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Music Books: 100 Best of All Time VG Plus+

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  • Music Books: 100 Best of All Time VG Plus+

    Pop your top tens in this thread and with enough contributions we might make our own list...

    Here's one I've quickly cobbled together from the top of my head. Top three then no particular order:

    1 George Melly - Owning Up
    2 James St James - Disco Bloodbath
    3 The Ego Trip Book Of Rap Lists
    Simon Reynolds - Retromania
    Brian Bird - Skiffle! The Story of a Folk Song with a Jazz Beat
    Andrew Loog Oldham - Stoned
    KLF - The Manual
    Bill Brewster (hello) - Last Night a DJ Saved My Life
    Richard Allen - Punk Rock
    KRS-One - Ruminations

  • #2
    Interesting list: Owning Up is great, as is Last Night A DJ Saved My Life. The Manual is daft and fun (like a lot of Drummond's writing). Stoned is very enjoyable.

    I disliked Retromania (although it had lots of good bits, I thought the central idea was way off). Never heard of Disco Bloodbath but googling it, it sounds interesting, what's it like? I've seen Brian Bird mentioned in some of the histories of UK jazz but never read it. I really like jazz writing of that era, does it still hold up? Is Richard Allen a novel? I've yet to find a novel about music that I actually like. There must be some but I've just not got there yet.
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    • #3
      Been itching to put my tuppence in. Here's nine ripped off in no particular order:

      Steve Knopper - Appetite for Self Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Music Industry in the Digital Age
      A rip-roaring read. Particularly noteworthy: the story of the two boyband managers, one of whom ended up broke and in jail, the other as the richest man in show business ever, courtesy of 'cashing his chips' with a record label on small print he had carefully inserted into the contract. None of this will spoil it.....

      Simon Naper-Bell - Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay!
      As good as, (if not better than), 'Cowboys and Indies' by Gareth Murphy (on that Billboard list'. Both fantastic books, richly anecdotal reads about the history of the recording industry. I think the reason Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay! edges it is because it's super-fast, slightly camp and heavier on scandal. Not as racy as the next one here, but has the same 'gossip whispered in your ear' feel.

      Boy George - Take It Like a Man
      Gossip, intrigue, drugs... Loads of fun. Bitchy, very attempt to be meaningful or deep, just a great fun read.

      Stephen Witt - How Music Got Free
      I wrote somewhere else that this is structured like a movie script. It's also brilliantly written. The intertwined story of three people: a music industry mogul who wasn't keeping up with the Internet, the inventor of the MP3 and the world's biggest music pirate (stealing major artist CDs the second they were pressed and uploading them to pre-Napster file-sharing sites). It says an awful lot for authorial skill that the story of the development of MP3 is utterly gripping.

      Geoffrey Stokes - Star-Making Machinery: Inside the Business of Rock and Roll
      A finely-detailed account of one year in the life of Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen as they struggle to hit the big time in the 1970s may not sound promising but this is an excellent, page turner of a read. Documents squabbles, studio recording, fall-outs, financial dealings, naked greed (labels), being royally screwed (the band). Underrated book imho.

      Iain Chambers - Urban Rhythms
      Brilliant, thoughtful and academic. I believe he was a student of the engaging Dick Hebdige who I had the inestimable pleasure of 'partying' with last year in Porto. I think next to Todd Rundgren shaking my hand on my fortieth birthday, it's the closest I've been to star-struck. Very much about music as culture / subculture but totally engaging.

      Michael Bracewell - England Is Mine
      Beautifully written rumination linking pop music to visions of Albion...from Oscar Wilde to Goldie. Literate, cinematic, evocative's a hard concept to explain, but it's one of those reads where just occasionally the sentences make you put the book down and think, 'Jesus. That is so spot on' ...

      Aram Sinnreich - The Piracy Crusade: How the Music Industry's War on Sharing Destroys Markets and Erodes Civil Liberties
      An academic read and maybe not to everyone's liking but this is a strong polemic in defence of piracy and against the music industry. He builds a terrific case against the recording industry 'stacking the deck' through copyright, licensing etc. but takes in a lot of interesting stuff along the way that would be of great interest to people here. (Mutant sounds / Harry Smith's Anthology / The Church of Kopimism etc)

      Clinton Heylin- Bootleg! The Rise and Fall of the Secret Recording Industry
      Reprinted many, many times...originally called 'The Great Wonder'...the richly detailed story of rock bootlegs and the men (and women) who made them. Heylin tells the full story: how two men started with a Dylan bootleg in 1969 and built an alternative record industry. It doesn't matter if you have little or no interest in The Stones, The Who, Bob's all about the ducking, diving, wheeling-dealing, law evading. Heylin interviewed all involved at great length, and it shows. Cracking read.
      <<Soul Strut 100>>Collectable CDs 1 Forumusic: April 2014 Collectable CDs 2<<'95 WOF>>


      • #4
        And checking the shelves...another cracker...taking it to 10.

        Bob Stanley - Yeah Yeah Yeah
        Read this, Cowboys and Indies and Ta-ra-ra a few months apart. All in the same vein...history of popular music. Together they will give you anecdotes, insights, little nuggets to bore people with for weeks.

        (I could have added Nowhere To Run, Divided Soul, Bird - The Legend of Charlie Parker too but I read them so bloody long ago now ....but I do remember I thoroughly enjoyed them)
        <<Soul Strut 100>>Collectable CDs 1 Forumusic: April 2014 Collectable CDs 2<<'95 WOF>>


        • #5
          Interesting list Ian. I've only read one - the Bob Stanley. I enjoyed it but found it often frustrating, lots of interesting recommendations of less well known pop but not so much in the way of history or analysis beyond that.

          The De Witt sounds good. I've been put off before as the "downloads have changed music" argument is too often either overstated or blatantly obvious. Doesn't sound like that's true with this one?

          The Bracewell also sounds good. I've read and really like The Nineties so will give this a look.

          Thanks for the suggestions. I'll do some now...
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          • #6
            Here are ten from me (I'll avoid ones on the Billboard list)..

            Elijah Wald - How The Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll
            Not a book about The Beatles but about race in American pop music, and how after "race records" and the like, there was a brief period of co-existing, intermingling black and white pop, before "pop" became "white" and "soul" became "black". Deeply researched, compelling stuff that is much more nuanced than that description suggests.

            Marybeth Hamilton - In Search of The Blues
            A companion piece to Wald's amazing Escaping The Delta, which charts similar ground, this tells the story of how white collectors reimagined blues as rural, solo guitar music. Incredible detail on the "blues mafia" collectors, and beautifully written.

            John Jeremiah Sullivan - Pulphead
            Not one you'd normally see listed as a music book, but this has some of the best recent writing about music. It's a collection of Sullivan's longform magazine pieces and, amongst other things, it covers Michael Jackson, Axl Rose, Bunny Wailer, blues history (referencing Wald and Hamilton) and Christian rock. His article on Geeshie and Elvie came later but its brilliant too:

            Irwin Chiusid - Songs in the Key of Z
            I sometimes disagree with him (although I love him, Beefheart isn't an outsider artist, to me) but this is a collection of charming pieces on outsider music heroes. It leaves me wanting to know more about all of them and reinforced that VV/VG+ attitude of finding brilliance in otherwise ignored places.

            V.Vale and Andrea Juno - Incredibly Strange Music
            Well-known round these parts but, if Songs in the Key of Z was about the music, this is as much about the culture of strange records and the strange people that buy them.

            Dori Hadar - Mingering Mike
            It looks mostly like a coffee table art book about the record sleeves that Mingering Mike drew but the text tells his story wonderfully: the guy who created a fantasy career for himself, through hand-drawn sleeves, which were eventually found by a 21st century digger.

            Louis Scarfe - Where Have All The Good Times Gone?
            Ian has mentioned a few music biz histories but this is my favourite, alongside Hitmen, which is in the Billboard list and is narrower in scope. This takes in the full history of the (mostly major label) record business. Brilliant, serious history but makes the ownership of major labels an easy read and a page turner.

            Ray Coleman - Brian Epstein
            A thick, engaging biography of one the most amazing twentieth century pop lives. This takes him seriously as a person in his own right, rather than simply as a way of telling another Beatles story.

            Rob Young - Electric Eden
            The premise here, that there is a "visionary" strain that runs through much British music, is thankfully never strong enough to derail this amazing, wide-ranging history of folk revivals in Britain. From Blake, Cecil Sharp, Topic, Incredible String Band and the rest, this is persuasive stuff.

            Michael Gray - Hand Me My Travellin' Shoes
            Another blues book, but that says as much about the quality of recent blues writing as it does about my own tastes. This is the story of the author trying to piece together the life of Blind Willie McTell and is as much about that obsessive research and early twentieth century America as it is about McTell's music.
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            • #7
              And I've only read one on your list Jimmy! ( Louis Scarfe - Where Have All The Good Times Gone....excellent read.)

              Plenty for me to check out. �� I have Escaping The Delta on the shelf ready to read... your mention of it as 'amazing' has nudged me to crack the spine.

              I like 'production of culture' books generally, but they do make it harder to appreciate a lot of genres without a raised eyebrow 'hmmmmm' kind of prejudice.
              <<Soul Strut 100>>Collectable CDs 1 Forumusic: April 2014 Collectable CDs 2<<'95 WOF>>


              • #8
                Originally posted by Little Jimmy Oddman View Post
                Louis Scarfe - Where Have All The Good Times Gone?
                Barfe - not Scarfe!
                The Downstairs Lounge


                • #9
                  Indeed Agnes, oops!

                  Ian - Escaping The Delta is great. I probably preferred it to How The Beatles Destroyed Rock'n'Roll even, but Marybeth Hamilton's book is better on the actual collectors (but less good on the music). I bought it thinking it was about Robert Johnson but it isn't really, its a history of the blues, trying to get away from the dominance of the delta blues in most histories. Lots of amazing stuff in there.

                  I'm surprised you've not read Incredibly Strange Music by the way, I think you'd like it (interviews with collectors/shops etc who like odd records so right up your street).
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                  • #10
                    Guy pratt's book "bass and other animals" is a good read. Very funny in part too...


                    • #11
                      I think my favourite music book is still James Young's Songs They Don't Play On The Radio, his memoir of playing with Nico during the 1980s. It's a tragi-comic masterpiece and he has such a fantastic ear for dialogue that really makes it leap off the page. I think books about failure in music are actually usually much more compelling because it's a much more universal story than success.

                      The best recent book, surprisingly, is Moby's Porcelain, which is the best autobiography I have read for a long time. I'm not even particularly a fan of his music, but a friend recommended it and it's absolutely superb. Again, it's largely about failure, ending with him about to get dropped by his label after an album flopped (immediately prior to Play).

                      Others I really loved:
                      Bob Stanley - Yeah Yeah Yeah
                      Joshua Gamson - The Fabulous Sylvester
                      Dan Sicko - Techno Rebels
                      David Stubbs - Future Days
                      Gerri Hirshey - Nowhere To Run
                      Nick Cohn - Awopbopalubop


                      • #12
                        Finally getting round to reading Viv Albertine's 'Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music..etc' after seeing her doing a reading from it a year or so ago. Great so far. I've also enjoyed the George Melly one mentioned above and I savoured Robert Wyatt's 'Different Every Time' for a few months like a fine wine as I didn't want it to end
                        Light surface marks, sleeve is torn near centre of opening (due to rough removal of disk by a moron)


                        • #13
                          Trying to avoid repeating anyone else's suggestions or entering multiple books by the same writer.

                          Nik Cohn - Triksta
                          Paul Drummond- Eye Mind
                          Lester Bangs - Psychotic Reaction & Carbereutur Dung
                          Patrick Lundborg - Acid Archives
                          Vivian Goldman - The Book of Exodus
                          Bob Dylan - Chronicles
                          Julian Cope - Krautrocksampler
                          Greil Marcus - Listening to Van Morrison
                          Lloyd Bradley - Bass Culture
                          Simon Reynolds - Energy Flash

                          I thought all of Reynolds books were great and could happily put all of them in my top ten. Ditto "Rock Dreams" by Guy Peelaert & Nik Cohn could have been in there.

                          Also worth honourable mentions: James Young - Songs They Don't Play On The Radio is excellent though maybe less about music than being some form of musician. Jon Ronson's "Frank" is in a very similar vein.

                          And our very own Bill's books are top notch.
                          Enthusiastic vagueness passes for scholarship in the twilight world of the disc-jockey.

                          John Peel


                          • #14
                            A nice list ETK.

                            The Bangs is my favourite music book ever, but I didn't include it as it was in the Billboard list. It meant a lot to me when I first read it (and re-read and re-read) it while I was at university. I also love the other collection of his writing and the Jim Derogatis biography. His book on Blondie (which I don't think has ever been republished) isn't great though.

                            I think Energy Flash is the best Reynolds book I've read. I really liked Triksta too. Not read that Greil Marcus but I am very divided on him: I loved Mystery Train and Invisible Republic but hated Lipstick Traces and The Dustbin of History so have kind of given up reading more, probably very unfairly. I wasn't fussed with Krautrocksampler but Cope's Head On is great.

                            Not read the others!
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                            • #15
                              Books that made an impression...

                              Peter Shapiro - Turn the Beat Around. A Secret History of Disco.

                              Read this when I started teaching music and thought I'd better find out about some stuff I didn't know/like. Still one of my favourite music books. And it made Disco make sense.
                              David Carson- Grit, Noise & Revolution: The Birth of Detroit Rock and Roll.

                              Does a better job of discussing the Stooges and MC5 than anything else I've read.

                              Simon Ford- Wreckers of Civilization: The Story of COUM Transmissions & Throbbing Gristle
                              Penny Rimbaud - Shibboleth:My Revolting Life

                              Read these two back to back and it totally changed my mind about what punk is... Crass & Throbbing Gristle..

                              Bob Spitz - Barefoot In Babylon: The Creation of the Woodstock Festival 1969

                              Great story from the business perspective rather than the music itself.

                              Mick Farren - Give the Anarchist a Cigarette. The Tale of Willy's Rats

                              The autobiography and his fictional account of a band in the late sixties/early seventies... ACE

                              Evan Eisenberg - The Recording Angel. Great book about buying and collecting records.

                              Contains this quote...
                              "[W]hen I buy a record, the musician is eclipsed by the disc. And I am eclipsed by my money ‐ not only from the musicians view but my own. When a ten-‐dollar bill leaves my right hand and a bagged record enters my left, it is the climax. The shudder and ring of the register is the true music; later I will play the record but that will be redundant. My money has already heard it"

                              Mark Goodall - Music & Heavy Conscious Creation - an album by album look at albums made with 'heavy conscious creation'... obvs

                              Michael Stuart-Ware - Love: Behind the Scenes: On the Pegasus Carousel with the Legendary Rock Group Love. The drummer's story. Always going to work for me but well written and enlightening.

                              Up Tight: The Velvet Underground Story/Hammer of the Gods etc, etc, etc