I think it is safe to say that most of us have a wee bit more time on our hands than normal at the moment and that this is likely to be the status quo for the foreseeable. If you’re trying to figure out ways to pass the time and particularly want some ideas on books to read, then I’ve got you covered. I am a huge fan of books about music- biographies of specific musicians or social histories about a particular genre, doesn’t matter I’ll read it. I’ve read a fair few in my time- some amazing, vivid and vibrant and others indulgent, boring and superficial. You don’t want any of the latter, so here is my list of some of the former…..
**A Riot of Our Own- Johnny Green and Garry Barker
I’m a huge Clash fan and there are a multitude of fantastic books about the only band that ever mattered, and I’ve read most of them! But the Johnny Green book is written by someone who was there side-by-side with the band through some of their formative experiences. Green has great punk rock credentials in that he was a roadie for the Sex Pistols before drifting into being the right-hand-man for The Clash. He drove their van, ran their errands and kept the punk rock dream alive behind the scenes. He was there for their US tour and sets the book against the backdrop of the general explosion of the punk rock scene both here and across the pond. The book features some great illustrations from Ray Lowry and it’s a joyous book that celebrates the human beings behind the legends.
**England’s Dreaming- Jon Savage
If you want a book about punk that is intricately researched; ambitious in its scope and comprehensive in its coverage of one of the most exciting periods of modern music, then you couldn’t do any better than this tome by Jon Savage. It is a biggun- over 600 pages- but it never feels like a chore to finish. Everything is covered vividly and in detail, from the general political and social landscape of the 1970s to the minutiae of the development of the punk scene across England and the impact it had on teenagers from Plymouth to Carlisle. If you’ve got the time, you owe it to yourself to read this book which is one of my favourites.
**The People’s Songs- Stuart Maconie
After I read this book, I told everyone that would listen how great it is. No matter what genre of music you like, what period interests you or even if you only have a passing interest in various waves of popular music, you will find at least a few chapters in this book an informative treat. Maconie’s style is equal parts historically researched and wittily observed and covers a definitively eclectic spectrum of music. The book is a history of music through the lens of songs that have proved to be milestones in the greater musical landscape. We learn about 1960s England via The Kinks’ Dedicated Follower of Fashion; about 80s Goths through The Cure’s Lovecats and 90s girl power by revisiting the Spice Girls’ Wannabe. What I particularly liked about this book was how Maconie does not come across as a musical snob, indulging his own likes and haughtily dismissing those songs that don’t personally appeal to him. Each song, act and genre are critically evaluated fairly, and credit is given where its due (See the chapter on Kylie’s Can’t Get You Out of my Head). I was also very pleased to see my thoughts on the whole Oasis phenomenon mirrored in print.
**She Bop, The Definitive History of Women in Popular Music- Lucy O’Brien
Another full and lively history of modern music but this time, just a history of women in music from the 1920s blues and jazz movements of the United States through to modern pop and dance. Each chapter is packed full of examples of artists and songs who blazed trails within their field and respect is given to all the women whose creativity defined entire genres or sometimes decades. There are chapters on lesser written about movements such as 1950s pop (Connie Francis, Doris Day), world music (Gloria Estefan, Miriam Makeba) and protest pop (Sinead O’Connor, Tracy Chapman), giving the book a holistic feel. However much you think you already know about women in music, this book will be a true source of learning as well as celebration.
**We Got the Neutron bomb- The Untold Story of LA Punk Marc Spitz and Brendan Mullen
The LA punk scene gets its own spotlight in this frenetic catalogue of the early days of American hardcore punk in the late 70s and early 80s. Written in soundbites from those that were there- the zine makers, the musicians, the fans and the photographers- this book lays bare the wild and exhilarating genesis of the scene that gave the world Black Flag, The Germs and The Runaways to name but a few. Fully of crazy characters and crazier exploits, We Got the Neutron Bomb is pure escapism transporting you to the sunny streets of Los Angeles during a period that was hurtling into the Reagan years and all the social and political upheaval that would bring.
What are your favourites? Can you recommend any, maybe about genres that are lesser known? These books are very UK/US centric- can you recommend any books that cover musical movements in different countries?
The above are all non-biographies- that would be a whole other category! Watch this space for more recommended reading when my next post about the best music biographies will tell you whose life story gives the best read!