Jeff's Book: A Chronology of Jeff Beck's Career, 1965-1980, by Christopher Hjort and Doug Hinman (Rock'n'Roll Research Press). As a work of rock music scholarship, this day-by-day guide to the professional activities of Jeff Beck between 1965 and 1980 is really quite stupendous. Similar sorts of books have been done for giants like the Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Bob Dylan. But even though Beck was a star during that time, he got nothing like the same level of media coverage as figures like that did, and establishing the nuts and bolts of what happened when is quite a challenge. The authors are up to it and then some, detailing all of Beck's known concerts, recording sessions, and radio and television appearances, throwing in a smattering of other material like recaps of some press interviews as well. If it did nothing more than provide bare-bones listings of these, that would be in itself valuable. But Jeff's Book is far more than that, with details under many of the entries that not give a lot of behind-the-scenes context and interesting info, but are well written and entertaining to read. Particularly valuable is the coverage of Beck's stint with the Yardbirds in 1965-66, which though brief has been fuzzily documented; now you know exactly, for instance, where and when Beck played with Jimmy Page in the same Yardbirds lineup, and where, why, and how he left the band. The subsequent sections are no less thorough, whether going through the painful evolution and breakup of the first Jeff Beck Group; his subsequent lineups with a different Jeff Beck Group and as a trio with Carmine Appice and Tim Bogert; and his mid-'70s years as a fusion superstar. In addition, when unreleased tapes of Beck gigs have circulated, the authors note this under the appropriate entry and detail the musical performance in depth. There's more: numerous sidebars focusing in-depth on certain albums and junctures of Beck's career, plenty of old gig posters and photos (including 16 large-sized ones in the center), and appendices with handy lists of concerts, radio/TV appearances (including lists of what songs were performed), and Beck's ever-changing musical equipment. The three-column layout is quite good and easy on the eye as well, and it's essential reading for any committed Jeff Beck fan.

According to the Rolling Stones , by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, and Ronnie Wood [edited by Dora Loewenstein and Philip Dodd] (Chronicle Books).Three years after The Beatles Anthology (also published, as it happens, by Chronicle Books) comes a similar coffee table volume from the Rolling Stones, telling their story in their own words. While not without considerable entertainment value, it's also a considerably lesser achievement than Anthology in scale, length, and insight. For one thing, only four of the surviving Rolling Stones are the actual authors (or, perhaps more accurately put, interviewees); Mick Taylor and, more particularly, Bill Wyman are conspicuous by their absence. You can, of course, read Wyman's own copious recollections of the group in his own coffee table memoir, Rolling with the Stones, which not only beat According to the Rolling Stones to the market by a year, but also is a better read from every angle, with far more detail and fascinating photos and memorabilia reproductions. According to the Rolling Stones nonetheless has its good points, including handsome design and excellent photos of its own. And for most of the time it's a pretty good read, the group discussing its music, live performances, and evolution intelligently and lucidly, particularly when the focus is on the first decade of their career. There's not much here Stones fanatics won't already know, but the main thrust is told with wit (particularly by Keith Richards), and an occasional unusual nugget does emerge, like Charlie Watts's disclosure that the drums on "You Can't Always Get What You Want" were actually played by producer Jimmy Miller. It does, however, not only gloss over lots of the interesting obscure stories and trivia that surface in other books (such as Wyman's), but also gives a surprisingly short end of the stick to their controversies. Their notorious appearance at the Altamont festival in 1969 is given a mere page (all in the words of Watts); their early muses Marianne Faithfull and Anita Pallenberg, characters as colorful as any in the Stones themselves, are barely referred to at all. You do, however, get way more than you need about their post-1980 tours and the mid-'80s rift between Mick Jagger and Richards. Wyman was wise enough to spend most of his book on the most interesting (i.e. early) part of the Stones' work, and his bandmates weren't; by the point Jagger recalls being advised to "talk to the guy who did Aerosmith's tour when they had a content crisis," your enthusiasm for completing the final 50 pages has dimmed considerably. The text is punctuated by essays from a dozen or so associates, friends, and critics, some of them pretty interesting (by Atlantic Records executive Ahmet Ertegun, Rolling Stones Records exec Marshall Chess, and early mentor/semi-manager Giorgio Gomelsky), others superfluous puff pieces (like the one by Sheryl Crow). And what's Tim Rice doing as a contributor to a book like this?

Wouldn't It Be Nice: Brian Wilson and the Making of the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, by Charles L. Granata (A Cappella Books). Here's a solid 256-page book on the making of Pet Sounds , roundly acknowledged to be not only the Beach Boys' best album, but also one of the best albums of the 1960s. Even if you've read a lot about Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, this is worth reading too, as both its factual research and critical analysis are extremely in-depth. The author's factual research can't be faulted: he interviewed three of the four surviving Beach Boys to take place in the sessions (Mike Love, Bruce Johnston, and Al Jardine), as well as numerous other key contributors to the record (lyricist Tony Asher, bassist Carol Kaye, drummer Hal Blaine) and Wilson's wife at the time, Marilyn Wilson Rutherford. He did not, it's true, interview Brian Wilson himself, but a well-selected set of second-hand quotes by Wilson and others involved with the album is incorporated into the text. Granata's intricate descriptions of the recording process might occasionally get dry due to its unavoidable emphasis on some technical matters that might lose more casual readers, but at least the info's there for those who want to go whole hog. Though the making of Pet Sounds is very much at the center of the book, it also covers key developments in the Beach Boys' career leading up to the record; the album's critical and commercial reception in the US and UK; and Wilson's revival of the album in a live setting decades later. Brian Wilson inspires some of the most adulatory rock criticism, and like other big Wilson fans, Granata occasionally teeters overboard on the "Brian Wilson is a genius" plank; he might also overestimate the album's influence on the Beatles, though undoubtedly Paul McCartney was a huge admirer. But it's for the most part highly readable, and certainly educational.

The Pretty Things: Growing Old Disgracefully , by Alan Lakey (Firefly Publishing). There's much good and much not-so-good about the first Pretty Things biography. You can say that about the Pretty Things' music too, but it's a bigger disadvantage in a book, where unlike on a compilation CD, it doesn't work nearly as well to skip around to just get the bits you like. To start with the positives, Lakey did interview several of the most important musicians who've been in the various Pretty Things lineups (most notably founding member Dick Taylor), as well as some important associates, like early manager Bryan Morrison and producer Norman Smith. He also did a good amount of research to unearth a lot of detail and clear up a lot of mystery about contracts, songwriting credits, timelines, and who played on what. He also devotes space to all phases of the band's career, not just their most notorious 1960s years. That's also a minus, however, since the fact is that their post-1960s records were far less exciting than their earlier ones, with the '60s years taking up considerably less than half the 288-page book. To continue on the negatives, there were a good number of important figures the author didn't interview, most notably singer and founding member Phil May, as well as original drummer Viv Prince, his replacements Skip Alan and Twink, and latter-day manager Mark St. John. Although the post-early-'70s text is more interesting than you might expect, with quite a lot about the turmoil within the band and their record company struggles in particular, the music from this time simply isn't as interesting to read about as the R&B-psychedelic years. Additionally, the writing is far from smooth, often switching disjointedly between topics, and rife with basic punctuation errors. The Pretty Things' story, despite their lack of conventional commercial success, really is an interesting one, and it could have yielded a far superior book to this, though what's here is useful.

Jimi Hendrix: Musician, by Keith Shadwick (Backbeat). As a big (256-page), lavishly illustrated, and expensive ($39.95) coffeetable-sized Jimi Hendrix book, this is pretty admirable, as well written as it is nice to look at. Although, as the title makes clear, Shadwick's slant is to zero in primarily on Hendrix's music, actually he ties in quite a bit about his personal life and professional struggles and triumphs as well, without letting the focus drift. There's been a lot written about Hendrix, but what this study does well is weave together research from a copious number of sources: not only biographies, but also ancient press clippings and little-heard official and unofficial recordings. On top of that, it combines that with informative, astute, and highly readable critiques of Hendrix's music. It encompasses just about every song he ever recorded, and from varying angles examining not just the records, but also his songwriting, vocals, guitar playing, production, and collaborative interplay with his sidemen. For seasoned Hendrix fans, the book is particularly worthwhile in its exhaustive coverage of his pre-Experience years, not even getting to the Experience until page 86. No other writer has done as much to sift through Hendrix's confusing web of pre-Experience sessions and touring, doing much to sort out what actually happened when, and how those early experiences influenced his work as a solo star. If there's a minor reservation to be expressed, it's that Shadwick actually did very few interviews of his own, though he does quote (with proper attribution) from a pretty dazzlingly wide assortment of other sources. As a result, some Hendrix fans might sometimes feel like they're going over territory they've long since digested. For the more general Hendrix fan, however, or the relatively new one who hasn't read many or any other books on Jimi, it's a contender for the best available summary of his work in book form.

Can't Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters, by Robert Gordon (Little, Brown & Company). While there was a prior full-length biography of Muddy Waters (Sandra B. Tooze's Muddy Waters), this is superior in both the quality of the writing and the depth of research. In addition to interviewing many of Waters's surviving musical partners, business associates, and relatives, the author also draws upon a wealth of archival material. This ranges from interviews conducted by others with Waters (who'd been dead for almost two decades before this book was published) to the questionnaire Muddy filled out for Alan Lomax when he was recorded for the Library of Congress in the early 1940s. So much research was accumulated for this project, in fact, that about 70 pages of footnotes follow the 300 pages of main text. There's a lot of purely musical coverage and critique, fitting for the man who was one of the very most influential blues musicians of the twentieth century. There's also, however, a very strong sense of the man, not just the musician. And as with every man, there's some good and not so good. The good was the enormous strength, pride, and perseverance it took for Waters to raise himself out of poverty in the Mississippi Delta to become an internationally renowned artist after his migration to Chicago, in the process making a transition from solo country bluesman to urban bandleader. The not as good, or at least more controversial, was his turbulent romantic and family life; it gets hard to keep track of how many women he had children with and how many children he had, though in his way he tried to provide for most of his progeny, legitimate or otherwise. The 70 pages of footnotes, incidentally, aren't nearly as much of a breezy read as the main biographical portion, but at least all the backup information's there for those who want every last morsel.

Chuck Berry: The Biography, by John Collis (Aurum Press). This book appeared at almost exactly the same time as another Chuck Berry biography, Bruce Pegg's Brown Eyed Handsome Man: The Life and Hard Times of Chuck Berry. Comparisons between the two are inevitable, and as is often the case when this happens, each has some strengths and weaknesses that makes reading both necessary for those who want as much of the story as they can get. Broadly speaking, Pegg's book has some more in-depth firsthand research, particularly regarding Berry's jail terms and legal troubles. Collis, on the other hand, is stronger and more thorough in his musical analysis and his recap of Berry's recording sessions (and virtually all of Berry's tracks are discussed at some point). He doesn't seem to have done a whole lot of first?hand interviews, but he did do some, and those were augmented by a good amount of digging through archival clips that ably reconstruct the arc of Berry's career. It's also inevitable that Collis comes to the conclusion that Berry is simply an impossible man, both to figure out and to deal with: giving rude interviews and wildly erratic shows, obsessed about money but careless about self-promotion that might actually make him a more valuable commodity, given to lying about or distorting his past. That makes some of this book sad and disillusioning for the committed Berry fan, particularly as it's revealed he seems to view the artistry of his music with about as much passion as a carpenter views sawing wood. But there are a good number of fun stories along the way, and Collis himself has plenty of knowledge and passion for Berry's music.

Blues-Rock Explosion, by Summer McStravick and John Roos (Old Goat Publishing). As the first volume in a series of '60s rock reference books, Blues-Rock Explosion is a fat, nearly 300-page, nearly-coffee table-sized book with entries on 42 blues-rock acts of the 1960s and early 1970s. Most of the text is devoted to lengthy biographical profiles of the career of each artist through 1972, with thorough discographies (primarily covering US and UK singles and albums of pre-1973 material, though including a few other foreign releases of note, with track listings for every album). There are also brief "postscript" sections covering the post-1972 careers of everyone covered. The bios are very well researched and cleanly written, and particularly praiseworthy for the wealth of vintage quotes they dig up from many reviews and interviews, usually from sources actually published during the 1960s and early '70s. Also, the assiduous details of the comings and goings of the personnel in long-lived bands like John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers do a lot to detail and clear up confusing lineup shifts that have been difficult for even some diehard fans to pin down. The only major criticism that can be given is that, even as long as this book is, and even though it indisputably covers most of the major blues-rock acts (Mayall, Paul Butterfield, early Fleetwood Mac, Allman Brothers Band, Cream, Canned Heat, and more), there are some omissions of blues-rockers of considerable importance. There aren't any entries, for instance, for Free, Roy Buchanan, or the Groundhogs. Nor are there entries for many artists who, though they didn't always focus on blues-rock, made blues-rock an important pillar of their sound and contributed greatly to the genre: the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Spencer Davis Group, the Animals, Steve Miller, Jeff Beck, Them, and Jimi Hendrix, for instance. Their exclusion would have seemed less arbitrary had there not been some artists covered in the book who definitely did not always stick to blues-rock, such as the Yardbirds, the Pretty Things, and Tracy Nelson. Still, for what's offered, it gives you much more on each act than you'll find in the standard popular music reference book, in a more entertaining fashion, and also covers some relatively obscure ones that aren't often written about (Bakerloo, Black Cat Bones, Nick Gravenites, John Dummer Band, Mark Leeman Five, Duffy Power). With extensive cross-referencing between entries, it also gives a sense of just how closely intertwined the scene was, with many of the musicians collaborating with each other in different projects at different times. Given how much more ground could have been covered, a second volume with a similar attention to research and detail would not be unwelcome.

Al Stewart: The True Life Adventures of a Folk Rock Troubadour, by Neville Judd (Helter Skelter Publishing). If you want the details on what happened when in Stewart's career from the early 1960s to the twenty-first century, this 350-page, painfully small-print tome has tons of them. What this doesn't have is a reader-friendly structure and flow, though the research is extremely deep. To his credit, the author talked extensively with Stewart himself, as well as numerous key associates, including former managers, band members, producers, and girlfriends. Yet not only is the prose dry, it's often haphazard, following a chronological progression but often zigzagging back and forth confusingly within narrow time frames, and often repeating and backtracking onto itself. It's nothing some diligent editing couldn't have remedied to some extent, but as it stands, it's sometimes as if rough notes from different word processing files have been pasted together. And, as is unfortunately often the case with Helter Skelter/Firefly publishing, there are way too many basic punctuation errors, which are especially annoying when these make it hard to tell if a section is a quote or not. The net effect of these flaws is to limit the appeal of this work to very serious Al Stewart fans, who want the information so much that they'll put up with the slipshod presentation. That's unfortunate, because there is a lot of information contained within, going back to his teen years in Bournemouth, and particularly on his mid-'60s years as a folkie in London. There are also some intersections with numerous interesting figures, some of them (like Paul Simon, who became friends with Al when living in London in 1965) no surprise to folk-rock experts, others (like Yoko Ono, in whose work Stewart actually invested prior to her relationship with John Lennon) quite unexpected. His slow breakthrough to (brief) American superstardom is also carefully documented, and the book appears hardly any more interested in Stewart's post-1980 work than the general public was, sweeping up final 20 years or so of its coverage in a mere 60 pages.

The Formative Dylan, by Todd Harvey (The Scarecrow Press). When a book's subtitled "transmission and stylistic influences, 1961-1963," that's a pretty good indication that it's written more for an academic audience than a popular one. That's true of this slim study tracing the sources of Dylan's early work, though it's not so stuffily written that some more general Dylan enthusiasts won't find it of some value. Harvey writes short pieces on 70 early Dylan songs -- virtually everything that has been officially released from his pre-1964 career, including both original compositions and covers. He details not only their origins in pre-existing folk songs and interpretations, but also compares Dylan's different performances of the song to each other (in released and unreleased versions predating mid-1965, sometimes running to as much as 20 in number). The descriptions of the performances and song structures might be hardest for the non-musicologist readers to wade through, with frequent breakdowns of chord progressions and uses of terms such as "tonic" and "subdominant" chords. More interesting to the layperson, however, are his thorough examinations of possible sources for Dylan's songs, running not only to previous recordings, but also to versions he might have been exposed to live or via songbooks. While his exposure to some such sources from early-'60s peers are reasonably well known and unsurprising to Dylan scholars (Dave Van Ronk, the Clancy Brothers, Jesse Fuller, Paul Clayton, Eric Von Schmidt), others are more obscure and surprising (Bonnie Dobson, Len Chandler). What comes across is how extraordinarily deep and wide Dylan's range of folk repertoire was for a guy in his early twenties, and also how he slowly progressed in his own writing, from simply pasting on new words to an old melody to starting to devise original words and music that couldn't be strongly attributed to previous songs. Unfortunately, this doesn't look at everything Dylan wrote and performed in the early 1960s, excluding a few songs from obscure compilations, and also unofficially released original tunes (like "Hero Blues") and covers ("Wade in the Water" and "That's All Right," to name but two of the more interesting ones) that have circulated widely on bootleg. It might also have been nice if the author had made reference to some subsequent popular versions of songs discussed in the book (like the Byrds' covers of "Lay Down Your Weary Tune" and "He Was a Friend of Mine," or Fairport Convention's cover of "Percy's Song") to provide more of an entry point for non-specialists. But what's here is researched with admirable diligence and presented readably, including appendices of early-'60s set and session lists and chart breakdowns of each of the 70 songs into their structure, tempo, tuning, meter, tempo, etc.

Motown: Music, Money, Sex and Power , by Gerald Posner (Random House). A number of books on Motown preceded the 2002 publication of this investigative-oriented volume, which emphasizes the business and manipulative sides of the company more than most previous studies had. The title and back cover copy perhaps sensationalize the author's findings more than they should. For this is actually a pretty straightforward account of the giant soul music label's rise and eventual decline, with almost three-fourths of the text devoted to Motown's pre-1970 heyday. Posner did do new interviews and research (particularly relating to some of Motown's legal wrangling), in addition to trawling through a lot of previously published sources. Inevitably, much of the information and stories he relates will be familiar to the Motown (or even general pop music) fan. But the story's told well, though there's not much in the way of earth-shaking revelations. Knowledgeable fans already knew that Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr. was a complex and at times unethical character. About the most damaging new dirt dug up is about possible scams to sell new records but declare them as cutouts in financial accounts, thereby enabling Motown to underpay artists royalties -- interesting, but not the kind of thing that sets most readers and music listeners' hearts a-racing. But there are good stories about many major Motown stars, like Marvin Gaye getting into a pissing match with Gordy at a business meeting hours after John F. Kennedy's assassination. There are also basic but informative overviews of the label's biggest hits, and the closely intertwined relationships between all of the departments -- performers, producers, songwriters, publicists, salesmen, and session musicians -- though the role of Motown's many session musicians might be underplayed. It all slowly unraveled starting around the end of the 1960s as the company transferred its base of operation to Los Angeles, and that downhill ramp is covered sufficiently as well. But for a better document of the actual music Motown produced -- which is, after all, its chief legacy -- Nelson George's Motown history Where Did Our Love Go? is a better book to read.

Serge Gainsbourg: A Fistful of Gitanes , by Sylvie Simmons (Da Capo Press). Serge Gainsbourg was a major figure of twentieth century popular music and culture in his native France, though his appeal in English-speaking nations has largely been limited to an esoteric cult following. This rather thin book (185 pages, 45 taken up by appendices) is one of the only two English-language volumes about Gainsbourg that had been published as of the early 2000s, though other, much weightier tomes about the singer-songwriter have been issued in France. One does get the impression that much more could have been written about him than Simmons manages (though to her credit she refers readers to some of those other French-language sources). But for English-speaking readers outside of France in particular, it's a useful and entertaining summary of his life, benefiting with some interviews with a few of Gainsbourg's associates, particularly actress Jane Birkin (who was his lover for more than a decade starting in the late 1960s, and also often sang his songs or duetted with him on record). Less extensive interview commentary supplied by Marianne Faithfull and Jamaican rhythm section Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, who backed Gainsbourg on his popular reggae (or "Freggae") recordings, is also useful. But the heart of the book is the author's basic overview of his life arc and career highlights, as well as description and critical analysis of his many recordings, from the late 1950s to his death in the early 1990s, during which he dabbled in a bewilderingly large array of genres. Gainsbourg emerges as a man as peculiar as his songs -- alternately romantic, highly sexual, obsessed with sleaze, and mightily productive despite a publicly visible lifestyle of dissolution. It succeeds in making you want to hear more of his music, and the voluminous discography in the appendices (covering both his own recordings and interpretations of his work by others) give you a good idea of what to look for.

Ticket to Ride: Inside the Beatles’ 1964 Tour That Changed the World, by Larry Kane (Running Press). As a Miami news reporter who was still only in his early twenties, Larry Kane was able to accompany the Beatles throughout their 1964 and 1965 North American tours, as well as on some of their 1966 North American tour; he also interviewed them at a few other points in their career. Here's his memoir of his time with the Beatles, and while it's competently written and fairly detailed, its appeal is limited to Beatlemaniacs. There are many books whose primary audience is Beatlemaniacs, of course, and in that sub-genre this is neither the best nor the worst. Although Kane remembers his experiences with the Beatles well, he doesn't come up with many significant stories that are particularly little-known or surprising. Similarly,, his insights into their characters similarly seems reasonable, but nothing new and exciting for students of the group. There's a little sex, drugs, and controversy, but it's pretty mild, on the order of John Lennon making out with Jayne Mansfield, George Harrison throwing a drink at a nosy photographer, and the group starting to discreetly use marijuana. Too, like many of the reporters following the Beatles during their early career, Kane's questions when he interviewed them were fairly basic and sometimes banal, seldom dealing with their music, though they got a little more probing as time went on. Many of those interviews are quoted within the book, and many of them can be heard on the hour-long CD that's bound into its inside back cover. Overall it gives a sense of how manic (and sometimes tiresome) the Beatlemania tours were, with the hysterical crowds, media crush, and incessant plane rides, though the book and CD are both puffed up with some faintly over-dramatic linking narration. This book, incidentally, is an entirely different one than Barry Tashian's similarly titled Ticket to Ride: The Extraordinary Diary of the Beatles' Last Tour.

45 RPM: The History, Heroes & Villains of a Pop Music Revolution, by Jim Dawson & Steve Propes (Backbeat). The idea behind this book was a good one, albeit not an easy one to trace in smooth linear form: the birth and evolution of the 45 RPM record, which dominated the popular music market by the end of the 1950s, and which by the end of the 1900s was nearly extinct. The authors' coverage of the birth of the 45 format is thorough, though some of the technicalities behind the perfection of the new technology are on the dry side. In addition to detailing how the 45 resulted from competition between major labels for establishing new dominant 12-inch and seven-inch vinyl formats with the death of the 78, the authors also properly note how important jukeboxes, the rise of teenage culture, and the birth of rock'n'roll were in establishing the 45's pre-eminence. After that early history's dealt with, however, the book flounders a little, with anecdotal, rather drifting coverage of topics like the picture sleeve, the EP, how 45s are made, and a whole chapter on one of the rarest 45s, the Five Sharps' "Stormy Weather." Dawson and Propes' primary expertise is in pre-1960 rock'n'roll and R&B -- they wrote the excellent 1993 book What Was the First Rock'n'Roll Record? -- and they seem on far less sure footing when they talk about the 45's role in 1960s rock, and its diminishing importance in the waning years of the twentieth century. There could have been far more written about '60s picture sleeves, non-LP B-sides, B-sides that became hits, rare 45-only versions, the 45's different history in the UK and other countries, and particularly collectable 45s, for instance, although most of those topics are skimmed over. It ends up being a rather slim overview of the subject, though there was room for considerably more in-depth investigations. The book's illustrated with numerous, though not a ton, of particularly odd, interesting, or historical 45s, some of them in color.

When the Levee Breaks: The Making of Led Zeppelin IV, by Andy Fyfe (A Cappella). Led Zeppelin IV was the group's most celebrated album, and this book is a 200-page rundown on its evolution. The sections that focus on the recording and composition of the album are thoroughly researched, with song-by-song rundowns both on the shaping of the tracks in the studio, and the critical merits of each tune. There's also a whole section on the cover art, which might seem excessive but isn't, given both the complex mystery of the sleeve and the battles the group fought to have it done their way (with no band name on the cover). The book runs into choppier waters, though, in the context-framing chapters, which take up about as much space as coverage of the album itself. There's a whole lotta stuff on the band's history and recordings before and after Led Zeppelin IV, and while that provides a useful overview for those not overly familiar with Led Zeppelin, much of the information will be old hat to many fans. The tone also leaves something to be desired, sometimes coming across as finding anyone who seriously criticized Led Zeppelin then and now close-minded and deficient. There's too much made of the group's rocky relations with the press (which takes up a whole chapter and then some); there's too much repetition of some of the points the author hammers home in Led Zep's defense; and it even sometimes gets on unsteady factual ground when it widens the lens from Led Zeppelin to broader assertions about rock's history. Unlike the best books in the "Vinyl Frontier" series (which this is part of), it seems padded out to book length with too much material not directly related to the album at hand.

Hit Me, Fred: Recollections of a Sideman , by Fred Wesley Jr. (Duke University Press). Fred Wesley is most known for his work with James Brown in the late 1960s and the first half of the 1970s, during which time he not only played trombone with the star, but often worked as the director and musical arranger of Brown's band. A good chunk of his autobiography covers his stint with Brown, but it also covers the rest of his career, from his beginnings in Alabama bands as a teenager through his post-Brown solo and band endeavors. Some of the book, to be blunt, is dull, particularly at the very beginning and very end, when it's something of a going-through-the-motions exercise of who did what and what happened when. In between, though, it's entertaining and at times fascinating, starting to gather steam around the time Wesley tours with Ike Turner and Hank Ballard in the early 1960s. It's a good look at the tough hurdles a sideman faced, particularly a Black sideman in the '60s, with forthright storytelling that doesn't shy away from honest self-examination of mistakes and wrong-headedness. After his career was interrupted by a hitch in the Army (which turns out to be much better reading than you might expect), the way's cleared for the most entertaining chapters, those dealing with his life on the road and in the studio with James Brown. Brown is painted as a megalomaniac, one who would impose punishments and tedious rehearsals just for the purpose of exercising authority. Just as interesting as the stories of Brown's impetuousness and temper are Wesley's own brutally honest, though not self-pitying, self-recriminations for being too much of a yes-man to Brown and suffering too much abuse for the sake of being able to play and help produce such great soul and funk. A chapter on Wesley's time with Parliament-Funkadelic and Bootsy's Rubber Band immediately following his departure from the James Brown organization is also good, as are to lesser degrees his reports on his struggles to establish himself in Hollywood as a solo artist and session musician. The sections in which, following drug problems, he straightens out to enjoy some success touring with the JB Horns is surprisingly lacking in color, with a rushed get-it-over-with quality. But for the most part, this is a good look at soul's transition to funk from the inside, told with humor even when the setbacks are heartbreaking.

Yes Yoko Ono, by Alexandra Munroe and Jon Hendricks (Japan Society/Harry N. Abrams). Published in conjunction with a major touring exhibition of Yoko Ono's artwork in 2001-02, this 352-page, coffee table-sized glossy production is a major written and visual document of her multimedia career. As is the case with many art books, it's more for the serious fan and art connoisseur than the general reader. That's due to the scholarly/academic tone of the text, which sometimes discusses her work in highly theoretical fashion in terms used most often in the world of high art. And it's also due, frankly, to the high ($60) price. But even if it's something you're unlikely to sit down with for extended bouts of pleasure reading, it's visually quite excellent, with high-quality color and black-and-white photos (with accompanying text) of dozens of her pieces in several idioms. These include not only coverage of her visual artworks, but also of her "scores and instructions," "events and performances," "advertisements" (the most famous of which are the "War Is Over! If You Want It" billboards she and John Lennon put up in various cities in December 1969), films and video, and music. The essays might not always be easy reading, but they're very detailed and critically acute, also filling in some background on Ono's life and the New York, Tokyo, and London art worlds that influenced her work. (Not all of the essays are by the credited authors Alexandra Munroe and Jon Hendricks; numerous other writers contribute too, which leads to some repetition of facts and ideas.) And the sheer breadth of her career (though most of what's covered predates the mid-1970s) does come across, with plenty of evidence that she was making an impact in the avant-garde art/performance/music world prior to her taking up with Lennon in the late 1960s. Her blend of Japanese and Anglo cultures, never at home with either, is also conveyed, as is her emphasis on audience/viewer participation in much of what she produced. As for some of the most famous pieces represented here, you'll find the "Ceiling Painting (YES Painting)" that Lennon climbed in 1966 when he met her for the first time at a London exhibit; the "Painting to Hammer a Nail" piece, in which Lennon asked if it was alright for him to hammer in an imaginary nail; the "Cut Piece," in which audiences removed articles of Ono's clothes piece by piece; and stills from the film Fly, with an Ono soundtrack. There's also a section anthologizing some of her writings, and a chronology of exhibitions, concerts, and events. And there's a three-song, 20-minute 2000 CD of music by Ono, A Blueprint for the Sunrise (though it's not the same as her 2001 Capitol CD with the same title), bound into the back cover.



Give the Anarchist a Cigarette, by Mick Farren (Pimlico). Though Mick Farren might not have been a hugely recognizable name to the rock public in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he was very much in the middle of Britain in both the underground rock scene and the general counterculture. {-Give the Anarchist a Cigarette} is his memoir of his wild early years, covering his flailing (yet ultimately successful) attempts to be in a rock group in the mid-1960s; his years as lead singer of the shambling psychedelic band the Deviants; his work as a journalist on the British underground paper {~International Times}; and his edging closer to the mainstream in the 1970s as a writer for {~New Musical Express}. On its own steam, Farren's story is very interesting; he got almost as much an inside view of the British psychedelic scene, as a fan and performer, as anyone, and likewise was much involved in the political protest and social counterculture of the time with {-International Times} and other activities, such as the psychedelic {~UFO} club. What makes this a truly fine read, however, is that Farren is also an excellent and extremely witty writer, churning out story after story of madcap adventure (and quite a lot of sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll) in the British hippie era. These rope in characters from the most famous rock stars and writers to obscure groupies and hangers-on, from Led Zeppelin, Joe Boyd, Barry Miles, and Germaine Greer on down. For those who are interested, here at last are thorough details on his erratic yet intriguing band the Deviants -- their recording sessions, their chaotic gigs, the weird rotating cast of musicians, their ignominious bust-up on their first American tour. More than that, though, this gives a great sense of the adrenaline rush and heartbreaking disappointments of the hippie era, as well as its hangover into the 1970s, ending with Farren's decision to leave Britain for the US at the end of the '70s. Fans of Farren's writing were waiting a long time for a comprehensive account of his experiences during this era, which had leaked out in bits and pieces of various of his writings, and when he did put it all together in this book, he delivered the goods in splendid fashion.

Your Face Here: British Cult Movies Since the Sixties, by Ali Catterall & Simon Wells (Fourth Estate). This isn't so much a general survey of British cult movies since the sixties as it is a collection of essays about a dozen particularly notable British cult movies spanning the 1960s to the 1990s. Not that there's anything wrong with that, and this has outstanding pieces, totaling 300 pages in all, on films that are worthy of in-depth study: {#A Hard Day's Night}, {#Blow-Up}, {#If...}, {#Performance}, {#Get Carter}, {#A Clockwork Orange}, {#The Wicker Man}, {#Quadrophenia}, {#Withnail & I}, {#Naked}, {#Trainspotting}, and (in the only questionable inclusion) {#Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels}. Too, these aren't conventional film critiques, but place most of the emphasis on telling the stories of how the films got made, spiced with plenty of behind-the-scenes stories and first-hand interviews with many of the actors, directors, writers, and other principals. What's more, in many cases the authors identify specifically where famous location scenes in the movies were filmed in Britain, knowing that the kind of people likely to read these sort of books are precisely the kind of cultists that like to visit the actual places in the films if possible. The hard information is balanced by some insightful criticism, as well as some sharp general observations about what makes a cult film "cult," and why these films struck particularly devoted chords that have enabled them to build staunch followings over the course of years.

In the Court of King Crimson, by Sid Smith (Helter Skelter). Smith's 350-page King Crimson biography comes through well on all counts, balancing well-researched accounts of the band's evolution through various lineups with track-by-track dissections of each of their albums. All of King Crimson's members were interviewed for the book, going all the way back to the pre-King Crimson incarnation of Giles, Giles, & Fripp in the late 1960s. Of most value to Crimson fans, Robert Fripp -- the only constant presence in all King Crimson lineups, and the undisputed driving force behind the band -- was interviewed about all phases of the group's career, even if his replies have the carefully phrased and edited flavor of email responses. Particularly interesting is the in-depth coverage of the band's genesis in the late 1960s, a period that's been murky to many of the group's followers, with plenty of comments from principals in the first lineup who exited quickly (Ian McDonald, Michael Giles, and Greg Lake). Note that those looking for dirt, or even just some basic details, about the members' private lives might be disappointed: what little there is usually only directly relates to the group's professional career, with Fripp's wife Toyah Willcox (a celebrity in her own right), for instance, only referred to a couple of times in passing. Also note that there's little specific discussion of the band members' many solo and side projects, with a welcome exception made for the fine, underrated solo album done by McDonald and Giles in 1970 right after they left King Crimson. The text does get less interesting the further it goes into their later career chronologically, but that's a common liability in rock biographies. It's capped by a thorough discography, gig list, and appendix summarizing the post-King Crimson careers through 2000 of everyone important who was involved in the band.

Anyway Anyhow Anywhere: The Complete Chronicle of the Who, by Andy Neill and Matt Kent (Friedman/Fairfax Publishing). In the mold of previous day-by-day sorts of chronicles to the careers of giants like the Beatles, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan, this is a coffeetable-sized, diary-formatted guide to professional activities of the Who from 1958-78 (stopping with Keith Moon's death). The bulk of the entries detail their concerts, but they also mark their recording sessions, TV and radio appearances, and a few other miscellaneous media-related ventures. As a document this is admirable and valuable. But as a book to read, this isn't always great, and certainly not up to the level of coffeetable career overviews like {-The Beatles Anthology} or even Bill Wyman's {-Rolling with the Stones}. Many of the concert entries (particularly the earlier ones) offer only the basic dry details, and although recording sessions are always noted, the text is usually just limited to when, what, and where songs were recorded. Don't, in other words, expect anything on the order of {-The Beatles Recording Sessions} when it comes to behind-the-scenes stories about how their records were made. Too, it must be said that much of the information regarding their live work was documented in the previous book {-The Who Concert Files}, sometimes in more interesting fashion, though the authors of {-Anyway Anyhow Anywhere} do acknowledge the existence of {-The Who Concert File} and recommend it as a companion volume. There's still much to praise about {-Anyway Anyhow Anywhere}, most particularly the wealth of vintage photos, posters, and other vintage illustrations, like letters and lyrics written by Pete Townshend in the late 1960s. And the authors do insert some interesting little-known stories from first-hand interviews, as well as clearing up and unearthing some basic Who data. Who fans will likely enjoy it quite a bit, though more general readers might find the text a little lacking in color.

The Complete David Bowie, by Nicholas Pegg (Reynolds & Hearn Ltd.). This 550-page, two-column, small-print volume is not just "the complete David Bowie"; it's a David Bowie encyclopedia. It contains detailed analysis and background info, through 2002, about every song, from A-Z, that he recorded, wrote, or performed; every one of his albums; and summaries, almost as extensive, of his live performances. Those three sections comprise the lion's share of the book (435 pages), but that still lives room for equally no-stone-unturned sections about his BBC radio sessions; videos; film, TV, and theatrical acting roles; work as an artist and writer; activities in the interactive world; rumored but unconfirmed appearances in various mediums; and singles discography. There's also a handy 40-page timeline to all of his recordings, record releases, live appearances, and TV and film endeavors. Obviously you've got to be a Bowie fanatic to digest all of this with zeal, but unlike so many single-artist rock reference books, it's not a dry read at all. There are tons of little-known stories and perceptive criticism, all in an entertaining and highly readable style. The research that went into this is so immense that it really is the definitive compilation of all things known about Bowie work, though various biographies go into more detail about some of his projects and personal life, and offer different critical angles. The only reservations to be noted are that the book gives equal attention to all phases of his career, which invariably means that, say, his Tin Machine years are far less interesting to read about than the Ziggy Stardust ones. Too, as to be expected from any fan crazy enough to pour this much research into one topic, Pegg tends to be overgenerous and forgiving in his critical assessments, though he doesn't shy away from negative evaluations of some of Bowie's less impressive efforts.

Can You Feel the Silence? Van Morrison: A New Biography, by Clinton Heylin (A Cappella). Considering that Van Morrison is one of the musicians most revered by rock critics, it's surprising that there really wasn't a major biography of the man before this appeared in the early twenty-first century, though there had been a few rather piecemeal attempts. Heylin's effort runs about 550 pages, and while there are flaws, it's certainly far more thorough than previous studies of Morrison, and could end up being the most comprehensive book on the singer. There's no first-hand interview material from Morrison -- hardly a surprise, given his testy relationship with most music journalists -- but there are first-hand interviews with a few dozen people who've worked and recorded with the performer, going from members of Them to Linda Gail Lewis. Heylin's deep research also includes plenty of archive quotes from Morrison and others in his circle, from the 1960s through the 1990s. At its best, this is engrossing in its detailed examination of all phases of his career, particularly important ones that have remained somewhat murky and mysterious, like the dissolution of Them, Morrison's move to the United States, and the drawn-out process that resulted in the recording of {^Astral Weeks}. But as you might expect, the story does get less interesting from the mid-1970s onward; it's really the passages about Them (Morrison's first group, and covered in much depth) and his early classic albums that carry the day. It should come as no surprise to readers of Heylin's numerous other rock history books that the author, though extremely quick-witted in his critical evaluations, sometimes gets off-puttingly smug and judgmental when speculating on Morrison's character and motivations. It's undeniable, though, that Morrison comes off as a deeply troubled and oft-unhappy man, sometimes verging as pathological in his unpleasantness toward others and self-sabotaging career moves. It's a puzzling character for a man who (particularly in his early days) crafted an original synthesis of rock, jazz, blues, and soul in songs that often grasped toward transcendence to a higher plane of being.

Madcap: The Half-Life of Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd's Lost Genius, by Tim Willis (Short Books). There were several Syd Barrett books, all of them worthwhile, on the market prior to the appearance of this 2002 work, including Julian Palacios's {-Lost in the Woods], Mike Watkinson and Pete Anderson's {-Crazy Diamond}, and David Parker's {-Random Precision: Recording the Music of Syd Barrett, 1965-1974}. Was there room for yet another book about a guy who, after all, didn't record that much music and pretty much retired from the music business in his mid-twenties? Yes, pretty much, though this book isn't as useful as any of the other three works. For one thing, it's not very long: the 175 small-size, large-print pages can be leafed through in a matter of hours. It's more of a lengthy opinionated appreciation/survey of Barrett's life than it is a biography, and while it's well-done for the most part, there's not much here that the devoted Barrett fan (and there are a good number) won't have come across or thought about previously. What's frustrating is that Willis did do some original research for the book, interviewing various early friends, lovers, and associates, even Roger Waters and David Gilmour. So some interesting little-known stories and perspectives emerge that haven't appeared elsewhere, particularly about Barrett's pre-Floyd years. In fact this might have been good initial work for a pretty good proper full-length Barrett biography. But the author didn't seem inclined to go in that direction, and in fact his coverage of the musical aspects of Barrett's time in Pink Floyd -- which is, after all, the most interesting aspect of his life -- is granted only sweepingly perfunctory coverage. A few (and only a few) rare photos and Barrett artwork add some value, as does a schedule of his concert and studio activities. But the author's harsh criticism of the worth and accuracy of other Barrett books is churlish, particularly considering that there are a few minor errors in his own volume.

In the Sixties, by Barry Miles (Jonathan Cape). Barry Miles was an interesting and important figure on the cutting edge of the Swinging London arts scene, as a co-founder of the Indica Bookshop and publisher of the late-'60s underground paper {-International Times}. Along the way, he got to hobnob with many of the era's leading literary and musical figures, among them Allen Ginsberg, Richard Brautigan, William Burroughs, Marianne Faithful (whose first husband, John Dunbar, was Miles's co-partner in the Indica enterprise), and the Beatles, becoming a good friend of Paul McCartney (Miles would eventually write a McCartney biography with Paul's close collaboration). Because Miles writes well and clearly, and seems to have a clear memory, this is unsurprisingly a quite enjoyable and informative memoir of the 1960s. There are plenty of stories about key figures and events, like the 1965 poetry readings at Albert Hall that helped galvanize London's counterculture, and the busts and harassment of {-International Times} and drug users as the Establishment fought back. It's not all about music, of course, but there are a lot of stories here about major and minor '60s musicians and music-related subjects, including the early Pink Floyd; the Beatles in their psychedelic phase; Frank Zappa's first UK visit; the psychedelic {~UFO} club; Allen Klein; and Phil Ochs. There's also an account of his stint working for the Beatles' short-lived experimental Zapple label, for which he recorded Brautigan, Ginsberg, and Charles Bukowski. However, it's also a penetrating inside view of the changes rocking society on several levels during the time, with class barriers getting broken down (or at least modified) and codes of behavior and thought becoming less restrictive and more liberating.

The Beatles' Shadow: Stuart Sutcliffe & His Lonely Hearts Club, by Pauline Sutcliffe & Douglas Thompson (Pan Books). Pauline Sutcliffe is the sister of Stuart Sutcliffe, who played bass for the Beatles in the early 1960s, but died in 1962, less than a year after leaving the band for good. This is her memoir of Sutcliffe's life, focusing on her experiences as his younger sister in his family life, but also on her recollections of his stint in the Beatles; his brief career as an artist; his relationship to his close friend John Lennon; and his relationship to his fiancee, Astrid Kirchherr. Stuart Sutcliffe had an interesting if very short life, and had a substantial influence on the Beatles, though more on their image and attitude than on their music. Since Pauline was closer to him than almost anyone, her memoir unavoidably has some value for serious Beatles fans, but that doesn't mean this is a very good or interesting book. There are interesting stories about Stuart Sutcliffe's life in his family, at art college, and with the Beatles in the early 1960s, as well as excerpts from some of his letters from Hamburg to his family. But actually the teenaged Pauline Sutcliffe didn't have all that much access to the inner dynamics of Stuart's activities within the Beatles (much of which took place in Hamburg, which she didn't visit at the time). More problematically, Pauline, who became a psychotherapist, sometimes detours from the main story to offer judgmental theories about why Lennon, Sutcliffe, and (less often) other of the Beatles have acted as they have. These can speculatively ramble on, and there's an occasional tendency for the prose to wander in general, even in the more straightforward parts of the book. Upon its publication, the book attracted some press attention for Pauline Sutcliffe's assertions that Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe had a homosexual relationship (though a minor one) and that Stuart's death was the result of a beating Lennon gave him in mid-1961. It does seem that the author is building up these theories without enough hard evidence to really substantiate them as fact, and her bitterness toward the Beatles for, she writes, thwarting her family's attempts to posthumously promote Stuart Sutcliffe's artwork likewise does not seem wholly justified by indisputable evidence. It's also curious that there's not a single mention in the volume of a previous book she co-wrote about Stuart Sutcliffe (with Alan Clayson), {^Backbeat}, even in the lengthy bibliography. What both books demonstrate, inadvertently no doubt, is that while Stuart Sutcliffe had a noteworthy role in the early Beatles, it really wasn't nearly as noteworthy as those of Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison, and his sister seems overly eager to overestimate her brother's significance.

Punk., by Stephen Colegrave and Chris Sullivan (Cassell & Co.). To roughly coincide with the 25th anniversary of the birth of punk (a date that might vary according to who's the judge), this large-format 400-page coffeetable book appeared, big and heavy enough to double the weight of your carry-on bag when you lug it through customs. This is not so much a conventional history of 1970s punk as it is a combination picture book and oral history, mixing large, glossily reproduced photos from the period (mostly in black and white) with first-hand quotes from almost 100 of the participants (and numerous second-hand quotes from other sources). It's early British punk that gets the most extensive look-in, particularly the Sex Pistols and the small but explosive scene in which they formed, though other British bands (especially the Clash) and some New York punk and pre-punk progenitors are covered too. So a lot of good building blocks make this a worthwhile book, but there are also considerable faults that make it less than a classic. First, although a lot of people were interviewed, they don't include all that many of the most important musicians and managers, though there are some (like Paul Simonon of the Clash and Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols); a good number of them are figures with more peripheral connections to the main movers. More critically, the authors -- both in what they choose to highlight and their occasional linking comments -- reflect a sort of in-crowd elitism that's at odds with the supposedly DIY, liberating ethic that punk promoted. They don't seem to be too aware of this, at various turns hailing punk for its loutish behavior and spreading the message that anyone can form bands and do what they want, and at others bemoaning how too many people formed bands and dressed in punk attire after 1976 who behaved obnoxiously and weren't as cool as the original propagators. The decision of whom to include, too, can be sometimes quirkily exclusionary; nothing on the Jam, apparently because they're believed to have aspired to be stadium rockers (though the Clash, Blondie, Talking Heads, Billy Idol, and others who graduated to stadium level are included and not criticized for this), but a whole page on Deaf School? And nothing at all on the early California punk scene? It's better to treat this as one view of the early punk era, enjoying what pictures and memories are presented, than as a definitive record, for which a series of more thorough non-pictorial books such as {-England's Dreaming}, {-Please Kill Me}, and {-From the Velvets to the Voidoids} should be consulted.

