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Music books

Saturday 6/4/22

Just so everything is in one place, and I can consult it. These are the music books I've done, am doing, plan to do. Things move fast here. Many books of different kinds are done at once, and there are always things going now from this music division.

To start with what is already out there:

* Sam Cooke: Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 (33 1/3)

These are now finished and available. I need to get them homes and out into the world:

* The Root of the Chord: Writings on Jazz's Essential Artistry and Power

This book is about 80,000 words long. The thinking is that a lot of people pay lip service to causes. BLM, for instance. When what we should be doing is really digging into cultural and artistic issues. Histories. There is no better time to either begin to appreciate jazz and what makes it so special, or to deepen one's passion for the music. My book is about the big-time movers and shakers, but looking at them as no one else previously has. These are the core artists of America's only indigenous art form. Every subject, I feel, is surprising. This is no paint-by-numbers book, and yet it's accessible to all. I wanted to take on and better books like Gunther Schuller's Early Jazz and Whitney Balliett's Collected Works: A Journal of Jazz 1954-2000. Simply, I wanted to create the best jazz book ever written. My JazzTimes editor describes my jazz writing as art about art. That was the mindset.

* Just Like Them: A Piece by Piece Guide to Becoming the Ultimate Thinking Person's Beatles Fan

What the subtitle says it is. Beatles books are all the same to me. The language is flat. Increasingly, the Beatles are this nostalgia hub for people. They repeat the same old same old, and if you look at any Beatles discussion online, there's nothing there. It's a lot of ego and nostalgia. What I mean by ego is that people align themselves with the Beatles because they've been a part of their lives going back so far, and any critical remark about a song or album, is seen as a personal attack because of that weird linkage. It does the band no service. And I think it dilutes the power and fun and enrichment to be had in listening to the Beatles well. Books about the Beatles deal in minutia. I don't hear the Beatles like anyone else does. I don't hear them like I do when I first started listening to them, and was on my way to becoming an expert about them, at fifteen. I've gotten a lot better at it. Then there is the language of the book. I will often see people talking about me online as the best prose stylist of anyone who writes on the Beatles. This is a book to read straight through, full of surprises and twists, or a book to dip into it. It's arranged in a surprising way, working thematically rather than chronologically, but logically, from piece to piece. It changes how one hears the band, and it provides relish, sends one back to the music all a'twitter to hear something and love it more than it may have already been loved. Nor is criticism a bad thing--when we're fair, and we're talking about someone who does something at the highest of levels, criticism can deepen our love and appreciation. Keeps everything honest and real, and the focus on where it should be. This book is the Beatles as literature, and literature as the Beatles.

Deep in the process of being done:

* Same Band You've Never Known: An Alternative Musical History of the Beatles

This is a big part of my focus right now. I've shared an excerpt on here. The idea is that to really know what made the Beatles the Beatles--and to best appreciate them, I argue--you need to get away from the regular saws. The talk of Revolver as their best LP, that "Hey Jude" is great, that the post-Pepper Beatles were better than the very early Beatles. The Beatles' really story is told in BBC sides. Concerts in Sweden. Home demos. In art that they didn't even make themselves, necessarily, that nonetheless functioned with the help of their strange magic and is rub-off quality. That the band's best musician was not who we think. That there are secret musical weapons throughout stages of their career that we don't consider--"Matchbox," for one. There's is as much to be gotten--if not more--from the first take of "Yes It Is" than there is the version of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" that we know so well. In Hamburg, we can see "The End" from Abbey Road. The best artists never leave off. They are always those artists, not just at "official" moments. The Beatles were this way as much, if not more, than any musical artist there has ever been. We've become ossified in how we look at them, talk about them, and how we hear them. This is a book to shave away all of that old, dead skin, and give us a brand new Beatles that was always there. A Hard Day's Night was the skiffle album. Carl Perkins was the architect of a guitar sound that the Beatles then hardwired into their own guitar sound. This so-called boy band was really a girl group. The Beatles and their intense femininity.

* A Kiss Always Tasted: Living with the Art of Billie Holiday

This is a conversational book, a guide to Billie Holiday's music, what it means to sing well, why she matters in our age, where to start, where to go next, how to keep journeying with what she did. The idea for the book came out of how Holiday is treated now. There's the lip service, where the white college girl from money who supports all of the right causes, has the Holiday poster up on her dorm at school. But it's for show. She doesn't know Holiday. She doesn't listen to Holiday. And we should. But where to start and why? What does she add to our lives right now? I was in a Starbucks, and "Strange Fruit" came over the sound system. Obviously no one had vetted this. Starbucks had no idea what the song was about. And not a single person in that store so much as looked up. No one noticed what was playing. I thought again of those posters, and how the concept of Holiday is used--or what people think is the concept of her--for various purposes. Political purposes, social media agendas, to get attention. And it's not right. It's not what she was or was about.

