The Top 20 New Music Books
Whether you’re practising self-isolation or working from home, now seems like as good a time as any to curl up with a real page-turner. Luckily our resident bookworm, Gary Tipp, is here to help with his top 20 music books of the past few months…
Paul Rees – The Ox: Last Of The Great Rock Stars
Considering he was a founding member of one of the biggest rock bands on the planet, it’s surprising it has taken so long for John Entwistle to be the subject of a major biography. Even more surprising when you discover across the course of these pages what a fascinating, layered life The Who’s bassist led. Yet being heard was always one of Entwistle’s problems, especially when you’re in a band with such larger-than-life personalities as Keith Moon and Pete Townshend. Entwistle was known for being the loudest bass player on the rock circuit, something that was borne out of the need to hear himself over the cacophonous racket Moon was making. Drawing on Entwistle’s notes for an unfinished autobiography that he started before his coke-induced death in 2002, Paul Rees’ entertaining, anecdote-heavy book gets under the skin of a multi-faceted man who nobly tried to achieve a tricky work/life balance that combined family commitment with huge swathes of rock ’n’ roll excess.
Bob Geldof – Tales Of Boomtown Glory
With masters of the art Cohen, Reed and Dylan long since anthologised, now comes the turn of Bob Geldof to have his copious song-words gathered up and set into print. In total, that’s an exhaustive 189 songs – which amounts to seven albums with Irish pub-rock band The Boomtown Rats and a further seven less than essential solo albums compiled in book form. The fact that all the lyrics to his recently reformed band’s not-yet-released LP Citizens Of Boomtown are already collected here does seem more than just a little bit previous. Saying that, there has always been a whole load of merit in Geldof’s lyrical output and, amid all the album-track filler, his abundant talent for storytelling more often than not cuts through. In the grand tradition of Springsteen, when the silicon chip inside Bob’s head switches to overload, he is able to conjure up a cast of believable characters and bung them into a compelling, often poignant, narrative. Geldof himself once said that rock ’n’ roll is an articulate form of inarticulacy. It’s a point well made.
Dan Franklin – Heavy
Released on Friday 13 February 1970, Black Sabbath’s deranged self-titled debut is widely credited with the birth of metal. That’s 50 full years of the genre’s substantial density bearing down on us all. Which is in anybody’s measure a shedload of heaviness. But what actually defines the ‘heavy’ in heavy metal? If you were foolhardy enough to attempt to distil its essence, what are you actually left with? (We’re not entirely sure, but we know it’s going to be black and sticky). Subtitled How Metal Changes The Way We See The World, seasoned metalhead journalist Dan Franklin’s book attempts to assess the rarely explored full cultural impact that heavy metal music and its aesthetic has had on society. In order to give the genre the serious meaning he craves, Franklin adventurously explores any number of avenues, looking into the wider cultural landscape of books (Lord Of The Rings), films (Mad Max 2) and art (gothic horror). He even delves into the past for historic instances of ‘metal’ behaviour – as, let’s face it, the ‘Black Death’ can’t be that far removed from the mosh pit at Download Festival.
Paul Zollo – Conversations With Tom Petty
The outpouring of grief within the musical community after Tom Petty’s untimely death from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs in 2017 said much about the total respect that The Heartbreakers man was held in by his peers. Music journalist Paul Zollo’s newly expanded version of Conversations With Tom Petty goes a long way to explaining why. Instead of conventional biography territory, Zollo’s authorised book takes the form of a number of Q&A sessions based on extensive interviews with the great man over the years. The big strength of this oral history approach is that its intimacy enables us to feel closer to Petty, the way his mind thinks and his generosity of spirit. As well as giving us a chronological timeline of events (Mudcrutch, The Heartbreakers, the Traveling Wilburys) and an account of close friendships formed along the way (George Harrison, Stevie Nicks, comedian Garry Shandling), there is also a special focus on the songwriting process, which Petty riffs on in nothing less than fascinating detail. It also includes a foreword and photo captions written by Tom Petty himself.
