But, really, there is no shame in enjoying a thick and juicy biography or autobiography about one’s musical heroes. After all, few people in our culture have the variety of experiences a rock star might have, and fewer have the extroverted personalities that would want it all out in the public. Then layer in the books that tell you the fifty, hundred or five hundred songs you should hear before you croak, or the stories of how a classic album came to be, and you just might be sitting in your comfy chair with a cup of tea and a stack of books to last you a month.
Allow us to get you going with your required reading list. Here are some Popdose Staff-approved tomes about yours and our favorite subject, as well as a few stinkeroos to sidestep.
Will Harris – If it wasn’t for Mr. (Jeff) Giles’ contributions to BullzEye.com, I wouldn’t own a copy of The Greatest Music Never Sold: Secrets of Legendary Lost Albums by David Bowie, Seal, Beastie Boys, Chicago, Mick Jagger, and More!, which I’d never heard of until he wrote it up for us – but somehow I feel like the diversity in musical tastes of the Popdose staff, not to mention the amount of time that’s passed since Bullz-Eye’s feature originally ran, would result in a lot of different books being cited.
Annie Logue – Shane MacGowan’s autobiography, A Drink with Shane MacGowan. One of the most amazing tales of addiction ever written. To this day, I will not drink brandy, because Shane says that it will kill you. I also liked Larry Kirwan’s Green Suede Shoes. I’m not a big fan of Black 47, but it’s a great story about trying to navigate the music industry as an also-ran sort of band.
Dw. Dunphy – My favorite, up to this point, is X-Ray: The Unauthorized Autobiography from Ray Davies. It’s told in a quasi-fictional way and if you’re asking Dave, it’s probably complete fiction, but it avoided much of the self-congratulatory “Ain’t I Great” muck most rock books dissolve into.
Tony Redman – I seem to remember that this one was pretty good too: Hollywood Hi-Fi: Over 100 of the Most Outrageous Celebrity Recordings Ever!
Jeff Giles – Whoa, I haven’t seen that one before. Looks like it should come with the collected Golden Throats.
Will – I’ve got it, and it’s fantastic. A lot of great – by which I mean ridiculous – albums and singles, many of which I hadn’t been aware of before reading it.
Tony – I forgot to mention that there’s actually a companion CD to it that was sold separately (and that I also have) that covers some of the songs mentioned in the book.
Jason Hare – I don’t know if anybody else owned this book: Rock Movers and Shakers: An A-Z of the People Who Made Rock Happen. The cover is idiotic, but the book was all business inside. It was subsequently released as VH1 Rock Stars Encyclopedia and I think a version under the Q banner was released in the UK. As a teen, I read (and re-read) this book constantly. Basically, it’s a day-by-day chronology of major events for tons and tons of bands. It was a great reference when I was just getting to know an artist and wanted to sort of get an idea of their place in music. I have one of the newer releases and I still read it from time-to-time.
Will – And I read it obsessively, too.
I could’ve taken that “Rock of Pages” piece from 3 pages to about 10 with no problem if I hadn’t also been running lead on the feature, too. Well, that and having to actually write something about all of the selections, too…
Jeff – I had it too! Wow, I’d forgotten all about that book.
Scott Malchus – This is one of my favorite music related books. For any of you who recall the glory days of rock n’ roll radio, it’s a great read. Radio Daze: Stories from the Front In Cleveland’s FM Air Wars.
Jon Cummings – (One of my) LEAST favorite rock reads, for example, is this one: Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina and Richard Farina, wherein the author dismisses Dylan as some sort of poseur copycat who built his career on the back of Richard Farina, the motorcycle-rebel-folksinger husband of Joan Baez’s sister Mimi. HATED this book — not least because it was so full of inaccuracies on facts that you could look up on Wikipedia in about 10 seconds.
As for my faves, I know it’s cliched, but I’d go back and re-read Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music anytime (and often do), and I’m a huge fan of Peter Guralnick’s Feel Like Goin’ Home.
Dave Steed – I recently finished the Limp Bizkit biography. I should call that my least favorite but expectations were relatively low to begin with and it met them dead on.
By the way – if you like rap and haven’t read it, Jay-Z’s Decoded is excellent and very unique.
Jeff – I wonder who’s going to call first dibs on The Worst Rock-And-Roll Records of All Time: A Fan’s Guide to the Stuff You Love to Hate.
Matt Wardlaw – Wow, for a penny, I might have to check that out!
Jeff – You mean you haven’t read it yet? Order it immediately.
Tony – Yes, you should. This is a good one, and if you have more knowledge of some of these artists than I do, you’ll probably enjoy it even more.
And wasn’t #1 Having Fun on Stage With Elvis?
Dw. – (shudders) And on that note, I have to ask it — Steed, what possessed you to read the Limp Bizkit book?
Will – Probably the same thing that possessed me to read Engelbert Humperdinck’s autobiography: whether you like their music or not, everybody’s got stories, and you never know where you find you might find a good one.
On a related note, I absolutely recommend Mr. Humperdinck’s Engelbert: What’s in a Name?: The Autobiography.
Dw. – I suppose now is as good a time to endorse this…
Matt Springer – I went through a big Griel Marcus phase in college, which explains why I remained a virgin till after graduation. I’ll always regret not choosing a “big partying phase” or “big promiscuous phase” instead. Oh well.
Love Bye Bye Baby: My Tragic Love Affair with The Bay City Rollers as well, great fan memoir…all of Chuck Klosterman’s music writing is great stuff IMHO…of course, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung: The Work of a Legendary Critic: Rock’N’Roll as Literature and Literature as Rock ‘N’Roll
is well-worn in the Springer household. The first big music book that grabbed my imagination, for better or worse, was Philip Norman’s book on the Beatles, Shout!: The Beatles in Their Generation
Ken Shane – When it comes to music biography, no one touches Peter Guralnick. His two volume Elvis bio, Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, and Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, is not only the best music bio I’ve ever read, but probably the best bio period. Another books of his, Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom, a history of southern soul, is right up there as well.
Jon – I’ll “ditto” Ken’s remarks, just to be Limbaughish — those Elvis books are amazing, and I really like Sweet Soul Music (though not as much as Feel Like Goin’ Home). Looking for Robert Johnson is a nice little book, too. As for Matt’s remarks … I’ll just say I didn’t start reading Greil Marcus ’til after college, and got a few things done in the meantime — though it’s worth asking, is there anybody who didn’t go through a “big promiscuous phase” who doesn’t now wish he/she had? I know I do.
By the way, Shout is a terrific book, extremely detailed, but it’s slightly too serious — and Norman admits in the preface to his much-more- recent John Lennon: The Life that a number of the facts and analyses in Shout were completely bollocksed. I’m something of a connoisseur of Beatles books — I might have (probably not) lost my virginity in high school if it weren’t for them — but if I had to hand a person one Fab Four book to read for his entire life, it would be a magically updated version of Schaffner’s Beatles Forever. I haven’t read another book that so perfectly balances the pop-culture-fandom aspect with the biography and the sociology, all with a light touch that is a much better reflection of the era than the heavier Beatles volumes.
- Letter from the Editor: Slowly, Please (popdose.com)
- The Friday Mixtape: Popdose Flashback ’91: The Beat Mix (popdose.com)
- The Popdose Podcast: Episode 16 (popdose.com)
- Popdose 2010: Michael Fortes’ Top Albums (popdose.com)