Musical Reference

Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music: From Adele to Jay-Z (PHOTOS)

From Adele to Jay-Z, the editor in chief of British GQ presents an opinionated collection of thoughts on more than 350 artists in The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music.

AP Photo (2) ; Time Life Pictures / Getty Images ; Getty Images for Clear Channel

AP Photo (2) ; Time Life Pictures / Getty Images ; Getty Images for Clear Channel

From Adele to Jay-Z, the editor in chief of British GQ presents an opinionated collection of thoughts on more than 350 artists in The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music.

Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Adele

The only way to properly bridge the generation gap is by having cultural ubiquity, by having the sort of demographic spread and cross-generational traction that wins elections and appeals to critics, aficionados, and those who simply need something to stick in the CD player when they’re driving to and from work. Oh, and children. Look at the history of any truly mass pop act and they will more than likely have been hugely popular with the under tens…

My own kids love her records, in spite of the fact she doesn’t look or sound like Rihanna, Beyoncé, Lissie, or any of the other female singers they tended to like previously. Although my ten-year-old daughter has some reservations about the subject matter of her songs.

“They’re all about love,” she said to me at breakfast one morning. “Why can’t she write some songs about what it’s like to wake up in the morning or going to the supermarket…”

Excerpted from The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music by Dylan Jones. The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music © 2012 by Dylan Jones. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Picador.

AP Photo

Count Basie

A true leader of men—he led his jazz orchestra almost continuously for nearly fifty years—a great accumulator of talent, and a man who developed a highly idiosyncratic way with a piano—light, sparse, elegant—William “Count” Basie (jazz royalty, basically) is remembered as one of the finest exponents of swing.

Excerpted from The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music by Dylan Jones. The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music © 2012 by Dylan Jones. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Picador.

Christopher Polk / Getty Images for Clear Channel

Lady Gaga

Her concerts are like Broadway shows, or at least what Broadway shows might be like if they were performed in football arenas. What surprised me was how effective her ballads were in a live setting, putting them across with the same skill and stagecraft used by veterans like Elton John and Paul McCartney. She is probably built to last.

Excerpted from The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music by Dylan Jones. The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music © 2012 by Dylan Jones. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Picador.

John Dominis, Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

Emmett Grogan

It was Grogan who was largely responsible for the birth of the hippie movement in San Francisco: he was the first rebel leader to try to change California society; he wrote songs with the Band; had an affair with Janis Joplin; became a part-time Hell’s Angel; and, perhaps more than anything, was a galvanizing storyteller… A child of his age, Grogan was the sixties incarnate. A social guerrilla with a tendency to charm and an appetite for drugs. He was never going to grow old and respectable, was never going to turn into an executive beatnik with bongos in his briefcase and a gig on VH-1. For Emmett Grogan there was never going to be a “deadhead” sticker on his Cadillac. His face was never going to adorn a packet of Stars and Stripes cigarette papers.

Excerpted from The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music by Dylan Jones. The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music © 2012 by Dylan Jones. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Picador.

James Andanson, Sygma / Corbis

Chic

Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards’ late Seventies disco band made the greatest dance records ever. Their anthem, “Le Freak” (1978), was inspired by a failed attempt to get into Studio 54 on New Year’s Eve in 1977. Invited by Grace Jones to come to her gig at the club, when Rodgers and Edwards turned up they were refused entry. So incensed were they, on returning to their apartment they came up with this famous riff, and the words, “Aaaaaahhhh, f--k off!”

Excerpted from The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music by Dylan Jones. The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music © 2012 by Dylan Jones. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Picador.

Mark J. Terrill / AP Photo

Jay-Z

On the way in the car, as we discussed being “dissed” by Noel Gallagher about the decision to ask Jay-Z to play Glastonbury (“The crazy thing is, ‘Wonderwall’ is one of my favorite tunes”), his performance at the festival (“There were so many people I couldn’t see the end of them”), his appearance on Jonathan Ross’s television program (“People said he’s tricky, but I got him good”), and his friends Coldplay (“Their new album is just a fantastic piece of work”), he suddenly burst into song, singing the new Coldplay song “Lost” at the top of his voice, causing his security guard to turn round from the front seat, wondering if his boss had suddenly—and convincingly—morphed into Chris Martin (albeit Chris Martin dressed head-to-toe in Tom Ford).

Excerpted from The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music by Dylan Jones. The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music © 2012 by Dylan Jones. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Picador.