IoS Books of the Year 2012: Pop music

Some heavyweight rockers are lined up to compete for your attention this Christmas. Just remember, size isn't everything

The promotion of the common good has not been a goal with which Keith Richards' career has traditionally been associated. But the success of the guitarist's ghost-written 2010 memoir Life has inadvertently contributed to this year's unparalleled bonanza for lovers of books written about – and even by – gnarled rock behemoths.

There are a couple of stinkers to get out of the way first. Philip Norman's Mick Jagger (HarperCollins, £20) takes up the playground cudgels on behalf of its subject's genitals, criticising Richards' famously dismissive assessment of his bandmate's penile dimensions on the bizarre grounds of "'todger' being a children's word, more commonly used by little girls". While Norman's dreary and brazenly recycled Jagger apologia is perhaps a book too far from the author on this subject, Pete Townshend's Who I Am (HarperCollins, £20) is an agonisingly overwrought misfire at a target – himself – that the author was only ever going to get one shot at.

Townshend and numerous sympathetic editors have plainly sweated blood, to create a book which turns out to be even harder work to read than it was to write. The more improvisatory (to use a nice word for "making it up as he goes along") framework of Neil Young's luminously self-penned Waging Heavy Peace (Penguin, £25) comes as a blessed relief by contrast. Alternating reams of heroically tedious mechanical detail about cars, model trains, and digital sound reproduction systems with flashes of dazzling zen insight ("Don't worry man," Neil consoles the distraught driver of a freshly incinerated tour-bus, "it's only a thing"), Waging Heavy Peace gives us a more complete understanding of what it must be like to live in Neil Young's head than we might have wished for.

The perfect balance of braggadocio and self-deprecation which the ghost writer Giles Smith maintains throughout Rod: The Autobiography (Century, £20) make this remorselessly entertaining volume a deserving winner of 2012's big beast sweepstakes. Philip Norman may not enjoy the scene in which Rod and Ronnie Wood are scheduled to join uber-groupie Cynthia Albritton's plaster-cast pantheon, then take one look at the priapic memorials left behind by Jimi Hendrix and Eric Burdon and decide that discretion is the better part of phallocentricity – but everyone else will.

For those seeking respite from a world in which sixty- and seventy-something multimillionaires discuss the great happiness they have found with their most recent partners, the Gossip vocalist Beth Ditto's slim and incident-packed (if ultimately slightly sketchy) Coal To Diamonds (Simon & Schuster, £14.99) offers the perfect tonic. It won't be such a restorative read for Arkansas tourist board employees, though, as the nightmarish landscape of routinised domestic abuse from which this ebullient character emerged suggests that the bible belt is something children get beaten with.

The former Crass associate Little Annie (aka Annie "Anxiety" Bandez) supplies a more fully realised diva memoir in her well-written and intermittently eye-popping You Can't Sing The Blues While Drinking Milk (Tin Angel, £14.99), but the year's most meticulous, elegant and satisfying rock book is Sylvie Simmons' I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen (Cape, £20). With free run of Lubricious Len's abundant archive and access to interviewees from every phase of his peripatetic existence – as well as direct testimony from the man himself – Simmons tracks Cohen's contradictory odyssey from wealthy teenage hypnotist persuading the maid to undress, to fast-living poetic prodigy, to self-styled Cuban revolutionary, to Canadian TV talking head, to buddhist monk, to idolised showbiz ham.

The novelist Matt Thorne's impishly encyclopedic Prince (Faber, £18.99) brings similarly alert senses to bear in pursuit of a far less accommodating quarry, tenderly stripping back the layers of purple finery to reveal the quaking nerd within. David Byrne's digressive theoretical bunfight How Music Works (Canongate, £20), on the other hand, reads like a monologue by a funkily professorial Fast Show character – but not in a good way. Those fascinated by the nuts and bolts processes of how the music they love turned out the way it did will find much, much more to chew on in How Soon Is Now? (Faber, £17.99), Richard King's lucid and waspish anatomy of indie's raddled body politic.

In the gift-book paddock, Noel Hawks and Jah Floyd's richly detailed Reggae Going International 1967-1976 (Jamaican Recordings, £17.99) has the best before-and-after photo I have ever seen, while Al Fingers' Clarks In Jamaica (One Love Books, £30) turns the unlikely love affair between the Caribbean's music aristocracy and a no-nonsense Somerset-based shoe brand into an essential primer of post-colonial cool. Last, and perhaps most, Julian Cope's sumptuously mock snakeskin-bound Copendium (Faber, £30) is an object lesson in how to turn a slew of largely pre-existing material (the shamanic rock-crit screeds of Cope's superb Head Heritage website) into an artefact which is not so much alluring, as downright irresistible.

Arts and Entertainment
Just folk: The Unthanks

music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea