Books of the Year 2012: Music
From art to sport, poetry to nature, travel to food, history to music: our writers select the best of the year’s books in a comprehensive guide to the highlights in every shade of the literary spectrum – except grey
Saturday 08 December 2012
For rock fans, 2012 has been a vintage year. Mick Jagger, who once returned a £1m advance because he couldn't remember anything, is the subject of a biography by the reliably readable Philip Norman (Mick Jagger; HarperCollins, £20). His Stone is a study in paradox, a tale of talent "almost stubbornly unfulfilled". Except for that todger – "long and plump" according to Pete Townsend in his candid and angst-ridden memoir, Who I Am (HarperCollins, £20), which reveals a man as angry as his stage antics suggest. Neil Young's Waging Heavy Peace (Viking, £25) is like an over-long guitar solo, shot through with genius.
Another Canadian, Leonard Cohen, opened up to Sylvie Simmons. I'm Your Man (Cape, £20) is a brilliant study – contextualised, critical, annotated. Peter Ames Carlin enjoyed rare co-operation from his subject but doesn't reach Simmons's heights, yet Bruce (Simon & Schuster, £20) is an important addition to the canon. His dogged digging reveals Springsteen in 3D, foibles and all. For those with longer memories, Harry Belafonte's My Song (Canongate, £14.99) is a moving story of race and music in 20th-century America.
Anyone seeking something lavish and illustrated is spoiled for choice. The Rolling Stones 50 (Thames & Hudson, £29.95), curated and narrated by Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie, recalls the whole rock 'n' roll circus. No personal touch in The Beatles: It Was 50 Years Ago Today (Carlton, £50), but here are facsimile memorabilia plus a DVD of interviews, all boxed and beautiful. And of course there's The John Lennon Letters (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £25), edited by Hunter Davies and arranged chronologically to form an idiosyncratic narrative.
Dylan Jones celebrates 40 years since Ziggy Stardust's debut on Top of the Pops "caused a tectonic shift in pop culture" in When Ziggy Played Guitar (Preface, £20). Paolo Hewitt's Bowie: Album by Album (Carlton, £25) chronicles the way in which the Starman combined art and pop, the avant-garde and the mainstream – and how he inspired the punk explosion of 1977. In The Art of Punk (Omnibus, £19.95), Russ Bestley and Alex Ogg show the development of a movement that has influenced all forms of art and media.
Books about classical music are increasingly thin on the ground. Faber concludes its magisterial Prokofiev project with Prodigal Son: 1924-1933 (£30), which finds Prokofiev in Paris cementing his reputation as an opera composer. For the generalist, Barry Millington's Richard Wagner: Sorcerer of Bayreuth (Thames & Hudson, £24.95) is an elegantly illustrated life-and-times account, and John Suchet, a self-confessed obsessive, brings the Old Revolutionary vividly to life in Beethoven: The Man Revealed (Elliott & Thompson, £25).
Strings Attached (Robson, £20), William Starling's authorised life of guitarist John Williams, needs a tighter narrative, but a book on this modest virtuoso is a welcome first. Fiddler Viktoria Mullova's From Russia to Love (Robson, £20) recalls her daring defection in 1982, leaving her Strad abandoned in a Finnish hotel.
Stuart Isacoff, pianist, critic and academic, leads readers on a journey of discovery in A Natural History of the Piano (Souvenir, £20), the music, the musicians and "the wondrous box" itself: a volume to inspire and delight. Dictator, teacher, magician: in Music as Alchemy (Faber & Faber, £18.99), Tom Service sneaks into rehearsals to fathom the role of the conductor, interviewing the likes of Claudio Abbado and Simon Rattle.
Scholarly yet accessible, A History of Opera: The Last 400 Years by professors Carolyn Abbate and Roger Parker (Allen Lane, £30) charts the development of a form whose new lifeblood is now a trickle in a volume that is, nevertheless, a celebration of the art.
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Kylie Jenner challenge: Bizarre lip suction device inspired by Kardashian sister goes viral
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby bought for just £10 at car boot sale could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 3 Katie Hopkins and The Sun editor are reported to police for incitement to racial hatred following migrant boat column
- 4 Bruce Forsyth backs assisted dying campaign: 'If I had Alzheimer's or dementia I would do something about it'
- 5 Giorgio Armani criticises the way some gay men dress saying 'a man has to be a man'
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate