Wednesday, February 18, 2009

When I thought about starting a blog, one of the things I always imagined doing was offering my thoughts about books on the subject of popular music. I'm a popular music scholar, after all, and as such I almost certainly read more about the subject than 98% of all humans, maybe even 99%. For instance, I'm sitting in my home office, which has three bookshelves in it, probably about 300 books in the room with me as I speak, almost all of which are books about music. And of this mass of books there are maybe 10 that I haven't read at least parts of, lest you think these are merely books for show. And that's just in one room of my house.

(The weirdly compulsive part of me is tempted to list every book on the shelves I just mentioned, but that would be ridiculous...or would it? Maybe another time.)

To jump start the process, I've spent part of the day assembling a list of what I think are the best books that have been written on the subject of rock. I'm not usually that much of a list maker, but it seemed like a good way to start a chain of conversation, if only with myself, about what makes for a good book about music. The list is based on a fairly narrow definition of rock - no books about jazz, country, hip hop, or disco, for instance, all subjects about which books have been written that I think are top notch. I'll probably assemble a separate list some time of my top music books, regardless of genre or style, but for now it's all about the rock.

The one area on which I bent my rule of genre specificity is blues, since there are a couple blues books that I think are foundational to the subject of rock. You'll know what they are if you read the list.

There are a lot of notable omissions from this list, too many to bother naming. I could probably come up with an honorable mention list almost as long as this one without losing too much in quality. And, in some cases I haven't included work by authors who are great essay writers, but who to my mind don't have that one book that absolutely captures them at their best (this especially applies to Robert Christgau).

Without further ado, here it is, my picks for the best rock books ever written (listed alphabetically):

Lester Bangs, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung
Amiri Baraka, Blues People
Chuck Berry, The Autobiography
Robert Duncan, The Noise
Chuck Eddy, Stairway to Hell
Jonathan Eisen (ed.), The Age of Rock and The Age of Rock 2
Mick Farren, Give the Anarchist a Cigarette
Simon Frith, Performing Rites
Donna Gaines, Teenage Wasteland
Bernard Gendron, Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club
Bill Graham with Robert Greenfield, Bill Graham Presents
Greil Marcus, Mystery Train
Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, Please Kill Me
Richard Meltzer, The Aesthetics of Rock
James Miller (ed.), The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll
Motley Crue with Neil Strauss, The Dirt
Charles Shaar Murray, Crosstown Traffic
Ann Powers and Evelyn McDonnell (eds.), Rock She Wrote
Jon Savage, England’s Dreaming
Robert Walser, Running with the Devil

1 comment:

  1. I think your list needs at least one Peter Guralnick book.

    Michael Azerrad's book "Our Band Could Be Your Life" was very good.

    Timothy White's "Catch a Fire" would make my list.

    I know you established a no-jazz edict, but Geoff Dyer's strangly poetic book "But Beautiful" is impressive and fun.