Pete Paphides – Broken Greek
When Jenny, the protagonist of track three on The Velvet Underground’s Loaded album, was just five years old, she put the radio on and her life was saved by rock ’n’ roll. A similar thing happened to music journalist Pete Paphides. This time, however, the saviour was pop music. Having been displaced from Cyprus to Birmingham as a nipper, Pete was a shy, anxious kid (he was convinced his parents wanted to swap him for Jimmy Osmond) who didn’t speak to anybody other than his family from the age of four to seven. In his withdrawn world, the pop songs blaring out of the radio and the bands singing them took on a heightened importance. Meaning that at various times, Pete was in total thrall of Brotherhood Of Man, Lynsey de Paul, Wings and, even, The Barron Knights – convinced that their songs were talking directly to him. So, if you’re in the market for a wonderfully written, deeply touching, pitch-perfect childhood memoir laced liberally with 70s nostalgia, then you need look no further.
Kevin Ayers – Shooting At The Moon
Canterbury scenester and louche bohemian singer-songwriter Kevin Ayers was a founding member of the Soft Machine, and a major yet laid-back force in the English psychedelic movement. The late, great John Peel wrote in his autobiography that “Kevin Ayers’ talent is so acute you could perform major eye surgery with it.” He was also the ‘bugger’ infamously referenced in the John Cale lyric on the Slow Dazzle album track Guts (“the bugger in the short sleeves, fucked my wife/did it quick and split”). With affectionate, heartfelt introductions from his daughter, Galen, fellow Softie Robert Wyatt, and writer John Payne, Shooting At The Moon includes the collected lyrics from his gloriously erratic solo career, covering such cult works of wonder as Joy Of A Toy, Bananamour, Whatevershebringswesing and his 2007 reflective swansong The Unfairground. It also contains pages from Ayers’ own notebooks, a slew of exclusive photos and even the occasional recipe (mixed smoked fish platter anyone?). Ayers passed away in 2013, and this book is a great way to remember him.
Joe Muggs & Brian David Stevens – Bass, Mids, Tops
Ever since the arrival from the Caribbean of the Windrush generation, soundsystems have been instrumental in shaping several generations of British youth culture. Reggae, ska, dub, rave, jungle, grime and dubstep have all had their basslines blared out through towering home-built speakers, often directly onto the swarming streets of events such as the Notting Hill Carnival. It’s an important story less told, which is why Bass, Mids, Tops: An Oral History Of The UK’s Soundsystem Culture is such a fascinating read and an essential 488-page slice of cultural history. Comprising of interviews expertly conducted over many years by dance music journalist Joe Muggs, and more than ably assisted by the striking photography of collaborator Brian David Stevens, it skilfully recounts the pulsating narrative of bassbin Britain in no uncertain amount of style and unfailing dedication. The book leaves no pertinent interviewee unquestioned, with Dennis Bovell, Norman Jay MBE, Youth, Adrian Sherwood, Skream and Rinse FM’s Sarah Lockhart among many others to appear on its hallowed pages.
Simon Wells – She’s A Rainbow
The German-Italian actress/model Anita Pallenberg was no mere girlfriend of the band, and her impact on The Rolling Stones was considerable, influencing the way they looked and the modish circles they moved in. Long-term partner Keith Richards openly admits her sartorial sway over him: “I started to become a fashion icon, for wearing my old lady’s clothes,”he once noted. A powerful and intimidating muse, it’s strongly rumoured the Beggars Banquet album was remastered after she criticised it, her out-of-the-ordinary life is recounted in detailed and dynamic fashion by music writer Simon Wells. Pallenberg may have been carousing with Federico Fellini’s Dolce Vita crowd three years before the band had formed, but she will always be inextricably associated with the Stones, notably her relationships with Richards, but also Brian Jones (she left him for Keith after Jones became abusive) and Mick Jagger (they got very close on the set of the movie Performance). Coincidentally, it’s also the second book in this issue of Long Live Vinyl to come with a pair of fetching knees on its cover.
Will Brooker – Why Bowie Matters
Die-hard Bowie fans are always likely to be able to recount their ‘lightning bolt’ moment, the time they were first struck by the great man’s music. For Why Bowie Matters author Will Brooker it was an unlikely one, as the initial track that resonated with him deeply was Ricochet from Let’s Dance. In his new book, Brooker explores Bowie’s legacy as a cultural icon from a couple of perspectives. Firstly, as an academic (he’s Professor of film and cultural studies at Kingston University) and, secondly, as a lifelong Bowie obsessive. After all, this is the man who lived his life as The Dame for a year as part of an immersive research project that saw him not only trace Bowie’s footsteps (London, Berlin, New York), but also listen only to the music and read the books that he (Bowie) loved. He dyed his hair bright orange, too. This lunatic undertaking, sorry, immersive research project, certainly gives Brooker a different viewpoint, but it’s not one that he is able to take full advantage of throughout the book’s entertaining yet not wholly illuminating discourse.
Mike Barnes – A New Day Yesterday
Author Mike Barnes’ vivid chronicle of prog rock in the late 60s and 70s is suitably epic and grandiose in both its scope and ambition. If A New Day Yesterday was an album, it would surely be a triple gatefold. The publishers just may have missed a trick by not commissioning Hipgnosis to design the cover. The phrase ‘progressive rock’, Barnes notes, was coined in 1967 by Melody Maker’s Chris Welch, and that is more or less when the journey begins with the creative outpouring of the psychedelic underground. From there, via a series of interviews with musicians and industry insiders we are skilfully navigated through the entire history of the movement. From Camel to Caravan, from ELP to The Enid, from Hatfield And The North to Henry Cow, the usual suspects are all in here. But the book, unlike this review, is not simply a list of bands and the author most be commended for his astute handling of such a wide-ranging genre. Most startlingly, Barnes reveals that progressive rock wasn’t all about wizards after all. Who knew?
Mike Edison – Sympathy For The Drummer
The ‘Why [insert musician’s name here] Matters’ book concept is gathering a head of steam, and this time it’s the turn of the Stones’ venerable drummer, Charlie Watts. His mate Keith has repeatedly declared, “No Charlie, No Stones” and author Mike Edison, also a drummer, has taken it upon himself to back up that claim. For five decades, Charlie has had the best seat in the house watching Mick shake his skinny arse, but his public persona, what exists of one, rails against the grain of typical rockstar behaviour. Just what was an urbane jazz sticksman with a sharp dress code and an intense dislike of the limelight doing behind the drums at Altamont as an essential part of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world? And it’s largely that unlikely juxtaposition which keeps the ebulient Edison occupied throughout the course of this undeniably entertaining yet slightly fluffy book. While the ‘Why… Matters’ subtitle might suggest itself to some degree of cultural study having been applied, in truth, Sympathy For The Drummer is anything but. What’s more it’s probably way better off without it.
Classic Album Sundays – Classic Albums By Women
This well-designed tome was initially inspired by #AlbumsByWomen, a social media campaign initiated by Classic Album Sundays in support of International Women’s Day in 2018. At the outset, collaborators were encouraged to submit a photo and a mini-critique of, yep, you guessed it, their favourite classic album involving a woman. The response was positive, and so the social media campaign eventually morphed into this compelling publication. Now featuring over 100 contributions from musicians and music biz luminaries, Classic Albums By Women not only acts as an overdue celebration of female creativity and musicianship, but also as a well-informed reference source for vinyl collectors in search of some considered picks. High-profile contributors include Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason (Ladies Of The Canyon, Joni Mitchell), John Grant (NunSexMonkRock,Nina Hagen) and Peter Hook (Chelsea Girl, Nico), while other selected gems to hunt down include Meredith Monk’s Dolmen Music and Alice Clark’s soulful debut. It’s what your coffee table was made for.
