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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
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
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.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn