Books about music

yukbon

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 18, 2020
Messages
793
Location
Miami
In addition to the 33 1/3 book thread, The 33 1/3 thread.... (the book series), I thought
it might be worthwhile having a more general music books thread. Looked through past threads and couldn't find anything similar. Please post your favorites or least-favorites and any thoughts you've got on them (or music-writing in general).
 

yukbon

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 18, 2020
Messages
793
Location
Miami
Sonic Youth: Goodbye 20th Century by David Browne

Girl In A Band by Kim Gordon

Confusion is Next by Alec Foege

Goodbye 20th Century is arguably the most comprehensive of these: it covers the band's entire lifetime and is broader in scope than the others. "Girl In A Band" is more vividly personal and does go into more detail on the end of the band -- here "Goodbye 20th Century" sort of fizzles out, there is lots to write about and details about complaints and arguments and money and desires during the band's early years, but apparently fewer people wanted to discuss Thurston's affair and subsequent breakup with Kim. Whereas that's not something that Kim herself shies away from in her own book, neither does she make it the central focus. Her book has a lot more personal observations about her own history and family that got glossed over in "Goodbye 20th Century", but also stuff about sex and gender. Not to say that Browne skips that stuff, but it's closer to Gordon herself so it's natural she writes about it more directly. Confusion is Next is good but limited by being a product of it's age -- published in 1994, so stops off at Dirty -- and that it's author is very much a huge fan, which isn't a bad thing obviously since the enthusiasm translates, but it means that the records that speak to the author the most get the most time (the early stuff, up through Bad Moon Rising roughly) whereas the then-more-recent records, "Daydream Nation", "Goo", "Dirty" feel rushed in the book. Published 1994 also means that there's no sense of the historical importance of those records and their time. All the elder-statesmen-of-alternative-indie-punk thing that often gets taped onto SY is largely missing because they just hadn't had that history yet. If I had to recommend one of these, Goodbye 20th Century is probably the one I'd go to, just because it's largely more comprehensive. (Although TBH I would more likely skip these three and recommend Azzerad's "Our Band Could Be Your Life".)

unrelated bonus, here's a dude who, having read Goodbye 20th Century, basically went through their entire discography on YouTube:
 

Russ I

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 15, 2020
Messages
1,794
Location
Salt Lake City, UT

TheThinWhiteDuke

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 15, 2019
Messages
1,002
Location
Birmingham, AL
On the other end, I stopped Neil Young's WAGING HEAVY PEACE about 100 pages in as I found it a meandering mess that was part description of cars collected and large chunk Pono advertisement and very little in depth history I was expecting. Maybe it comes later but I had lost interest
 

yukbon

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 18, 2020
Messages
793
Location
Miami
I think everyone should have PLEASE KILL ME: AN ORAL HISTORY OF PUNK as it is is the definitive story of punk's roots from Detroit into NYC told by all the major people involved. Few punches are pulled

I keep meaning to pick this up and haven't yet, it's good to hear that it's worthwhile. Also meant to pick up one of those books around Joy division/ factory/ haçienda/ new order. I have the Peter hook ebook but haven't even cracked it open yet tbh.
 

Lee Newman

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 15, 2019
Messages
5,202
Age
48
Location
Durham
On the other end, I stopped Neil Young's WAGING HEAVY PEACE about 100 pages in as I found it a meandering mess that was part description of cars collected and large chunk Pono advertisement and very little in depth history I was expecting. Maybe it comes later but I had lost interest
My biggest problem with that book was the elementary reading level. I’m a huge Neil fan but can’t recommend that book. On the other hand, Shakey by Jimmy McDonough is brilliant. I recently read Twilight of the Gods and loved it. I read a lot of books about music these days.
 

yukbon

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 18, 2020
Messages
793
Location
Miami
Have you read John Zorn's Arcana series? They're essays written by musicians. I've only gotten the first two volumes but they're great
 

whatwhatsaywhat

Active Member
Joined
May 17, 2019
Messages
402
Location
Melbourne, VIC
stephen witt's "how music got free" is a great read as is john seabrook's "the song machine: inside the hit factory"

former is all about mp3 and napster etc., latter is all about the swedish songwriting factory powered by denniz pop, max martin, shellback and the like
 

Rowan

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 6, 2020
Messages
1,370
Location
Uk
I really liked Brix Start Smith's autobiography when I read it last year (which was probably the most recent music book I've picked up) but my fave all time music Auto/ biography is still Danny Sugerman's Wonderland Avenue. It chronicles his life from about 12 to his early 20's. It's hilarious and grim in equal measures. Well worth picking up if anyone has a passing interest in the 60's L.A music scene.
 

Thackeraye

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 16, 2019
Messages
1,262
Location
Glasgow, Scotland
David Byrne’s How Music Works is great; part memoir, part music philosophy.

If you like graphic novels and/or The Beatles, I’d look for a book called The Fifth Beatle, which is all about Brian Epstein. It looks great, and is a good interpretation of his story.

+1 for How Music Got Free.
 

Thackeraye

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 16, 2019
Messages
1,262
Location
Glasgow, Scotland
I really liked Brix Start Smith's autobiography when I read it last year (which was probably the most recent music book I've picked up) but my fave all time music Auto/ biography is still Danny Sugerman's Wonderland Avenue. It chronicles his life from about 12 to his early 20's. It's hilarious and grim in equal measures. Well worth picking up if anyone has a passing interest in the 60's L.A music scene.
I’m not a Fall fan (more by omission than anything else) but really enjoyed Brix’s book.
 

whatwhatsaywhat

Active Member
Joined
May 17, 2019
Messages
402
Location
Melbourne, VIC
steve hyden's "whatever happened to alternative nation?" series in the onion was turned into an epub i believe, and is definitely worth a read

his book on ageing rockers, "twilight of the gods", was okay, as was "your favourite band is killing me", all about rivalries in music - he's basically turned it into a podcast series called "rivals"

i'm definitely looking forward to his next book on radiohead post-kid a

alexis petridis ghost-wrote the recent elton autobiography and you can really tell the bits where he was heavily involved - some of it is an absolute hoot
 

Rowan

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 6, 2020
Messages
1,370
Location
Uk
I’m not a Fall fan (more by omission than anything else) but really enjoyed Brix’s book.
Yeah, I'm the same. The Fall are one of those bands I always thought I should listen to but never really got round to. One day

Have you read either of Luke Haines's memoirs? Bad Vibes is absolutely brilliant.
 

Thackeraye

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 16, 2019
Messages
1,262
Location
Glasgow, Scotland
Yeah, I'm the same. The Fall are one of those bands I always thought I should listen to but never really got round to. One day

Have you read either of Luke Haines's memoirs? Bad Vibes is absolutely brilliant.
Again, never really spent time with Luke's stuff, but I think the books would be interesting.
 

Selaws

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 16, 2019
Messages
6,265
Location
London, UK
Ah, what a great thread! I'm a bit obsessive when it comes to music-related books, I tend to read at least 1 every couple of weeks (sometimes more depending on the length of the book. Admittedly the majority of the books I read are jazz-related, but there's plenty of others I have which aren't. I will share a small selection below, but there's plenty more so if anyone wants any more just let me know (I originally wanted to just a handful but ended up writing a substantial list, so I will try to add it in a 'Spoiler' box). Also, I have linked Amazon as its quicker, but if you think of getting any of these please have a look at a local shop first!
Band/Musician/DJ Biogs:
Storms: My Life with Lindsey Buckingham and "Fleetwood Mac"
An amazing read packed with crazy stories. I went into this completely innocent to the wild life styles Fleetwood Mac had, it was a real eye-opener. It is from the viewpoint of Buckingham's ex lover, so best to take some bits with a pinch of salt, but its still a fantastic read.

Mo' Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove
This was one of those books which I recommended to everyone for weeks after I read it. Its the drummer, Questlove's (from The Roots) autobiography and chronicles his early life through to the current day Roots. Its another great read with tons of hilarious anecdotes (like meeting Kiss as a child, embarrassing himself in front of Prince, etc).

Chronicles: Volume One by Bob Dylan
This is one I imagine a lot of people have read. I picked it up at a charity shop (on a whim really) but was really impressed by it, having not really ever read up on Dylan's life before. From memory, he does seem to fixate on kind of boring aspects every now and again (I seem to remember a lengthy section on the different books his friend kept at his apartment) but a good read overall.

John Peel: Margrave of the Marshes
John Peel was a legend in British radio and was one of the first to play psychedelic & progressive rock on the radio, and was also an early advocate for groups such as the White Stripes. This autobiography/biography is a fantastic record of his career as well as highlighting his obsession with records (he had tens of thousands, stored in a separate building attached to his house, and hand-labelled every one with each track, the times (many were different to that listed in the liner notes), and a star rating systems for each track. He sadly passed away before the book was finished so the last section is written by his wife and daughter.

