Category: Music

Recommended Reading: Books on Music – Your Choices

Well. I wasn’t expecting this when I asked you to suggest any books on music I might have missed! When I compiled my original list, I thought I might get maybe half a dozen folk recommending their favourite music texts, if I were lucky – instead, I was sent suggestions by nearly forty different people. Indeed, at one stage last night, the tweets were coming in so fast that I couldn’t keep up with them all and make a note of all the book titles you were sending my way at the same time! My apologies if I didn’t reply then – but I did see and note down all of them, and all of them are here (apart from one or two that I couldn’t find any info for).

And there are some great books here. Some I had actually read and shamefully forgotten about (Joe Boyd’s White Bicycles and Legs McNeil’s Please Kill Me for a start), some classics which I really should have read but haven’t (such as Ian Hunter’s Diary of A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star), and some I’ve never heard of but will definitely be tracking down as soon as I can (like Mark E. Smith’s autobiography, which sounds terrifying!). But they’ve all been recommended by people whose taste and opinions I respect – and therefore I happily recommend them to everyone else…

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone whose contributions made this list possible. I’d thank all 37 of you individually, but we’d be here all night and this post would be even longer than it already is. You know who you are.

This list has, like the original, been divided into three sections for ease of perusal. Biography, Autobiography and Memoirs contains exactly that – books written by or about a band, artist or music industry insider. Scenes, Eras and Places lists volumes covering specific times, locations and musical movements that have had an important impact in some way. Finally, Collected Writings covers more general texts, and compilations of music journalism and other writings. Each section is listed in alphabetical order by the author’s surname and the date given is that of first publication where known, unless otherwise stated.

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Recommended Reading: Books on Music

I’m often asked what books I would recommend to someone wanting to delve deeper into the history of the various popular music scenes of the past fifty years or so. That’s an interesting question, as there are so many fascinating volumes out there (and a fair few blatant cash-ins too, which really aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on). Rummaging through my own now-sizeable collection of music books inspired me to put together this list  – that and being a total listoholic, as regular readers will know!

When it comes down to it, I’m not necessarily saying these are the ‘best’ books on music ever because that’s such a subjective definition – I’ve chosen these books because I have read and enjoyed them all, and because I think they would be of interest to those music fans wanting to learn more about the music they know and the music they don’t. Most of them will be easy enough to find – your local library or bookshop should stock many of these titles – but you may have to track down one or two online. They’re worth the effort though…

The list has been divided into three sections for ease of perusal. Biography, Autobiography and Memoirs contains exactly that – books written by or about a band, artist or music industry insider. Scenes, Eras and Places lists volumes covering specific times, locations and musical movements that have had an important impact in some way. Finally, Collected Writings covers more general texts, and compilations of music journalism and other writings. Each section is listed in alphabetical order by the author’s surname and the date given is that of first publication, where known.

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Thank you Toppermost!

After last month’s excellent series of guest posts on Another Kind Of Mind, it was suddenly my turn to be writing something for someone else – indeed, the nice chaps over at the very excellent Toppermost interactive music website kindly asked me to put together a playlist and an article on the solo albums of Bob Mould (ex-Hüsker Dü and Sugar), one of my favourite musicians.

So, naturally, I jumped at the chance – and you can read the finished article at Toppermost here.

And as a taster, here’s one of my favourite tracks from the Bob Mould Toppermost playlist. Turn it up loud and enjoy!

Guest Post: Music or Lyrics?

For today’s birthday guest post, musician and blogger Ian Lipthorpe has decided to examine a subject I am sure many of us will have an opinion on – when you listen to a song, what is more important, the music or the lyrics? And why? I have to admit I go with both, depending on the song, but you may disagree with me – or with Ian. Have your say in the comments below!

If you’d like to read more, Ian blogs about music over at Harmony Corruption. He also curated the unofficial Manic Street Preachers Top 50 site New Chart Riot and you can hear some of his music (under the name Beneath Utopia) on Soundcloud.

