Since it was first published in 1995, Lucy O'Brien's history of women in popular music has been considered one of the definitive texts looking at women in music as diverse as rag time to punk. This is no recycling of anecdotes or assumptions on O'Brien's part. She has interviewed more than 250 artists and as a former member of the Catholic Girls she also has her own experience to draw on.
As several of the artists featured in the book have since passed away, and as noted in the introduction, ‘She Bop' has become an archive of women's experience, from the early music industry of the 30s and 40s to the present day." The book is structured with each chapter exploring a different musical genre rather than attempting to chart the history strictly chronologically which works really well. It allows O'Brien to draw parallels from Janis Joplin to Bonnie Raitt or Dusty Springfield to Marianne Faithfull. It also means that, as well as an entirely new chapter examining female stars and the digital age, other chapters have been updated looking at artists who have come to prominence since the second edition was released in 2002. Weaving the interviews, stories, comparisons and critiques together is skillfully done because I found myself engrossed in sections that cover music I am neither particularly familiar with nor normally interested in.
Since this book was first published, the subject of women and music has rightly been much more widely addressed by authors such as Sheila Whiteley and Helen Reddington, but there are few books to look at so many different trends and themes. If the 2012 introduction seems slightly spikey in parts, maybe it is because O'Brien is so passionate about about the role of women in music and the way for so long this has been dismissed or downplayed. "Music is a political issue," she says. "Music invites full-scale participation in life, and with the knowledge comes empowerment... Music can motivate mass crowds or touch one person in a darkened room.'
I have intended to read the previous edition of this book for a long time, and having finally got round to it I am slightly embarrassed it took me so long. If music is important to you, then there will be something for you in this book whether you are male or female.