Next best thing to listening to your favourite music? Reading about your favourite music.
The late Frank Zappa may have opined that, "most rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read" but we humbly disagree. Well, we would, but as it is World Book Day, it's entirely apposite that we celebrate some of the best music books ever written. So check out these recommendations, buy them and feed your head with the magic of music and the written word...
1. Revolution In The Head: The Beatles’ Records And The Sixties – Ian McDonald
It’s been said that the best music writing will send you straight to your record collection to listen to that music with fresh ears and no more is this true than Ian McDonald’s exceptional examination of the music of The Beatles and the decade within it was created.
While it’s become orthodoxy to accept the cultural dominance of the Fab Four, the late Ian McDonald explains in precise detail why this is justifiably the case. He tells the story of The Beatles by explaining each of their tracks in the order they were recorded while painting a vivid picture of the social circumstances that influenced them.
Meticulously researched and written with a sharp, critical eye, this is the book by which other music biographies are judged by, and is the definite text on the work of The Beatles.
2. England’s Dreaming: Sex Pistols And Punk Rock – Jon Savage
Viewed from the vantage point of 40 years and a world overloaded with digital and ephemeral information, it’s perhaps easy to forget or fail to understand the impact that punk rock – and Sex Pistols in particular – had in the late 70s.
Author Jon Savage was there and this exhaustive but never exhausting study strips away so much of the mythology surrounding the band and the period. Not only do we see why punk rock had to happen, we see its consequences and cultural ramifications in microscopic detail. Brilliantly written, the book’s appendix and discography also chronicles the essential recordings of the period and the records that influenced them.
For the story of American punk, you’re directed to Legs McNeill and Gillian McCain’s excellent oral history, Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History Of Punk. Here you’ll see why The Ramones are more than just a t-shirt logo
3. Rip It Up And Start Again: Post Punk 1978 – 1984 – Simon Reynolds
Pop theorist and former Melody Maker writer Simon Reynolds here makes the believable claim that the music created in the wake of punk was strong enough to rival that of the 1960s in terms of creativity and impact. Indeed, the book makes it hard to disagree that this period made a deeper and longer lasting cultural impact than punk rock ever.
This is the point where rock music cut its ties with the blues tradition and moved to forge works in the white heat of technology while rooted in idealism and hope. Examining the key players of the period such as Public Image Ltd, Joy Division, Gang Of Four and the Two-Tone movement among many others, Reynolds brilliantly captures these tumultuous times with the eye of a true enthusiast and expert.
4. The Creation Record Story: My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry For The Prize – David Cavanagh
Thanks to the planet shagging success of Oasis, Creation Records become probably the most famous record label in the UK in the mid-90s. Yet it almost didn’t happen as the label fought off bankruptcy, embraced acid house while launching its existence thanks to another pair of squabbling siblings in the form of the Jesus And Mary Chain.
With a roll call of some of the most important British bands to have made music in the 80s and 90s – My Bloody Valentine, Teenage Fanclub, Primal Scream and many others are all present and correct – David Cavanagh strips away the myths and legends to present a thoroughly researched and compelling story of a label and time that’s unlikely to happen again.
5. The Last Train To Memphis: The Rise Of Elvis Presley / Careless Love: The Unmaking Of Elvis Presley – Peter Guralnick
Two volumes, one story. It’s doubtful that popular music as know it would exist in its present form were it not for the impact of Elvis Presley. One of the key cultural figures of the 20th century, Presley’s music brought rock’n’roll to the attention of a wider audience and in doing so, altered the course of history. But Presley’s story is also the cautionary tale of the dark side of the American Dream and Peter Guralnick – widely recognised as one of the foremost chroniclers of American vernacular music – tells the story over two books with authority and a deep love of the subject matter. Highly recommended.