Like a Bullet of Light: The Films of Bob Dylan, by C.P. Lee (Helter Skelter). Bob Dylan really didn't do too much work in film, and with the exception of the mid-1960s tour documentary {#Don't Look Back}, his audiovisual appearances are neither too well known or too acclaimed. In Bob Dylan literature, however, no corner of his career is too obscure to escape book-length analysis. So {-Like a Bullet of Light: The Films of Bob Dylan} has critiques of not just all the films in which Dylan has strongly figured as either performer or actor ({#Don't Look Back}, {#Eat the Document}, {#Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid}, {#Renaldo and Clara}, and {#Hearts and Fire}), but also surprisingly lengthy rundowns on films in which he has small or cameo roles; his promo videos; and television appearances. (Note that his 2003 film {#Masked and Anonymous} is not covered, as it was released a few years after this volume was published.) Author C.P. Lee didn't conduct many first-hand interviews, but otherwise his research is very thorough, culling quotes and info from an impressive variety of sources (documented in one of the appendices). And actually, with the exception of {#Don't Look Back}, most of these films have been hard to see, so just learning about what they contain and how they were produced is pretty interesting in itself. As a critic, Lee does a good job with well-flowing and sometimes witty writing, though there's a bit of idolatry in his assessments of Dylan's on-screen presence. With, again, the exception of {#Don't Look Back}, all of Dylan's primary films have received mixed-to-negative reception. The reader sometimes gets the feeling that when a movie or something about it simply isn't good, Lee's willing to blame anyone but Dylan, often qualifying his comments with remarks along the lines of "when Dylan comes in the frame, though, his charisma is undeniable." There's some pretty interesting trivia in his rundowns of the small roles and TV appearances for those deeply into Dylan -- did you know, for instance, that he played on three telethons for the Hasidic Jewish organization Chabad Lubovitch? Small TV/film appearances not covered in the main text are thoroughly documented in the appendices.

I Don't Want to Fight, by Lulu (Time Warner). Lulu's autobiography -- actually her second one, though not too many people saw the first, which came out in the 1980s -- is a standard celebrity first-person account, and neither too bad nor too exciting as these things go. The Scottish singer recounts her hard working-class childhood in Glasgow, her ascent to British Invasion stardom in the mid-1960s, the starring role in {#To Sir With Love} that made her name in America, and her marriages, extra-musical activities, and variably successful post-1960s comebacks. Along the way, there's much path-crossing with fellow celebrities, particularly Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees, to whom she was married for a few years in the late 1960s and early 1970s. More surprisingly, there's some gossip about her brief fling with David Bowie shortly after her divorce, and Bowie's brief involvement with her career as producer around this time. The gossip never gets too in-depth or controversial, though, even with the parade of famous people who pop up at some time or another, including the Beatles, Elton John, Pete Townshend, Take That, Sidney Poitier, Scott Walker, and the Bee Gees. If you're looking for extensive details and reflections on her recording career beyond the handful of well-known hit singles, or revelations on how Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones were to work with as session men or what her favorite LP tracks and flop 45s were, you'll be disappointed, although she does talk about her big smashes from time to time. There's a lot, however, on her family, her personal crises, and her homes and holidays, which no doubt satisfies the mass market to whom this readable autobiography is targeted.

Ready, Steady, Go!: The Smashing Rise and Giddy Fall of Swinging London, by Shawn Levy (Doubleday). "Swinging London," or to be drier the rise of an artistic and celebratory youth-oriented culture in London in the 1960s, is a pretty huge topic to document in a book, even one that runs 350 pages. So by necessity this chronicle might have more sweeping overview than in-depth detail on any one artist or sub-movement in particular. However, it does a decent job of tying together the general threads of innovation in popular music, fashion, photography, cinema, and lifestyle that gave rise to Swinging London. It does, it should be noted, focus on a few particular leading lights -- the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in music, Mary Quant and Vidal Sassoon in fashion, David Bailey in photography, Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy in modeling, Robert Fraser in art dealership, Terence Stamp in acting -- to build the story. While this does make the narrative manageable, it doesn't do justice to the full depth of the scene, which took in many dozens (if not hundreds) of figures in all of those fields. At the same time, those readers who are knowledgeable about one or more of those celebrities in particular -- the Beatles, say -- will find that much of the information about them is already familiar, and that the book offers few tidbits of newly discovered information. Its value, then, is in presenting the London of the 1960s as an interconnecting story, likely educating readers aware of musical history but not fashion, or vice versa. This it does pretty well, in a highly readable and fast-paced manner, from the first stirrings of the '60s generation through the British Invasion, psychedelia, and the hippie era. While a lot of research was poured into the text, it's far heavier on the recycling of previously published quotes than on first-hand interviews, though the author did interview a few dozen figures himself, including Quant, Stamp, Sassoon, Michael Caine, and Bill Wyman.



Got a Revolution! The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane, by Jeff Tamarkin (Atria Books). How surprising that it took 30 years after its breakup for a proper biography of Jefferson Airplane to be written, though there had been a biography of Grace Slick, an autobiography by Grace Slick, and a book The Jefferson Airplane and the San Francisco Sound) largely comprised of '60s interviews with the band. Since this book also covers Jefferson Starship and the key members' 1970s and 1980s solo and group projects, it's a lot to fit into 400 pages. Tamarkin does a fine job of distilling the complicated story down to an enjoyable essence, in large part because he did firsthand interviews with all six of the musicians that comprised Jefferson Airplane's best and most famous lineup in 1966-1970. He also talked to a lot of other people important to the story, like the group's original female singer Signe Anderson, manager Bill Thompson, and even obscure first-lineup bassist Bob Harvey and drummer Jerry Peloquin. It's a fast-moving, yet in-depth and witty, look at the astonishing evolution of the group from mid-1960s folkies to psychedelic stars, with lots of attention paid to behind-the-scenes stories of the recording and composition of their best material. The considerable strife and infighting within this group of strong personalities is not ignored, either, and light is shed on little-discussed matters like their legal conflicts with original manager Matthew Katz and their censorship battles with RCA Records. Wisely, the book focuses primarily on the five years or so, from 1965 to 1970, when the Airplane were an important band. The dissolution of the group in the early 1970s is covered, as is their splintering (into Hot Tuna and solo projects) and evolution (into Jefferson Starship), but that occupies only about a third of the text. Their unfortunate late-1980s comeback is only covered with the necessary brevity, with updates on their post--1990 activities summarized in an appendix.

Rolling with the Stones, by Bill Wyman with Richard Havers (DK Publishing). Since Bill Wyman had already written a book about his experiences in the Rolling Stones (Stone Alone) a dozen years before this work, you might wonder whether there was a need for a 500-page coffee table book about the group also written by Wyman. The answer is that Rolling with the Stones is actually a much more enjoyable experience than Stone Alone, mostly because it's sumptuously designed and illustrated with more than 3,000 photos, many from Wyman's own extensive collection of Stones memorabilia. In some ways it's comparable to the Beatles' Anthology history in how one could spend hours looking at the neat photos, posters, and reproductions of old letters and memos alone. It compares unfavorably to Anthology, however, in the narrative text, since it's just Wyman's viewpoint, not one that integrates first-hand commentary from all of the Rolling Stones. Still, the text is for the most part pretty interesting, both because Wyman does remember a lot and tells plenty of well-known and little-known stories reasonably well, going all the way back to the group's genesis in the early 1960s. Too, Wyman's own recollections are broken up with commentary establishing nuts and bolts facts in the Stones' career progression, often incorporating vintage quotes from the all of the group and some others. Each album and 45 release is handily discussed and listed in separate boxes, and there are even nifty maps establishing where the group played on their tours. Wyman's decision to primarily focus on the tours and the studio, rather than the sensationalism and the controversy (though those aspects aren't ignored), also works to this mammoth book's favor. As a minor drawback, the post-early-1970s coverage gets steadily more perfunctory and less interesting. But that's not as much of a negative as it could have been, since fully 80% of the book is devoted to the group's first and most interesting decade. One does occasionally wish, however, for some more personal perspectives. We learn, for instance, that Wyman had a lot to do with the riffs that were the foundations of the classics "Paint It Black" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash." But we don't learn much about how he feels about Mick Jagger and Keith Richard taking exclusive songwriting credits for such songs, or how he feels at other tense junctures, such as when some bass parts for Exile on Main Street were played by others.

Brown Eyed Handsome Man: The Life and Hard Times of Chuck Berry: An Unauthorized Biography, by Bruce Pegg (Routledge). Despite his enormous fame and universal acknowledgement of his central importance to rock'n'roll, Chuck Berry had never been the subject of a thorough biography before this account. (Berry's own autobiography doesn't count, leaving as it does many incidents unexamined.) For the most part, Pegg's book is very good, and certainly meticulously researched. The family background, early skirmishes with the law, and rise from the St. Louis clubs to recording star by this intensely private man is unearthed, and his classic 1950s and 1960s Chess recordings and songs are discussed in reasonable detail. Most crucially, considering the confusion that's surrounded his numerous legal troubles and particularly his early-'60 prison stint, Pegg goes to great length to unravel Berry's court cases, particularly the late-'50s violation of the Mann Act that landed him in jail. Pegg went through an enormous number of media clippings and court documents, all carefully cited, and objectively discusses the controversial facets of Berry's professional and personal life. The coverage of his post-1960s career is lighter but still interesting, particularly in the behind-the-scenes stories of the making of his mid-1980s movie Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock'n'Roll. Where this book might be slightly lacking, though, is in discussion of the music and records, which is overall good but occasionally misses some notable tracks. Too, Berry fans might be taken aback by Pegg's less than enthusiastic appraisal of some cuts many might consider to be classics, like "Almost Grown," "Carol," and "Little Queenie." The examinations of Berry's legal cases, while responsibly exhaustive, do get a bit dull to wade through at times for those not intrigued by the minutiae of the law. The biggest disappointment, and one which was probably unavoidable, was Pegg's inability to interview Berry himself. Indeed, though he did interview some key figures like Marshall Chess and sideman Johnnie Johnson, there's not all that much firsthand material of that nature, the interviews numbering only about a dozen in all.

The Complete Dusty Springfield, by Paul Howes (Reynolds & Hearn). The Complete Dusty Springfield is a comprehensive analysis of every song Springfield recorded as a solo artist -- the kind of treatment that's been given to major rock icons like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan, but has rarely been bestowed upon somewhat less revered stars such as Springfield. Howes, the editor of The Dusty Springfield Bulletin, leaves no stone unturned in his endeavors. They encompass not only everything she issued -- quite a feat given the almost impenetrably confusing mass of obscure material that's surfaced on alternate takes, non-LP B-sides, import albums, soundtracks, and more -- but also even some unreleased tracks and commercials. For that alone, the book would be valuable for anyone dedicated enough to want to track down specific material within Springfield's unwieldy discography. More importantly, it's quite well-written and researched, both in terms of detailing the sessions and backgrounds of the songs, and also in its critical analysis, which doesn't hesitate to zero in on flaws and imperfections in addition to praising Springfield's successes. Also valuable are the author's explicit notes as to the original sources of the tunes Springfield covered, quite valuable as some of those originals were very obscure. Indeed, the book contains more valuable (and entertaining) purely musical information than is found in the two more standard Dusty Springfield biographies (Lucy O'Brien's Dusty and Penny Valentine and Vicki Wickham's Dancing with Demons, bolstered by first-hand interviews with some of Springfield's collaborators, as well as second-hand quotes about the material, many from Springfield herself. The 65 pages of appendices also contain an enormous amount of useful information for the serious Springfield fan, including meticulous US and UK discographies (including CD reissues); details about her UK and US radio and television appearances; a timeline of key events in her career; and reproductions of dozens of rare sleeves, though unfortunately those are in tiny black and white.