Graham Duff – Foreground Music
Prolific UK comedy screenwriter and script doctor Graham Duff (he wrote Johnny Vegas vehicle Ideal) has been going to gigs for over 40 years, and each chapter heading of his excellent memoir is dedicated to a gig that left an enduring impression on him. From a ‘shit’ Cliff Richard concert at King George’s Hall in Blackburn, aged 10, to a momentous one watching personal favourites Wire in Brighton, aged 50, there are 15 gigs in all. These encompass not only Cliff and the wizen post-punks, but also The Jam, The Specials, Joy Division, Psychic TV, The Shamen, Primal Scream, The Velvet Underground, Sleater-Kinney, The Strokes, The Fall (Mark E Smith was an acquaintance), David Bowie and Massive Attack. Clearly Duff is a man of great musical taste, and his writing on the subject is vivid, funny and insightful. Much to his credit, Foreground Music succeeds both as a musical history and as a memoir, skipping across the passing decade’s trends and subcultures as it celebrates the inspirational power of live music.
Holly George-Warren – Janis: Her Life And Music
Janis Lyn Joplin’s journey from a middle-class girl in the conservative city of Port Arthur, Texas to the very embodiment of the 60s counterculture is wonderfully well chronicled by seasoned biographer Holly George-Warren. As a youngster, Joplin was bullied for being different to the other girls, but as she got older those differences were celebrated, especially in San Francisco, where she was adopted as the city’s unofficial queen. Joplin’s vocal talent was extraordinary, and she is heralded as one of the most impassioned vocalists in the history of rock ’n’ roll. She is also remembered for the uncompromising way she lived her life (Janis was photographed so often with a bottle of Southern Comfort in her hand that the company bought her a fur coat as a reward). Based on unprecedented access to Janis’ family, friends, lovers, former bandmates and personal archives, George-Warren has gone a long way towards making her version of the Janis Joplin story as close to definitive as she can possibly get it.
Booker T Jones – Time Is Tight, My Life Note By Note
Cricket lovers of a certain vintage will instantly recall Booker T.’s music from the track Soul Limbo, the BBC’s go-to theme tune for their coverage of the sport for many a year. While the great man barely mentions the sound of leather on willow in his much-awaited autobiography, the longevity of his career in music means he has an anecdote or two to go in its place. This is the man, for instance, who wrote Green Onions, his soul-rocking, cosmopolitan take on the blues, when he was just 16. Born Booker Taliaferro Jones Jr in Memphis on 12 November, 1944, Jones’ musical talent was identified early and he recounts his early days in great detail; while still at school, he would deliver papers in the morning and play gigs in nightclubs in the evenings to support his family. While at hometown record label Stax, Jones formed the groundbreaking, multi-racial Booker T. And The M.G.’s, and collaborated with some of Southern Soul’s giants, in the form of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Sam & Dave. Not only has the evergreen Booker T. got into the bookwriting game, he’ll also be touring the UK later in the year.
John O’Connell – Bowie’s Bookshelf
To coincide with his remarkable retrospective at the V&A in 2013, voracious reader David Bowie released a fascinating list of 100 books that he regarded as the “most important and influential” to him as an artist (as opposed to a catalogue of his personal favourites). Subtitled The Hundred Literary Heroes Who Changed His Life, experienced writer John O’Connell has cleverly run with this list and turned it into a highly entertaining, witty and informative book. One of Bowie’s strengths as a serious performing artist was that he always had a sharp repurposer’s eye for a good idea/concept, which means the works on his list are made all the more tangible when attempting to relate them back to his art (whether that’s directly or indirectly). O’Connell dedicates a short, incisive essay on each book on Bowie’s list that not only links them to the great man, but also places them in a wider cultural context. The list provided evidence of Bowie’s restless intelligence and revealed him as a man equally comfortable with both high (Homer, Dante, Camus) and low (Viz, The Beano) culture, which is an absolute godsend to O’Connell, allowing him to add the required amount of light and shade.
