High Fives 2012 – Music Books

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You should have realised by now that I would get the last word on this one.  We’ve had some varied and interesting selections from our regular team and from several guest contributors.  Many thanks for that to Billy Ray Martin, Dean Owens, Lilygun, Skye Edwards and Steve Jenner.  As well as all of the great music we’ve highlighted on MusicRiot, we’ve also seen a great selection of books about music and music-related subjects so, in no particular order, here are my favourites from 2012.

“Going to Sea in a Sieve” – Danny BakerProduct Details

I realise that Danny Baker is a bit like Marmite: he tends to provoke strong reactions.  If you already like Danny Baker, this is a must; his writing style is very conversational and he has some wonderful stories to tell from a career stretching over 40 years in the music and media industries.  The real beauty of the book is that none of the anecdotes seem to be overplayed; if anything, he seems to play down stories of meetings with Elton John, pre-success Queen (which is hilarious) and Michael Jackson.  I’m already looking forward to the next volume.

“Mind the Bollocks” – Johnny SharpProduct Details

There’s a link to the previous book here; both were written by ex-NME writers, but that’s where the similarity ends.  Here, Johnny Sharp (who wrote for the NME as Johnny Cigarettes) skewers pretension, hype and plain drug-induced nonsense in a book that’s absolutely overflowing with schadenfreude.  As a counterbalance to stabbing his former colleagues in the back, he’s not afraid of exposing himself to ridicule where it’s deserved, which adds to the overall credibility of the book.  Interestingly, one of the so-called facts torn apart by Sharp was the article from “The Word” in 2010 claiming that the charts were now dominated by stars who had been privately educated.  It’s ironic that Billy Bragg used this so-called fact in his John Peel lecture for 6 Music recently.

“Pulphead: Dispatches from the Other Side of America” – John Jeremiah SullivanProduct Details

This is a fascinating series of essays which are mainly, but not exclusively, observations on some of the more interesting nooks and crannies of popular music including perceptive pieces on Christian Rock festivals, Michael Jackson and Axl Rose.  Moving away from music, Sullivan discourses on reality TV, how he dealt with his brother almost dying of an electric shock, smoking weed in Disneyland and rogue palaeontologists and anthropologists.  His point of view is always more or less skewed and always entertaining.

“Unknown Pleasures:Inside Joy Division” – Peter HookProduct Details

Having read Hooky’s first volume of memoirs “The Haçienda: How Not to Run a Club”, this was always one to add to the library.  Hooky, like Danny Baker, writes in a very conversational style and is incredibly honest about his own mistakes, particularly in the events leading up to the suicide of Ian Curtis.  When he isn’t dealing with tragedy, however, he’s hilarious in a very readable, self-deprecatory style.  I’m already looking forward to the next instalment dealing with New Order.

“Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippy Dream” – Neil YoungProduct Details

OK, I admit it; I’m a Neil Young fan.  I read the Jimmy McDonough biography, “Shakey”, which Young didn’t authorise but didn’t actively obstruct but left it feeling slightly let down, so the idea of an autobiography grabbed my interest from the start.  The experience of reading the book is a bit like a Neil Young guitar solo; you never know where it’s going next, but you know it’s going to be interesting.  He intersperses autobiographical material with enthusiastic promotion of the various technology projects which he’s developing, including the Lionel model railway, the environmentally friendly Lincvolt car and the Pono high quality music player.  In an age of jaded superstars, it’s great to hear someone being enthusiastic about his projects and constantly reiterating his love for family and friends.  You finish this book feeling that you actually know something about Neil Young and that’s the mark of a good biography for me.

All of these books are worth reading if you want to know a little more about what lies behind the music and the headlines from the viewpoint of people who were actually involved.  You might also want to have a look at Carole King’s “Natural Born Woman” and Pat Long’s “The History of The NME”.

Have a great New Year.