Top Fifteen Rock Reissues of 2022

Reissue trends of the last few years continued apace in 2022, at least for the kind of reissues I want to hear. Just a couple of items on this list are from artists with whom I was previously unfamiliar, or virtually unfamiliar. Most of them are expansions of material I already had, or focus on BBC/live/demos/outtakes that, even if very good, don’t measure up to the cream of the artist’s output. Some of them are very expensive and large box sets, whether anniversary editions or not.

Still, this list does have a mix of interesting reissues of artists ranging from very obscure to the most famous of all. The most famous of all gets the #1 position, as they probably will if their reissue program continues to generate superdeluxe editions of albums from their catalog.

1. The Beatles, Revolver super deluxe edition (Apple/Universal). Since 2017’s Sgt. Pepper super deluxe box, these multi-disc editions from the Beatles’ catalog have become an annual event, though they’re not proceeding in chronological order. In 2022, it was time for Revolver, and time for another vexing decision as to where to rank something like this. On its own, the original LP would of course automatically be at or near the top of a reissue list. While this isn’t merely a reissue of the original album (though that’s here), and has a couple discs of largely unreleased extras, the packaging is by no means the best value for money it could have been. And the extras aren’t as special as they are for other periods of the Beatles’ career, though they’re worthwhile and more interesting than I anticipated.

The basics are that if you get the five-CD version, as I did, one CD has the original mono master; another a new stereo mix overseen by Giles Martin; and another a mere EP’s worth of stereo and mono mixes of the “Paperback Writer”/“Rain” single, recorded during the Revolver sessions (but not released on the original LP). I’m not nearly as into discussing the merits of new mixes and/or mastering on previously available material as many critics are, not finding them as different from what I’ve previously heard as many do. My focus, as a listener and in this review, is on the rarities.

Revolver didn’t generate nearly as many interesting outtakes and alternates as some other Beatles albums, like The White Album, whose deluxe had many, and some (particularly the disc of demos) that were very good. There were no songs they worked on during the sessions that didn’t get on the LP or single. While all of those sixteen songs except “Good Day Sunshine” are represented by alternates or rehearsals, some of them aren’t much different from the official versions, or are backing tracks, fragmentary rehearsals, or variant mixes. A few were already issued a long time ago on Anthology 2, although here they last a little longer and have some more pre- and post-take chatter.

But there are some exceptions, and at least one genuine surprise. Take 1 of “Love You To” is unplugged, with some nice Paul McCartney harmonies that didn’t survive to the final arrangement. The base take of “Rain” is presented at its actual faster speed before it was slowed down for the single, and while that might sound like an academic difference, it’s almost rapid-fire compared to what we’re used to, particularly in Ringo Starr’s much-praised drumming. The earlier, more Byrds-like take 2 of “And Your Bird Can Sing” is finally heard without the giggles that distracted mightily from enjoying it on Anthology 2, and take 5 is, as detailed in Mark Lewisohn’s The Beatles Recording Sessions, notably heavier than the Revolver version. A basic acoustic solo Lennon demo of “She Said She Said” has different and cruder lyrics, though that’s long circulated on bootleg.

The big surprise is a “songwriting work tape”—a home demo, I’d guess—of John Lennon singing and playing a verse of “Yellow Submarine” on his own. It’s only about a minute, but has a key lyric difference, changing the words to “in the town where I was born, no one cared.” That’s a sentiment that fits Plastic Ono Band more than the #1 Ringo-sung hit single, and also evidence that Lennon’s role in writing the song was greater than most had realized, since it’s usually been assumed that McCartney wrote virtually all of it. A longer songwriter work tape has both John and Paul, singing two of the three verses that would end up on the studio version with only acoustic guitars and obvious camaraderie. That’s more evidence that they were closer collaborators in the song’s composition than the usual way it’s told.

The Revolver LP was only 35 minutes, and the mono master and stereo mix could have fit on one disc, presumably lowering the price. While the outtakes/alternates discs had just a little more material than could have fit on one CD, they’re only between 40 and 41 minutes each. It seems a few more tracks could have been added to each, even if they were more marginally different from the familiar versions than most of the cuts that were selected. As compensation, at least the package includes a 100-page hardback book with lots of inside info about the songs, recordings, and general history of the Beatles at the time of the sessions, as well as many photos and illustrations. 

2. David Bowie, Divine Symmetry (Parlophone). Subtitled “The Journey to Hunky Dory,” this is more like a five-disc expanded box of his 1971 album Hunky Dory. The tracks from the original LP are here, if only on the Blu-ray audio disc (the other four discs are CDs), though just about anyone who buys this must already have the original Hunky Dory in some form. But most of this features material that wasn’t released at the time, and in fact most of this wasn’t previously issued anywhere. These include demos, 1971 BBC recordings, a live September 1971 show, and numerous rare/unreleased mixes. That makes this a better value for money than many an expanded reissue, like the Revolver box reviewed above.

Although some of the demos (all of which are featured on CD 1) are lo-fi, it’s the most valuable disc, as some of the songs are not available elsewhere in any form, and some of the familiar ones significantly different from the standard arrangements. While none of the half dozen songs that wouldn’t find official release are striking enough to cause wonder that they didn’t get on record at the time, they are decent and at times close in quality to his official early-‘70s output. That’s particularly true of “King of the City,” which has the yearning pensive quality, unexpected melodic shifts, and background harmonies found in much of his Hunky Dory-era songwriting. “How Lucky You Are,” one of the more developed extras, has the ominous piano-paced cabaret flavor of some of his less upbeat early-‘70s work. The demos of compositions that would be on Hunky Dory often offer a nice contrast, as so many decent demos by major artists do, for much more basic arrangements with an intimate quality. Even the lowest-fi tracks have appeal for their solo almost folky performances, like a version of “Quicksand” recorded in a San Francisco hotel, and a haunting “Amsterdam” where he sings in a lower register for the second and third verses.

