“For David”

Inleaf from my used paperback version of Christgau’s Any Old Way You Choose It. No clue who David is, but my guess is that he grew into a well-adjusted individual (with Christgau and a cool mom as his intellectual/spiritual guides, how couldn’t he?).

Steven Ward’s bookshelf

Rockcritics.com contributing editor, Steven Ward, chatted with me recently about a few of his favourite music books, including:

  • Kurt Loder’s Bat Chain Puller: Rock and Roll in the Age of Celebrity
  • Timothy White’s Rock Lives: Profiles and Interviews
  • Chuck Eddy’s Stairway to Hell: The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe
  • Stephen Davis’s Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga
  • Mick Wall’s When Giants Walked the Earth: A Biography of Led Zeppelin

We also share thoughts on critics vs. journalists, Albert Goldman, Martin Popoff,  James Wolcott, and current music mags. As well, Steven enthuses about his favourite non-music read of the last few years, Gwendolyn Bounds’s Little Chapel on the River: A Pub, a Town and the Search for What Matters Most.

Listen to a stream of our conversation below:


Or download the mp3s here.

Bookshelf #14


Hmm, where were we again?

98. Behind the Hits: Inside Stories of Classic Pop and Rock and Roll (Bob Shannon and John Javna) – More or less as advertised. Back stories on some 200 or so chart songs, divided into such topics as “Accidental Hits,” “Real People” (i.e., “Layla,” Hey Jude,” et al.), “Weird Inspirations,” “Translated Hits” (i.e.,”The Lion Sleeps Tonight”), etc. etc. Well thought out and the songs are diverse and smartly chosen, from “Johnny B. Goode” to “Dead Skunk” to “Like a Virgin.” Purchased for $4, don’t recall when or where, and no, I haven’t read it from start to finish and probably won’t. But I’m glad it’s here.

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Rockcritics Podcast: Talkin’ Beatle Books (with Tim Riley)

The latest rockcritics podcast features Tim Riley, author of one of my favourite Beatle books, Tell Me Why: The Beatles: Album by Album, Song by Song, the Sixties and After. A couple weeks prior to our chatting, I asked Tim — currently completing a large-scale John Lennon biography — to submit a list of some of his favourite Beatle books, and it’s that list which forms the basis of our conversation. We delve into more than a dozen titles here, including a few obscurities, a few ancillary titles (Aesthetics of Rock, Peter Doggett’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On) plus, of course, Tell Me Why, which, among other things, is notable for its annotated (in-need-of-an-update!) Beatles bibliography.

Big thanks to Tim for taking time out to do this (and for putting up with my usual nonsense and semi-competence).

Listen Here (approx 67 min.):

Titles discussed:

Musical interludes (in order of appearance) by: Al Green, David Hillyard & the Rocksteady Seven, DJ Dangermouse, Bongwater, Peter Sellers, Irvin’s 89 Key Marenghi Fairground Organ, unknown house artist (“Revolution”), Rainer, Sunshine Company, First Moog Quartet, Los Fernandos, Cristina, Candy Flip, Bryan Ferry, P.M. Dawn, Sunshine Company (redux).

Rockcritics Podcast: Chuck Eddy (Part 3)

The third (and final) installment of my chat with Mr. Eddy, regarding record guides. Here we yammer on about:

(This segment just a little under 25 minutes… Enjoy!)

Rockcritics Podcast: Chuck Eddy (Part 2)

The second installment of the Eddy podcast focuses on the discographies in Stranded (Greil Marcus) and Marooned (Phil Freeman). Most (though not all) of the music bits are samples of songs culled from Marcus’s text. I may have more to say about this later (a whole bunch of things I wish I’d responded to at the time — i.e., Hackamore Brick), but for now… Check it out below (it’s a little over 15-min. long). More Chuck on the way later in the week.

Bookshelf #13 (Jazz edition)

90. Reading Jazz: A Gathering of Autobiography, Reportage, and Criticism from 1919 to Now (Edited by Robert Gottlieb)
91. The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD (Richard Cook & Brian Morton)
92. Running the Voodoo Down: The Electric Music of Miles Davis (Philip Freeman)
93. Celebrating the Duke… And Louis, Bessie, Billie, Bird, Carmen, Miles, Dizzy and Other Heroes (Ralph Gleason)
94. Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray
95. The Otis Ferguson Reader (Edited by Dorothy Chamberlain and Robert Wilson)
96. Satchmo (Louis Armstrong)
97. As Though I Had Wings: The Lost Memoir (Chet Baker)

I’m pretty sure these are all the jazz books I own — it’s possible I’ll come up against something I missed later on. In the last few months I’ve spent umpteen hours listening to and investigating jazz — from Armstrong to Ayler (but much moreso Ayler) — and there were three books in particular which helped open that door for me: John Gennari’s Blowin’ Hot and Cool (which I wrote about here), Philip Freeman’s Running the Cool Down, and Ralph Gleason’s Celebrating the Duke. Once the bug hit it hit hard and I started buying more jazz books to supplement (to help me begin to make sense of) my listening. Five of the eight titles above are very recent purchases (to give you some idea of just how deficient in this area I was before), and I’ve taken at least a dozen books out of the library in the last couple months as well, including some I will eventually purchase (the two I’m most anxious to secure copies of are Leroi Jones’s/Amiri Baraka’s Black Music and Martin Williams’s The Jazz Tradition).

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Scott’s Bookshelf, #12

81. NME Guide to Rock Cinema (Fred Dellar)
82. The Encyclopedia of Rock 3 (edited by Phil Hardy and Dave Laing)
83. Bob Dylan, Don’t Look Back (“A Film and Book by D. A. Pennebaker”)
84. Bob Dylan (Daniel Kramer)
85. The Q/Omnibus Press Rock ‘n’ Roll Reader (edited by Danny Kelly)
86. Babel (Patti Smith)
87. Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga (Stephen Davis)
88. Disco Fever: The Beat, People, Places, Styles, Deejays, Groups (Kitty Hanson)
89. The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones (Stanley Booth)

A stack of paperbacks, from a wall shelf above the brown leather sofa in our living room…

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Scott’s Bookshelf, Part 11

Post-spring cleaning edition

Still a lot more shelves to cover, but I wanted to track this particular batch of titles now as they are being readied for the storage area. Shelf space is at a real premium these days, and though I wouldn’t even consider unloading any of the following titles, they are — for the most part — things I just can’t imagine needing within arms reach anytime too soon. A decision I’ll no doubt regret as soon as they are placed under lock and key.

59. Bob Dylan and the Beatles (Vol. 1 of the best of the Blacklisted Journalist) (Al Aronowitz) – Sprawling, some would say indulgent, memoir/compilation from a guy who I think can lay legitimate claim to being the first reputable rock journalist (his lengthy 1964 profile of the fab four from The Saturday Evening Post is a centerpiece here). Also known as the man who introduced Dylan to the Beatles and the Beatles to weed, an anecdote you are reminded of frequently. If it was me I’d repeat that tale endlessly also.

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Scott’s Bookshelf, Part 10

top pop singles

58. Top Pop Singles, 1955-2006 (Joel Whitburn/Billboard) – Back in an earlier entry of the bookshelf I called the 1992 edition of The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits (Whitburn) my “most consulted book of all-time.” Pretty sure I wasn’t exaggerating, but this latest Whitburn opus, just received through the mail, is bound to replace it. In truth, it’s the Billboard book I’ve long craved: artist and song listings of every Top 100 chart entry, 1,176 pages of sheer geek-overload useless-data freakout.

Stupid fact of the day I’ve already learned: Between 1955 and 2006, there have been eight charted songs with “number one” in the title: “#1” (Nelly); “Number One” (Pharrell w/Kanye West); “Number One” (Eloise Laws); “#1 Crush” (Garbage); “#1 Deejay” (Goody Goody); “Number One Man” (Bruce Channel); “Number One Spot” (Ludacris); “Number One Street” (Bob Corley). Of these, only one (Nelly) has actually made it to #1. Also, did you know that John Lennon’s “#9 Dream” made it as high as — duh — number nine?

See what I mean?

