Powers unveils the ways social norms, androgyny, sexual fluidity and queer identity have factored into America's hot-and-heavy love affair with popular music ... in her loving, sweeping look at gospel's storied past, she uncovers the way sacred hymns and secular songs merged, as far back as the early 1800s, to set the tone for American music's soulful sensuality ... Through the stories of Elvis, Broadnax and myriad others, Good Booty pieces together a composite sketch of sexuality in American music history ... At times, Good Booty's scope is overwhelming. Everything from feminism to technology to David Bowie to AIDS appears in the book, and some of these angles fly by too quickly to take hold as deeply as they should. Mostly, though, Powers superbly balances smart criticism and theory with the primal humanity behind the thump and grind of America's homemade soundtrack. 'The real reason American popular music is all about sex,' she states, 'is that we, as a nation, only truly and openly acknowledge sexuality's power through music.' It's a strong claim, but Good Booty backs it up with purpose and passion.
...an indispensable guide to American pop music and a damned fine read ... every page of Good Booty is a reminder that it takes countless heavenly bodies to make a galaxy ... Good Booty is nothing if not comprehensive. It’s all here, from gospel and swing to soul, punk, grunge and rap. On the surface, the common denominator might seem to be sex, the search for the anatomical Holy Grail of the book’s title...Really, though, this is a book about play. It’s about nonsense, about how this music 'contained all the ugly and problematic things about sex as well as its pleasures, demonstrating how yearning and sensual release could reduce a person to gibberish' ... The best thing about “Good Booty” is that it reminds us that the right song shows us how to be somebody in a way that’s not possible with any other art form.
Powers does spend time with obscure artists like Florence Mills and Jobriath, and fruitfully explores the colorful, gender-fluid world of early gospel music. However, her story hews to a broadly conventional narrative — the intersection of African-American expression, white curiosity and appropriation, and the dialogue between the spiritual and the secular — that begins in Congo Square ring shouts and leads with inexorable circularity back to the New Orleans of Beyoncé’s 'Lemonade' ... the centrality of eroticism in Powers’s narrative necessitates a de-emphasis on canonical artists without an obvious erotic component to their personas (Louis Armstrong, Bob Dylan), and inconclusive glosses on others (Chuck Berry, Michael Jackson) whose sexual and racial stories are more complicated ... Music has been central to the ritualized sexuality of fertility, circumcision, puberty and wedding ceremonies cross-culturally and from time immemorial. The ultimate novelty in American music is not eros and race-mixing, but technology, capital and global distribution ... Music is, indeed, a slippery and complicated force — especially for the optimistic narrative of the pop critic.
Powers makes the compelling argument that American music is best illuminated by studying the erotic symbolism and power of each generation’s musicians ... Powers’ strengths are best on display when she writes on individual lives—especially forgotten ones ... Beyond biography, Powers’ critical insight—in particular her ability to synthesize heaps of scholarly work—is notable...But her analysis thins out and the prose dries up at times, particularly in the book’s overlong first chapter. (It’s hard to blame her—the chapter spans a hundred years.) Summary is the sad partner of necessity ... What’s most impressive about Powers’ book is that she never loses sight of her project: to demonstrate eroticism’s explanatory power in American music and to show that for every moment of freedom given, there’s a boundedness that comes with it.
...this richly researched, passionately argued survey gets down, with persuasive rhetoric and narrative momentum. It makes the case that American pop is one long, nuanced continuum energized by a hard-fought battle for sexual and racial liberation ... Pop’s a huge universe, of course, and Powers can’t account for all of it, but her insights and historiography are sharp, and her larger point — that American music refracts and reflects a profound struggle for freedom — resounds.
...a lively study stationed at the intersection of the musical and the erotic … The real treasures here are the ones you probably don't know about. There's a real sense of scholarly discovery in Good Booty, a willingness to go beyond the obvious and mess with conventional wisdom, especially in the book's revelatory first half … The book, which takes its title from original lyrics in Little Richard's ‘Tutti Frutti,’ touches on matters of race, technology, gender, cultural mores, and, of course, sex. To Powers, a longtime music critic who now works for NPR, the subject of sensuality runs deep.
Tracking popular music from New Orleans’ Congo Square through the blues queens, early rockers like Elvis and (of course) Little Richard, on through the sixties of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, and all the way to Madonna, Michael, Prince, and Beyoncé, Powers reveals an extraordinary breadth of knowledge and insight and has produced an absolutely essential addition to any pop-culture collection.
The sweeping themes and expansive time span make for a daunting endeavor, one that Powers further complicates by tackling big related topics such as marriage and the internet. Broad overviews of musical eras highlight important artists, some well-known (Elvis, Hendrix, Madonna, Beyoncé), others less so (Florence Mills, Dorothy Love Coates, Tribe 8). Powers alternates between basic Wikipedia-level historiography and academic theorizing, focusing on the interchanges between song, identity, and the body. Powers’s inevitable neglect of dominant genres (swing-era jazz) and essential figures (James Brown) exposes the impossibility of her undertaking. Still, as an introduction to the racially and sexually charged legacy of pop music in the U.S., this book is well worth a spin.
Where Powers successfully connects the dots, light bulbs flash...Even where she does not successfully make those connections, as with her notes on the apache dance and its not-so-subtle masochism, which never quite caught on in the larger culture, she ventures interesting theses. Mostly, the author strings together bright tidbits of cultural trivia to reconstruct and deconstruct the kinship of dirty blues and gospel, the shared underage girlfriends of now-iconic British rock stars, and other points of prurient interest. A mixed bag, sometimes entertaining, sometimes arid, but full of useful insights.