If you have a music junkie on your gift list then take heart. While there was no blockbuster door stopper a la Keith Richards’ Life this year, there were plenty of new music titles this fall that could please anyone on your list. Here, just a few titles for the music fan in your life:
Find more outstanding biographies and memoirs at Kirkus.
With a gushy foreword by Pearl Jam acolyte Cameron Crowe, this coffee-table book provides a comprehensive day-by-day compendium of touring and recording highlights. It also sheds light on the band’s pre–Pearl Jam history: namely, almost-famous Seattle groups like Green River and Mother Love Bone, who were hampered by bad luck and bad drugs. Add San Diego surfer/beach bum Eddie Vedder to the mix, and from the ashes of the aforementioned bands rose Pearl Jam, whose official popular history begins around 1991. The narration is minimal, and there’s a lot of oral history from band members and commentary from old-guard rockers who became peers, pals and occasional collaborators—Bruce Springsteen, Pete Townshend and Mike Watt, just to name a few. Whether or not readers are fans of the band, the book’s coverage of the Seattle grunge explosion during the early ’90s is impressive…A fun, photo-filled day-in-the-life chronicle of one of America’s hardest-working rock bands.
The Last Sultan: The Life and Times of Ahmet Ertegun
The pampered son of the Turkish ambassador to the United States, Ahmet Ertegun (1923–2006) began promoting jazz concerts as a teen in Washington, D.C., with his older brother. Financed by a loan from his family dentist, he launched Atlantic in late 1947. With original partner Herb Abramson and ex-journalist Jerry Wexler, who joined the firm in 1953, Ertegun led one of the top independent labels of the wide-open ’50s, releasing major R&B hits by Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown and Ray Charles. Presciently diversifying during the ’60s and early ’70s, Ertegun profitably tapped the rock zeitgeist by signing Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills & Nash and, in his biggest coup, the Rolling Stones (the subject of two previous books by Greenfield). Though Atlantic was sold to Warner-Seven Arts for $17.5 million in 1967, Ertegun stayed on with the company for nearly four more decades, serving as chairman through a period of unprecedented upheaval in the record industry until his death at 83…A flavorful, balanced piece of music-biz history.
Harry Belafonte with Michael Shnayerson
Being the first singer to sell 1 million copies of an album (Calypso in 1956) and writing his own ticket at the otherwise segregated Riviera in Las Vegas did little to assuage Belafonte’s fury at the discrimination he had experienced before he made it big. Nor had the emotional scars healed from a poverty-stricken childhood with a severely depressed, impossible-to-please mother, he acknowledges in this forthright memoir, ably co-authored by veteran reporter Shnayerson. Not until he met Martin Luther King Jr. in 1956 did Belafonte find a way to channel his rage into the larger struggle for racial justice. He would become as well known for his unswerving commitment to civil rights as for his records and concerts…Bracingly opinionated autobiography from an American original, still provocative in his ninth decade.
It’s So Easy: And Other Lies
Bassist McKagan is the poster child for not judging a book by its cover. In his solid debut, the author—who studied business at Seattle University and has contributed pieces to Playboy, ESPN.com and Seattle Weekly—proves himself to be a legit writer (though readers may wonder how much credit goes to his Playboy editor Tim Mohr, of whom the author writes, "[this book] is as much his baby, as it is mine”). McKagan has a nice eye for details and a surprisingly good memory. He’s proudly raw and harsh, refusing to hold back in terms of language and content, happy to rail on his band mates, his management, promoters and anybody else who he feels crossed him during his journey to the top, and back down to the middle. But he also points his finger at himself, admitting to all of his ill behavior, be it a loud disagreement with Axl Rose or one of his many devastating benders…McKagan doesn't add much to the oft-told GNR story, but fans will be thrilled by this honest, detailed memoir. (Ed note: Read our Q&A with McKagan on writing his memoir.)
Prince: Inside the Music and the Masks
For much of the 1980s, Prince was arguably the most important pop musician on the planet. He wasn't an originator, however, but a sponge who could take bits and pieces from different genres and manage to create something uniquely his own. The fact that he could sing well, play expertly on several instruments and wear the hell out of skin-tight leotards didn't hurt either. Considering his sales figures, influence and huge, albeit admittedly inconsistent discography, it's surprising that nobody has delivered a noteworthy Prince bio...until now. Veteran journalist Ro (Dr. Dre: The Biography, 2007, etc.) spent a decade researching this book—which shouldn't surprise Prince's fans, as the man is notoriously private—and it was worth it, as he was able to get vital information, opinions and anecdotes from Prince's close and not-so-close associates, everybody from sidemen to record-label execs…An energetic, detailed balance of reportage and criticism about an icon of his era.
I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution
Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum
The Material Girl, The Boss and The King of Pop all helped define what MTV was for most viewers during the 1980s. But this oral history, as told by a star-studded cast of recording artists and industry insiders, is really the story of guys like John Lack, Bob Pittman and Les Garland—“the suits” behind the scenes who rolled the big record companies for all they were worth and revolutionized the way the world got its music, at least for a while. Mostly candid reflections—some complimentary, others conflicting—provide a real sense of what MTV was like before Snooki took over. Torrents of cash and cocaine flowed freely in an archaic atmosphere of almost nonstop sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll—not to mention the crazy bands and unhinged performers. Beneath all the partying, however, lurked insidious instances of myopic racism, rabid sexism and rampant exploitation. For a time, many black artists could not get their videos played on MTV unless their name was Michael Jackson. Supermodel Cindy Crawford never saw a paycheck the first year she did House of Style. And yet, for most concerned, we’re told it was all a blast…A funky-fresh exposé on the 1980s arbiters of cool.
Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back
Former Billboard executive editor Levine knows that he’s arguing against big money, particularly from Google, which, he says, has a profitable interest in an unrestricted flow of consumers searching for free journalism, free music, free books and free movies and TV shows. Unfortunately for more traditional culture businesses, the free Internet has been a disaster. Consider the devastation Napster and the MP3 wrought on the recording industry, supplanting a model in which consumers bought whole albums of songs for upwards of $20 just to own a handful they really liked. While this may have been inefficient for the buyer, Levine argues, it enabled labels to support artists they believed in. He claims the single-centric iTunes model is hardly better than the free version: The low price of songs, designed to entice people into buying the expensive equipment to play them on, leaves less for the artists and studios that produce them. A similar dynamic had been at work in the publishing industry, writes the author, where Amazon’s Kindle threatened to collapse the royalty structure in hard-copy publishing until publishers and Amazon’s competitors forced it, after an ugly public battle, to adopt higher “agency model” prices on most e-books…A valiant effort to raise public consciousness on an unheralded issue.
Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music
Although classically trained folkie Collins (Singing Lessons, 1998, etc.) may exude an angelic veneer of ivory-snow purity and Midwestern conservatism, this memoir should dispel any remaining air of innocence surrounding the woman who made Stephen Sondheim’s saccharine “Send In the Clowns” a top-10 hit. Collins was raised in a middle-class family in Colorado at the beginning of World War II. Her father was a blind radio personality with some modicum of notoriety. However, he was also a depression-prone alcoholic whose addictive personality got passed down to his musician daughter with full potency. Although this is as booze-soaked a memoir as any rock star could hope to write, Collins provides a panoramic view of a politically turbulent but creatively explosive bygone era. Along with telling the story of her own rise to prominence in the mid-’60s New York City folk scene, the author also places her life in its broader historical context. Readers will get a keen sense of the tenor of the times as Collins repopulates the Greenwich Village streets with all the vibrant characters and long-vanished performance venues that helped make that neighborhood famous…a fascinating and even harrowing musical and personal reflection.
Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Music Made New in New York City in the ’70s
To many music snobs, the mid ’70s weren't a particularly fertile time for most musical genres, especially in comparison to the nonstop growth of the previous two decades. (The rise and fall of disco didn't help lend any weight to the era.) But by shining the spotlight on the diverse New York City scene of 1973-77, Rolling Stone senior critic Hermes argues successfully for the vitality of the period. Many critics believe that the greatest innovation of the day was punk and/or New Wave—the Ramones, Patti Smith, the Talking Heads, Television, everybody who graced the stage at CBGBs, etc.—but Hermes points out that this was a time when the seeds of hip-hop were planted by the likes of Grandmaster Flash…A hip, clever, informative look at an unjustifiably dismissed musical era that will have readers scouring iTunes for the perfect accompanying soundtrack.
Edited by Alex Ross and Daphne Carr
The latest entry in the annual anthology of music journalism draws on a breadth of sources, from metro dailies and national magazines to websites, blogs and even Twitter. [New Yorker music editor] Ross brings in lively pieces from his primary discipline, classical music: Justin Davidson offers a measured contemplation of Beethoven’s contemporary interpreters, and online contest winners risibly summarize opera librettos in 140-character tweets. Befitting the times, pop mega-stars are the focus of several penetrating profiles: Vanessa Grigoriadis on Lady Gaga, Chris Norris on Will.i.am, Caryn Ganz on Nicki Minaj. Jonathan Bogart’s critical take on Ke$ha tells you more than you may ever want to know about pop’s trollop of the moment, but does it hilariously…The most startling stuff drives boldly into new territory: Lauren Wilcox Puchowski’s profile of a Washington, D.C., wedding band at work, Jason Cherkis on a Baltimore record collector’s life-changing obsession with an early 20th-century Greek vocalist, Chris Richards’ search for Parliament-Funkadelic’s Mothership stage prop and Joe Hagan on the profound darkness revealed in Nina Simone’s hitherto unpublished diaries. There is also a dizzying chapter from Dave Tompkins’ book How to Wreck a Nice Beach, excerpted by NPR.org, about the vocoder’s passage from cryptography to music…A great incentive to fire up Spotify, or even the old stereo.