down with technical difficulties at London Airport.” Entries like the latter, though, are also indicative of how and why perspective is an essential part of history.

Yet the fact This Day in Music runs the gamut from seeming minutiae to people and events that resonate even today gives an idea of its scope. It includes events from 2009 and going back to January 4, 1936 (the date Billboard introduced the first national pop music chart). And the book covers a wide gamut of music, from classic rock to punk to country to rap. (Jazz, though, is notably absent.) It deals with people, concert performances, movies, births, deaths and singles and LPs.

Like the music itself, the book also has a bit of sass. Thus, the first item for January 2 is the photo that graced the cover of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Two Virgins album, in which the two are standing in the nude. Likewise, a photo relating to Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl in 2004 is unedited.

Cossar, who played in a U.K. band in the late 1970s and early 1980s that “never troubled the charts,” began collecting music facts and trivia while working in a radio in the 1990s. In 1999, he launched a website called, not surprisingly, thisdayinmusic.com. That led to this book first being published in 2005 and updated this year. Cossar’s background may, though, present a minor issue for some American readers.

Not only are there numerous entries dealing with British bands with which U.S. readers are likely unfamiliar, the book has not been edited to reflect differences between British and American culture. Thus, most monetary sums are listed in pounds, weights of individuals are given in stone and phrases like “drink driving” appear. This doesn’t mean American acts are overlooked, though. Numerous entries detail events in Bruce Springsteen’s career, including gigs with his earlier bands, The Castiles and Steel Mill.

As may be expected from a work with so many entries, This Day in Music is not free of error. For example, we are told that on August 31, 1957, Elvis Presley performed in Vancouver, Canada, “only the third time Presley has ever performed outside North America.” Even 50 years ago, though, Canada was in North America. In fact, Elvis’ travels outside the U.S. seem to be problematic. The entry for March 2, 1960, says that when his flight stopped for refueling in Scotland, he “steps on British soil for the first and only time in his life.” Yet 31 pages later, we are told that a year earlier, on April 1, 1959, Elvis performed in south London while on a brief visit from his Army station in Germany. It is the date proximity of such errors that makes them baffling. Thus, when Bob Dylan’s Desire LP hits number one on February 7, 1976, and Blood on the Tracks does so on February 8, 1975, both entries tell us it is “his second US chart-topping” album. Similarly, both November 8 and November 12, 1980, carry an entry as the day Springsteen’s album The River becomes his first LP to top the Billboard album charts.

To a certain extent, though, many of these errors are failures of proofreading. The overall context and content of This Day in Music has plenty for nearly any fan of modern music. There is the odd. On September 29, 1976, Jerry Lee Lewis “accidentally shoots his bass player … in the chest [while] blasting holes in an office door.” Or on November 14, 1990, a record producer fires the two singers of Milli Vanilli “because they are insisting on singing on their new album.” Other items offer a touch of social commentary. Cleveland banning rock ‘n’ roll fans under 18 from dancing in public unless accompanied by an adult (January 23, 1956) or the BBC banning “teenybopper acts” from appearing in person on the show Top Of The Pops when a riot follows a performance by David Cassidy (March 21, 1973). Most important, there is the historic, whether the invention of stereo records (March 27, 1958) or Dylan recording “Like a Rolling Stone” (June 16, 1965) or the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (June 1, 1967).

Whether browsing a day, a week or a month at a time, This Day in Music provides plenty of slices of modern music’s developments, absurdities and trivia. There’s enough here for almost any music fan to find something of which they were unaware, something to laugh at or items that will cause them to pause and pursue their own recollections.

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About Tim Gebhart

Tim Gebhart is a book addict living in Sioux Falls, S.D., where he practices law to provide shelter for his family, books and dogs.