Scott’s Bookshelf, Part 9

57. Blowin’ Hot and Cool: Jazz and Its Critics (John Gennari) – Just a lone title this time around, as it’s still fairly fresh in the brain. An exhaustive (at least as far as I can tell — someone more knowledgeable on the subject might say otherwise) history of jazz criticism featuring richly drawn portraits of the leading jazz critics of the last 80 years or so, including Leonard Feather, Nat Hentoff, Stanley Crouch, Gary Giddins, Amiri Baraka, Martin Williams, Greg Tate, and several others. It’s more than that, however. The material is pretty evenly divided between stories about the critics themselves and what I would call (in very general terms) the jazz conversation: i.e., the competing schools of thought, the generational shifts in style (and inevitable gaps in acceptance), the sometimes raging arguments over the history, authenticity, and value of various jazz icons and sub-genres, and — perhaps most deeply — the unavoidably thorny racial dynamic between a music that is (primarily) black and critics of said music who have been (primarily) white. As someone only vaguely familiar with a few of the critics profiled (Crouch, Giddins, Hentoff) and not at all familiar with the vast majority of the others, I definitely appreciated the author’s non-judgmental tone. Not that I’d by any means call Gennari a passive observer — he’s got a keen bullshit detector for political posturing, and reponds to various displays of authenticity-mongering with a slight wince — but he clearly respects the overlapping and oft-competing dialogues, and crucially, he lets the sayers have their say and he never steps in too soon to quash an entertaining dust-up (the book strikes me as scrupulously fair-minded, though again, I’m not exactly the best person to judge that). Like a lot of great music books, this one sent me on a search mission for various recordings; just as important, it convinced me to order up a number of titles from the library, so anxious was I afterwards to read more by Martin Williams (The Jazz Tradition), A.B. Spellman (Four Lives in the Bebop Business), Jones/Baraka (Black Music), Giddins, Hentoff, et al. More books than ever to read, less time than ever to absorb them all.

Scott’s Bookshelf, Part 8

49. & 50. The Age of Rock: Sounds of the American Cultural Revolution & The Age of Rock 2: Sights and Sounds of the American Cultural Revolution (both edited by Jonathan Eisen) – Probably the first semi-reputable greatest hits collections of (mostly but not exclusively American) rock criticism, published in ’69 and ’70 respectively. While both have their share of uninteresting (occasionally unreadable) blather, there’s enough of interest in each volume to make these keepers: Meltzer (who is “interviewed by” A. Warhol in one great piece), Jon Landau, Stanley Booth, Toms Wolfe and Smucker, Lenny Kaye, and a few others. Make no mistake, the blather here outweighs the interesting by a wide margin — just as it does in most rock criticism from this era (if you want to talk about a “golden age” I think you need to leap a decade or so ahead) — but I nonetheless find the slightly schizo tone of these tomes kind of fascinating in their over-reach and haphazardness, the markings of a genuinely brave spirit at least in their (I suppose in Jonathan Eisen’s) willingness to allow in the front door all sorts of fucking around with form and ideas. Never mind that such “bravery” may simply have been an acid-besotted inability to separate the readable from the utter dreck… oh well. The pictures do suck, however.

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Scott’s Bookshelf, Part 7

43. The Liberation of Sound: An Introduction to Electronic Music (Herbert Russcol) – Paid a dollar for this 1972 hardcover at a library blowout sale, back when I was buying any and every music book that held even a modicum of interest. In fact, it’s a pretty great find. Have mostly just skimmed it, but from what I can tell it’s a fairly comprehensive history, published at a time when “electronic music” was largely just shorthand for musical eggheads messing around with tape recorders and scales, when “futuristic” meant not Emerson, Wakeman, and Schneider but Varese, Cage, Stockhausen, et al. (the only pop act I see listed in the index is — big surprise — the Beatles). Comes with listening recommendations, a glossary, timelines, some great photos, etc… quite pleased to own this… Etcetera: The Amazon page for this title has one lonely but positive customer review.

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Scott’s Bookshelf, Part 6

Trudging along with this feature, ever so slowly…

36. Songs They Never Play on the Radio: Nico, the Last Bohemian (James Young) – Another one in the haven’t-read-it-but-would-like-to pile. From what I gather it’s a tour diary (written by the guy who played keyboards with Nico throughout the ’80s) with many episodes of wanton drug use. Truthfully, not really my idea of a good time. And yet… every review I’ve read suggests that it’s much more intelligent than my no doubt reductive encapsulation suggests.

Continue reading “Scott’s Bookshelf, Part 6”