The BBC material comes from programs in June 1971 and September 1971, and about half of it hasn’t previously been officially issued. Bowie’s underachieving a bit on the June program, in part because he altruistically let friends—George Underwood, Geoff MacCormack, and Dana Gillespie—take lead vocals on some of his compositions. The version of “The Supermen” is a standout, but the cuts sung by others prove he was the better singer, sometimes by far, of that material. Things are more serious on the September session, his vocals, 12-string guitar, and piano accompanied only by Mick Ronson on guitar, bass, and backup vocals. With five songs from Hunky Dory, another good version of “The Supermen,” and “Amsterdam,” these again are worthwhile less slickly arranged counterparts to the fully produced ones on the LP. 

The live show from Aylesbury, England on September 25, 1971 has long been bootlegged (though it went through some sonic cleanup here), and has sound quality that varies from good to slightly subpar. Some of the songs feature just Bowie and Ronson, but others the full Spiders from Mars, with Tom Parker on piano. These aren’t the best versions you’ll hear, and Bowie seems uncharacteristically nervous at times. But it’s still good and interesting to hear him at the relatively formative stage of the Ziggy phase, and some of the numbers are uncommon, like “Buzz the Fuzz,” Chuck Berry’s “Round and Round,” and “Waiting for the Man” (also heard as a San Francisco hotel performance on the demos CD). It’s unfortunate this doesn’t include “Queen Bitch” for technical reasons, as on the bootleg you can hear him introduce it as a song by the Velvet Underground “who aren’t that well known.” A few lusty cheers confirm there are at least a few people who’ve heard of them, prompting Bowie to retrace: “Sorry, a very well known band over here called the Velvet Underground. They don’t know about them in Beckenham [the South London suburb where Bowie lived in the early ‘70s], I’ll tell you!”

Disc four fills out the set with numerous alternative/rare mixes/versions, including a few fair outtakes from around the time of Hunky Dory: “Bombers,” “Lightening Frightening,” and “Amsterdam” (the last of which showed up on a B-side). Unlike many such mixes (often recently created) that puff up the list price of many archival boxes, these do sometimes have noticeable differences, though many will need to follow along with original Hunky Dory co-producer Ken Scott’s detailed notes in the accompanying book to catch all of them. These include a different saxophone solo at the end of “Changes,” an earlier take of “Quicksand,” and some very faint chatter at the end of “Life on Mars” where you can hear Ronson cursing.

Unlike the majority of listeners who follow Bowie’s work from this period, I prefer the harder and edgier sound of his previous album, 1970’s The Man Who Sold the World, to the lighter and somewhat poppier Hunky Dory. But this is a good expansion of his work from this creative era, and while dedicated fans might wonder about the absence of versions of “Moonage Daydream” and “Hang Onto Yourself” on singles credited to Arnold Corns (which were Bowie tracks in all but name), maybe those will appear on an upcoming Ziggy Stardust box. Some, such as myself, will find the Blu-ray disc  an unnecessary addition that jacks up the list price, considering most of it has material found elsewhere, whether the original Hunky Dory LP or tracks found on CD elsewhere on this box.

To ease the pain of the high list price, the packaging is superb, with a 100-page hardback book of detailed liner notes, reprints of vintage press releases and articles, memories of the live Aylesbury show, and numerous photos and illustrations. There’s also a facsimile reprint of a “Hunky-Dorey” (sic) student notebook with drawings, handwritten lyrics, what look like set lists, and other miscellaneous notes, though it’s not explained what these referred to—perhaps that information’s not available. To get the David Bowie/Hunky Dory tote bag and poster given away at least one major independent record store, you had to buy this very quickly after its release, as I was able to do to receive those unexpected bonuses.

3. Duffy Power, Innovations (Repertoire). In another of the “this would have ranked higher if” qualifications that dot my lists, this would have had a higher ranking if all the material hadn’t been previously reissued on various compilations. Fourteen of the tracks, in fact, came out back in 1971 on the LP Innovations, itself reissued in 1986 under a different title, Mary Open the Door. Confusing the situation more, everything on Innovations was recorded in 1965-67. Keeping his discography straight isn’t the main reason to listen to this or Power, however. It’s vital because it’s excellent and largely overlooked British blues-rock, with more of a folk-blues-jazz flavor than most of the genre. And this reissue of Innovations is bolstered by eleven other 1965-67 tracks that have appeared on other compilations. This 25-track CD is the first one to assemble everything from Power’s most productive period onto one place, and it hasn’t previously been easy to find all the bonus cuts in particular as they’ve been spread out on various Power anthologies. Even if you’ve already managed to get everything (I have, I confess), it could be worthwhile for that reason.

This material’s notable for the stellar, nay legendary, backup musicians alone, including at various times Jack Bruce, John McLaughlin, and Pentangle’s rhythm section, Danny Thompson and Terry Cox. While Power might not have the lowercase power of some of the top British blues-rock belters, he has an ingratiatingly versatile, likable blues-folk-rock-jazz delivery, and wrote (sometimes with McLaughlin) good material in that vein, most of these songs being originals, with some occasional covers. The acoustic bass heard on much of this gives it a different vibe than the more typical heavier British folk-rock approach, and some jazzmen on drums (Phil Seamen and Red Reece) lend a jazzier tone too. Almost all of the tracks are solid, and some great, like “Rosie,” the soul-influenced “Mary Open the Door,” the propulsive “Little Boy Blue,” and “Louisiana Blues,” a solo performance which has some amazing creepy slide blues guitar from Duffy himself.