Will be done:

* Blackened Birds: How African American Musical Geniuses Taught Some English White Kids to Hear the World

This book needs to be written. It's about the relationship between Black American musical artists and English teens and young men in the early 1960s. It wasn't just the records of the former that the latter loved: they were acquiring wisdom, too, and sophistication. A knowledge of the world's workings. Groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones do not produce their eventual masterpieces unless they had already learned to listen to themselves. There is an art to hearing the world around one's self. That's what a lot of the best American rhythm and blues was about, in the songs of people like Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Arthur Alexander. Those Black artists helped these white artists discover what they could be. This link is crucial in the development of Western music. It is the most important link. This idea was pitched to Bloomsbury/33 1/3 as a volume in their series on genre, with this one being on British rhythm and blues. Here is an excerpt.

* A song-by-song analysis of the complete catalog of Radiohead, with supplemental chapters on live recordings. This will be, in essence, the Radiohead version of Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head, which was about the Beatles. Radiohead deserve it. They're at a rarefied musical level. They're also the perfect band for this kind of treatment given the size and consistency of their catalogue. For instance, you wouldn't want to do it with the Rolling Stones, because there's just so many years--decades--of lackluster music. With Dylan, there's too much music.

* Masters in Residence: Seven Epic, Extended Sessions that Transformed American Music

The book focuses on residencies--as they're defined herein--where essentially some artist set up shop, and changed the musical world during his stay. These are artists who understood all that had come before in American music, and reassembled, adding their own element, and in turn influencing much of what was to come. We then get to the next artist, who understands those changes, and does the same. We start with Jelly Roll Morton recording for Alan Lomax in 1938. Then it's on to Woody Guthrie, also recording for Lomax, in 1940. Next, it's Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys and their Tiffany programs in the middle 1940s. We then move on to Hank Williams and the Mother's Best broadcasts of 1951. From Williams, we head to Miles Davis's Second Great Quintet, and their engagement at Chicago's Plugged Nickel club at the end of 1965. After Davis and company, we team up with Elvis Presley and his Comeback Special sessions of 1968, finishing up with the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore West--when everything comes together--in the spring of 1969.

* A book entirely about the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" and the role of childhood in artistic creation. This will be everything "Strawberry Fields Forever" and more. That means it's a journey into recording techniques, electronic inventions, John Lennon's childhood, the Salvation Army, India, Lennon and his relationship with George Martin, the BBC's Light Programme, children's literature, the nature of genius, Liverpudlian architecture and its parks and nature, the history and legacy of the Mellotron, drugs, clarity and acceptance.

* The Sounds on Dust: Coming Alive to the Music of Joy Division

I've proposed this to several places, one being the University of Texas Press and Casey Kittrell, who were going to have me do it for their series that looks at why a musical artist matters, but Kittrell is an unprofessional, pathetic, jealous man who lied to me. Joy Division only had two albums, but no band ever played for greater emotional stakes. I am not sure there is anything one can listen to with a greater emotional commitment than Joy Division had. Editors tend not to understand Joy Division. They think there are myriad books about them. The truth is, there are not that many, and almost all of them focus on gossip-mongering and Ian Curtis's mental state and eventual suicide. Nothing has ever been written that deals well with the actual music. This music represents musical art of stand-alone order. Stephen Morris is one of the great percussionists in rock history, but I don't think we can even call this rock. There's not just those two albums, but a succession of live recordings that are a body of work as important as Wagner's Ring cycle. Many are high fidelity. We have Joy Division gigging in the basement of a German church. Music has never been more intense in any genre than Joy Division music. There is a plethora of outtakes, even recordings made "out of the room," by someone passing by during soundcheck, in which we can experience the sound of a musical ghost talking to us. After the Beatles, Joy Division may be the greatest artists in the history of the medium. These books are learned and conversational. They bring all in, not just fans of the given artist. That would defeat the purpose to me. The writer is a guide in a book like this. They hold the lamp. They say the words about the treasures. They provide the ideas that transcend the treasures themselves. We are all invested equally.

