First published in 1991, it is a collection of Murray’s journalism on music and much, much more from the 1970s and 1980s in New Musical Express and elsewhere, edited and introduced by Neil Spencer. It shows just why Murray acquired the reputation of being the most intelligent and acerbic popular music critic of his generation.
His witty and beautifully crafted pieces – a mix of reviews, interviews and extended critical essays – are as readable today as when they were first written. He was always ahead of the game, noticing up-and-coming artists (and recording sad declines of the once-great) before anyone else. And, almost without exception, his judgments stand the test of time remarkably well.
This is a classic of its genre, essential reading for anyone with an interest in popular culture, funny, perceptive and energetic.
FROM THE NEW INTRODUCTION
What stands up so remarkably well in Shots from the Hip is how well it stands up. These columns capture an extraordinarily complex era, ranging from the profligacy of the 70s to the frenzied pace of the 80s. These were exceedingly anxious if not intractable times, times that rarely if ever lend themselves to conclusion let alone supposition without the benefit of years of hindsight.
Despite or perhaps because of the variable spirit of the age, however, Murray found a way to thrust himself right in the middle of it all as a kind of arbiter, wading into the moments collectively and individually in ways that most critics could not or perhaps, simply, would not. Whether holding the Ramones to account for their strange mix of posturing and politics or extolling the virtues of a heroin-free dressing room following the deaths of some of music’s biggest attractions, as he does with a ferocity not typically in vogue then, Murray works well-below the obvious and the über-obvious and perhaps even the plane below that to piece together a puzzle of a world that some regard – then as now – as little more than an oddly configured playground.
Reminiscent of the sportswriters of yesteryear who refused to bow before the journalistic elite and admit that they were destined to toil in disrespected obscurity as the heralds of the ‘toy department’, Murray and the likes discovered ways to unearth the soundtrack of modernity and wed it to the socio-political and cultural realities of the day. That he can do so with élan…such agility, deftly flowing from the Queen’s English to French to Yiddish to vernacular American English and such…reminds us that the best writers find their voices and develop them far from the rest of us long before they emerge to take us on wild rides of fancy, imagination, and the sort of substantive scrutiny that forces us to come to grips less with ourselves and more so with the stars.
As a young man, Charles Shaar Murray was one of that handful of writers. Today, as an elder statesman of the craft, he remains a force, figuratively (and in some cases, perhaps, literally) peering over the shoulders of those left to walk in his extraordinarily gifted footwear.
JOEL NATHAN ROSEN
WHAT THEY SAY
‘One of the best British writers on pop music, and this is a compilation of HIS best.’
SIMON NAPIER-BELL, GUARDIAN
‘Charles Shaar Murray was always the best read’
‘The New Musical Express was one of the big things in my life … there was outrageous writing by Charles Shaar Murray, Nick Kent and, later, Julie Burchill — what they were writing was unbelievable! The NME was so important for lonely suburban kids. It was a lifeline.’
‘This is an extremely intelligent man who happens to find expression and pleasure in a genre that many comparable intellects dismiss as worthless. For those whose love of rock music has survived their apprehension of its partial absurdity, this book is there to be savoured, to be read slowly and with a great deal of relevant musical accompaniment.’
‘Murray’s work is particularly impressive because it was written at the time. Murray ragged on Blondie and the Clash, for example, before anyone had heard of them.’
‘“Some people are born dull,” starts a piece on George Harrison and his 1974 ballad Ding Dong, which the author calls a “hideous piece of garf”. Madonna is “Our lady of hard work”, whose 1990 Blonde Ambition tour was a “Broadway musical in all essentials except for its lack of plot”. This irreverent and colloquial collection of British pop-music criticism spans 20 years and tosses in hundreds of musicians, insights and insults.’
ST PETERSBURG TIMES (FLORIDA)
Shots From the Hip by Charles Shaar Murray
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