While the tracks that didn’t appear on Innovations as a whole aren’t as consistent as the original LP, they’re decent and occasionally up to Innovations’ standards, especially the ominous “I’m So Glad You’re Mine,” a cover of Oscar Brown Jr.’s “Rags and Old Iron,” and “I Want You to Love Me,” which has more of his spooky acoustic blues guitar playing. Note that while the bonus tracks include two songs also found on Innovations, these aren’t mere alternates, but substantially different versions that appeared on a 1966-67 French EPs, though they’re a little more polished and not as good. There are two versions of “Hound Dog,” and completists note that the one that finishes this collection, from a 1966 French EP, was only reissued once, and then way back in the late 1980s on the various artists compilation-reissue The British R&B Explosion Vol.  ’62-’68. With good liner notes and a few booklet illustrations, this is the definitive anthology of Power’s mid-‘60s work, and recommended to any fan of early British blues-rock.

4. Neil Young, Harvest 50th Anniversary Edition (Neil Young Archives). Kind of like the Beach Boys and Jimi Hendrix, Young’s catalog releases have become so frequent and expansive that more vintage material often appears on an annual basis than fresh material often did doing their primes. And as with the Beach Boys, Hendrix, and some others, a fervent fan base does not welcome even mild criticism of some of these projects, even though much of it is marginalia compared to their core discography. This five-disc Harvest box is more than marginalia, however, even if there’s not much hardcore collectors don’t already have. The big prize is the previously unreleased two-hour documentary DVD Harvest Time, based around footage taken (often in the studio, sometimes elsewhere) of Young and associates during the making of Harvest. It’s also been screened as a stand-alone film, and so is reviewed in much more depth in my best-of list for 2022 music documentaries. My basic summary is that it’s worthwhile for the studio performances in various locations (some with the London Symphony Orchestra), some casual performances outside the studio, and some interview footage, although some of the content’s superfluous or drags, especially on the occasional instrumental studio jams.

Otherwise, the box does include the original album, something virtually anyone who buys this already has in some form. There are decent outtakes, but a mere three (“Bad Fog of Loneliness,” “Journey Through the Past,” and “Dance Dance Dance”) on a CD EP of sorts. Another very good, if a bit brief (32-minute), DVD has the fine solo acoustic concert broadcast on BBC TV on February 23, 1971, though that’s circulated among collectors for a long time. This is notable not just for the solo acoustic format—other concerts from this time he did like that have been available for a while—but also for some unconventional song selections. Those include “Love in Mind,” “Dance Dance Dance,” and “Journey Through the Past”, along with a helping of familiar classics (“Heart of Gold,” “Old Man,” “A Man Needs a Maid,” “Don’t Let It Bring Me Down”), and many of the songs were unavailable on record at the time. The audio is also on a separate CD on the box, if you just want to hear the music. A 56-page hardback booklet has a good essay by longtime Young archivist/photographer Joel Bernstein, as well as a good number of photos from the period.

5. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Original Lost Elektra Sessions Deluxe (Run Out Groove). To try to summarize a complicated back story quickly, before the Paul Butterfield Blues Band recorded their 1965 self-titled debut LP, they recorded an unreleased album, or enough for an unreleased album and then some. Producer Paul Rothchild thought he and the band could do better, so they started over and recorded the self-titled album, redoing some of the same songs, adding some others, and failing to revisit some of the tunes from the original sessions. Five tracks from the first attempt at the album did appear on Elektra’s 1966 various-artists compilation What’s Shakin’, and another, the first version of “Born in Chicago,” on the Elektra sampler Folksong ’65. Nineteen tracks recorded for the aborted first album were compiled on the 1995 release The Original Lost Elektra SessionsWhat’s Shakin’ has been on CD, and the Folksong ’65 version of “Born in Chicago” made it to CD with 1997’s An Anthology: The Elektra Years. That seemed to be the end of this story.

But no, since this triple-LP vinyl June 2022 Record Store Day release expands the document of the mid-‘60s sessions that were unissued at the time quite a bit. The first three of the six sides have all nineteen tracks from the 1995 The Original Lost Elektra Sessions, making their vinyl debut, if that’s important to you. Of greater importance, the final three sides present previously unreleased material, mostly though not all from the sessions for the original pass at an LP. Yes, some of these are alternate takes or unedited/extended versions. But there are also songs that were previously unavailable in studio versions by the mid-‘60s Butterfield group, including a demo of Percy Mayfield’s “Memory Pain”; the slow instrumental jam “Blues for Ruth”; Otis Rush’s “Keep on Lovin’ Me Baby”; and the moody “Danger Zone,” also written by Mayfield, and recorded in the early 1960s by Ray Charles.

Most notable of all is the previously unreleased seven-and-a-half-minute instrumental “Love Song,” which has a similar rhythm to their great classic instrumental title track of their second LP in 1966, East-West. While the liner notes refer to this as an early version of that song, in fact the melody isn’t that similar, though it has a related jazzy offbeat feel that makes it conceivable it evolved into “East West” over time. This and “Danger Zone” were on a reel labeled “third album demos,” which would have made them postdate East West, though annotator Brett Milano writes that “Love Song” “was clearly demoed for [the] second album rather than the third.”

Could this sprawling, expensive package have been done better? Maybe recording session dates, if known, even generally, could have been more clearly noted, especially as not all of these are from the initial sessions intended for the debut LP. The availability of the unissued tracks on a separate CD would certainly be a money-saver for those not inclined to spend $60 or so on this triple-disc vinyl edition. But overall it’s well done, with decent liner notes and a full-color mid-‘60s picture of the band that doesn’t duplicate other commercial releases. Of more importance, the actual music showcases a band who were the best white (or majority white, anyway) US blues-rock outfit of their time. They had a lean and hard-hitting sound, even if their instrumental chops (especially Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop on guitars, and Butterfield on harmonica) outstrip Butterfield’s adequate vocal abilities. It’s not as good as their actual official debut LP or more adventurous signature follow-up East-West, which went into rock and psychedelia on some tracks. But on the whole, it’s not far below the debut LP’s standard for tough blues that can verge on blues-rock.