Inside the Yellow Submarine, by Dr. Robert R. Hieronimus (Krause). It's doubtful that anyone else is going to do as definitive a book on the conception and making of Yellow Submarine, the 1968 full-length animated feature based upon the Beatles' songs and real-life characters. That doesn't mean this is a great book, but there are lots of good things about it, for both Beatles fans and fans of the film in particular. Hieronimus went to great lengths to interview dozens of figures involved in the film's creation, including art director Heinz Edelmann, producer Al Brodax, screenplay writer Erich Segal, and music director (and Beatles producer) George Martin, as well as several of the actors who did the Beatles' voices in the cartoon, other screenplay writers, and many other animators and production assistants. None of the Beatles themselves were interviewed (although there are numerous quotes by them taken from secondary sources), but then again, the group members were barely involved in the film's production. Yellow Submarine's journey from conception to completion, it turns out, was quite bumpy, with the script going through innumerable changes (and not completed until about the last minute); disputes between the producers and artists; and immense pressure to do the work in a short time. Hieronimus structures the text as extended quotes from interviews linked together with his own deeply researched commentary. These memories do often contradict each other, but at least the principals are given the chance to speak for themselves, often after years in which their work was rarely or never given media exposure or credit. While in general this works well and the writing is good, it could have benefited from some tighter editing; the focus does waver, and those not immersed in animation and film production might get lost in the some in the fine details, particularly the technical ones involved in making cartoons. It's richly illustrated with stills from the film (mostly in black and white, however) and photos, and there is certainly nowhere else where you can read several pages' worth of discussion as to why the "Hey Bulldog" sequence was taken out of the movie's original release.

Monkeemania: The True Story of the Monkees, by Glenn A. Baker, assisted by Tom Czarnota & Peter Hogan (Plexus Publishing Ltd.). Originally published in 1986 and re-published in 1997, this is rather similar to another book about the Monkees, Eric Lefcowitz' The Monkees Tale, that came out in the mid-1980s. Both are slim volumes that are straightforward accounts of the Monkees' career, well-researched and taking their work more seriously than many rock critics have, though not wildly overestimating its worth either. They're not identical, however, and though Americans in particular might have had a harder time locating Monkeemania than The Monkees Tale, Monkees fans will find Monkeemania worthwhile and not unduly redundant even if they have Lefcowitz's book. For Monkeemania is longer than The Monkees Tale, though at 144 pages, it's still not terribly long. It benefits from some more in-depth discussion of some of the group's records and tours, and also from first-hand interviews with all four of the Monkees. Only a handful of their associates were interviewed, however, though those included one key member of their musical support team, Tommy Boyce, and the more unusual choice of Lynne Randell, an Australian singer who supported them on tour. It's about as thorough a job as could be done on the group without over-extending the book into a greater length than the their life and times deserve, with dozens of good photos. A notable drawback, however, is that the otherwise detailed discography does not take into account the numerous archival releases of previously unissued material that appeared from the 1980s onward.

Lexicon Devil: The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and the Germs, by Brendan Mullen with Don Bolles and Adam Parfrey (Feral House). Darby Crash was one of the definitive reckless early punk rock icons, recording only one album and a handful of other tracks as lead singer of the Germs before committing suicide at the age of 22 in 1980. You might think that his story doesn't warrant a 300-page book, both because his career was so short and because Germs fans are relatively few in number, if often rabid. This volume is quite worthwhile, however, not only because Crash's short flight was interesting (if often depressing), but also since it's integrated with a wealth of first-hand memories of the birth of the Los Angeles punk scene. Two of the authors were direct participants in the saga, Mullen as a punk booker and promoter, and Bolles as (for most of the time) the Germs' drummer. Wisely, it was decided to structure this as an oral history collection of quotes, rather than as straight text. A little more than 100 people were interviewed, and the scope of perspectives is remarkable, ranging from family and friends to Germs guitarist Pat Smear, Slash Records chief Bob Biggs, The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, Kim Fowley, filmmaker Penelope Spheeris (who put the Germs in her The Decline of Western Civilization), Joan Jett (who produced the Germs' album), and members of the Go-Go's, X, Screamin' Sirens, Redd Kross, Black Flag, the Circle Jerks, the Dils, and the Minutemen. Crash himself is also heard from, via quotes he uttered during his lifetime. The protagonist comes across, unsurprisingly perhaps, as a self-destructive leech, albeit one with more painful self-awareness and quixotic talent than some others in his milieu. Aside from plenty of anecdotes about Germs gigs, rehearsals, substance abuse, and recording sessions, this is intriguing for its exposure of the complicated blend of forces giving rise to L.A. punk, with many of its participants coming from privileged West L.A. backgrounds and/or terribly dysfunctional families. That dysfunctionality, alas, spilled over to the relationships between Crash and others, not to mention many of the interactions in the entire punk community. The pervasive alienation makes for interesting if bleak reading, though the accounts sometimes rebuke or contradict each other.

The Longest Cocktail Party, by Richard DiLello (MOJO Books). Subtitled "an insider's diary of the Beatles, their million dollar 'Apple' empire and its wild rise and fall," this was originally published by Playboy Press in 1972, and reissued by MOJO books in 2000. The author, an American, started in Apple as sort of a flunkie assistant (called "House Hippie") to Apple press officer Derek Taylor in 1968, though he'd become press officer himself by the time he was dismissed from the company in 1970. Through no fault of DiLello's, the book actually became far less interesting and revelatory with the passing of several decades, since much of the inside information about Apple and the Beatles' demise has been painstakingly -- and more thoroughly -- told in many books and articles that appeared after 1972. However, it's still a reasonably entertaining account of the colorful chaos that engulfed Apple in the late 1960s and early 1970s, told in rather breathlessly diary-like fashion (sometimes using the present tense). Heavy on re-created conversations, particularly with Taylor, this actually doesn't have a great deal of first-hand stories observing the Beatles themselves, though they do make appearances in the narrative sometimes. It's more the account of the day-to-day zaniness of Apple, and trying to keep it afloat at a time when its founders (the Beatles) were falling apart, with invading lunatics both harmless and dangerous (including Hell's Angels from San Francisco) clamoring for attention, money, food, patronage, and lodgings. The difficulty of serving masters as impetuous and temperamental of the Fab Four is exposed, though along the way there are fairly interesting stories of some lesser lights at Apple, including James Taylor, Mary Hopkin, Jackie Lomax, Trash, Badfinger, and others. The 2000 MOJO edition has a new brief foreword from the author, though it needlessly retains 30 pages of appendices with a basic career timeline, tour list, and discography, all items covered far better in other Beatles books.

The Prisoner: The Official Companion to the Classic TV Series, by Robert Fairclough (ibooks). Since this was preceded by several other books about The Prisoner -- including a couple of very good ones (Matthew White and Jaffer Ali's The Official Prisoner Companion and Alain Carraze and Helene Oswald's The Prisoner) -- this isn't as definitive or original as it might have liked to have been. Still, whether or not you have other books about the series, it's a very good volume, providing both basic and behind-the-scenes details about its genesis and production, along with some critical analysis. Much of the book's devoted to recounting basic details of the 17 episodes, but this is embellished by some sidebars with lots of info about supporting actors and production team, as well as plenty of trivia about the making of the programs that might be unfamiliar even to some devotees. The episode guides are preceded by explanations of how the series got off the ground, and followed by some brief pieces on "the Village" that served as the setting for much of the action, as well as spinoff products of the show that appeared after its initial transmission. At 144 pages, this large-format glossy is on the slim side, but in its favor it does have plenty of outstanding illustrations, many in color, and many of them stills from the episodes. As a bonus, it also includes a DVD containing the first episode of the series, "The Arrival," as well as an "Alternative Version of the Chimes of Big Ben," i.e. a version of the second episode that was slightly different to the one ultimately shown. Note that the differences to the "official" second episode, "The Chimes of Big Ben," are indeed slight; that the image quality isn't as good as it is for "The Arrival" (in which the quality is excellent); and that the soundtrack is, for some reason, far less distinct than it is on officially released episodes. The DVD has assorted other slight extras too, including a map of the Village, a brief series of trivia questions, a photo gallery, and versions of the intro and outro without overlaid text.



Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, by Eric Burdon with J. Marshall Craig (Thunder's Mouth Press). Eric Burdon had written a previous autobiography, the mediocre I Used to Be an Animal, But I'm All Right Now, back in 1986 before the publication of Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood in 2001. Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood is also an autobiography, yet it consists of entirely different text than I Used to Be an Animal, But I'm All Right Now, if you're worried about paying twice for the same or similar goods. It's better than Burdon's first autobiographical effort, too, but does suffer from some problems. Though the chronology basically runs from the formation of the Animals in the early 1960s to around 2000 (there's virtually nothing about the singer's childhood and teenage years), it constantly zigzags back and forth in time, and constantly shifts in focus from music to the rock'n'roll lifestyle to women, motorcycles, Steve McQueen, and lots more. Too, there are factual and chronological mistakes that, if usually not serious, are obvious, not just to Animals fans but to any half-decent copyeditor. If you don't let that bother you -- it obviously didn't bother Burdon or his co-author -- there's still, rather surprisingly, a lot of good storytelling to be enjoyed. And that's what it's best to treat this 300-book as: a long storytelling session, written quite readably, with a pretty reasonable and wise tone, most likely more reasonably and wise than Burdon's erratic behavior over the course of his life. He tells tales well, though, and not just of the old Animals and War days, which most fans will zero in on first. The recounts of his tireless slog through bad record deals and low-level touring since his fall from commercial stardom in the early 1970s can be unexpectedly uninteresting, whether it's his account of being thrown in jail without warning in Germany, or traveling to Sarajevo to participate in a project in war-torn Bosnia. Be warned that if you're looking for details on how Burdon wrote and recorded his best work with the Animals and War, there aren't nearly as many as there should be. The emphasis is on colorful incident, not history; for a thorough Animals history, you're directed to Sean Egan's straightforward Animals bio, Animal Tracks. But there are some high old times to be had here in passages like Burdon's accounts of Jimi Hendrix's death, or his picketing MGM Records in an effort to be thrown off the label, or his recollection of playing the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.

Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker, by James Gavin (Alfred A. Knopf). Chet Baker's personal life, as a junkie who often ran afoul of the law and whose habit eroded his movie-star looks to that of a cadaver in middle age, has made him one of the more well known jazz musicians to the general public. The challenge faced by biographers is in balancing detail of his remarkably erratic behavior and irresponsibility with coverage of his substantial musical talent. Deep in a Dream succeeds in doing both, though as it doesn't flinch from Baker's debauchery, its 400 pages of Baker's oft-hellish career isn't for the squeamish. Drawing on prolific research and interviews with many of his musical and personal associates, including both jazzmen and ex-girlfriends, Gavin tells the story of a man whose troubled upbringing and musical gifts led to a spectacular rise to the top of the jazz world in the mid-1950s. That was just the prelude, though, to the drug addictions that dominated the last three decades of his life, sometimes landing him in jail, and certainly often putting him into life-endangering situations. For all its depressing delineation of Baker's cyclically destructive behavior, it's pretty riveting, if only to marvel -- not in admiration, but in near-disbelief -- at how the trumpeter managed to survive for as long as he did. Life for him became an endless gig-to-gig and fix-to-fix proposition, a mess that he largely created himself with his lack of either scruples or a desire to dig himself out of his hole. For all the incidents in which Baker used women and professional associates for his own end without much of a conscience (and there were many), the book does give a lot of  space to Chet's musical career and contributions (as both instrumentalist and singer), praising or criticizing his voluminous body of recordings, concerts, and lineups. The author does so without unduly sensationalizing or romanticizing the material, and without making excuses for or avoiding Baker's seamier side.

