Monday, March 30, 2015

The Top 20 Music Books of All Time

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”Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” – Martin Mull

This quotation has been attributed to a variety of people, including musicians Frank Zappa, Elvis Costello, Thelonious Monk, and Laurie Anderson, but according to, the line first appeared in the magazine Time Barrier Express in the September-October 1979. Gary Sperrazza references th quotation, crediting it to actor/comedian Martin Mull.

Regardless of who said it first, the point is clear. Music cannot be broken down and explained in written form. It is an aural experience which is meant to be heard. So why post a list of the best music books of all time? Music goes beyond the listening experience. It envelops social history and science and our fascination with the lives of the people who create the music. Those experiences can be analyzed, critiqued, and discussed in written form – and twenty of the most popular versions of that are introduced here in this blog post. If that doesn’t cut it for you, then seek these tomes out via audiobooks. I’ll leave it to the architects to address dancing.

1. Chronicles Vol. 1 - Bob Dylan (2004)

Dylan’s autobiography eschews a convential, chronological format opting for a disjointed tale which skips over many highlights in favor of more personal revelations.

2. Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991 - Michael Azerrad (2001)

Azerrad profiles the history of the rock music in the 1980s which owed a debt to punk rock and its DIY ethos.

3. Life - Keith Richards with James Fox (2010)

Some have proclaimed that if the world is ever annihilated, all that will remain will be the cock roaches and Keith Richards, survivor extraordinaire and legendary guitarist of the Rolling Stones. Luckily for us mortals, he’s left us this candid, conversational glimpse into his roller coaster life.

4. Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties - Ian MacDonald (1994)

Amazon called this chronogical assessment of every one of the Fab Four’s songs the “Bible of the Beatles.”

5. Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 - Simon Reynolds (2006)

Reynolds’ book travels some of the same ground as Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life in dissecting some of the bands who grew out of the punk rock movement of the 1970s.

6. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation - Jeff Chang (2005) “In a post-civil rights era rapidly transformed by deindustrialization and globalization, hip-hop gave voiceless youths a chance to address these seismic changes and…crystallized a multiracial generation's worldview, and forever transformed politics and culture.”

7. England’s Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond - Jon Savage (1991) “The ultimate book on punk…Savage brings to life the sensational story of the meteoric rise and rapid implosion of the Pistols through layers of rich detail, exclusive interviews, and rare photographs.”

8. The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band - Motley Crue with Neil Strauss (2001)

Rolling Stone magazine’s Joe Levy: “The most detailed account of the awesome pleasures and perils of rock & roll stardom I have ever read. It is completely compelling and utterly revolting.”

9. Hammer of the Gods: Led Zeppelin Unauthorized - Stephen Davis (1985) Led Zeppelin’s “tours were legendary, their lives were exalted—and in an era well known for sex and drugs, the mighty Zeppelin set an unattainable standard of excess and mythos for any band that tried to follow them…A spellbinding, electrifying, no-holds-barred classic of rock 'n' roll history.”

10. Just Kids - Patti Smith (2010) “The legendary American artist offers a never-before-seen glimpse of her remarkable relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the epochal days of New York City and the Chelsea Hotel in the late sixties and seventies.”

11. The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century - Alex Ross (2007) “In this sweeping and dramatic narrative, Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, weaves together…an astonishing history of the twentieth century as told through its music.”

12. Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung - Lester Bangs (1987) “The wild and brilliant writings of Lester Bangs--the most outrageous and popular rock critic of the 1970s.”

13. Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey - Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton (1999) “The first comprehensive history of the disc jockey, a figure who has become a powerful force shaping the music industry…The inside story on some of music’s most memorable moments…A lively and entertaining account of musical history and some of the most legendary parties of the century.”

14. How Music Works - David Byrne (2012) “Drawing on his work over the years with Talking Heads, Brian Eno, and myriad collaborators—along with journeys to Wagnerian opera houses, African villages, and anywhere music exists—Byrne shows how music emerges from cultural circumstance as much as individual creativity. It is his magnum opus, and an impassioned argument about music’s liberating, life-affirming power.”

15. This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession - Daniel J. Levitin (2006) “This groundbreaking union of art and science…explores the connection between music - its performance, its composition, how we listen to it, why we enjoy it - and the human brain.”

16. Slash: The Autobiography - Slash with Anthony Bozza (2007) “Slash tells…how the legendary band Guns N' Roses came together, how they wrote the music that defined an era…and, ultimately, how it all fell apart. Slash is a window into the world of the notoriously private guitarist and a front seat on the roller-coaster ride that was one of history's greatest rock 'n' roll machines, always on the edge of self-destruction, even at the pinnacle of its success.”

17. The Last Party: Britpop, Blair and the Demise of English Rock - John Harris (2003) “Beginning in 1994 and closing in the first months of 1998, the UK passed through a cultural moment as distinct and as celebrated as any since the war. Founded on rock music, celebrity, boom-time economics and fleeting political optimism - this was 'Cool Britannia'. The Last Party charts the rise and fall of the Britpop movement.”

18. Scar Tissue - Anthony Kiedis with Larry Stoman (2004) “The Red Hot Chili Peppers, against all odds, have become one of the most successful bands in the world. Though the band has gone through many incarnations, Anthony Kiedis, the group's lyricist and dynamic lead singer, has been there for the whole roller-coaster ride. Kiedis shares a compelling story about the price of success and excess…a story that could only have come out of the world of rock.”

19. Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music - Greg Milner (2009) “Milner takes us through the major breakthroughs and glorious failures in the art and science of recording…From Les Paul to Phil Spector to King Tubby, from vinyl to pirated CDs to iPods, Milner pulls apart musical history to answer a crucial question: Should a recording document reality as faithfully as possible, or should it improve upon or somehow transcend the music it records? The answers he uncovers will change the very way we think about music.”

20. Wonderland Avenue: Tales of Glamour and Excess - Danny Sugerman (1989)

Memoir of Doors’ publicist Danny Sugerman. “Excessive, scandalous, comic, cautionary and horrifying, it chronicles the 60s dream gone-to-rot and the early life of a Hollywood Wild Child who was just brilliant at being bad.”

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Friday, March 27, 2015

50 years ago: The Supremes hit #1 with “Stop! In the Name of Love”

Stop! In the Name of Love

The Supremes

Writer(s): Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier/Eddie Holland (see lyrics here)

Released: February 8, 1965

First Charted: February 20, 1965

Peak: 12 US, 11 CB, 11 GR, 11 HR, 2 RB, 7 UK, 3 CN, 42 AU, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, 0.12 UK, 1.12 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 2.0 radio, 10.9 video, 104.52 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

This song grew out of an argument between Lamont Dozier – one of the songwriters – and his girlfriend. She was about to head out the door when he yelled “stop, in the name of love!,” a slight variation of the phrase “stop, in the name of the law.” TB It broke the tension and they both starting laughing over the silliness of the line. TC

Of course, Dozier was one-third of the famed Holland-Dozier-Holland writing team at Motown. They crafted many of Motown’s biggest hits, but were more associated with the Supremes than any other act. “’Stop!’ moves with the grace of HDH’s greatest productions.” DM Initially, the Supremes – Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballad – thought the song was “insufficiently feminine, too forthright.” TC Once in the studio, however, they had fun with it. TC

As for the signature choreography, they were making a live appearance before having the moves for the song worked out. Moments before they went on stage, they worked with Motown head honcho Berry Gordy and a couple of the members of the Temptations to come up with the moves – in the mens’ room! SJ

The song became the trio’s fourth #1 out of five consecutive chart-toppers. In fact, they amassed a dozen #1 songs from 1964 through the end of the decade, giving them more trips to the top than any other American act in the 1960s. It also made them the most successful Motown act of the decade. TB


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First posted 4/15/2020; last updated 4/2/2023.

Today in Music (1965): Roger Miller “King of the Road” hit #1 on the country chart

King of the Road

Roger Miller

Writer(s): Roger Miller (see lyrics here)

Released: January 1965

First Charted: January 29, 1965

Peak: 4 BB, 3 CB, 2 GR, 4 HR, 110 AC, 15 CW, 11 UK, 3 CN, 7 AU, 3 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, 0.2 UK

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 3.0 radio, 24.7 video, 84.05 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Roger Miller was born in Texas in 1936. He left school after eighth grade to become a ranch hand. When he joined the Army in 1956, he became friends with Bill Anderson, a future country songwriter. In 1958, Miller launched his singing career with “City Lights,” a song written by Anderson. In 1960, Miller landed his first top-10 country hit with “When Two Worlds Collide,” which he co-wrote with Anderson. SS

By 1964, Miller had moved to California where he made multiple appearances on television to showcase “his light, amiable style.” SS After switching to Smash Records, he “began a string of hits with the clever, goofy ‘Dang Me.’ The high point of his hot streak was ‘King of the Road.’” SS

Glenda West, a family friend of Miller’s, said he wrote the song on the back of a credit card application. She said he got stuck after writing one verse but finished the song after seeing a picture of a hobo at an airport. TC It is “country music storytelling at its most brilliantly incisive, sketching character, situation and narrative in the minimum number of words with maximum effect.” SS Merle Travis, himself a country songwriting legend, said, “I’d have to rate him higher than Hank Williams.” SS

Author Toby Creswell called the song “the layabouts’ national anthem” TC that is “a good-natured update of Huckleberry Finn.” TC “King of the Road” drew strongly from Miller’s life experiences about growing up in poverty and leading a gypsy lifestyle after his discharge from the Army. It dpecited his “hard-scrabble lifestyle with warmth and humor, its flavorful narrative matched by an engaging melodyand lazy finger-snapping rhythm.” SS


First posted 1/31/2024.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Today in Music (1965): Bob Dylan Bringing It All Back Home released

Bringing It All Back Home

Bob Dylan

Released: March 22, 1965

Peak: 6 US, 11 UK, -- CN, -- AU

Sales (in millions): 1.5 US, -- UK, 3.5 world (includes US + UK)

Genre: folk rock


Song Title (Writers) [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to charts.

  1. Subterranean Homesick Blues [2:21] (4/3/65, 39 US, 52 CB, 53 HR, 6 AC, 2 CL, 9 UK)
  2. She Belongs to Me [2:47]
  3. Maggie’s Farm [3:54] (6/19/65, 12 CL, 22 UK)
  4. Love Minus Zero/No Limit [2:51]
  5. Outlaw Blues [3:05]
  6. On the Road Again [2:35]
  7. Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream [6:30]
  8. Mr. Tambourine Man [5:30] (12/65, 4 CL)
  9. Gates of Eden [5:40]
  10. It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding [7:29]
  11. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue [4:12] (16 CL)
All songs written by Bob Dylan.

Total Running Time: 47:21


4.567 out of 5.00 (average of 29 ratings)


(Click on award to learn more).

About the Album:

“Bob Dylan lost some of his most loyal fans when he released Bringing It All Back Home after he did the unthinkable – he plugged in.” CS “With Another Side of Bob Dylan, Dylan had begun pushing past folk” STE and now, “for the first time, this folk music hero used an electric guitar, as evident from the very outset of Subterranean Homesick Blues.” CS the “raucous leadoff track and Dylan’s first top-40 single.” SM “He even pays tribute to electrified rocker Chuck Berry by borrowing from his ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ for the first track.” CS

“It’s not just that he went electric, either.” STE “The opener is only the beginning of the revolution.” CS “From start to finish, Bringing It All Back Home is one of Dylan’s most enduring statements, containing some of Dylan’s greatest songs and performances.” SM “He’s exploding with imagination throughout the record.” STE Home “had the requisite folk tunes that fans expected, it also contained songs of introspection and paranoia, alongside beautifully poetic love songs – all within the confines of a single album.” SM “This is the point where Dylan eclipses any conventional sense of folk and rewrites the rules of rock, making it safe for personal expression and poetry, not only making words mean as much as the music, but making the music an extension of the words.” STE

“He writes uncommonly beautiful love songs (She Belongs to Me, Love Minus Zero/No Limit) that sit alongside uncommonly funny fantasias (On the Road Again, Bob Dylan's 115th Dream).” STE

Maggie’s Farm and It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) openly criticize the American government, spawning the catch phrase, ‘Money doesn’t talk, it swears,’ and infuriating listeners with the immortal line, ‘flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark.’” CS

“The nominal folk songs derive from the same vantage point as the rockers, leaving traditional folk concerns behind and delving deep into the personal. And this isn’t just introspection, either, since the surreal paranoia on [the aforementioned] ‘It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)’ and the whimsical poetry of Mr. Tambourine Man are individual, yet not personal.” STE

“Dylan still remembers his folk heritage, delivering some of his best acoustic narratives, including It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue and the dream-like Gates of Eden. But for Dylan, the future was electric.” CS

“Dylan broke all musical boundaries.” SM with this “remarkable collection of songs unlike anything else up to that time.” SM “If you’re…just starting your Dylan collection, this is the perfect place to start.” SM

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First posted 3/7/2011; last updated 5/15/2024.