6. The Sons of Adam, Saturday’s Son: The Complete Recordings: 1964-1966 (High Moon). The Sons of Adam were one of the best mid-1960s Los Angeles groups not to make it big. They were also notable for including ace guitarist Randy Holden (later in the Other Half and Blue Cheer) and future Love drummer Michael Stuart, though those guys weren’t in the band by the time the last of their three singles came out. In terms of packaging, this compilation is near-ideal, with both sides of all three of their 1965-67 singles; three decent studio outtakes; eight previously unreleased songs, in good fidelity, from a live August 6, 1966 show at the Avalon in San Francisco; and both sides of the 1964-65 singles by Holden’s previous surf outfit, the Fender IV, as well as a couple Fender IV outtakes. Voluminous liner notes by Alec Palao have lots of material from first-hand interviews with members of the group and details about how everything was recorded. While the studio material has been previously available on a long-ago EP and Japanese compilation, this gets all of that together for the first time in better sound quality, plus of course the previously unheard Avalon performances.

At their best, the Sons of Adam were on the cusp between raunchy garage and early psychedelia, paced by Holden, who had the best ferocious guitar sustain this side of Jeff Beck. They weren’t the most consistent act or most prolific generators of original material, however, which put them below the level of top competitors like Love. Only one of the eight Avalon tracks (“Saturday’s Son,” their best and best known single) was done in the studio, but that’s a mixed blessing, since the hitherto-unheard original compositions weren’t as good as their best singles, and the covers of “Evil Hearted You” and “Gloria” not so hot. The post-Holden-Stuart single “Feathered Fish” is here, fortunately, and will be of special interest to Love fans as it features a good Arthur Lee composition Love never put it on their own discs. Good too is the B-side, “Baby Show the World,” a raunchy blues-rock-psychedelic number with some fierce guitar and bass. The Fender IV sides might not be as cutting-edge as the Sons of Adam tracks, but have some great wild surf guitar by Holden on the instrumental “Mar Gaya,” as well as a fine bisection of surf and Merseybeat on the vocal offering “You Better Tell Me Now.” 

7. Georgie Fame, The Complete Live Broadcasts 2 (Rhythm and Blues). Like part 1 (released in 2021; see review in 2021 section below), this is a two-CD compilation of radio and TV sessions from the mid-1960s, these spanning early 1964 to late 1965. It might be a little less exciting overall than volume one, with occasional lower (though not bad) sound quality, and failing to include a few of his slightly later UK hits. Still, it’s generally a pleasing collection in which his enthusiasm and band arrangements for his distinctive blend of soul, blues, pop, jazz, and rock can’t be faulted. Certainly the diverse set reflects his wide-ranging and eclectic repertoire, though many of the songs are offered in multiple versions—four of “Let the Sunshine In.” If yet four more versions of “Yeh Yeh” after three on volume one might seem a lot, he never gets tired of performing that big hit with zest. Note that “You’re Breaking My Heart” has a guest lead vocal by Long John Baldry, though otherwise it’s all Fame on lead.

True, Fame versions of all of these songs have been previously available, whether as part of his actual 1960s releases or other versions, including live performances circulated many years later. These two collections of broadcasts, however, allow bulk hearing in a couple concentrated groupings, instead of spread around archival discs that are sometimes obscure and expensive. It’s also amazing there’s so much non-studio Fame from this period, making one wish there was as much from some other British Invasion acts, though that’s another issue entirely.

8. Dana Gillespie, Foolish Seasons (Decca). Gillespie’s 1968 debut album might be better known now than it was back then, when it sold hardly anything. In part that’s because it was inexplicably issued only in the US, though Gillespie’s British and was signed to a UK label. Although she’s most known for her 1970s association with David Bowie and his management, and for many far bluesier records she did after that, Foolish Seasons is much different in tone. Broadly speaking, it’s kind of like some of Marianne Faithfull’s artier and more ambitious ‘60s recordings in its blend of orchestrated pop, folk, and rock. Unlike Faithfull (at the time), Gillespie wrote some of her songs, though they’re in the minority on this album, which also has compositions by Donovan, Richard Fariña, Billy Nichols, and poppier material by writers like Jeff Barry, Andy Kim, and her producer Wayne Bickerton. She also rocks out somewhat more than Faithfull did in the ‘60s, though not that hard, and this is in some ways more adventurous than Faithfull’s early stuff.

This isn’t a top-tier record, even within its limited genre, but it’s an enjoyable and imaginatively produced/arranged set. It hasn’t been that rare since it was reissued on CD in 2006, but makes this list by virtue of having a 2022 vinyl Record Store Day release. That in itself wouldn’t put it here, but the new LP edition adds two previously unreleased songs from the sessions,. Both were written by Gillespie and both are up to the general caliber of the rest of the album, though the moodier “Come to My Arms” is better than the more uptempo “Goin’ Round in Circles.” The front and back covers of the gatefold sleeve have different full-color photos from the same session that generated the pictures used on the original LP. And Gillespie wrote new historical liner notes for the inner gatefold. Will that make it worth Record Store Day prices if you have a previous edition? Maybe not, but at least the extras are relatively significant as these things go, and the package well done.

