Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

A dozen from the bookshelves

A couple of weeks ago, in the middle of a thread about something else, an OTR reader asked could we provide some music book recommendations. I promised then that I’d get around to it and, voila, here’s a list of …

Tue, Nov 24, 2009, 16:14


A couple of weeks ago, in the middle of a thread about something else, an OTR reader asked could we provide some music book recommendations. I promised then that I’d get around to it and, voila, here’s a list of a dozen music books to check out if you’d prefer not to be watching the telly.

Please note that it is just “a list” and is by no means the only list I could hammer out. There’s a bunch of music business books in there because they just happen to be fabulous reads (Walter Yetnikoff’s story is probably more rock’n'roll than “Hammer of the Gods”). I’ve left out the usual suspects – Jon Savage, Paul Morley, Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus etc – because I’m assuming everyone already has ‘em or has had their fill of ‘em. There’s also very few music bios on the list because most music bios are about as exciting as watching paint dry. Yep, there are exceptions – and many books I’ve omitted – so get busy in the comments.

Also, on a book tip, “In Bloom – Irish Bands Now”, the book from 2fm’s Jenny Huston which profiles a host of current Irish bands, goes on release on Friday. More on this next week.

For now, here’s the OTR baker’s dozen in no particular order whatsoever. Hey, Christmas is around the corner….

David Cavanagh “The Creation Recods Story: My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry For the Prize” (Virgin Books)

The blockbuster story of Alan McGee and Creation Records from start to finish with absolutely nothing left out. Regardless of your feelings about Creation’s output over the years and the fact that the Sony-signed Oasis basically saved McGee’s ass (and also proved to be Creation’s ultimate downfall), David Cavanagh’s book is hugely readable, intriguing and a fine slab of indie rock history.

Peter Hook “The Hacienda: How Not To Run A Club” (Simon & Schuster)

The latest from The Factory/Hac/Wilson/New Order mini-industry has off-the-ankle bass animal Peter Hook trying to remember what the hell the Hacidana was all about. An odyssey of sex, drugs, gangsters, Situationalist bullshit and acid house. Even the libel report compiled by the publishers is a hoot.

Jah Wobble “Memoirs Of A Geezer” (Serpent’s Tail)

Another bass player with a great yarn to tell. The best thing about John Wardle’s autobiography is that he’s crushingly honest. Regardless of if he’s talking about John Lydon, the various gobshites he’s encountered in the record business or his own battles with booze, Wobble never pulls his punches. Review here.

Walter Yetnikoff “Howling at the Moon: The Odyssey of a Monstrous Music Mogul in an Age of Excess” (Random House)

The mind boggles at how Hollywood would deal with this gargantuan tale of excess, ego and extra-large tantrums from the former Mr CBS Records. Actually, I wonder has anyone bought the film rights? Truly one of the most entertaining, rip-roaring books ever written about the record business. Interview with Yetnikoff from 2004 here.

Fredric Dannen “Hit Men” (Vintage)

There was, of course, one topic which enraged Yetnikoff and that was Fredric Dannen’s expose on independent promotion, payola and all that jazz. Yetnikoff wasn’t the only one left sore by what Dannen had to say about widespread practices in the record business and dodgy links between labels and radio stations. Sure, that would never happen today…..

Steve Knopper “Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Rise and Fall of the Record Industry in the Digital Age” (Simon & Schuster)

Interestingly, the rights to Steve Knopper’s fabulous tale about how the record industry went from boom to bust when digital became the major player have just been optioned by HBO for a movie. Knopper knows his music biz onions so the book really does cover all bases as it tracks how an once-mighty industry was toppled not so much by pirates and Napster but by its own intransigence and stupidity. Review here and interview with Knopper here.

Jeff Chang “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” (Picador)

The story of hip-hop from a Saturday night hop at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx to the modern day hustle have been told many, many times, but Jeff Chang’s book gets the nod for his writing style, indepth interviews and the enthusiasm and love for the sound and culture which bounces off every page.

Lloyd Bradley “Bass Culture: When Reggae Was King” (Penguin)

There’s also been plenty of good reads about reggae, but Lloyd Bradley’s expansive work and exhaustive research is the one, especially for how he joins the dots between the music and the culture. One examples of this is how he goes well beyond the symbolical Bob Marley-instigated handshake between rival politicians Michael Manley and Edward Seaga to examine reggae’s seismic effect on Jamacian politics and how the island’s economic demise in the mid-Seventies impacted on reggae-nomics.

John Harris “The Last Party: Britpop, Blair and the Demise of English Rock” (Harper Collins)

Jamacia is not the only place where pop and politics collided, but the dalliances between Britpop’s gallery of caners and Tony Blair’s New Labour project were of a much more ridiculous cut. John Harris’ book is a brilliant blast of reportage on those daft days when Oasis and 10 Downing Street went together like dumb and dumber.

Anthony Haden-Guest “The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco, and the Culture of the Night” (Haper Collins)

Obviously a popular title, this particular “Last Party” sees Anthony Haden-Guest tripping the light fantastic in the madhouse that was Studio 54 and assessing its place amongst the other New York’s glitterball palaces of the 1970s and 1980s and the culture of the time. Packed with more name-dropping and jaw-dropping incidents than your favourite society column.

Nelson George “Hip Hop America” (Penguin)

Nelson George is one of the most astute and insightful writers in the hip-hop and r’n'b game – there’s no better book than George’s “The Death of Rhythm and Blues” on the foibles of black music culture, for instance – and his take on hip-hop pulls together all of the old school and new school threads. While he’s obviously a fan and an enthusiast, he’s also a realist about how much the culture he once fell in love with has changed.

Simon Napier-Bell “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” (Ebury)

The manager of the Yardbirds, Wham!, Marc Bolan and others has written a couple of books – his tour diary on Wham in China, “I’m Coming to Take You To Lunch”, is great fun – but this flamboyant trawl through the gutters and glitter of Sixties British pop is a hoot from start to finish.