The Seven best music books of 2014
When I read about music, I need to listen to the music I read about. A good red wine in the glass, or a good cup of coffee and the music playing in the background. The artists catalogue (and bootlegs) should be available to me, so that when I read about a concert or a record, I can listen to that music when I read. It is not always possible, but very often it is. I need to set the mood.
I don’t look at the year of release when I buy music books, but I do buy interesting new releases.
I’ve plowed through about 30 books about music this year, most of them old books about music history (blues, country or certain albums), these are The Seven Best Music Books of 2014:
1. The Lyrics: Since 1962 by Bob Dylan
A major publishing event—a beautiful, comprehensive collection of the lyrics of Bob Dylan with artwork from thirty-three albums, edited and with an introduction by Christopher Ricks.
As it was well put by Al Kooper: “Bob is the equivalent of William Shakespeare. What Shakespeare did in his time, Bob does in his time.”
Christopher Ricks, editor of T. S. Eliot, Samuel Beckett, Tennyson, and The Oxford Book of English Verse: “For fifty years, all the world has delighted in Bob Dylan’s books of words and more than words: provocative, mysterious, touching, baffling, not-to-be-pinned-down, intriguing, and a reminder that genius is free to do as it chooses. And, again and again, these are not the words that he sings on the initially released albums.”
This edition changes things, giving us the words from officially released studio and live recordings, as well as selected variant lyrics and revisions, recent revisions and retrospective ones; and, from the archives, words that, till now, have not been published.
2. Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, The Band and the Basement Tapes Revised and Updated Edition by Sid Griffin
It’s 1967, the Summer of Love, and Bob Dylan is holed up in Woodstock with a group of musicians once known as The Hawks, laying down a set of recordings that will soon turn the music world on its head. These recordings the Basement Tapes would not be released commercially by Dylan at first, but would emerge in the form of cover versions by acts such as the Byrds, Manfred Mann, and Peter Paul & Mary. Together, they would inspire a homespun, back-to-basics approach in the work of the Beatles, the Stones, the Grateful Dead, and many others, while also kick-starting the entire Americana genre.
In this revised and updated edition published to coincide with The New bootleg series release, a major new documentary about the Basement Tapes and the release of the T Bone Burnett-produced Lost on the River album author and musician Sid Griffin sheds light on this pivotal yet often misunderstood moment in popular music history.
3. History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs by Greil Marcus
Highlights: The passage where Marcus gives us a vivid picture of the composing Beatles in his Crying Waiting Hoping chapter is like the music itself. Perfect. And, the parallel stories of Etta James and Beyonce is very insightful and fun to read. Hell, I could list all the “stories”.
Unlike all previous versions of rock ’n’ roll history, this book omits almost every iconic performer and ignores the storied events and turning points that everyone knows. Instead, in a daring stroke, Greil Marcus selects ten songs recorded between 1956 and 2008, then proceeds to dramatize how each embodies rock ’n’ roll as a thing in itself, in the story it tells, inhabits, and acts out—a new language, something new under the sun. This book will become another classic from Marcus’s hand.
4. The Dylanologists: Adventures in the land of Bob by David Kinney
FAN: “You don’t know who I am, but I know who you are.”
BOB DYLAN: “Let’s keep it that way.”
Kinney introduces us to a vibrant underground: diggers searching for unheard tapes and lost manuscripts, researchers obsessing over the facts of Dylan’s life and career, writers working to decode unyielding mysterious songs, road warriors who meticulously record and dissect every concert.
The story of Dylan’s followers is also a revealing portrait of the artist himself. Here, reflected in the fans he inspired and the cultural movements he helped create, is every twist and turn in a career that has swerved from lefty activist to ultra-hip spokesman for a generation to woodsy recluse, from secular storyteller to fire-breathing Christian evangelist, from punch line to elder statesman.
5. I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, the Staple Singers, and the March up Freedom’s Highway by Greg Kot
“A biography that will send readers back to the music of Mavis and the Staple Singers with deepened appreciation and a renewed spirit of discovery”
– Kirkus Reviews
This is the story of living legend Mavis Staples
Critically acclaimed biographer and Chicago Tribune music critic Greg Kot cuts to the heart of Mavis Staples’s music, revealing the intimate stories of her sixty-year career. From her love affair with our man Bob Dylan, to her creative collaborations with Prince, to her recent revival along Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, this definitive account shows Mavis as you’ve never seen her before.
Filled with never-before-told stories, a great story!
6. Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story by Rick Bragg
Not as good as Joe Bonomo’s Jerry Lee Lewis Lost and Found or Hellfire by Nick Tosches, but still a good read (I’m finishing it now)
This is an authorised biography of this musical genius in his own words. For the very first time we get Lewis’s take on the history. From encounters with legends including Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, John Lennon, Mick Jagger and more, to hair-raising first-person accounts of Jerry’s lifelong rivalries with Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry for the title of king of rock-and-roll. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Rick Bragg traces the story of the young Jerry Lee Lewis from the American South who used his piano to drive the world into a music revolution.
7. Rock Stars Stole My Life!: A Big Bad Love Affair with Music by Mark Ellen
Mark Ellen dreamt that music was a rich meadow of possibility, a liberating leap to a sparkling future, an industry of human happiness – and he wanted to be part of it. Thus began his 50-year love affair with rock and roll.
From his time at the NME and Smash Hits to Radio One, Old Grey Whistle Test, Live Aid, Q, Select, Mojo and The Word magazines, he’s been at the molten core of its evolution, and watched its key figures from a unique perspective. This is a very funny and touching personal memoir that maps out his eventful journey.
British to the core and did I say that it was funny? A book that I will read again and again.