Books of the year 2013: Music


The music publishing event of the year was undoubtedly Morrissey's Autobiography (Penguin, £8.99), which is as verbose and vindictive as you'd expect, though rather less droll than might be hoped. Effectively the story of how a plucky, fragile flower bloomed despite the weed-killer antagonism of a cabal of authority figures, it catalogues the merest, most insignificant of slights in exhausting detail and endemically overwritten prose. His legendary lyrical wit seems entirely absent from metaphors like the "swarm of misery" gripping Manchester, and the "drooled gruel face" – of a headmaster, naturally – although his total recall of arcane corners of '60s/'70s telly and pop-culture kitsch is impressive. But sadly, celebration of The Smiths seems to matter less here than subsequent recriminations over their dissolution.

Personally, I much preferred Tracey Thorn's acutely observed Bedsit Disco Queen (Virago, £16.99), a vivid memoir of how music helped a young woman find herself in the ferment of post-punk creativity. It's full of unsentimental, unashamed recollections – I like the part where she and partner Ben Watt are being chased across the Ponte Vecchio by Florentine fans chanting "Matt Bianco!", and Watt turns round to angrily confront them, "We are NOT fucking Matt Bianco!". But it's better-written than Mozzer's book, and more insightful: early on, Thorn confronts the conundrum of her shyness, noting, "I wanted to be heard without having to be heard – or perhaps more specifically, without having to be looked at" – an observation sharper than any of Morrissey's florid aperçus.

Donald Fagen's Eminent Hipsters (Jonathan Cape, £16.99) is an excellent, albeit slim, collection of essays about the Steely Dan singer's formative teenage influences as "a subterranean in gestation with a real nasty case of otherness": hipster DJ/raconteurs like Jean Shepherd and Mort Fega; the ambitious escapism of sci-fi stories by Philip K Dick, AE Van Vogt and Alfred Bester; and jazz, jazz, jazz, soaked up as a child watching Miles, Trane and Mingus at the Village Vanguard. Most impressive of all is "The Cortic-Thalamic Pause: Growing Up Sci-Fi", a scholarly account of the influence of Count Korzybski's philosophy of "General Semantics" on three generations of sci-fi writers and personal-development therapists.

The Beatles industry is well-served with three chunky books. The Beatles BBC Archives 1962-1970 by Kevin Howlett (BBC, £45) collates transcripts of interviews, recollections of Auntie's engineers and producers who worked with the Fabs, and a wealth of unseen documents and evocative photos, in a weighty hardback packaged in a facsimile tape-box. Leslie Woodhead's How The Beatles Rocked The Kremlin (Bloomsbury, £12.99) offers a fascinating confirmation that it was pop culture, rather than political culture, that really brought down communism.

But the real landmark Beatle-book (in all senses) is All These Years: The Beatles Tune In (Little Brown, £30), the first volume of Mark Lewisohn's definitive biography, a whopping tome that takes nearly 950 pages to get to "Love Me Do". It's an exercise in forensic detail, skilfully applied: you're there with them in the club, the studio, the back room and the bedroom, peering over John and Paul's shoulders as they take their first baby-steps on the road to becoming the world's most successful songwriters, and eating late-night bacon butties in Rory Storm's mum's kitchen. And there's context in abundance, from familial forebears to fellow-travellers: who knew that "Love Me Do" was released the very same day as The Beach Boys' "Surfin' Safari"? Or that that same day, while The Beatles were playing Nuneaton, Dylan was headlining a hootenanny at New York's Town Hall? (The Stones, for their part, were playing to two people in North Cheam).

From the microcosmic to the macrocosmic: Bob Stanley's Yeah Yeah Yeah (Faber & Faber, £20) attempts to cram the entire history of Anglo-American pop into 776 pages, through a series of thematic essays outlining individual genres and movements, from the first UK pop chart in 1952 to the cusp of the millennium, when digitisation effectively spelt the end of pop as an artefact obsession. It's well-written, cogently argued, mostly accurate (though Steve Miller is not Canadian), and deliberately provocative, though Stanley's broad-brush approach inevitably leaves gaping holes in some parts of the story, while his innate fan's obsessions mean some obscure contributions are painted in rather greater detail than they merit. But it's his story, so that's fine.

Similarly macrocosmic is Jon Wiederhorn and Katherine Turman's Louder Than Hell (Harper Collins, $32.50), the "definitive oral history of metal", which uses the participants' own words to detail the various sub-genre splinters – thrash-metal, death-metal, prog-metal, industrial metal, straight-edge, etc. It's useful in illuminating the how and the why of events, and frank in confronting heavy-metal controversies, such as Rob Halford's homosexuality, the murder of former Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell Abbott, and the ghastly atrocities of Scandinavian black metal (final score: two suicides, three murders, seven church burnings), which probably reached its nadir when Mayhem guitarist Euronymous used a photo of a bandmate's shotgun suicide as an album cover. (Few mourned when Euronymous was subsequently killed by another musician).

A similar oral-history approach is employed in Starting At Zero "by" Jimi Hendrix (Bloomsbury £18.99), which uses old interview quotes and letters to create an "autobiography" of sorts, though not in the same sense as Suggs's That Close (Quercus, £20), in which the beloved entertainer shows himself unafraid of sticking his thumbs behind his braces and giving it the full cockney-sparrer.

Elsewhere, biographies sprouted in all directions, including William Todd Schulz's Torment Saint: The Life Of Elliott Smith (Bloomsbury, £14.99), a glimpse into the widespread depression of the last two decades; Terry Teachout's thorough Duke Ellington life story, Duke (Robson, £25); Mick Wall's grandiosely-titled Black Sabbath biography Symptom of the Universe (Orion, £20); Paul Rees's dutiful Robert Plant: A Life (Harper Collins, £20); and the first volume of Paul Brannigan and Ian Winwood's Birth School Metallica Death (Faber & Faber, £20).

The best was Robert Hilburn's exhaustive Johnny Cash: The Life (W&N, £20), a nearly 700-page examination of the Mount Rushmore of 20th-century American music, which traces the singer's good/bad behavioural dichotomy to the dying words of his brother Jack, fatally injured in a woodworking accident, describing a river leading in one direction to darkness, in the other to light. Compared to that, Brendan Jay Sullivan's Rivington Was Ours (Harper Collins $16.99), a chatty, insider's account of Lady Gaga's rise, seems as trivial as you'd expect. By contrast, John Higgs's The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds (Phoenix, £9.99) succeeds by ignoring music for much of the story, in favour of the group's philosophical and psycho-geographical underpinnings in discordianism, situationism, art and magic. Sometimes, the music is just a means to an end – in their case, a million-quid bonfire that Higgs suggests may be "a magical act that forged the 21st century". Well, maybe...

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing