Friday, February 09, 2007

Favorite Music Books -- Biography and Criticism

Teddy requested a list of favorite music biographies or books of music criticism. Here are mine:

Last Train to Memphis/Careless Love -- Peter Guralnick's 2-volume biography of Elvis Presley. Even if you're not much of an Elvis fan, this is the way biographies ought to be written.

Psychotic Reactions and Carburator Dung: The Work of a Legendary Critic: Rock'N'Roll as Literature and Literature as Rock 'N'Roll -- Lester Bangs -- Even when I don't agree with him, which is about half the time, Lester Bangs is a great writer. The title gets it right. His album reviews were works of literary genius -- funny, irreverent, and wildly creative.

England's Dreaming -- Jon Savage -- A great biography of the life and times of The Sex Pistols.

The Man Called Cash: The Life, Love, and Faith of an American Legend -- Steve Turner -- The best of several Cash biographies I own.

Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis -- J.K. Chambers -- Exactly what it claims to be, and a very well written, thorough biography.

Chronicles -- Bob Dylan -- Really, you've got to read it if you haven't done so. It's not enough that the guy is the world's greatest songwriter. He's also a great prose writer. It's not fair.

Body Piercing Saved My Life -- Andrew Beaujon -- The best and most objective look at the insular, often bizarre world of "Christian" music.

The Penguin Guide to Jazz -- Various authors -- It's encyclopedic, and at times feels like you're reading an encylopedia, but where else are you going to find 10,000+ reviews of jazz albums in one place?

No One Here Gets Out Alive -- Danny Sugerman -- The juicy, salacious end of the rock 'n roll book spectrum. I don't even like Jim Morrison or The Doors, but I like this tell-all bio.

Dylan's Vision of Sin -- Christopher Ricks -- Ricks, I suspect, is utterly psychotic. He spends close to 500 pages scrutinizing Bob Dylan's lyrics in minute detail, looking specifically for references to sin and redemption. Oddly enough, in spite of the academic trappings, many of these analyses border on freewheeling stream-of-consciousness, and are tenuous at best, and quite bizarre. That's why they're entertaining.

Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta -- Robert Palmer -- The best single-volume history of the blues I've found.

The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1,001 Greatest Singles Ever Made -- Dave Marsh -- As if the idea of ranking 1,001 rock 'n roll singles wasn't strange enough, Dave Marsh will actually explain why single #994 is slightly better than single #998. He's my kind of guy, and this is easily the eighth best music book I've ever read.

Stranded: Rock 'n Roll for a Desert Island -- Greil Marcus -- It's the old musical parlor game. If you were stranded on a desert island, what one rock 'n roll album would you want to take with you? Greil Marcus asked twenty well-known rock critics that question, and each wrote a passionate essay about his or her choice. Dave Marsh once famously wrote, "Rock 'n roll saved my life." Reading these essays, you'll begin to understand why it's not such an outlandish claim.

I could keep going, but I'll stop for now.


Mike G said...

While I haven't read Marcus' Stranded: Rock 'n Roll for a Desert Island, I enjoyed browsing through it.

I would also recommend Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music, also by Greil Marcus.


Peter said...
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Peter said...

great list Andy. i've been looking for some "rock n roll" reading to take my mind off school.

also, i know you don't love gram parsons and his ilk like i love them, but "Are you ready for the country" by Peter Dogget. is pretty great.


jackscrow said...

Not a critique or history, but Tommy Womack's book "The Cheese Chronicles", about road life in a popular alt.rock band, is a funny and informative read. What you might have suspected, didn't always care to know and the deglamification of it all....

Andy, you are familiar with Tommy. He is currently Todd Snider's road guitarist, and is in the band Daddy with Will Kimbrough.

He will be in Lancaster, at Paul's Nite Club on March 8th, doing an acoustic show.

Anonymous said...


Hat tip to you, man.

I think I'll check out the Lester Bangs book. PS Hoffman's portayal in "Almost Famous" piqued my interest in him a while back. Your suggestions gives me a way in.

Your comments about Bangs remind me of how I feel about Bill Simmons, a sportswriter for ESPN (AKA "The Sports Guy"). I love his writing, even though I often disagree with what he says.

Jason Kranzusch

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