My list consists of some old and some new books. I read more than the average person, I guess, around 60 books a year. At least 20 of these books are non-fiction, and they are about art. Art in the form of literature, film, music, painting and so on. Most of them are about music.
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.
Here is my list.
1. Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years by Mark Lewisohn:
I think I’ve read more books about The Beatles than any other band/artist (yes, including Dylan) and this new book may be the best I have read. Tune In is the first volume of All These Years—a biographical trilogy by Beatles historian, Mark Lewisohn.
Ten years in the making, Tune In takes the Beatles from before their childhoods through the last hour of 1962—when, with breakthrough success just days away, they stand on the cusp of a whole new kind of fame and celebrity. They’ve one hit record , Love Me Do, behind them and the next , Please Please Me, primed for release, their first album session is booked, and America is clear on the horizon. This is the pre-Fab years of Liverpool and Hamburg—and it is told in unprecedented detail. Here is the “complete” account of their family lives, childhoods, teenage years and their infatuation with American music, here is the story of their unforgettable days and nights in the Cavern Club, their life when they could move about freely, before fame closed in.
The first ten years in 944 pages. Many people were afraid that Lewisohn should write in a dry and academic style, he does not. He transports us into the lives of these young men, and we really feel like we are with them on this exiting journey. The words make the story sing.
This is clearly the best music book of 2013.
2. One More Night: Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour by Andrew Muir
‘The Never Ending Tour’ celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2013. Its time span already represents almost half of Dylan’s entire career and totals over 2,500 shows!
Bob Dylan expert (and fan) Andrew Muir documents the ups and downs of this unprecedented trek. Muir analyses and assesses Dylan’s performances over the years, with special focus on many memorable shows. One More Night traces what it all means both in terms of Dylan’s artistic career and in the lives of the dedicated Dylan followers who collect recordings of every show and regularly cross the globe to catch up with the latest leg.
Many Dylan followers collect recordings of his live shows, this is the book to get if you want to know what shows to look for (as a start). An essential addition to the canon of Dylan literature.
3. Jerry Lee Lewis – Lost and Found by Joe Bonomo (2010):
“Besides “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire,” the best-known fact anent Jerry Lee Lewis is that marrying his 13-year-old second cousin scuttled his rocketing young career. Bonomo launches his appreciation of Lewis from that event, homing in on Lewis’ first British tour, at the beginning of which the news was broken. A mass cancellation followed, and back home it became hard to get new Lewis records airplay. Lewis hit the road heavily to maintain his lifestyle (which came to include hitting booze and pills pretty hard, too) and eventually scored big time on the country charts in the late 1960s. Between rock and country stardom, however, he returned to Britain in 1962 and 1963 and, concluding the ’63 jaunt in Hamburg, Germany, recorded one of the acknowledged greatest live albums ever. Accounting for every aspect of that record is the loving heart of Bonomo’s tribute, and he continues to thoughtfully evaluate Lewis’ country albums. The intrinsically interesting Jerry Lee and Bonomo’s good judgment compensate for too much rock-crit boilerplate. “
This is a great book about one of my favorite albums. Yes, it is about more than that, but it really shines when Bonomo writes about the live album from the Star Club in Hamburg (1964). I think it is the best book written about a singular album.
4. Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke by Peter Guralnick (2005)
Sam Cooke’s story, the importance of his contribution to American music, the dramatic early days of the civil rights movement, and the mystery that surrounds his death. Peter Guralnick, one of my all time favorite authors of music books, tells this moving and significant story, from Sam Cooke’s childhood as a choirboy to an adulthood when he was anything but.
Dream Boogie is a compelling tale of one man striving to achieve his vision despite all obstacles. It reads like the best novels. It is in fact a history lesson, a portrait of America during the turbulent and hopeful 1950s and 1960s. Guralnick knows this period better than most and manages to convey a sense of place and mood that few other biographers can.
If you haven’t read his Elvis books, Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love, you should, they are probably the best biographies ever written!
5. In the Country of Country: A Journey to the Roots of American Music by Nicholas Dawidoff (1998):
This book brings country music (real country music) into the 21st century. It goes back to the roots and examine the beginnings of this musical genre in detail and with love. From Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter family, Bill Monroe and the Louvin Bothers, Dock Watson, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells, and the current torch carriers of country like Iris DeMent, The Flatlanders and Emmylou Harris.
Nicholas Dawidoff tries to show us how this music is genuine, and he succeeds. The book includes a wonderfully useful discography, and extensive notes. For those of you who can’t stand the current crop of Nashville country posers, this book gives heart to the true music of America.
This is a book for people who can relate to Steve Earl’s outburst: “If Garth Brooks is country, then what the hell am I doing!”
6. Legendary Sessions: Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited by Collin Irwin
7. Satan Is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers by Charlie Louvin and Benjamin Whitmer
8. The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years 1962-1970 by Mark Lewisohn
9. The Beatles Diary Volume 2: After The Break-Up 1970-2001: “Beatles” Years v. 1 by Keith Badman
10. Dylan’s Visions of Sin by Christopher Ricks