The Best Music Books of 2013
From Moz to Rod, from Byrne to Thorn, Tony Clayton-Lea picks out the best (and, just maybe, the worst) music books of the year
BEST FOR SMARTIES
Ah, Manchester, so much to answer for, or at least that’s what writer Paul Morley would have us believe. In truth, his book The North (and Almost Everything in It) (Bloomsbury, £20), is a durable and fascinating memoir that is as much about Morley’s personal odyssey – from lanky Manc to cultural commentator – as it is about music. He might obscure the point somewhat with a linguistic style that owes more to Roland Barthes than Ronan Keating, but Morley’s opinions on many topics are worth the price of the book alone.
Sample extract: “Here is the north, this is where it lies, where it belongs, full of itself.”
BEST FOR LADS
Rod – The Autobiography (Century, £20)
is the kind of book you’d expect from an old-school rock star unacquainted with the collected works of Andrea Dworkin. And yet Stewart’s story is told in such cheeky-chappy detail that you can only chuckle at the lary shenanigans he gets up to.
Sample extract: “Tucking into a sausage roll while watching an unknown couple have it off struck my wide-eyed 19-year-old self as the height of 60s sophistication.”
BEST FOR VINYL LOVERS
The detail contained in Jeff Gold’s 101 Essential Rock Records: The Golden Age of Vinyl from The Beatles to the Sex Pistols (Gingko Press, £34.50) is all it should be in a book such as this: authoritative, emotive and genuine. Weighted more towards American albums than British, this is simply a beautifully designed must-
have for anyone with an interest in music.
Sample extract: “CDs and downloads are a whole lot easier to transport than vinyl, but there are many of us who just don’t care about that. We want and we need that cardboard-sheathed slab of black plastic in our hands. Now.”
BEST FOR GOSSIP
If you’re looking for something that mixes stark honesty and insight with humour, then Alan McGee’s Creation Stories: Riots, Raves and Running a Label (Sidgwick & Jackson, £18.99) is the book for you. It’s ghost-written by Luke Brown, but McGee’s voice rings clear with tales of Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine and Oasis. Classy.
Sample extract: “I’d never bought an album before I heard David Bowie. I thought albums were for grown-ups. After finding out about Bowie, though, I went out and bought Ziggy Stardust. I must have listened to it about two thousand times, and I think this is when my dad decided there was something wrong with me. He thought I was in love with Bowie. He was right.”
BEST FOR BITCHERY
You have to hand it to Morrissey – he sure knows how to bear a grudge. But not only that: he knows how to sharpen a witticism that could slice your skin off without you noticing. Autobiography (Penguin Classics, £8.99) is a marvelous, if unnecessarily long-winded. book that sincerely makes you wish Mozzer would try his hand at a novel next time he has a strychnine-tipped quill in his hands.
Sample extract: “His finances frittered away, Mike Joyce decided to turn to those who had served him generously in the past, and he decided that they should continue to provide him with cash . . . And off he went, a flea in search of a dog.”
BEST FOR THAT WARM, COSY GLOW
We all know Tracey Thorn can write a rather beguiling pop song, but we didn’t know she could write narrative prose as lovely as that to be read in Bedsit Disco Queen – How I Grew Up and Tried to Be a Pop Star (Virago, £16.99). Thorn’s wonderfully emotive book acts both as a life story well told and as a dignified, gently empowering guide for young female pop stars to learn from.
Sample extract: “My heart goes out to her in her self-consciousness and self-doubt and inability to go with the flow, her determination to let everyone know that she is more than this. I remember feeling like that . . . ”
BEST FOR THINKERS
It’s the best designed book of the year, for sure, but David Byrne’s How Music Works (Canongate, £22) is also the best of the bunch for those who like to mull over intelligently written, highly accessible essays that touch on history, musicology, science and – simply and truthfully – the liberating and life-affirming qualities of both listening and playing music.
Sample extract: “How music works, or doesn’t work, is determined not just by what it is in isolation (if such a condition can ever be said to exist) but in large part by what surrounds
it, where you hear it and when you hear it.”
BEST FOR THE COFFEE TABLE
Call Ikea! These are brilliant but they’re also heavy. Fans of photography and iconic musicians will spend, no doubt, hours poring over Waits/Corbijn ’77-’11: A Collaborative Photographic Book by Tom Waits and Anton Corbijn (Schirmer/Mosel Verlag, £148), but might wince at how it much it costs. Lovers of Irish music will look at the images in Mark Cunningham’s Horslips: Tall Tales – The Official Biography (O’Brien Press, €24.99) and thank God they no longer feel compelled to wear denim flares.
Any jazz aficionados out there? Then cop a feel of Richard Havers’s Verve: The Sound of America (Thames & Hudson, £45). It’s a brilliant repository of classic album and poster art wrapped in rich, aromatic jazz history.
Sample extract: “Jack Kerouac could have written ‘dark warm narcotic American night’ but not ‘don’t defrost the icebox with a ball point pen.’ (From Waits/Corbijn ’77-’11)
AND THE WORST . . .
Harry Styles: Every Piece of Me by Louisa Jepson (Simon & Schuster, £12.99). This book has been read so you don’t have to. That’ll be €500, if you don’t mind. Cash.
Sample extract: 1D’s Louis Tomlinson – “Harry is always getting his bum out. I’ve been asleep before and Harry has hit me round the head with his penis. It actually wrapped around my whole face . . . ”