TIP TOP MUSIC BOOKS
Awopbopaloobop / Nick Cohn 1969
In many ways an overlooked, insubstantial little book, the language of Nick Cohn is so simple and to the point that I can still feel the primal hump of rock’n’roll in excelcis. Written at a time of permanent combustion, when pop was all about being young and free and long term strategy meant a gig at the weekend, it would have been ridiculous to think the likes of The Stones, Brian Wilson, Dylan and The Who would still be around over 40 years later.
A Journey Through America With The Rolling Stones / Robert Greenfield 1974
The book that made me love The Stones and without question the greatest rock’n’roll book ever written. Documenting the legendary 1972 STP tour, it’s the hangers on and leeches rather than the dark Princes themselves who make this so compelling and prove, as if any proof were needed, that no matter how much sex, drugs and rock’n’roll they all indulge in, there will only ever be one Mick and Keith.
The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away / Allan Williams 1975
Allan Williams was the Beatles manager during their unexpectedly punky pre Ringo years of tea and toast, Stuart Sutcliffe, the Reeperbaum, speed and fun, fun, fun. Then he sold them on. What a fucker! But, if he hadn’t it’s doubtful he would have written this book for people like me who hate the Beatles, to make me see them less as ridiculous untouchable deities and more as human beings; awkward, mean, powerless and vulnerable like the rest of us.
Keith Richards / Barbara Charone 1979
Barbara Charone’s book was the first proper biog of the planets most famous junky. It kicks off in Keith’s Redlands living room, the fact that both him and Anita are rather too far gone to even get packed let alone embark on a Stones tour, sets the tone. And from then on we are voyeurs in a brutally honest twilight world of dealers, guns, arguments and sleepless nights that thankfully we will never know as the ultimate rock'n'roll couple descend into a hell of their own making.
A Series Of Shock Slogans / Crass 1982
I’d come a long, long way in a short space of time by the time I got around to this. Originally included with the Christ The Album LP, Crass were so horrendous musically I bought the book instead. Despite the indisputable whiff of hippy, the essays here detailing the basic rights of individual freedom opened my mind a little bit more, even though I knew well enough how their sentiment was immediately compromised by anarcho punk’s tedious, self inflicted conformity.
The Dark Stuff / Nick Kent 1994
Nick Kent was the classic case of journalist as would be rock star. A painfully thin leather clad dandy he even developed a fashionable heroin habit. A bit of a prat then? Certainly, but he sure could write and The Dark Stuff is a blast through definitive pieces on the decline of Brian Wilson, Syd, Lou Reed and Iggy amongst others. I liked most of them around the same time so for me there’s nowt not to like, but for the uninitiated it’s as good an indicator of what was great about the pre punk seventies as you’ll ever get.
High Fidelity / Nick Hornby 1995
A book in which I found rather more shadows of myself than I wanted to; the lists, the obsession with minutiae, the absolute belief in the redemptive power of music. Funnily enough I used to frequent a couple of shops exactly like Championship Vinyl. I have actually seen grown men dribble over rare singles, some of them my own. This is a frighteningly accurate portrayal of those poor chaps. I wonder what their all up to now.
Teenage / Jon Savage 2007
No question, England’s Dreaming was a masterwork. Yet it bore little resemblance to the punk I knew in my down at heel suburban town. However, the isolation and alienation of everyone’s teenage years has always been much the same and it was no different in the late 19th century. Jon Savage opens up that previously unknown world as we meet flappers, zoot suiters, bright young things and yet more lost generations. Modern folk lore has it that the teenager arrived in 1945. Don’t you believe it?
Love Is A Mix Tape / Rob Sheffield 2007
When I picked this book up on a whim my son had just been killed in Afghanistan. The thought of taking pleasure from anything, but particularly from music which had meant so much to him, was tough to bear. Of course, I had no idea Rob Sheffield’s wife had died so suddenly and so young. And I had no idea he would go through the same sort of thing or that his experience would help ease my guilt and strengthen my belief in absolute love and music’s continued life affirming power. For that I am eternally grateful.
Bad Vibes / Luke Haines 2009
I love Luke Haines. He’s such a bad tempered, middle aged bastard, he reminds me of someone very close to home. Luckily, he can write as well as he bitches so this alternative history of the Britpop years is funny as fuck. Hating everyone except, for some bizarre reason, the drummer from Suede, he goes on and on relentlessly, his self belief unstoppable, his proclamations of genius many. Shamefully, kissing arse is part and parcel of popular music writing. Obviously there is absolutely none of that here.
