Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Is It Still Good to Ya?
Fifty Years of Rock Criticism 1967-2017

Hardcover, [October 28] 2018, Duke University Press, 456 pages, $109.95.
Paperback, [October 28] 2018, Duke University Press, 456 pages, $24.95.

Selected as a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism.


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.


"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 generations 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

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: Robert Christgau's Greatest Hits: Volume III
  • Prologue: Good to Ya, Not for Ya: Rock Criticism vs. the Guilty Pleasure
  • I. History in the Making
    • Ten-Step Program for Growing Better Ears
    • Dionysus in Theory and Practice
    • B.E.: A Dozen Moments in the Prehistory of Rock and Roll
    • Let's Get Busy in Hawaiian: A Hundred Years of Ragged Beats and Cheap Tunes
    • Rock Lyrics Are Poetry (Maybe)
    • "We Have to Deal With It": Punk England Report
    • Rock 'n' Roller Coaster: The Music Biz on a Joyride
    • Not My Fault, Not My Problem: Classic Rock
    • A Weekend in Paradise: Woodstock '94
    • Afternoon of the Roar: Lollapalooza 95
    • Staying Alive: Postclassic Disco
    • Harry Smith Makes History: The Anthology of American Folk Music
    • Getting Their Hands Dirty: Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life
    • A Month on the Town
    • U.S. and Them: Are American Pop (and Semi-Pop) Still Exceptional? And by the Way, Does That Make Them Better?
    • What I Listen for in Music
  • II. A Great Tradition
    • Pops as Pop: Louis Armstrong
    • Not So Misterioso: Thelonious Monk
    • First Lady of Song: Billie Holiday
    • Folksinger, Wordslinger, Start Me a Song: Woody Guthrie
    • Human the Hard Way: Frank Sinatra: 1915-1998
    • Like Ringing a Bell: Chuck Berry: 1926-2017
    • Unnaturals: The Coasters with No Strings Attached
    • Black Elvis: Sam Cooke
    • Tough Love: Etta James
    • The Excitement! The Terror!: Miles Davis's '70s
    • Sister, Oh Sister: Kate and Anna McGarrigle
    • Two Pieces About the Ramones:
      1. Ramone
      2. Road to Ruin
    • Nevermore: Nirvana
    • A Long Short Story: The Go-Betweens
    • Generation Gaps: The Spice Girls
    • Ooh, That Sound: The Backstreet Boys
    • Tear the Sky Off the Mother: 'N Sync
    • The World is His Boudoir: Prince
    • Two Pieces About Aretha Franklin:
      1. Queen of Pop
      2. Familiar and Fabulous
    • Two Pieces About Bob Dylan:
      1. Dylan Back: World Goes On
      2. Secrets of the Sphinx
    • Ain't Dead Yet: Holy Modal Rounders
    • How to Survive on an Apple Pie Diet: John Prine
    • The Unflashiest: Willie Nelson
  • III. Millennium
    • Music from a Desert Storm
    • Ghost Dance
    • The Moldy Peaches Slip You a Roofie
    • Facing Mecca: Youssou N'Dour
    • 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
    • Fela and His Lessers
    • Vendant l'Afrique
    • Dakar in Gear
    • A God After Midnight: Youssou N'Dour
    • Franco de Mi Amor
    • Forty Years of History, Thirty Seconds of Joy
    • Tribulations of St. Joseph: Ladysmith Black Mambazo
    • Music from a Desert War
  • V. Postmodern Times
    • Growing by Degrees: Kanye West
    • The Slim Shady Essay: Eminem
    • Career Opportunity: The Perceptionists
    • Good Morning, Little School Girl: R. Kelly
    • Master and Sacrament: Buddy Guy
    • The Commoner Queen: Mary J. Blige
    • A Hot Little Weirdo: Shakira
    • What's Not to Like?: Norah Jones
    • No-Hope Radio: Radiohead
    • Rather Exhilarating: Sonic Youth
    • Adult Contemporary: Grant McLennan: 1958-2006
    • Titan. Polymath. Naturalist: Ray Charles: 1930-2004
    • He Got Us: James Brown: 1933-2006
    • Old Master: Bob Dylan
    • Estudando Tom Zé
    • Gypsy Is His Autopilot: Gogol Bordello
    • Triumph of the Id: Lil Wayne
    • Brag Like That: Jay-Z
    • Paisley's Progress: Brad Paisley
    • Smart and Smarter: Vampire Weekend
    • The Many Reasons to Love Wussy
    • Hearing Her Pain: Fiona Apple
    • Firestarter: Miranda Lambert
    • Monster Anthems: Lady Gaga
    • Dancing on Her Own: Robyn
    • Three More Pieces About M.I.A.:
      1. Spread out, Reach High: M.I.A.'s Kala
      2. Illygirl Steppin Up
      3. Spelled Backwards It's "Aim"
    • The Unassumingest: Lori McKenna
  • VI. Got to Be Driftin' Along
    • Who Knows It Feels It: Bob Marley
    • Shape Shifter: David Bowie: 1947-2016
    • The Most Gifted Artist of the Rock Era: Prince: 1958-2016
    • Forever Old: Leonard Cohen: 1933-2016
    • Don't Worry About Nothing: Ornette Coleman
    • Sticking It in Their Ear: Bob Dylan
    • Sensualistic, Polytheistic: New York Dolls
  • Index

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