To Live's to Fly: The Ballad of the Late, Great Townes Van Zandt
I bought this when TVZ was announced as the VMP Essentials pick. Although it starts off heavy (looking deep into the family tree of the musician), it gradually becomes more interesting to the point where I couldn't put it down. TVZ really did lead a tragic life and this book highlights all of this in detail.

Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits
Its no secret that im a big fan of Tom Waits, but theres very few comprehensive biographies out there in the market. This is mainly down to the fact that Waits is incredibly private, but this book by Barney Hoskyns has to be one of the best. Its written with an incredible eye for detail and works through Waits' incredibly crazy life. One interesting aspect is the interviews, and Hoskyns even presents the failed attempts to interview Waits' band members (which ends in Waits asking them not to speak to any journalists).

I Am Ozzy by Ozzy Osbourne
Now this is a really fun read! Ozzy is clearly quite the character and I wasnt expecting too much from this book, but was surprised to see its really well written and cohesive. He chronicles his early, pre-Sabbath days in Birmingham, through to his later life as a family man. Lots of hilarious anecdotes here but also plenty of sad moments, such as the guilt he feels for the plane crash which killed Randy Rhoads.


Vinyl/Record Related Books:

Last Shop Standing: Whatever Happened to Record Shops? by Graham Jones
Kind of a 2-parter in a way and I really really really recommend it, especially for those living in the UK. Graham Jones spent 32 years travelling around the UK to sell to independent record shops. The book highlights this time whilst questioning why so many record shops in the UK have closed down (540 between 2004-2008).

The Vinyl Revival And The Shops That Made It Happen by Graham Jones
This was written several years after his first book (above) and looks at the 'revival' of the record shops which once closed down. There are anecdotes from his time as a rep as well as stories directly from the shop owners. Overall, its a look into how record shop owners have managed to survive as vinyl sales declined, and what they have done since to help push it to a new level.

Tim Book Two: Vinyl Adventures from Istanbul to San Francisco by Tim Burgess
The premise of this book is just fantastic!!! Whilst touring or meeting up with friends, Tim Burgess (of the Charlatans) would ask for a single record recommendation. He then set out to buy these records from independent shops across the world, and noted the anecdotes behind them in this book. Its a really great idea!

Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record Collecting
This book dives into the subculture of record collecting (something we can all relate to) and has some fantastic stories of dream finds, losses, and hunts! It's another great read with an emphasis on rare records, such as old Blues 45's.

Old Records Never Die: One Man's Quest for His Vinyl by Eric Spitznagel
Another fantastic concept! Eric Spitznagel sold his records over the years and as he hit his middle age he decided that he wanted to get them back....the exact same copies. This book contains the story of his hunt, looking at the shops he used to go to (many of which were sold), answering local paper ads and digging through basements. Its a fantastic premise!
 

Selaws

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 16, 2019
Messages
6,265
Location
London, UK
And the second part:

Album Studies:
Tim Maia's Tim Maia Racional Vols. 1 & 2
Part of the 33 1/3 Brazil series, this short read studies 2 of the most controversial releases by Tim Maia. Maia famously joined the Racional cult and completely changed his lifestyle. Some had a positive effect (such as quitting drugs and alcohol), some had a negative effect (such as giving mountains of money to the cult leader), and some were just downright bizarre (such as painting his instruments white, wearing all white clothes, and standing in a field late at night playing to attract aliens).

Tom Waits' 'Swordfishtrombones' by David Smay
I find I have to really love an album to read its 33 1/3 release, and this is a good example of when they are done right. Swordfishtrombones was the first album Waits recorded after his marriage to Kathleen Brennan (who some see as a negative figure on his musical career) and it really was a turning point in his unique sound and approach to music.

A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album by Ashley Kahn
I bought this and the The Making of Kind Of Blue a few weeks back. I have yet to read the Miles Davis book, but did absolutely devour the Love Supreme story by Ashley Kahn. I had just finished reading Kahn's biography on Impulse! records before moving onto this, and its clear that he has huge admiration for Coltrane.


Fiction:
The Vinyl Detective - Written in Dead Wax by Andrew Cartmel
Ignore the childish cover art and this is a really fun detective/mystery book which revolves around vinyl. The main character is a vinyl obsessive (something we can all relate to!) that gets hired to hunt down a fictitious rare album by a forgotten group. The problem is that someone else is also after it and leaves a wave of bodies behind whilst doing so. Cartmel is CLEARLY a record nerd and the way its written hits home a lot of times (especially the day to day nuances of being a collector). This is the first in a 4-part series which are all great, fun reads.