* A book on the whole of Bob Dylan's studio sessions from 1965 to 1966. Every last one. This is the journey through Bringing It All Back Home to Highway 61 Revisited to Blonde on Blonde. To go into the first take of "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands." To chart the evolution of "She's Your Lover Now," which never even gained release. To look at the band's, Dylan's changing approaches, the new ways he's regularly using his voice. These recordings represent one of rock and roll's ultimate troves. In that same group I'd put the Beatles' BBC sessions and the entirety of the Grateful Dead's tour of Europe in the spring of 1972. You could spend your whole life listening to just these sessions and never be bored, never get tired of them. I'd say that they represent the Dylan to have, if you could only have one thing. Or the most Dylan-esque that there is of Dylan.

* An entire book about the guitar solo in Pink Floyd's "Time" from Dark Side of the Moon, and how we can trace the evolution of rock and roll through this one guitar solo, and much of the music of Western civilization. This will range far--back to rockabilly and surf guitar music, to various Pink Floyd shows, including when Dark Side was being formulated onstage before it existed as a studio creation. This was one of the rare times when a band worked "backwards" that way. We think of Dark Side as the ultimate studio confection, but it began on the stage. Everything will be built off of that guitar solo. Different permutations of it, but that is the driver of the book. There will be prog, heavy metal, classical music. The solo will be broken down with rigor and vigor. Is it the ultimate expression of the electric guitar? Strand by stand, its DNA will be unfurled, and a much larger story than a single rock band, a single album, a single song, a single guitar solo, will emerge. I have talked about this project on the radio here.

A musical history of the Stone Roses. There were times when the Stone Roses were as good as any rock band has ever been, and on talent alone, I think they're one of the half dozen best units. They only had two albums, one being a masterpiece, but they also had scores of in-concert performances--of which there are surviving tapes--that document a band that can stand with any there has ever been. My career really began with a large feature written for Record Collector almost twenty years ago about those tapes. Then there are compelling studio sessions which never gained release. They changed the history of music, and they changed themselves--in the space between 1985 and 1989--about as much as a band could.

* Everywhere Is Home: The Who and the Most Powerful Force in Rock and Roll History

I believe that Pete Townshend is rock's finest guitarist. Not as a player outright--but in how he used the instrument in his writing and how the Who used it in their recording processes. Townshend was a sound architect like J.S. Bach was. He is rock and roll's most Bach-ian artist. There is stunning overlap between Bach's Art of Fugue and the approaches the Who used on Quadrophenia. The Who were violent and virtuosic. Their run from 1965 to 1976 across all of their output--the singles, the albums, the radio sessions, the live performances--is the ultimate in rock and roll envelope-pushing. No composer was more sophisticated than Townshend. Not Paul McCartney, not Brian Wilson. His musical brain was often on its own level. This has been obscured by other factors, like the whole instrument destroying thing, and the loudest band ever thing. The Who also achieved levels of communion with listeners that no one else in rock really has. A tangible, connective force. This is different than what the Grateful Dead achieved, which was more of a tapped shared vibe. I mean a deeply, borderline spiritual bond. It's in Tommy, certainly, and it came out in various ways in the live context, when the Who did things that no one else has ever been capable of. The drummer is misunderstood. If I had to pick one person who is the best on their instrument in rock history, it would be Keith Moon. His drums serve as the Dickensian narrator of the Tommy story. They are in service to us--to our humanity, even. They are our guide, friend, and champion. I'm never here to do fan service. I am here for the larger ideas, the bigger scope, with unprecedented musical and artistic analysis and insight. I don't want to limit the Who or any artist with fan service. Most books are fan service. Their writers can't see beyond their own fandom, and they don't have their own ideas that animate the whole to make it bigger than a collection of parts. These are all books that can also stand alone as their own works of entertainment and art. Would be what they are if the subject never existed. But the subject does, so we get both.

I have many ideas for that Very Short Introductions series that the Oxford University Press does. My music ideas for that are the Beatles, jazz, Dylan.

And finally, there are all of what would be the collections of my writings on music. This would be a lot of books as it already stands. They can be collected by subject, and also chronologically. Those are matters to work out later and handle as they become relevant and opportunities present themselves.

This will change. It's by no means all of the music books I will do, but books I have done, am doing, know I will be doing, as of right now. If someone said, "Would you like to write a book on hard bop for us?" I will write the book on hard bop and it will not take me long to write it. Other things will also occur to me.


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