9. Norma Tanega, I’m the Sky: Studio and Demo Recordings, 1964-1971 (Anthology). For me, singer-songwriter Tanega is one of numerous artists who falls between the major and minor: overrated by a cult following and not nearly as significant as the best talents in her field from the era, but too interesting and creative to dismiss as an also-ran. Remembered by the general public almost exclusively for her whimsical 1966 hit “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog,” she had a couple full albums of mildly eccentric/eclectic pop-folk-rock, delivered in a voice that could sound like a wayward Carole King. This double CD includes much (but by no means all) of the material from her 1966 album Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog and her more obscure 1971 LP I Don’t Think It Will Hurt If You Smile, along with thirteen previously unreleased demos and a couple tracks from an unreleased 1969 Capitol album that would have been titled Snow Cycles

If not brilliant, Tanega is wide-ranging and unpredictable, drawing from dulcimer folk, gospel, Brill Building pop orchestration, and other elements outside of the common singer-songwriter approach. Her outlook can vary from sunny romance to quirky humor. But only occasionally do the melodies and spirit really soar, as on the buoyant “I’m the Sky,” the almost funky Brill Building pop of “A Street That Rhymes at 6 AM,” and “Jubilation,” all from the first album. Most of the previously unreleased demos, most of songs not on her 1966 and 1971 LPs, are grouped together on the second disc, and while they’re generally winsome, they tend to blur together, as singer-songwriter demos often do when they’re not graced by studio elaboration/orchestration. The clear highlight, the ebullient “What More in This World Could Anyone Be Living For,” is a sparer version of song that appeared on I Don’t Think It Will Hurt If You Smile (the LP version is on disc one). Folky with multi-tracked vocals, it’s far superior to the odd sluggish LP arrangement, with burbling wah-wah funk guitar.

Tanega didn’t seem to give many interviews or be very forthcoming in those, but the liner notes in the 28-page booklet do about as well as they can with the info available. The package can be criticized, however, for switching back and forth between tracks on Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog and I Don’t Think It Will Hurt If You Smile on disc one, instead of presenting them in a more logical chronological order. And since the total running time is only 85 minutes, there could easily have been room for all of the tracks from both LPs and the two non-LP tracks from 1966-67 singles, and maybe more from Snow Cycles too. Real Gone’s 2021 reissue of Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog (for which I wrote, in full disclosure, the liner notes) has both non-LP tracks, but I Don’t Think It Will Hurt If You Smile hasn’t been reissued on CD. And while it might be a small point, there are no details about the previously unissued demos except the date range. Is it so much to ask of reissues in general to at least note in the annotation that nothing is known about the specific dates and/or sources of such material, instead of just putting it out there with little or no elaboration?

10. Merrell Fankhauser, Goin’ Round in My Mind: The Merrell Fankhauser Anthology 1964-1979 (Grapefruit). When many of us were just discovering Merrell Fankhauser via reissues both legit and pirate in the 1980s, the very thought of a six-disc box of his prime work would have seemed like 21st century fantasy. Now that the 21st century is well underway, that six-disc box is here. It’s entered around the three albums that cemented one of the strongest cult followings of any ‘60s artist who never approached significant commercial success or (at the time) critical recognition.

The wealth of extra material doesn’t approach the high, if quirky, quality of those three late-‘60s/early-‘70s LPs. This set would have ranked considerably higher on this list if all of the material hadn’t been available for quite a few years on various previous reissues, meaning many apt to be interested in this set will already have much of it. But it rounds out the picture of the SoCal singer-songwriter-guitarist’s improbable journey from folk-rock and psychedelia through Captain Beefheart-linked late bluesy psych.

The least familiar cuts here are on disc one, dating from 1964 and 1965, and have barely a glimmer of the potential he’d realize just a year or two later. Largely unreleased at the time (though five of the nineteen tracks appeared on rare 45s), these feature Fankhauser as leader of Merrell and the Exiles, who at various times included future Beefhearters Jeff Cotton (on guitar) and John French (on drums). Operating (like Beefheart) way north of L.A. in Lancaster, they were a just slightly above-average combo of the time, whose heavily Mersey-influenced sound still had some echoes of the surf era and earlier icons like Del Shannon and Buddy Holly. None of the numbers stand out much, though “Send Me Your Love” is a decent catchy garage-Merseybeat blend, and “Run Baby Run” has a somewhat tougher and bluesier feel. (Note that nothing is here by Fankhauser’s earlier surf group, the Impacts, who put out the Wipe Out! LP.)

There was a huge change, however, and much for the better, with the self-titled album by the Fankahuser-led Fapardokly (given a circa February 1968 date here, though it’s previously been reported as a 1967 release). Although it’s a haphazard mix of ca. 1966-67 sessions and 1964-1967 singles, it has some gorgeous if goofy prime L.A.-style harmony and chiming guitar-driven folk-rock (“Lila” and a somewhat bitter comment on Hollywood’s cut-throat competition in “The Music Scene”). There’s also “Eight Miles High”-like psych (“Gone to Pot”), whimsically weird acid-folk-rock (“Mr. Clock” and “Glass Chandelier”), a folk-rock-Zombies blend (“Tomorrow’s Girl”), and the gleefully commercial (in the best sense) “When I Get Home.” The 1964-65 singles boast incongruous if well-done pastiches of Buddy Holly, Ricky Nelson, and Roy Orbison, yet somehow add to the likably eccentric and eclectic program, topped by “Supermarket,” which I’ve likened to a psychedelic airline commercial. Fankhauser’s likable clear, high vocals are a constant throughout, though the three at-the-time-unissued 1966-67 bonus cuts on disc two aren’t at the same level.