Blues with a Feeling: The Little Walter Story, by Tony Glover, Scott Dirks & Ward Gaines (Routledge). Although Little Walter was one of the most popular major blues stars and innovators of the 1950s, his life has been poorly documented in comparison to contemporaries such as Muddy Waters. While much of the great harmonica player's life and character remain enigmatic after reading this book, Blues with a Feeling is certainly the most thorough portrait of the man likely to emerge. The three authors have done as much legwork as seems humanly possible, interviewing many of his surviving relatives and professional associates, as well as combing through numerous other sources for information on his records and music. Unfortunately, Little Walter himself gave only scant interviews before his death in 1968, and even those who worked with him often weren't privy to much of his private life and thoughts. That leaves much of such details open to informed speculation. But it also makes analysis of the music itself, whether by choice or not, the core of this narrative, and that's really not a bad thing. The authors go into great detail about all of his recording sessions, and while these passages might go into too minute detail for more casual fans, for those familiar with Little Walter's work, they're extremely informative and rewarding. They also describe his technique and pioneering use of harmonica amplification in depth, and these are interesting not only in and of themselves, but also for the immense influence Little Walter's work in this area has had on blues harmonica (and indeed rock harmonica) ever since. His work as a sideman (particularly with Muddy Waters, on whose best records he often played) is also covered well, and his live tours and backing bands detailed as well as the existing evidence allows. Many interesting stories from the early electric Chicago blues scene as a whole emerge as well, along with some fascinating intersections Little Walter had with artists not as aligned with straightahead blues, particularly Bo Diddley and Ray Charles. His sad decline due to illness and drinking in the 1960s is delineated too, as is his mysterious death in 1968. While those parts can make for some depressing reading, they're essential to the understanding of a man who seemed rootless and, if not self-destructive, at least not as motivated and conscientious about his affairs as he could have been.

The Beatles Off the Record: Outrageous Opinions & Unrehearsed Interviews, by Keith Badman (Omnibus Press). Arranged chronologically in near-diary form, this assembles direct quotes from and about the Beatles during their entire career, ending on April 10, 1970, the day their breakup became official. (Those who want to continue the story are referred to author Keith Badman's just-as-mammoth tome The Beatles After the Break-Up 1970-2000.) Any book that has 500 pages of small-print quotes of this nature is going to contain much fascinating material, particulary since, according to Badman's introductory author's note, much of this has never appeared in print form before. The jumble of quotes from newspapers, magazines, audio interviews, radio shows, and television programs contains a lot of interesting and sometimes surprising information that eludes most or all other Beatles books. Here, for instance, you can read the transcripts of a press conference the group gave to launch Sgt. Pepper in May 1967 and Apple Records in May 1968; late-'60s TV interviews in which members discussed meditation, Apple, and other matters; and even Patti Harrison's fiance's reaction to getting jilted when she abandoned him for George Harrison. There are other murmurings which most standard Beatle biographies miss, like John Lennon's stated intentions in 1969 (more than once) to have the Beatles consider touring in America to make money, or Helen Shapiro's recollections of the Beatles' first British tour (which she headlined). Problems? Well, the sources of the material are rarely identified, a significant drawback considering that many readers will be familiar with the Beatles' legend and will be curious as to what radio program, press conference, or whatever source the quotes are taken from. Too, it is often unclear when the quotes were uttered, though Badman writes that "about 90% of Beatles' transcripts contained within this book are taken from the period they are discussing." Obviously some of them were stated years after the band split, but dates are rarely given (and to make matters muddier, sometimes when dates are, more than one year is given). Finally, many Beatles fans will have actually come across much of this material before, in books such as Lennon Remembers and The Playboy Interviews with John Lennon & Yoko Ono. It's still a mostly compelling read, but if it had been packaged with just a little more care, it would have rated just a little higher.

New York Rocker: My Life in the Blank Generation with Blondie, Iggy Pop and Others 1974-1981, by Gary Valentine (Sidgwick & Jackson). Bassist Gary Valentine was in the original lineup of Blondie, writing "(I'm Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear" and co-writing "X Offender," two of their most popular early numbers. Although he left before their second album, that was enough for plenty of action, artistic evolution, and internal conflict. Enough, indeed, to provide the grist for more than half of this 275-page book, which is a good inside view of the early band and the early New York punk-new wave scene. Unlike many such figures who get around to telling their story, Valentine can write well (and write without a ghost writer). He also takes a view that balances the usual gossipy revelations with musical insights, and while he's critical of his associates' character and abilities, he balances that with realistic appraisals of his own flaws. Beyond Blondie, it's an interesting look at a more or less typical adolescent-turning-adult-in-turmoil getting involved in the New York underground in the mid-1970s. Before joining the band, Valentine had brushes with the law and an unwanted pregnancy he may or may not have been party to, scuffling and starving in New York's Village before hooking up with Blondie more or less by chance. Valentine even lived with Deborah Harry and Chris Stein for a while as the group was taking shape, and his account is full of interesting stories about the musicians struggling to build an audience and craft a distinct sound, as well as good anecdotes about other artists on the CBGB's scene, like Television, the Ramones, and Patti Smith. Harry and Stein in particular don't come off well at points, leading to Valentine quitting just as the band was really taking off. The remainder of the book isn't a letdown, as it usually is after the star act exits the scene, since Valentine went on to lead his own band and play with Iggy Pop before leaving the music business in the early 1980s. These sections are pretty interesting, both for insights into the underside of the Los Angeles and New York new wave scenes, and for plenty of drugs and sex stories. Those are related not with glee or contrition, but with far more matter-of-fact, entertaining, and mature perspective than is the norm.

This Is Spinal Tap: The Official Companion , by Karl French (Bloomsbury Publishing). Although the bulk of this book is an A-Z guide to things Spinal Tap by Karl French, it's preceded by 100 pages of other features. These include a transcript of the film (marred by minimal to nonexistent description of numerous sight gags), including dialogue to several outtake scenes that didn't make the final cut; lyrics to the group's songs; and a brief "prepilogue" by Michael McKean, who played David St Hubbins, one of the three frontline members of the band (and along with his bandmates helped write the screenplay and the songs, as well as play the music). It's useful stuff for hardcore fans of the classic cult film This Is Spinal Tap. But French's A-Z section is more interesting in that it contains a good deal of information that wouldn't be obvious, or for that matter at all present, even to those who've seen the film several times. French works in a lot of behind-the-scenes anecdotes to the conception of and making of the movie in this section. He also puts in a lot of quotes from bandmembers McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer, many taken from interviews they've given (both in and out of character) over the years that aren't readily accessible. Some of these "official companion" books can get kind of silly, but despite the inherent silliness of This Is Spinal Tap's premise, this one doesn't. It maintains a sense of humor, but also provides a lot of straightforward facts and perspectives about the actors, casting, the inspirations for specific scenes and themes, and ways in which the movie itself influenced rock'n'roll and popular culture after its release. It's not short on value, either, adding up to a little over 300 pages, making it a worthwhile supplement for serious fans of the film.

Quite Naturally The Small Faces: A Day-By Day Guide to the Career of a Pop Group, by Keith Badman & Terry Rawlings, with John Hellier, Ken Sharp & Kent Benjamin (Complete Music Publications). Day-by-day guides to the careers of huge, iconic artists such as the Beatles, Elvis Presley, and the Rolling Stones have been published. It's not nearly so common for something of the sort to be devoted to a band that was only together about four years (not counting a short and ill-advised reunion) and only had one American hit, though they had a good string of chart singles in their native Britain. For that relatively small but intensely devoted cult audience that the Small Faces still retain, this large-format glossy paperback is a good reference, though overall it's more useful than exciting. The diary-like entries for their career activities cover as many concerts, radio, and TV appearances as could be tracked down, often incorporating anecdotes and quotes from the band. From a pure reading perspective, the drawback is that many entries just say where and when a group performed on a specific day, without relating any interesting details about the show or media appearance. Too, although some of their studio recording sessions are referred to, many of these entries lack much detail at all, let alone the kind of fascinating tales you'll find in books like The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. The most interesting part of the book by far is the final section, in which interviews with all four of the Small Faces are combined to create a roundtable discussion of sorts in which they discuss their recordings, musicianship, image, and problems in fairly entertaining depth. There's also a brief interview with Jimmy Winston (who was in the band for their first recordings before being replaced by Ian McLagan), though the Q&A isn't too informative. Plenty of fine pictures are placed throughout the text, which wisely only covers up through 1969 for the day-by-day portion and leaves their 1970s reunion alone.

Band on the Run: A History of Paul McCartney and Wings, by Garry McGee (Taylor Trade Publishing). This is a straightforward, workmanlike overview of the career of Paul McCartney and his '70s rock band, going through the basics of their recordings, personnel shuffles, tours, and internal conflicts. There's nothing wrong with the book, but there are a couple of factors that keep it from being an especially interesting or insightful read. Most importantly, McGee does not appear to have done any first-hand interviews for the project, with the exception of an interview with one-time Wings guitarist Henry McCullough (a transcript of which appears as an appendix). It would have been surprising indeed to have gotten first-hand quotes from McCartney, but quite a few other Wings members and associates were still alive when this book was written, and it's disappointing that no apparent effort was made to get their perspectives. There are a lot of quotes, but it's a "clip job," taken from other sources, which incidentally are usually not specifically attributed. Also, there's no getting around it: the history of Wings is just not as interesting, not nearly so, as the history of that band McCartney was in before founding Wings, the Beatles. There isn't too much in-depth analysis of the music or behind-the-scenes glimpses of details into the creation and recording of the records. As one glaring illustration of omission, Band on the Run's "Let Me Roll It" is barely mentioned, let alone described; not only is it one of McCartney's best post-Beatles tracks, but one would have thought it would have merited commentary if only for being an obvious imitation of and jab at John Lennon. The author at least does not shy away at some of the mild controversies that dogged Wings, such as their frequent poor critical reception; the unpopularity of Linda Eastman among many listeners and critics; Paul McCartney's drug bust in Japan; and his apparent emotional distance from and parsimonious financial treatment of his bandmates, which certainly led to the group rotating personnel as often as it did. The supplements include discographies, chart information, concert tour details, and a list of unreleased songs, with rare picture sleeves sprinkled throughout the text.

Journey Through the Past: The Stories Behind the Classic Songs of Neil Young, by Nigel Williamson (Backbeat Books). In the format that has been used on similar books about the Beatles, Rolling Stones, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, the Doors, and other major rock icons, this 160-page large-format glossy volume provides critical commentary on the origins and meaning of Neil Young's songs. There are one to several paragraphs about each composition, sequenced to parallel the order in which his albums were released and the order in which they were placed on those albums. Grouped by album, each section is preceded by a brief rundown of specific albums and key events in his career that were shaping Young's music and life. The songs he wrote as part of Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young are also given this treatment, in small separate sections. This is decent as far as it goes, providing concise, clearly written rundowns on each tune. It might be disappointing only in relation to other Neil Young books, particularly the biographies From Zero to Sixty (by Johnny Rogan) and Shakey (by Jimmy McDonough). If you've read extensively about Young, in those books or elsewhere, much of the information here is going to be familiar, and Williamson doesn't dig up much new revelations or insight that hasn't appeared already. It's a minor point, but in addition this volume doesn't include every last Neil Young song (and does include some covers that made it onto his albums). Some odds and ends (like outtakes on Decade and the theme song for the film Philadelphia) aren't discussed, and the Everybody's Rockin' album is deemed so disappointing that the songs are discussed in an overview of the record, rather than being subjected to individual analysis. That's not even taking into account numerous unreleased Young compositions that have surfaced on bootlegs. Of course this does contain analysis of most of his songs, and for those who don't need to tackle the 700-page bios listed above, it's entertaining and informative, with plenty of good photos. Plenty of quotes from Young illustrating specific points are also in the text, though most of these aren't first-hand, and attribution to the original sources would have been appropriate.

