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.
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"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."
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-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