Lou Reed – I’ll Be Your Mirror
In the pantheon of rock’s greatest lyricists Lou Reed is right up there (though lagging behind Dylan, like everybody else). As a clearly impressed D. Bowie, latterly of Beckenham, once stated: “He gave us the environment in which to put our more theatrical vision. He supplied us with the stretch and the landscape, and we peopled it.” Reed’s literate approach to lyric writing was shaped by his early aspiration to be a novelist (“I wanted to write the great American novel, but I also loved rock & roll”) and his tutelage under the poet and short story writer Delmore Schwartz. Reed also drew inspiration for words to sing to music from his own life, and it helped that he was at the epicentre of New York’s art scene in the 60s. The lyrics from his stint in The Velvet Underground alone are a hallowed wonder, with love songs Pale Blue Eyes and I’ll Be Your Mirror a testament to his tender side. Back in print, and updated with the lyrics to his final album with Metallica, Lulu, file your copy next to The Complete Works Of Shakespeare.
Brett Anderson – Afternoons With The Blinds Drawn
Suede’s Brett Anderson follows up on his excellent early-days memoir Coal Black Mornings with another revelatory dip into his life as a blouse-wearing rock star. This is the book he said he wouldn’t write, as he details the sudden rise and gradual decline of both his band and emotional well-being. A skilled and lyrical writer, Anderson not only recounts the band’s narrative from playing empty pubs to semi-superstardom, but also tries to take a step back from the account to offer up his after-the-dust-has-settled thoughts on events in a broader context. It’s a trick he performs really well throughout. For instance, his analysis of the whirlwind of hype that turned Suede into overnight music press darlings is well considered, and the breakdown of his relationship with Bernard Butler is grown-up and even-handed. His personal spiral into debauchery and drug dependency, and how that damaged the band, is necessarily oblique and the reader is spared the grittier details.
Campbell Devine – Rock’n’Roll Sweepstakes
Way back in 1974, the perma-permed Ian Hunter wrote Diary Of A Rock’N’Roll Star, a frank, intriguing diary of Mott The Hoople’s 1972 US tour. It’s a cool classic of the genre and now reads as an incredible period piece. Fast forward, and glam survivor Hunter is now the subject of a chunky authorised biography, of which Rock’N’Roll Sweepstakes is only the first volume. Hunter was clearly generous with his time (as were his bandmates) when talking to author Campbell Devine, and the biog greatly benefits from an intricate level of insight and detail. Hunter was a war baby, whose family moved to Scotland during the conflict, and tales of this time over the border are recounted with great affection. Fame took its time to knock on Hunter’s door and he’d been plugging away in the music business since the late 50s in various bands, before teaming up with Mott The Hoople. This slowburn struggle adds depth to this account of Hunter’s fascinating journey, where all of rock’s bumps and jumps have been captured along the way.
Tim Mohr – Burning Down The Haus
Berlin is best known now for techno, but in the 1980s it was punk’s primitive force that prevailed, beamed over the Wall to East Berlin by Western radio. How much this actually contributed to November 1989’s ‘Mauerfall’ is debatable, but Tim Mohr, who spent the early 1990s in the once divided city, DJing in squatted buildings, makes a convincing case for the movement’s influence. Based on numerous interviews with participants, his gripping history, written much like a novel, is a stark, timely reminder of music’s power to protest and transform. Emphasising the dropouts’ growing ties to organised resistance, he depicts a tightly knit community threatened only by skinheads and, well, the country’s entire government, with the terrible injustices and covert practices of the Stasi, the DDR’s secret police, unflinchingly detailed. There’s an inevitability to the tale, of course, but Mohr offers up fresh perspectives which also provide reminders that many East Germans merely wanted a more democratic system, not reunification, which is a source of some of Germany’s current difficulties.