Guerrilla Radio: Rock'n'Roll Radio and Serbia's Underground Resistance, by Matthew Collin (Thunder's Mouth Press/Nation Books). The title of this book might lead you to expect something a little more musically oriented than what it delivers. Guerilla Radio does detail the role the Belgrade radio station B92 played in providing both a voice of dissent and alternative musical viewpoints in the repressive sociopolitical atmosphere of Serbia in the 1990s. It disseminated information that helped undermine support for Sloboda Milosevic's regime, and while playing alternative rock music might not seem to be as political, in the context of such a regime it was a symbolic cultural statement. This would seem to be grist for a potentially fascinating book, but the volume isn't as interesting as it might have been, although it benefits from quotes and perspectives by a number of the participants. The main issue is a structural one: much of the book does not cover B92 specifically, but the strife in Serbia and the former Yugoslavia in general. Sometimes the feeling is that the book can't make up its mind whether to be a general history of struggles over the fate of Serbia at the end of the twentieth century, or a narrower one on the radio station's role in particular, the ultimate result being that neither story is told as well as it could have been. Too, sometimes the complex political machinations of both the regime and the resistance are hard to follow, particularly if you don't have much of a background in what happened in the region. For those that view music and broadcast communications as essential tools in the propagation of personal freedom, there's some inspiration to be taken from the station's own struggles to remain on the air. The internal battles over the station's mission might be familiar to many a staff member of noncommercial radio outlets in the United States. It's interesting, incidentally, that the Top Ten 1991-99 albums on the station listed in the appendix are very much what you'd expect to have heard on the typical American college radio station of the time. Depending on your viewpoint, that might either be a testimony to the programmers' taste, or an inadvertent illustration of undue influence of the West upon a supposedly radical radio station that might not have been as way-out-there as the narrative sometimes leaves you to believe.

Jews Who Rock, by Guy Oseary (St. Martin's Griffin). There have been more Jews in rock music than has often been acknowledged, from Bob Dylan and Lou Reed to Carole King and Paul Simon. The slim Jews Who Rock lists about 100 of the most prominent, focusing mostly on performers, but also listing some figures notable primarily or exclusively as songwriters or producers. Each subject gets a page each (occasionally two pages), with a brief career summary and interesting (and sometimes not-so-interesting) factoids. Occasionally, but not often, there's a story, factoid, or quote specifically relating to the figure's Jewishness. Sure, this undoubtedly misses some secondary players, like some of the Blues Project or Barry Goldberg. But it gets most of the biggest names, though the book would have been much bigger if it had also included Jews involved in rock on the business side, like Beatles manager Brian Epstein and Elektra Records founder/president Jac Holzman. As far as the information here, however, there's little you couldn't find in a more standard rock reference book. What will be most surprising, at least to those who haven't given the subject much thought, is the range of names that show up on the roll call -- Phil Ochs, David Lee Roth, Geddy Lee, Phil Spector, Gene Simmons, Joey Ramone, Courtney Love (half-Jewish), Warren Zevon, Laura Nyro, Cass Elliot, Beck, Susanna Hoffs, Mick Jones, Robby Krieger, Mark Knopfler, Jonathan Richman, Dee Snider, Marc Bolan, and the Beastie Boys, to list just some. The coverage is so cursory, though, that it's hard to justify its purchase, unless, of course, you're thinking of a cheap Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah gift for a boy or girl just getting interested in pop music.


Ashley Hutchings: The Guv'nor & the Rise of Folk-Rock, by Brian Hinton & Geoff Wall (Helter Skelter Publishing).
Though certainly not the most commercially viable rock biography subject, Ashley Hutchings played an important part in British folk-rock and folk music from the late 1960s onward. This nearly 300-page volume covers his career up to 1973, a time that encompassed his stints as bassist and founding member of Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, and the Albion Country Band. British folk-rock fans in particular will find much of this valuable information, as it draws upon extensive first-hand interviews not just with Hutchings, but also with most members of all of those bands (including Richard Thompson, Martin Carthy, and Hutchings's ex-wife, major British folk singer Shirley Collins). Its substantial pitfalls, however, are frequently haphazard and at times downright sloppy writing and editing that can make the chronological sequence of events hard to follow (or even establish); hard to tell exactly who's being quoted at times; and frequent use of the present tense when the events delineated are obviously from the 1960s and 1970s. For all that, there's much rich material here that gives a lot of insight into the formation and stormy careers of these leading British folk-rock bands. All of the records in which Hutchings took part are described in detail, as are numerous live unreleased Fairport and Albion Country Band tapes, which will be fascinating for hardcore followers of the groups. Some of the controversies which dogged these bands and Hutchings are revealed as well, including the traumatic crash that claimed the life of original Fairport drummer Martin Lamble, Hutchings's dependency upon medication during much of this period, and the not-always-pleasant comings and goings of the bands' fluctuating lineups. There are plenty of vintage photos and gig posters too, and so much of the text is given over to interesting quotes that the inconsistent writing style is less of a problem than it could have been.

A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead, by Dennis McNally (Broadway Books). For all the Grateful Dead's huge fan base and remarkable legacy, there had been no really thorough, straightforward history of the band in book form before this 2002 biography by McNally, longtime publicist for the group. It in large part succeeds in getting the basic details of the Dead's tangled evolution down -- well, in considerable detail, given its nearly 700-page length. But as a book, it could have been better. On the plus side, McNally had access to the band and its huge orbit of associates and affiliated characters, conducting hundreds of interviews. He covers the group's ragged formation from motley folkie and garage band roots; their early rise to counterculture heroes in acid tests and the Haight-Ashbury; their slow transformation into immensely popular touring act; and their peak recordings of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Wisely, too, the book focuses on their earliest, most interesting, and most artistically productive years, with about three-quarters of the text devoted to their pre-1973 history. The rest becomes steadily more cursory as it fast-forwards through the final twenty years of Jerry Garcia's life, when the band became a huge financial moneymaker but was usually creatively stagnant. However, the text is drier than expected given the many colorful characters involved in the tale, in part because of McNally's decision to use only brief direct quotes from the interviews. Although their songwriting, recording processes, and musical growth are discussed, there could have been room for more involved examination of those attributes. Most problematically, the story's periodically interrupted by about 15 brief "interlude" chapters looking at varying behind-the-scenes facets of their careers in the 1980s and 1990s. This not only breaks up the flow of the prose, but can be hard to follow and, worse, uninteresting if you're not a big Dead Head. Perhaps the Grateful Dead's story is just too immense to comfortably fit into a standard biography. Though this adequately goes over the major bases, there's still room for more treatment of the subject, particularly ones that might focus more specifically on the music.

The Sensational Alex Harvey, by John Neil Munro (Fire Fly Publishing). Alex Harvey only gained a good deal of exposure in the rock world for a few years in the mid-1970s, when he was leader of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Yet his career as a rock'n'roll singer stretched back to the 1950s, when he was one of the first rock artists of any sort in Scotland, and he began putting out records back in 1964. The Sensational Alex Harvey is a reasonable and competent overview of his life, though there's the feeling that it could have been more colorful and exciting, given the many-faceted and quirky character of its subject. The author talked to about 30 of Harvey's family and musical/business associates (though a few of his important colleagues declined to be interviewed), as well as thoroughly researching coverage and interviews of Harvey himself in the music press. Some of the most interesting parts of the book are in the early sections, covering Harvey's nearly two decades of struggle in Glasgow, Hamburg, and London, when he was among the first Scottish rock musicians to try and make any serious headway in the business. There were little-known blues-rock records and even a long stint in the band accompanying the London run of the play Hair before he finally found an outlet for his zany, eclectic theatrical rock as founder-leader of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. If there's a serious shortfall in the book, it's that Harvey's music, songs, and onstage antics could have been covered in more descriptive and critical depth. There's the feeling that the excitement the band evidently stirred isn't being given full justice, and as the group were far better known in the UK than in the States, American readers might be at a little bit of a loss to fully comprehend what made him special. A thorough discography and some nice photos are good touches for an overall decent effort.

Calling Out Around the World: A Motown Reader, edited by Kingsley Abbott (Helter Skelter Publishing). This is 250-page, squinty-sized small print collection of articles, interviews, and appreciations relating to Motown Records, some of them reprinted from other sources, some contributed especially for this book. Like all anthologies of this sort, the variety is impressive, but also so wide-ranging that not everything's going to please everyone. It has to be pointed out that this collection focuses almost exclusively on Motown's output during the 1960s (just occasionally straying into the early 1970s): a wise decision given that the '60s was by far the label's most interesting decade, but a decision that might disappoint some looking for coverage beyond that point. The quality of the contributions is erratic, and though everyone interested in Motown will find some things here they like that they haven't come across before, it's also true that almost everyone interested in such a book will have read some of the more widely circulated items before in magazines like Rolling Stone, Goldmine, and Record Collector. The most interesting items are some interviews that are exclusive or hard to find elsewhere, like the ones of Dave Godin (who ran the British Tamla Motown Appreciation Society), Florence Ballard (from a TV interview in the mid-1970s, when she was struggling to survive shortly before her death), and Martha Reeves (a radio interview from 1991). Pieces on ill-lit corners of Motown's history, such as a rundown of its subsidiary imprints, are also valuable. The appreciations of specific artists, though, are up-and-down, some of them good solid pieces with first-hand quotes, others rather trite and run-of-the-mill career overviews that offer little new insight. Lists of personal favorite Motown discs by critics and writers are sprinkled throughout the book, which includes a discography of pre-1970 UK Motown releases.

Harrison, by the editors of Rolling Stone (Simon & Schuster). Shortly after the death of George Harrison in late 2001, Rolling Stone magazine assembled this coffee table-sized tribute book to the musician. While it looks nice and has plenty of fine photos, the text isn't going to tell devoted Beatles/Harrison fans much they don't know already, although it's straightforward and informative. It's a grab bag of material, including a forward by Harrison's widow, Olivia Harrison; an essay on Harrison's life by Mikal Gilmore that goes over extremely familiar territory, though it provides an adequate overview for the uninitiated; a selection of top photographer's pictures of George, from various phases of his career; reprints of material from some Rolling Stone articles on and interviews with Harrison; critical appreciations of highlights from Harrison's discography, guitar work, and songs; and brief tribute pieces about George from Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Yoko Ono, Elton John, Tom Petty, Paul Simon, and Bob Dylan (Dylan's tribute, it should be cautioned, is extremely brief). There's not much revelatory information, and the tone, as could be expected from a tome produced in the wake of his death, is mostly reverential. Perhaps the most off-the-beaten track chapter is the one on Harrison's contributions to the film world, chiefly as a producer for HandMade Films. Though almost 250 large-format pages, the book can be digested in a couple of nights, and is only recommended for casual fans and Beatles completists.



contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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