On my desk is an impressive stack of recently published books. This half dozen volumes brought me almost as much excitement as the music they generated in my head. Checking out the covers, alone, is almost like spinning the vinyl on a turntable. After all these decades of reading books about music, I’m so happy there remain authors able to generate the excitement I got from these.
Robert Gordon, accomplished writer and veteran Memphis music guy, brings the heat with Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion. This is classic, gritty music journalism at it’s best. The Stax Records Story is much more than the up-and-down tale of a record label. This is soul music itself, 1960s and ‘70s America, brought to life on the printed page. You’ll sweat, feel the heat, and find yourself appreciating fine writing as much as the music Gordon tells about. Respect Yourself goes onto the shelf with Guralnick.
Amanda Petrusich goes deep into the mind-set, the very world, of 78 rpm collectors. Recorded music enthusiasts go to great lengths for their passions, they’ll often spend their money on vinyl rather than clothing or food or their home. For better or worse, Petrusich makes her way into their lives, gains trust, and goes fully inside. I find Do Not Sell At Any Price absolutely riveting. I’m helped by having lived in that world, and know some of the characters profiled in these pages. If you enjoy people with passion, you’ll appreciate this book and Petrusich’s ability to share with us the feel, the lives, of these collectors.
If I need to introduce Greil Marcus to you, it’s time to stop reading and Google the man. Find a copy of Mystery Train - begin there. Read it. Now return to today, buy a copy of The History of Rock’N’Roll in Ten Songs, and read slowly. Slow down. Appreciate what Marcus is delivering with this book, how much thought and care he’s put into this. Do you even think an argument about distilling rock’n’roll music into ten songs would ever end, much less result in this thoughtful masterpiece of a book? Like or dislike his choices, I find myself savoring his thought processes and sublime writing. A masterpiece.
Punk USA is an oral history of one of the influential punk record labels. Lookout Records spawned Green Day, the Donnas, Weasel, and a dozen other bands you’ll remember on some level, if you were paying attention in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. What’s special about Kevin Prested’s book? He gets it, the spirit and attitude and rhythm of Lookout Records jumps off the pages. If you’ve fond memories of fanzines, DIY publishing and record sleeves, posters and concert flyers - you’ll find tugs at your heart in Punk USA. Passion is an understated word for the punk world Lookout Records inhabited.
Stealing All Transmissions is a cool story. The United States, at least the intelligent music scene part of this country, fell hard for the Clash in the late 1970s. This book reflects the impassioned work and lives of many people in the field then, notable free-form radio, striving to effect change and take back control of the music industry from the corporate suits. A brief, impassioned history of the revolution taking place in music in the ‘70s, revolving around the Clash and their role leading the charge, Stealing All Transmissions is on-point and true to the spirit and the music.
The Clash put on a fall 1979 show in New York City that may have been the high-water mark of their career. Stealing All Transmissions brings that seminal evening to life, as it does the heartbeat of the band, their fans and the times. The old adage is that a great music book causes your toes to tap. Author Randal Doane brings sweat to my head with his words. As Hemingway said, this is the “true gen.”
The Stones are kicking off another tour of the States. Now, in 2015. I’m excited, though I don’t anticipate spending the kind of money necessary for tickets. How cool is it, that all these decades into their lives and careers, the Rolling Stones continue to generate a frenzy of excitement as another series of concert begin? Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye: The Rolling Stones on the Road to Exile by Robert Greenfield puts it all into context.
In 1971 the Stones set off on a brief circuit of shows in England, the home country they were soon to leave as tax exiles. Greenfield, author of other Stones books and long a confidant of the band, was with them during this pivotal time. Keep in mind, this is immediately pre-Exile On Main Street-era Stones.
Herion is a big deal. Tension between Jagger and Richards is growing. Their music is amazing, but whether the band would even hang together and record again was in doubt. Greenfield was right in the middle, nothing was hidden from him, and once again he brings the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world to life, warts and all.