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.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Notting Hill Carnival: Woman shares selfie after being ‘punched in face for telling man to stop groping her’
- 2 Joan Rivers: 'Palestinians deserve to be dead'
- 3 Daily Show's Jon Stewart destroys Fox News for its Ferguson coverage
- 4 Botched ice bucket challenge leaves man critically injured after plane drops hundreds of gallons of water
- 5 Friends reunion: Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow and Courteney Cox perform mini sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
Great British Bake Off 2014: Diana Beard quits after falling ill
Nicki Minaj suffers wardrobe malfunction during MTV VMAs performance with Ariana Grande and Jessie J
Homer Simpson takes the ALS ice bucket challenge because of course he does
Friends reunion: Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow and Courteney Cox perform mini sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
Great British Bake Off embroiled in Baked Alaska 'sabotage' scandal
Exclusive: We share blame for creating 'jihad generation', says Muslim strategist
Robin Williams Emmys tribute led by Billy Crystal criticised for including 'racist' joke about Muslim woman
The Rotherham child abuse scandal is a tale of apologists, misogyny and double standards
Scottish independence TV debate: Pumped-up Alex Salmond bounces back in bruising second round against Alistair Darling
Do you realise just how foolish the UK looks?
Ukip Douglas Carswell defection: Tory MP jumps ship to join Nigel Farage
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