So many celebrity deaths in recent years, but this one has really hit me on a very personal level. On the surface, the Monkees might have been a manufactured band with a daft TV show, but their music had a very profound impact on me as a child.
When my sister and I were little, we were given our dad’s old record player when he got a new one. It was one of those old-fashioned boxy turntables with a built-in speaker, and one of the very first records we had to play on it was a Monkees greatest hits album.
We must have driven our parents mad with how much we played it – it ended up much loved and completely scratched to death (we weren’t very good at looking after our vinyl at such young ages!).
Indeed, listening to ‘A Little Bit Me A Little Bit You’ on YouTube this afternoon, my brain still anticipated the point in the song where our record always used to skip. The fact that my subconscious does that more than thirty years later says a lot about the impact that record had on me!
With that battered old slice of vinyl, Mickey, Mike, Peter and Davey instilled in this music mad little girl a love of pure melody, harmony and perfect pop that remains to this day, and for that I am profoundly grateful.
Peter Tork, you will be missed.
Today marks the thirteenth anniversary of the death of John Peel, so I’m Keeping It Peel with a choice session from his long-running Radio 1 show. Since we also tragically lost Soundgarden’s astonishing vocalist Chris Cornell earlier this year, I decided on this, recorded by the Seattle band in 1989 – just before the grunge scene exploded into the mainstream.
This session shows Soundgarden in a slightly different light to their usual downtuned metal-influenced rock, featuring as it does unexpected and rather fun versions of Sly & The Family Stone’s ‘Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)’ and John Lennon’s ‘Everybody’s Got Something To Hide (Except Me and My Monkey)’.*
As always with Soundgarden, I recommend you crank the volume up high – and while you do that, I’ll be off to play Badmotorfinger at the wrong speed in tribute to Peel and Cornell; two men who shaped my musical taste at a formative age.
Until next year, keep it Peel…
*If you fancy more unexpected and frankly odd cover versions, head over to Twitter and follow @UnlikelyCovers.
Last year, I posted a list of recommended books about music. The initial list was made up of my selections, but when I asked for any books I may have missed, the wonderful people on Twitter sent me so many new titles that I had to compile a second list!
I have recently updated both lists with even more recommended texts, and you can check them both out here:
Recommended Reading: Books on Music (my personal list)
Recommended Reading: Books on Music – Your Choices (the Twitter crowdsourced list)
If you have any more books that you’d like to see on the crowdsourced list, please do get in touch here on on Twitter.
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.
23/05/15: Having just updated my personal list of music books, I asked if anyone had any more suggestions for this crowdsourced list…. and Twitter, you did it again! Thank you SO much to all of you who have contributed to the makings of this amazing list – you’ll find all your new additions in bold type below. Any glaring omissions may well be found on my original list (see link above); if not then please do get in touch here or on Twitter.
Also, many thanks to @damiella, who pointed me in the direction of this excellent post on the subject of music books over at Quirk Books, and to @maffrj, who sent me a copy of Mark E. Smith’s autobiography last time round!
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.
22/05/15: Having since read yet more books on music, I decided to update my list with some new additions, which are in bold type. If you’d like to contribute to the really quite brilliant crowdsourced list of music books which resulted from this original list, please do get in touch here, or tweet me. Thanks!
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)
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….).
Last year, after much deliberation, I posted a list of my favourite fifty albums from the 1990s. Since then, I’ve compiled a 1970s list, which you can find in full below. For more information on the Top 50 Albums Lists project, visit the blog here – and you can find lots more 70s Top 50s on the List of Lists here.
50) The Police – Reggatta de Blanc (1979)
49) Madness – One Step Beyond (1979)
48) The Damned – Damned Damned Damned (1977)
47) Marianne Faithfull – Broken English (1979)
46) Lou Reed – Transformer (1972)
45) Various Artists – Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968 (1972)
44) Gram Parsons – GP (1973)
43) Sly & The Family Stone – There’s A Riot Goin’ On (1971)
42) Iggy & The Stooges – Raw Power (1973)
41) John Martyn – Solid Air (1973)
40) Kraftwerk – Trans-Europe Express (1977)
Since 2013 has finally drawn to a close (and since so many people asked me to), I’ve compiled the now-traditional end-of-year list of my favourite albums. As far as I’m concerned, 2013 has been a very interesting year for music. I’ve certainly been listening to more new albums over the last twelve months than I have done for a very long time – particular thanks must go to the #twitterindiecrew for all their excellent suggestions and recommendations (you know who you are!) – although this has also been a year for (re)discovering many old favourites too, which is perhaps reflected in the choice of artists and albums below…
10) MARK LANEGAN – IMITATIONS:
I confess that I find it pretty difficult to resist almost anything Lanegan does; I could listen that wonderful, world-weary voice of his sing the phone book and still love it. One of the joys of his voice is the sheer range of styles he can sing – everything from the blistering rock roar of his work with Screaming Trees to his delicate take on some of the well-known standards and more obscure tracks that appear here. Highlights include a lovely version of Nick Cave’s ‘Brompton Oratory’ (and I am not a Nick Cave fan), an astonishing reworking of the Bond theme ‘You Only Live Twice’, a gorgeous, heartbreaking take on Neil Sedaka’s ‘Solitaire’ and, to my delight, a deliciously melancholy version of Brecht and Weill’s classic ‘Mack The Knife’. This album is a fascinating treat for the music lover.
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Nirvana’s highly influential final studio album In Utero, an album that has played a huge part in my life over those years – so I’m reblogging the review I wrote a few months back for the Top 50 Nineties Albums blog here…
Much as I love Nevermind (and it’s still a great record), it is this, Nirvana’s final studio album, which – in my view – proudly stands head and shoulders above everything else they ever released – and that’s despite my stated and probably irrational fondness for 1989’s Bleach. However, and even with the benefit of twenty years of hindsight, it’s still very difficult to properly approach In Utero without everything that went alongside rearing its ugly head.
Indeed, you can still look at it as Kurt Cobain’s final, most tragic artistic statement, with all that implies (which it wasn’t, really – the version he originally wanted was eventually watered down a little for the record company) – or you can strip away all the bullshit and see it as one of the best albums to come out of the Seattle scene full stop; as one of the last great…
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