Retro Roundup’s Favorite Music Books | Culture & Leisure
This week, Retro Roundup goes from music favorites to our favorite music books, from review collections to artist and band spotlights. I have read some of these books several times.
The Rolling Stone Record Guide (1979 edition) – Long-time readers will know that I have mentioned this book edited by Dave Marsh and John Swenson several times. It was a musical bible to me and many others, and is responsible for my album buying habits to this day. Without it, I would never have delved deep into The Who, Kiss, Otis Redding, Led Zeppelin and others from 1982 (after my Beatles-only year 1981). Of course, more than 40 years later, many of his reviews seem misguided, especially those of AC/DC, Rush and a few others. But still, the book is a fun read, with reviews so passionate they make you want to drop everything and rush to the nearest record store, or these days, your computer and the service of stream to which you are subscribed. A 1983 edition duplicates some of the original reviews, includes many new ones (especially new wave artists), and upgrades or downgrades some of the original reviews. And some reviews are short and obnoxious in a lame attempt to be funny. The original guide is far superior. There were also two early Rolling Stone review collection books that simply reproduced writing from the magazine’s early days. Some writing is good, but some is also wrong and contains outdated (hippie) language or is written in a weird way.
Christgau’s Record Guide – This 1981 book by longtime Village Voice critic Robert Christgau was my second music bible, and its wicked spirit made it the Rolling Stones of review books, while the 1979 Rolling Stone Record Guide was the Beatles of those books. The book hasn’t had such an influence on my buying habits, as many of Christgau’s A and A+ reviews are quite esoteric and don’t quite match my tastes. On the other hand, its A+ review for the Stones’ exile on the high street was ahead of its time, as many reviewers slammed it in 1972. Even the RSRG review was not entirely positive. Today, the album is widely considered the Stones’ finest studio release. Still, I return to the book again and again primarily because of its insight and humor. Subsequent editions covering the 80s and 90s and beyond are not as enjoyable as the writing became rather inscrutable to the layman, and required several glances in a dictionary or thesaurus, and the music examined was even more esoteric . And in the last of these books, Christgau’s previous revision system (a letter grade) became rather confusing, as it included letters, stars (like the Rolling Stone guide), cuts of meat to indicate cuts of choices, bombs and turkeys. The 80s book was also rather political. I like the original book much more.
Catch A Wave by Peter Ames Carlin and God Only Knows: The Story of Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys and the California Myth by David Leaf: The Two Books My All-Time Favorite Guy Brian Wilson Deserves, Giving Him His due like a musical titan and written from the perspective of passionate and honest fans.
The FAQ Series – Not All Are Great, but this book series (which also covers other forms of entertainment) is what fans like me love to read about our favorite bands and artists. They are not real biographies or autobiographies. Each chapter covers an interesting topic, such as studio and live album reviews, working with other artists, and other topics. I just finished reading the Rolling Stones and Elton John entries and both are excellent, as are their Jimi Hendrix, Kiss and Beatles books.
The Complete Guide to the Music Of Series: These CD-sized books are loads of fun. Most address the artists and bands in question album by album, track by track. I especially like the Who and the Beach Boys books, especially the very humorous negative reviews.
Both Sides Now by Mike Callahan: Another book I come back to again and again. This ranks CDs not by music quality, but by sound quality, and some of the comments about poor sounding CDs are hilarious and infuriating, especially when an offensive song contains a skip in the music or a lot of surface noise. even in the age of the band. I really wish there was a new edition because the last one came out in 1994. The Both Sides Now website itself was the first music website I first came across the internet on, and contains excellent discussions of stereo mixes, priceless album of discographies by label and a history of the first stereo 45 rpm records in the late 1950s and early 1960s and their return from 1968. Take a look at bsnpubs.com.
Next time: The Rolling Stones’ favorite songs from Retro Roundup.