General Jazz Books:
As Serious As Your Life: Black Music and the Free Jazz Revolution by Val Wilmer
Val Wilmer is a legendary British jazz journalist/photographer who worked prolifically in the 60's and 70's. She would hang out and take photos of all the now-legendary jazz musicians and this book highlights this time and the overall impact it had on society. She looks at specific musicians and the impact of their music, plus details how this sometimes out-there music was initially received (Ornette Coleman and his free jazz is a good example).

Blue Note: Uncompromising Expression: The Finest in Jazz Since 1939
I was close to including the Blue Note Records: The Biography book here, but I personally found it to be a bit dry. On the other hand, Uncompromising Expression is a fantastic behemoth of a book which was released for Blue Notes 75th anniversary. Full of amazing photos, reviews, and a faily decent introduction to the label as well.

Verve: The Sound of America
This has the exact same template as the Blue Note: Uncompromising Expression, and is a fantastic look into the history, artwork, and musicians associated with Verve Records.

The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records
This was a recent read and one which I loved. The format is fantastic, with plenty of photos, and the main bulk of text being broken up by double-spread album studies.


Jazz Biogs (there's wayyyyy more I have read than this, so if anyone does want further recommendations just let me know):
Straight Life: The Story Of Art Pepper by Art Pepper
Many people cite Miles Davis' book as being the best jazz biography, but I personally think that this book ever so slightly tops it. Its a behemoth at 624 pages, but packed full of incredible anecdotes which flickers from the life of a jazz musician to the life of a junkie. Pepper doesnt hold back either and includes all the gritty details.

Herbie Hancock: Possibilities
Herbie's biography is one that I first read late last year and I couldn't put it down. He's always come across as the nicest guy, but what I didnt realise was just how incredibly clever he is (from pioneering the lastest tech in his music, to obtaining the rights to his biggest songs - something most musicians never did and lost a fortune because of it). Certainly worth a read, especially if you are considering picking up the Anthology from VMP.

Raise Up Off Me: A Portrait of Hampton Hawes
This was a cheapo pick-up but one that I devoured. Its very much in the same vein as the Art Pepper book, in fact, if memory serves me correctly there is even a cross over period when they are in jail together.

Miles: The Autobiography
I would be doing a disservice if I didn't mention this. Its perhaps the most well-regarded jazz biography, and for good reason. Miles was never one to hold back and he certainly doesn't do that here, spilling lots of dirty secrets and stories.

Coltrane: The Story of a Sound by Ben Ratliff
These tons of books on Coltrane (and I have read a fair amount of them!) but this is one of the better ones. Not only does Ratliff discuss the progression of his music, from the early days with Miles Davis to the controversial latter years, but he also analyses and discusses Coltrane's unique sound.
 

Rowan

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 6, 2020
Messages
1,370
Location
Uk
Ah, what a great thread! I'm a bit obsessive when it comes to music-related books, I tend to read at least 1 every couple of weeks (sometimes more depending on the length of the book. Admittedly the majority of the books I read are jazz-related, but there's plenty of others I have which aren't. I will share a small selection below, but there's plenty more so if anyone wants any more just let me know (I originally wanted to just a handful but ended up writing a substantial list, so I will try to add it in a 'Spoiler' box). Also, I have linked Amazon as its quicker, but if you think of getting any of these please have a look at a local shop first!

I'd not really considered the fictional element of it. I'd probably chuck Iain Banks's Espedair Street in there and mega tenuously Robert Stone's 'A Hall of Mirrors' as two particular stand outs
 

Lee Newman

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 15, 2019
Messages
5,202
Age
48
Location
Durham
Ah, what a great thread! I'm a bit obsessive when it comes to music-related books, I tend to read at least 1 every couple of weeks (sometimes more depending on the length of the book. Admittedly the majority of the books I read are jazz-related, but there's plenty of others I have which aren't. I will share a small selection below, but there's plenty more so if anyone wants any more just let me know (I originally wanted to just a handful but ended up writing a substantial list, so I will try to add it in a 'Spoiler' box). Also, I have linked Amazon as its quicker, but if you think of getting any of these please have a look at a local shop first!
Band/Musician/DJ Biogs:
Storms: My Life with Lindsey Buckingham and "Fleetwood Mac"
An amazing read packed with crazy stories. I went into this completely innocent to the wild life styles Fleetwood Mac had, it was a real eye-opener. It is from the viewpoint of Buckingham's ex lover, so best to take some bits with a pinch of salt, but its still a fantastic read.

Mo' Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove
This was one of those books which I recommended to everyone for weeks after I read it. Its the drummer, Questlove's (from The Roots) autobiography and chronicles his early life through to the current day Roots. Its another great read with tons of hilarious anecdotes (like meeting Kiss as a child, embarrassing himself in front of Prince, etc).

Chronicles: Volume One by Bob Dylan
This is one I imagine a lot of people have read. I picked it up at a charity shop (on a whim really) but was really impressed by it, having not really ever read up on Dylan's life before. From memory, he does seem to fixate on kind of boring aspects every now and again (I seem to remember a lengthy section on the different books his friend kept at his apartment) but a good read overall.

John Peel: Margrave of the Marshes
John Peel was a legend in British radio and was one of the first to play psychedelic & progressive rock on the radio, and was also an early advocate for groups such as the White Stripes. This autobiography/biography is a fantastic record of his career as well as highlighting his obsession with records (he had tens of thousands, stored in a separate building attached to his house, and hand-labelled every one with each track, the times (many were different to that listed in the liner notes), and a star rating systems for each track. He sadly passed away before the book was finished so the last section is written by his wife and daughter.

To Live's to Fly: The Ballad of the Late, Great Townes Van Zandt
I bought this when TVZ was announced as the VMP Essentials pick. Although it starts off heavy (looking deep into the family tree of the musician), it gradually becomes more interesting to the point where I couldn't put it down. TVZ really did lead a tragic life and this book highlights all of this in detail.

Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits
Its no secret that im a big fan of Tom Waits, but theres very few comprehensive biographies out there in the market. This is mainly down to the fact that Waits is incredibly private, but this book by Barney Hoskyns has to be one of the best. Its written with an incredible eye for detail and works through Waits' incredibly crazy life. One interesting aspect is the interviews, and Hoskyns even presents the failed attempts to interview Waits' band members (which ends in Waits asking them not to speak to any journalists).

I Am Ozzy by Ozzy Osbourne
Now this is a really fun read! Ozzy is clearly quite the character and I wasnt expecting too much from this book, but was surprised to see its really well written and cohesive. He chronicles his early, pre-Sabbath days in Birmingham, through to his later life as a family man. Lots of hilarious anecdotes here but also plenty of sad moments, such as the guilt he feels for the plane crash which killed Randy Rhoads.


Vinyl/Record Related Books:

Last Shop Standing: Whatever Happened to Record Shops? by Graham Jones
Kind of a 2-parter in a way and I really really really recommend it, especially for those living in the UK. Graham Jones spent 32 years travelling around the UK to sell to independent record shops. The book highlights this time whilst questioning why so many record shops in the UK have closed down (540 between 2004-2008).

The Vinyl Revival And The Shops That Made It Happen by Graham Jones
This was written several years after his first book (above) and looks at the 'revival' of the record shops which once closed down. There are anecdotes from his time as a rep as well as stories directly from the shop owners. Overall, its a look into how record shop owners have managed to survive as vinyl sales declined, and what they have done since to help push it to a new level.

Tim Book Two: Vinyl Adventures from Istanbul to San Francisco by Tim Burgess
The premise of this book is just fantastic!!! Whilst touring or meeting up with friends, Tim Burgess (of the Charlatans) would ask for a single record recommendation. He then set out to buy these records from independent shops across the world, and noted the anecdotes behind them in this book. Its a really great idea!

Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record Collecting
This book dives into the subculture of record collecting (something we can all relate to) and has some fantastic stories of dream finds, losses, and hunts! It's another great read with an emphasis on rare records, such as old Blues 45's.

Old Records Never Die: One Man's Quest for His Vinyl by Eric Spitznagel
Another fantastic concept! Eric Spitznagel sold his records over the years and as he hit his middle age he decided that he wanted to get them back....the exact same copies. This book contains the story of his hunt, looking at the shops he used to go to (many of which were sold), answering local paper ads and digging through basements. Its a fantastic premise!
Questlove’s memoir is one of my all time favorites.
 

bgod

Member
Joined
May 16, 2019
Messages
53
Location
Massachusetts USA
Rip it Up and Start Again &
Totally Wired: Postpunk Interviews and Overviews
by Simon Reynolds

 
Top