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 & Entertainment
TV

Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit