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Fever: How Rock 'n' Roll Transformed Gender in America Hardcover – June 1, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When Elvis walked onstage and sang "Love Me Tender" or "Hound Dog," he changed and challenged more than just popular music. According to Riley, his gyrating hips and his invitations to nights of lusty love and rock and roll altered his audience's thinking about sexuality and gender relations, challenging their parents' more circumspect ideas and opening up new ways of freely experiencing their sexual selves. In this rather simplistic study of the impact of rock and roll on sexuality and gender, Riley opens with a comparison of John Wayne's and Elvis's sexual personas. Of course, Elvis shakes the foundations of male sexuality with his openness, his eagerness for experience and his dynamic and forthright declarations of the pleasures of love. While Elvis is shaking up the males, the girl groups—the Chantels, the Ronettes, the Crystals, the Shirelles—are providing a similar experience for the women. Perhaps sex could be saved for marriage, the songs said, but the singers insisted in their lyrics that women could experience plenty of sexual pleasures outside of marriage and that they should. Riley weaves this thesis through the history of rock and roll, tracing its development through Tina Turner, Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen, Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, among others. Whether or not rock and roll played the largely positive role in changing ideas about gender remains questionable, for many listeners—and many women in rock, such as Grace Slick—would contend that men's view of women has not changed much since John Wayne. Moreover, Riley's view is very selective, for much of rock music reinforces gender stereotypes, encouraging its audiences to do the same. While Riley's book contains some interesting moments, it fails to go far enough in looking at rock's more checkered history of gender relations.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"Tim Riley’s Fever is a fascinating look at the ways rock has shaped how we think about sexual identity in America. Riley presents serious academic points within a rock critic analysis of icons that even a layperson would appreciate. Gender is only the starting off point for Riley though: Fever also touches upon many of the great albums of the past thirty years-from the Beatles to Bruce Springsteen-and Riley uses this framework to bounce off astute, incisive writing. Whether he’s dissecting 'Tears of a Clown,' or calling Michael Jackson a 'product of pop gone crazy,' Riley is always witty, acerbic, and smart."
-Charles R. Cross

In this new book, Fever, he goes beyond his unique fusion of technical musical knowledge and stunningly perceptive emotional exegesis of lyrics to a wider-angled social vision that focuses in good part on the glorious complexities-societal as well as musical-of the "girl-group" sound, from the Chantels and the Exciters to Chrissie Hynde.

Mr. Riley is at his very best when he comes to what Spector and Veronica Bennett (later Veronica Spector) achieved with the Ronettes. Indeed, he writes one of the best single passages I’ve ever read about one of the ultimate girl-group songs: a passage that focuses on the breathtaking wordless opening of "Be My Baby," with its dangerous heart-arrhythmia of cathartic beats: the ones Mr. Riley transliterates as "Boom! ... boom-boom BLAM!"
- Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (June 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312286112
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312286118
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,953,705 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

NPR CRITIC, AUTHOR, PIANIST, and SPEAKER TIM RILEY reviews pop and classical music for NPR's HERE AND NOW, the NEW YORK TIMES, the HUFFINGTON POST, THE WASHINGTON POST, SLATE.COM and SALON.COM. He was trained as a classical pianist at Oberlin and Eastman.

In 2009, Emerson College appointed Riley Journalist-In-Residence and then Assistant Professor, where he teaches Digital and Music Journalism while supervising the department's social media strategy.

Brown University sponsored Riley as Critic-In Residence in 2008, and his first book, Tell Me Why: A Beatles Commentary (Knopf/Vintage 1988), was hailed by the New York Times as bringing "new insight to the act we've known for all these years..."

A staple author in college courses on rock culture, he gave a keynote address at BEATLES 2000, the first international academic conference in Jyvaskyla, Finland. Since then, he's given lively multi-media lectures at colleges and cultural centers like the Chautauqua Festival on "Censorship in the Arts," and "Rock History."

His current projects include the music metaportal, the RILEY ROCK INDEX, and a major new Beatles textbook for Oxford University Press, and articles for Radio Silence and truthdig. See:

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I've read Riley's Beatles book - Tell Me Why. Though this book has more social commentary, Riley's strength, analyzing about the MUSIC and not about the gossip and lives of musicians is still there. His social commentary is brings the music into context, not the other way around. As a musician, this is the way it should be done.
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