In the world of modern music the majority of songs we listen to contain lyrics in one form or another. So it got me thinking, how much importance do we put on lyrics in songs compared to the music? Do we listen to the music first and the lyrics second, if at all? Do the lyrics make a difference as to how much we like a song? Does anyone like a song because of the lyrics but aren’t especially keen on the music?

There are obviously varying degrees of all of the above, but the subject does intrigue me. You see, I’m a music man through and through. I know the lyrics, I sing the lyrics, but to paraphrase Nirvana on ‘In Bloom’, I don’t necessarily think about what it means. Even stranger, you might think, given my well-known Manics tendencies. That doesn’t mean I don’t have the capacity to read them and understand what they mean, I just generally don’t bother (shame on you, you cry!).

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Guest Post: Why do we love music?

Thank you very much to Fi for this thought-provoking birthday guest post on a subject that many of us probably haven’t ever contemplated much – but perhaps we should. Can you trace where your love of or taste in music comes from? Why is music important to you? How has your taste in music changed over time? Plenty of food for thought here, please feel free to share your opinions and views in the comments!

If you’d like to read more, Fi also blogs over at Music vs. The World, where she reviews new and unsigned music, and compiles excellent and eclectic Twitter-sourced themed playlists.

Why are we drawn to music? We hear a song, we either like or dislike it, and we make a choice to make it a part of our collection or never listen to it again. That’s it, right? Well, I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that. We just don’t tend to stop and think about it all that often.

SCIENCE

There is, of course, a well-studied science behind people and reactions to sounds – we know that many parts of the brain are activated when listening to music. The temporal lobe recognises and processes sound frequencies, and analyses information from music – pitch, speed and volume. The cerebrum recalls lyrics and stimulates memories associated with certain songs. The cerebellum affects movement, which can be rhythmic in response to music. The limbic system is the part of the brain that produces the emotional reaction to music.

I have a question. If it’s all down to science, why doesn’t everyone like the same kind of music? Why are some people completely averse to the same sounds that another group of people can’t get enough of?

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Top 50 Best Ever Debut Albums: The Full List

Regular readers will know of my involvement in compiling Top 50 music lists – indeed, I’ve posted my complete 1970s and 1990s albums lists here in the past. For more information on the Top 50 Albums Lists project and more details of my Debut Albums choices, visit the Top 50s blog. You can also find a wide selection of other Top 50s from various different music fans over on the List of Lists.

50) The Charlatans – Some Friendly (1990)

49) The Verve – A Storm In Heaven (1993)

48) Chemical Brothers – Exit Planet Dust (1995)

47) Super Furry Animals – Fuzzy Logic (1996)

46) Elliott Smith – Roman Candle (1994)

45) Gram Parsons – GP (1973)

44) Daft Punk – Homework (1997)

43) The Postal Service – Give Up (2003)

42) Sex Pistols – Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols (1977)

41) Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine – 101 Damnations (1990)

40) The Prodigy – Experience (1992)

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RIP Tommy Ramone

Aw, damn. That’s the end of an era then – no more Ramones. Tommy Ramone, the last remaining original member and founder of the first generation punk legends has left the building, aged only 62 (some reports say 65). Admittedly, that’s a fairly good innings for a Ramone – of the classic, original line-up, vocalist Joey died in 2001 aged only 49, with bassist Dee Dee dying the following year at the age of 50 and guitarist Johnny following in 2004 at 55.

Born Erdélyi Tamás in Budapest, Tommy Ramone moved with his family to New York in the mid-1950s, where he met the three young men who were to become Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee Ramone. Originally the band’s manager, he ended up as their drummer because, as Dee Dee later put it, “nobody else wanted to”. Never the world’s most technical or complex drummer (which, quite frankly, didn’t matter one bit), Tommy provided a solid backbeat to the band’s first three classic albums, Ramones (1976), Leave Home (1977) and Rocket To Russia (1977), as well as handling co-production duties.

He left the band in 1978, ostensibly worn out after constant touring but really because the tensions within the band had become too much for him, although he continued in a management and production role with the band for some time after. He continued to play music and produce various bands until he was diagnosed with bile duct cancer. He died yesterday, at home in Queens, New York – and the classic line-up of the Ramones was finally reunited in rock ‘n’roll heaven….

