Rockcritics Bookshelf: Today’s Sound

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September 6, 2007 by admin

today's sound - bowie

The first title for the rockcritics bookshelf is a hardcover, not-quite-a-coffee-table publication called Today’s Sound, a compilation of artist profiles and interviews published by Melody Maker in 1973. There’s a great hazy front cover photo of Bowie wearing his numbers pant suit and strumming an acoustic guitar, and a much more lurid shot of Alice Cooper on the back. (Lots of great photos inside as well.) There are 24 profiles here, all of them written by a handful of contributors, two of whose names I’m familiar with (Richard Williams and Chris Welch), one of whom–Williams–was interviewed in a few years back. The editor is Ray Coleman, well known biographer of various Beatles books, though he doesn’t contribute to the text.

My attachment to this title has nothing to do with the quality of the writing or of the interviews, though some of them are good: Williams on Roxy Music and Loraine Alterman on the Osmonds spring to mind as fairly insightful reads (I love in the latter profile how she notes not once but twice that the boys are holed up in “Suite 666”). Rather, this was one of the first rock books I ever laid eyes on–my older brother owned a copy; I assume he bought it around the time it was published–and as a kid I would just sort of flip through it, skimming the contents, perusing the photos, perhaps convincing myself that this was how one actually read a book for pleasure. (I’ve still never read more than half of it, to be honest. Why would I? Why would anyone?)

The other thing that interests me a bit about Today’s Sound is the sub-genre I just assume it belongs to. It is the sort of all-inclusive what’s-happening-in-pop-right-now-? book that was a cottage industry during the early seventies (I have a few others just like this on my shelf). More than that, it is a book which, today, would not even make it as far as the desk of the assistant to the publisher. Though there’s obviously a very heavy leaning here towards glitter (the first six chapters in order are: Alice, Bowie, Slade, Roxy, Lou, Elton), there’s also some prog (Pink Floyd, ELP), lots of soul (Stevie, Sly, Gamble & Huff, Diana Ross, Bob Marley–the latter sandwiched in between Sly and Gamble & Huff), a smattering of teenbeat (Osmonds, David Cassidy), disparate female voices (Yoko, Carly, Bette), a couple folkies (Leonard, Cat), a Beach Boy (Brian ), a token jazz genius (Miles), and of course, Fat Fred and Patsy. (The latter, I always just assumed, were comedians–you know how the Brits are with their funny geezers, right? Glancing at the profile now, however, I think FF&P were some combination of limousine drivers and bodyguards–it’s kind of hard to tell. Incredibly enough, I can’t find a single listing for them through Google. It’s like the Internet just decided they don’t exist.)

That table of contents seems almost too obvious a point to belabor, but it’s a point I belabor almost every day regardless: what exactly happened in the world that would prevent a comparable range of artists being covered today, not just in a single book, but in a single music magazine? I suppose there are in fact outlets these days–i.e., Blender–where you would get, I don’t know, Fergie and LCD Soundsystem and the Dixie Chicks all in the same “jam-packed” issue. And yet… hard to explain why exactly, but somehow, connecting those particular dots (and I like all those performers to varying degrees, don’t get me wrong) just doesn’t seem like a stretch to me in the same way that connecting the dots from David Cassidy to Miles Davis to Bette Midler does. Not that Today’s Sound made an issue of this: The Osmonds are handled no differently here than Miles Davis or ELP–there are no garish displays of aren’t-we-clever irreverence in the presentation of that particular chapter–and the only point to make here is that there WAS no point. Covering this range of activity in the pop world was apparently just what a magazine like Melody Maker did back then. It doesn’t come across at all like it’s any sort of big deal. The pop universe was a much smaller place in 1973–an almost unfathomably smaller place. So why, 34 years later, does it actually feel so much more vast? That’s the tiny (and I mean tiny) glimmer of wistful emotion I get from Today’s Sound every seven or eight years when I decide to pull it off the shelf to skim those same contents and peruse those same photos all over again.

By the way, I’m having no luck whatsoever finding commentary about the book online. Interesting to note, however, that you can purchase Today’s Sound on eBay (only 17 days left, shoppers…) for the measly sum of $75. Geez, Louise–I’m sitting on a goldmine here! Well, maybe not. I also came across this listing of several used copies through Amazon where the price ranges from a whopping 75 cents to $50. Obviously the market for this book today is as confused as the music scene it once purported to cover.

Got an old–or for that matter, a new–music book you’d like to add to the rockcritics bookshelf? Let us know!

today's sound - alice

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