He went for a more consistent pop-psych sound on late ‘68’s Things, credited to Merrell Fankhauser and HMS Bounty. While it’s not as thrillingly odd-yet-accessible as Fapardokly, it projects more of the good-natured warmth at which he could excel. Some songs (like the title track) approach straightforward L.A. late-‘60s pop-rock; some surprising bluesy hard rock-psych tension, however, makes its way into “Drivin’ Sideways (On a One Way Street).” But it’s at its best at its most psychedelic, like “A Visit with Ashiya,” which recalls Donovan’s Indian-informed work at its best; the wistful “Ice Cube Island,” more proof that Fankhauser couldn’t seem to avoid some oddball lyrics even when he was obviously aiming for the most melodically accessible vibe he could; and the quietly sinister “Madame Silky.” Bonus non-LP cuts from flop 1969 singles include the surprisingly tough slide blues guitar-powered “I’m Flying Home”; “Tampa Run,” which is strangely upbeat considering its drug smuggling-inspired lyric; and a just plain weird mariachi arrangement of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’.”

Fankhauser reunited with Jeff Cotton for 1971’s self-titled MU, the name inspired by a supposed lost continent. In another surprising shift, the music at times sounds like a far more accessible Captain Beefheart, whose clutches Cotton had just escaped. That’s especially evident on the opening Cotton-composed “Ain’t No Blues,” though more often it’s a little like a spacier take on the kind of psych generated by Grateful Dead-like outfits, with occasional spooky mournful howling backup vocals and jungle-like percussion. “Look at the sun, look at the moon, brother we are one” date some of the more utopian sentiments to the early-‘70s, though this remains far and away the favorite of Fankhauser’s albums among those who favor this kind of thing over pop-psych-folk-rock. Three bonus cuts from 1972-73 singles don’t have quite the same level of mystic-tinged strangeness.

Those foretell Fankhauser’s general drift into mellower territory in the early-to-mid-‘70s, in tune with the times and perhaps influenced by his relocation to Maui. MU’s The Last Album, featuring tracks recorded in early 1974 but not issued until quite a few years later, has a drowsy island feel that’s not as engaging as the more energetic ’71 LP, though Cotton was still aboard. Fankhauser went solo, and on a more straightforward singer-songwriter path, on 1976’s The Maui Album. By this time his sound had moved more toward new age-flavored adult contemporary music than vintage folk-rock, though he could summon spare and airy odes like “I Saw Your Photograph” and hippyish celebrations like “Make a Joyful Noise.” Five bonus tracks from 1975-77 were not released at the time, the set finishing with his 1979 single “Calling from a Star.”

The 36-page booklet has a wealth of photos, info, and Fankhauser quotes, as well as clarifying some of the more mysterious corners of his zigzagging discography. (For instance, it turns out that Don Aldridge, who wasn’t even in Fapardokly, sings lead on “Mr. Clock” and “Glass Chandelier.”) It’s too bad you literally need a magnifying glass to comfortably read the brief notes on the back of the CD cover of disc one. But as you’d expect from the Grapefruit label, on the whole this box is an expertly assembled and packaged compilation of Fankhauser’s prime decade or so. His evolution was among the most extreme of any ‘60s cult rocker, and sometimes among the most adventurously listenable. (A slightly edited version of this review will appear in a future issue of Ugly Things magazine.)

11. Duffy Power, Live at the BBC Plus Other Innovations (Repertoire). Although nineteen of these tracks came out on Sky Blues back in 2002, the first two discs of this three-CD set form a much bigger overview of this British blues-rock-folk-jazz singer’s BBC recordings. There are a total of 41 BBC tracks from 1963-1997 (along with three brief radio interviews), all but seven from 1963-1973. Power’s best recordings by far were the ones he did in the studio in the mid-1960s that came out in 1971 on the LP Innovations, itself just reissued with eleven bonus tracks (see review #3 on this list). This compilation isn’t on par with those, or with the folkier ones on his Duffy Power LP of 1969 material, and the sound quality varies from good to muffled but acceptable, depending on the source. Note that a few seconds near the beginning of one of the 1963 versions of “I Saw Her Standing There” seem abruptly edited out, hopefully as a result of an imperfection in the surviving tape, rather than a manufacturing defect.

But that’s how BBC compilations usually are; they’re extras to be savored by fans who want more than main dish. These radio performances fulfill that purpose well, including some originals and covers unavailable in studio versions. Some of those are just okay overdone rock’n’roll/R&B standards like “I Got a Woman,” “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” and “Roll Over Beethoven,” but usually the repertoire’s fairly off the beaten track. The backing varies from full band, including the Graham Bond Organization with John McLaughlin on a half-dozen 1963 items, to much sparer solo and duet outings. Other sidemen of note include Alexis Korner, Danny Thompson, and Terry Cox on a couple 1968 cuts, and Rod Argent on piano on five numbers from a 1971 session.

While most of this falls into the “good” rather than “striking” category, some highlights include a 1965 take on Little Walter’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”; the lilting pop-blues original “La La Song,” from 1968; an intense solo performance of the kind of low-key blues-folk-jazz at which he could sometimes excel, “The River”; and a solo acoustic guitar and vocal run through “That’s All Right Mama” (1970). Some of the backing on the four-song 1973 session’s too heavy to ideally suit Duffy’s more subtle style, but the ones on which his singing and guitar are backed only by Argent’s piano make for a nice change of pace from his usual approach. Their arrangement of “Little Boy Blue” isn’t nearly as good as the explosive full-band studio one from the mid-‘60s, but again, at least it’s notably different. The moody, minor-key ballad “Where Am I?,” which he’d done on an obscure single also recorded the year (1964) this BBC version was laid down, is the poppiest thing here. It’s also the best, and far better sung—and more simply and appropriately arranged—than the orchestrated studio version, though probably not the kind of material he was most passionate about.

Disc three has largely unreleased studio recordings from 1995-2001, and while it’s a cliché to note how long-after-the-prime efforts are usually of limited interest, that’s true of these (and the 1997 BBC recordings on disc two). Power was still in pretty good voice, but the backing leaned more toward polite jazz than it had in his best decade. Peter Brown wrote part of the liner notes, and while I like and respect his contributions to the British music scene in which he was a peer of Power, few would agree with his opinion, as voiced in these notes, that Duffy’s version of “I Saw Her Standing There” was better than the Beatles’ original. I don’t, though Power did an interesting more soul-rock arrangement with Bond’s band as backup, heard on an early 1963 single (reissued elsewhere) and two 1963 BBC versions here, with Jack Bruce on bass, Ginger Baker on drums, and McLaughlin on guitar. There’s also a solo guitar-and-vocal rendition from 1971 that’s definitely not as good as the ones from 1963, let alone the one by the Beatles.

12. Lou Reed, Words & Music, May 1965 (Light in the Attic). Why isn’t this collection of previously unreleased, circa spring 1965 demos higher on the list, considering I wrote a huge book on the Velvet Underground? Its historical importance is massive and undeniable. But it’s not nearly as great as what he and John Cale (who sings some harmony on these demos, and sings lead and plays a bit of percussion on one) would be doing with the Velvet Underground about a year later. It’s also surprisingly folky, and even sometimes has a bit of a hillbilly twang. This can also be said of the nearly 80 minutes of July 1965 demos (also including Velvet Underground guitarist Sterling Morrison) that came out on the 1995 Peel Slowly and See box set. But even those July 1965 demos were considerably more polished, relatively speaking, than these earlier efforts, probably taped shortly before he mailed the tapes to himself as proof of copyright on May 11, 1965. 

The demos on this collection only hint at the brilliance of the Velvets, even though they include a few early versions—in fact, the earliest versions—of some of their classics. The arrangements and execution are kind of bare-bones and occasionally a little ragged, even for “Heroin” and “I’m Waiting for the Man.” Some harmonica makes it sound closer to tail-end folk revival music than anything the VU recorded. A big surprise is a performance of “Pale Blue Eyes,” not released by the Velvet Underground until their third album in early 1969, though it’s known the band were playing it live as early as mid-1966. This has some verses with lyrics that didn’t make it on the official version, although they’re not as good.

“Pale Blue Eyes” and “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams,” the latter with Cale on lead vocals, are the highlights of this release. While the Velvets didn’t put the latter song on their albums (although it’s on Nico’s 1967 Chelsea Girl LP), “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” is the track that most clearly anticipates the much different, and much more innovative, sound of the Velvet Underground in its spooky, slightly menacing atmosphere and haunting, literary lyrics. It sounds a bit like a Welsh folk tune in this arrangement, as indeed it does on Peel Slowly and See.

There are a half dozen original songs the Velvets wouldn’t do, but they’re rather threadbare and unimpressive, whether a near-English trad folk satire (“Buttercup Song”) or vague soul-pop-rock throwaway vibe (“Buzz Buzz Buzz”). None of them sound like promising compositions that could flower with more development. They’re more like the kind of thing that almost every record company or music business figure would reject as both uncommercial and unmemorable. They’re interesting nonetheless for revealing just how enormous a distance Reed and Cale had to cover before setting the foundations for the Velvet Underground sound, and how quickly that did occur, since most of their first album was recorded in spring 1966. A few extras—a 1958 generic early rock’n’roll rehearsal track and home 1963-64 recordings that reveal Reed’s surprising bent for folk at the time (including covers of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” and Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, “It’s All Right”)—are yet more purely of historical interest. 

Note, incidentally, that none of the 1965 tracks are the same as the unreleased ones (including two versions of “Heroin”) Reed and/or Cale recorded at the studios of Pickwick Records on May 11, 1965. As the detailed liner notes explain, that’s an entirely different tape/performance, none of which is included on this compilation.

13. Jimi Hendrix, Los Angeles Forum April 26, 1969 (Experience Hendrix/Legacy). There’s such a constant flow of archival Hendrix releases that it’s almost like he’s a contemporary artist. Even as someone who keeps up with these, it is getting to the point where they’re not as essential as they used to be. This is from the final months of the original Experience, and it’s a looser, more improvisational-oriented set than most of what they’d done. That’s not for the better, in my view—some of the soloing goes on way too long, with “Spanish Castle Magic,” a concise tune when it was on Axis: Bold As Love, lasting twelve minutes. The opening “Tax Free” would have been unfamiliar to almost all of the audience (and still isn’t too familiar today), but it’s a pretty sprawling, undisciplined workout without much in the way of hooks and melody. While three albums were under his belt at this point, there isn’t much in the way songs uncommon to concert recordings, and a couple of overly familiar staples in “Foxey Lady” and “Purple Haze.”

Certainly there are fans who like the more unreined side of Jimi, and his guitar work is always incendiary, if unfocused here when compared to many of his other recordings. And you do get near-maximum running time with 79-plus minutes, including versions of “Red House” and “Voodoo Child,” and less commonplace items with “I Don’t Live Today” and a cover of “Sunshine of Your Love.” There are also decent historical notes, but it’s not among the best Hendrix live sets, which are now so numerous that this is more for the dedicated fan than the average enthusiastic fan.

14. Ralfi Pagan, With Love (Craft). Pagan was one of the more successful artists on the Fania label, which targeted Spanish-speaking (and especially Puerto Rican) residents of the US in the 1960s with Latin jazz and boogaloo, a mixture of Latin, jazz, and soul. With a high, sensuous voice that could almost be mistaken for a woman’s, he was also one of the more mainstream Fania acts, with some of his sides in the early-‘70s sweet soul bag. He could also sing salsa, and both salsa and soul are on this vinyl reissue of his 1971 LP. Side one is by far the more salsa-flavored, all but one of the songs being in Spanish. Side two is pretty straight soul, including his Top Forty R&B cover of Bread’s “Make It With You.” 