The Ramones were one of those bands who had an enduring and powerful influence above and beyond their (lack of) commercial success. Never big sellers in their native America (their self-titled debut only went gold earlier this year!), but that debut album had a huge and lasting pivotal impact on the early British punk scene before being picked up by cult American bands such as Social Distortion, Bad Brains, Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys, Ministry and Bad Religion. They’ve been cited as an influence by everyone from Evan Dando, Dave Grohl and Eddie Vedder to Green Day, Lemmy and Kirk Hammett – and the list goes on and on and on.

It’s easy to hear why they were (and still are) just so damn influential – particularly on those legendary first three albums. Their deceptively simple yet distintive and immediate sound is impossible to resist – or to replicate, although many have tried. It’s that unlikely and irresitable melding of 70s rock, 50s rock ‘n’ roll, girl groups, surf music, bubblegum pop, and classic protopunk bands like The Stooges and The New York Dolls that made them so utterly wonderful. For me, they were unique, one of the definitive punk bands with a sound and an attitude that still makes me smile every time I hear them. It is genuinely sad that they are all gone now – this really is the end of a great musical era.

RIP Tommy, Joey, Dee Dee and Johnny.

Gabba gabba hey!

Quote of the Day: Melody Maker explains why rock ‘n’ roll will never work…

Once upon a time, there were four weekly music papers in the UK. These were Sounds, Record Mirror (both of which folded in the early 1990s), the New Musical Express (still published and better known as the NME) and the grandaddy of them all,  Melody Maker, which originally dated back to the mid 1920s and finally gave up the ghost in 2000. Affectionately known as ‘inkies’ because they were once published on the kind of newsprint that covered your fingers in black ink as you turned the pages, these publications were a hugely important part of the lives of generations of British music fans and introduced many a music-mad teenager to the latest, greatest hot new thing. But they didn’t always get it right…

Melody Maker, in particular, began life as a paper aimed squarely at jazz and dance band musicians, and as such they stubbornly and snobbishly ignored the growth of a new kind of popular music that began to emerge in the 1950s – the ‘cheap and nasty’ threat of rock ‘n’ roll. If they did mention it, it was to dismiss it as a pointless and distasteful fad that they desperately hoped would never catch on, as reviewer and broadcaster Steve Race wrote in May 1956:

Viewed as a social phenomenon, the current craze for Rock-and-Roll material is one of the most terrifying things ever to have happened to popular music. [...] Musically speaking, of course, the whole thing is laughable. [...] The Rock-and-Roll technique, instrumentally and vocally, is the antithesis of all that jazz has been striving for over the years – in other words, good taste and musical integrity. [...] It is a monstrous threat, both to the moral acceptance and artistic emancipation of jazz. Let us oppose it to the end.

The irony in this, of course, is that these are exactly the kind of negative things that were said about jazz in its early days too (and worse – a great deal of the criticism aimed at the jazz of the 1920s and 1930s had a distinctly and often openly racist tone to it). Even more ironically, a direct line can be drawn from the British ‘Trad’ jazz scene of the 1950s to the rhythm and blues-based rock scene of the early- to mid-1960s that gave us the likes of the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds via the ‘Skiffle’ craze of the late 50s (which was where the Beatles started out….).

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Quote of the Day: Julian Cope on being on Top Of The Pops

Sorting through a large file of newspaper clippings this afternoon, I came across this 2008 article from The Times on the subject of the legendary and late-lamented British music TV show, Top Of The Pops. The article quotes Julian Cope on the subject of his 1981 appearance on the show with Teardrop Explodes. If you know anything about Cope and his eccentric working methods, you’ll soon realise that this was no ordinary TOTP performance – in fact, he had dropped some acid beforehand, which probably wasn’t particularly sensible under the circumstances, since:

The piano started melting and I was wading up to my thighs in it by the chorus.

I dread to think how much mess that made….

Just say no to melting pianos, kids.