TIP TOP MUSIC FILMS
Gimme Shelter 1970
The Stones at their sleazy malevolent peak, Gimme Shelter leads to the inevitable apocalypse of Altamont. The best bits though are when they appear at their most human; recording ‘Wild Horses’, Keith missing Anita. While we invariably think of them as some sort of supermen it’s good to know that even they can find the isolation and madness a bit of a drag sometimes.
American Graffiti 1973
Partly responsible for an early seventies retreat to a past that was only ten years old, it was the fabulous music on American Graffiti that pulled me right in, a first valuable lesson in the wonders of Highschool. The story itself was a bit wet, all ’We dig rock’n’roll, we wear sneakers, short shorts and sweaters, we sometimes neck but we never pet and even though our parents can be draggy, gee whizz, they’re only trying to do their best for us.’ In the 21st century eight year olds are far wiser and yet the great-to-be-alive vibe does make a nice change from the usual misery even with the impending tragedy of Vietnam lurking in the shadows.
Stardust didn’t need any impending tragedy, it was jammed full of them. A follow up to That’ll Be The Day, the seedy Brit version of American Graffiti, Stardust was the first film I saw wholly concerned with pop culture. A squalid trudge through a future stars morals of darkness, it ends predictably with his grim, live on TV OD and no-one giving a shit, least of all the audience. Even though I knew it was only a work of fiction, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d been wrong about the popsters I loved. Perhaps they weren’t heavenly Gods after all. Maybe, they were just a bunch of selfish, arrogant wankers like David Essex’s Jim Maclaine.
Saturday Night Fever 1977
Saturday Night Fever caused a sensation amongst the moustachioed, permy haired, flare trousered disco cocks I saw most weekends. Overnight they began dressing in the cheap, white suits that set in stone the eternal disco cliché. Of course, the funny thing was that to a man they truly believed they really were Tony Manero. Yet the film was so much better than that and easily succeeded in conveying the real importance of dance to those who otherwise have shitty, insubstantial lives. As a full on punk I found it intriguing, its message not so dissimilar from Lydon’s ‘Be yourself’. It also proved a handy metaphor for taking anything you can to forge a better life for yourself which I guess is what most of us try for whether it’s dancing or bricklaying.
Apocalypse Now 1979
The first time I watched Apocalypse Now, with fag smoke billowing down the giant cinema aisles, it changed something deep within me, much, much more than the records I was hearing. Willard’s boat trip into the heart of darkness meant something that I couldn’t quite define then or now. It also made that inextricable link between war and rock’n’roll. Ever since the two have gone hand in hand, just ask any soldiers of your acquaintance, those youthful mavericks rockin’ out while a million pounds of firepower blazes away in their hands.
Velvet Goldmine 1998
I don’t know what happened between 1979 and 1998. Were there really no decent films about music or was I just too busy getting on with, you know, life. Apparently Velvet Goldmine, starring a youthful Ewan McGregor, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Christian Bale, was universally slated, and yet I love its trippy take on the sexually liberated decadence of the glam years. Oh yeah, and the soundtrack is a belter too, most notable for Thom Yorke’s Roxy Music fixation.
Almost Famous 2000
Defining the early/mid seventies, an era I’d often scorned, Almost Famous did a fantastic job of sucking me into its mellow glow. As soon as I found my cynical self singing along to the heart warming ‘Tiny Dancer’ scene I knew it had me. Equally, it’s real easy to see how the young Cameron Crowe, a Creem and Rolling Stone writer at just 16, got sucked into rock certainly if real life groupies possessed any of Kate Hudson’s charm and vulnerability.
High Fidelity 2000
Transplanted to Chicago I wasn’t sure if High Fidelity would work yet it does, largely off the back of John Cusack. But then I’m preaching to the converted aren’t I because if you’re reading this, on a site like ours, I know damn well you love it already.
8 Mile 2002
Inspired partly by Marshall Mathers grim youth, 8 Mile is a familiar coming of age story like most of the other films in this list. Trying to make his way out of the burned out shell of inner city Detroit, the biggest compliment I can pay it and Mathers is that everything looks and sounds so real although I freely admit my experience of downtown Detroit is exactly zero. However, what impressed me even more were the freestyle rapping scenes, definitive proof as if it were needed, that rap is as much an intricate art form as any other you care to mention.
Alternative rock is spread thick all over Juno. Our 16 year old pregnant heroine loves Patti Smith, The Stooges and Mott The Hoople while adoptive Dad to be Jason Bateman shares his old mix tapes and cult horror flicks with her, reliving a part of his life he thought he’d lost forever. He even attempts to turn her onto Sonic Youth, not an easy task, but fails miserably. ‘It’s just noise’ she tells him accurately as they fall out just before the gooey finale.