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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 February, 2003, 10:09 GMT
Pop essays from the heart

By Stephen Dowling
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Nick Hornby
Hornby's picks range from Suicide to Teenage Fanclub
Nick Hornby, the author behind hit novels and movies High Fidelity and About a Boy, chooses essays on pop music for his next book.

31 Songs is a book that is struggling to get out of every serious music devotee.

Any self-respecting pop fan could make a list of the 30-odd songs that have meant the most to them.

Hornby is not trying to make great art out of his passion for music.

This is instead a collection of heartfelt essays about the music that has fired his imagination, made him laugh or made him cry through his life.

In keeping with Hornby's wide-ranging musical tastes the songs are very rarely obvious choices. There is nothing by the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Marvin Gaye or The Beach Boys, all classic artists whose songs have been constantly analysed.

And while The Beatles and Bob Dylan are here, it is with the lesser-known tracks - Rain (a non-album rarity) and Dylan's Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window.

Nelly Furtado
Nelly Furtado's I'm Like a Bird is one of Hornby's guilty pleasures

Hornby unashamedly takes on the role of the music-mad friend, the kind of person who makes mixed tapes and is upset if you cannot quite share the excitement for his latest favourite tune.

So 31 Songs celebrates the grin-enducing joy of disposable pop - best served by his essay on Nelly Furtado's I'm Like A Bird - and the delight in finding, and cherishing, bands that are off the mainstream radar.

A song by industrial noise merchants Suicide sit side-by-side with the pleasantly pastoral Teenage Fanclub, where-are-they-now 80s indie types The Bible and bi-sexual Canadian firebrand Ani Di Franco.


Hornby is happy to embrace the joys of simple pop, and yet still cannot quite shake the impatience and cynicism that overtakes people when there is just too much music.

His description of the selection process for music reviews he writes for the New Yorker is an uncomfortably honest insight into the unjust science of music journalism.

And of course, the songs discussed give us snapshots of so much else in Hornby's life.

His dissertation on sweaty American rockers The J Geils Band's First I Look at the Purse underscores a teenage obsession with America.

His love for independent record shops - the catalyst for High Fidelity - gets an airing too.

Bruce Springsteen
Springsteen's Thunder Road is Hornby's all-time favourite song
His chapter on Badly Drawn Boy's A Minor Incident, written for the film adaptation of About a Boy, is one of the most revealing essays.

We see not only the frustrations of seeing one's book made into a film, but the joy of realising its score is the music Hornby has been hearing in his head.

And the chapter includes the most touching point in a resolutely warm book - how Badly Drawn Boy's lyrics gave new depth to Hornby's relationship with his autistic son.

And his defence of Bruce Springsteen (Thunder Road) is a broadside from an ardent super fan.

31 Songs is hardly heavyweight stuff - but Hornby's honest essays are always engaging. It might even have you thinking up your own list too.

Nick Hornby's 31 Songs is released on Thursday.

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