Pagan was more distinctive as a soul singer than a salsa one, at least to listeners like me who are more soul than salsa fans in general. “Make It With You” actually isn’t the best of the soul tracks, that honor belonging to “To Say I Love You,” with its aching catchy descending melody in the chorus. That’s enough to propel it to a position on this list. Much of the rest of side two is closer to decent but not as memorable period ‘70s sweet soul ballads and midtempo romantic tunes. It’s not far from some Philadelphia soul of the time in feel, and though the vintage liner notes call  them “low-down soul boleros,” they’re more like low-key, immaculately produced soul songs – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

15. Phuong Tam, Magical Nights: Saigon Surf Twist & Soul 1964-1966 (Sublime Frequencies). It’s kind of amazing this 25-song compilation even exists, since Vietnamese popular music recordings from this era are hard to find, and those that are retrieved are often not in good condition. Through the industriousness of Sublime Frequencies, this extensive collection of this woman Vietnamese pop singer has been assembled. It might be of more historical interest than outstanding musical quality, though she was a decent vocalist. Much but not all of it’s rock, usually in a generic early-‘60s style, though there are often haunting idiosyncratic Vietnamese elements to the melodies and arrangements.

There’s considerable Western twist and instrumental rock influences, and some surf (particularly in the guitar tones, which likely owe something to the Shadows too), though not much British Invasion (despite the 1964-66 dates) and less soul, at least as Western audiences usually perceive the term. At times this approaches torch song, jazz, or even novelty military-beat territory, though it’s rock more often than not. The recording quality and instrumental execution can be on the crude side, though that adds to its exotic air, at least in comparison to commonly available rock from non-Asian countries. Tam can really belt it out with some raw throaty vocals at times, though she opts for a smoother approach at others. This reasonably engaging, though not brilliant, glimpse into a sort of mash-up early ‘60s-styled rock unfamiliar to most of the global audience comes with informative notes from her daughter and compiler Mark Gergis, the booklet also including a wealth of vintage photos and memorabilia.

Honorable Mention:

Bert Jansch, At the BBC (Earth Recordings). This eight-CD box of the great Scottish folk guitarist’s BBC recordings gets only an honorable mention since it’s only the early material that interests me a lot. While the set spans 1966-2009, only 45 minutes predate 1971—after which there’s a significant gap, picking up in 1977 in a session that features Mary Hopkin as singer. Those 45 minutes from the early years have variable fidelity ranging from fine and clear to iffy, and the performances aren’t up to the best he did on his numerous solo records (and ones in which he played as part of Pentangle). But they offer superb folk guitar with a generous blues influence, as well as engaging emotional vocals, even if his singing was never destined to be as notable as his instrumental work.

Four of the tracks are duets between him and fellow Pentangle guitarist John Renbourn, and in fact some of the tracks are solo spots from broadcasts largely featuring Pentangle. A few of the songs aren’t found on other releases, including the original “Whiskey Man” (not the Who song, from 1966); another original, ‘Speak of the Devil” (1970); and the traditional folk number “Thames Lighterman” (1968). The package is excellent, with thorough liner notes, but not enough to make this expensive set worthwhile if you likewise aren’t too interested in his post-mid-‘70s material.

The following reissues came out in 2021, but I didn’t hear them until 2022:

1. Georgie Fame, The Complete Live Broadcasts 1 (Rhythm and Blues). Although some mid-‘60s BBC recordings by Fame were issued on box set The Whole World’s Shaking, this offers a much more comprehensive selection. The two-CD set has 47 tracks he did for the BBC between 1964 and 1967, along with numerous brief interview snippets. With so much material, it’s a little surprising that just a couple of the songs, to my knowledge, don’t appear in any form on other Fame releases, unless you want to count an abridged vinyl collection on the same label (Rhythm & Blues At the BBC 1965). These are Ray Charles’s’ “Tell the World About You” and, more impressively, Booker T. & the MG’s’ instrumental “Boot-leg,” on which Fame and his band the Blue Flames really cook. Note too that three songs are actually from a 1966 Lulu session on which the Blue Flames backed the singer, and those were previously available on the Lulu BBC session collection Live on Air 1965-1969.

Otherwise this is in line with the usual BBC sessions of British Invasion notables from the mid-1960s: live-in-the-studio takes that often have a somewhat looser feel than the official versions. (And a guitar solo, though not a great one, on “Get on the Right Track, Baby” instead of a sax one.) There are some multiple versions of some of his more popular tunes—three apiece of “Yeh Yeh” and “Point of No Return,” in fact—but there’s not too much repetition. The sound is fine and clear, and this wouldn’t rank below a good Fame mid-‘60s best-of collection for enjoyable swinging blues-soul-jazz-pop-rock. A pre-Jimi Hendrix Mitch Mitchell is on drums for some of these, most likely the sessions spanning December 1965 to June or October 1966, though the annotation isn’t too clear about this. Otherwise it’s packaged pretty well, with fairly comprehensive liner notes and a few photos.

2. Lou Reed, I’m So Free: The 1971 RCA Demos (RCA/Sony). This was available so briefly in its full version that you might have missed it, or at least missed it when it was on iTunes for a couple days, as I did. Here’s the story: around the very end of 1971 or the very beginning of 1972, Lou Reed cut seventeen solo demos in an unknown London studio, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. These include versions of all ten of the songs that were used on the self-titled solo debut album he recorded in London in January 1972, as well as a few (“Perfect Day,” “I’m So Free,” “Hanging ‘Round,” and “New York Conversation”) held over for his follow-up, Transformer. Rounding out the demos are “Kill Your Sons” and the Velvet Underground leftovers “She’s My Best Friend” and “I’m Sticking With You.”

In late December 2021, all of the material was very briefly made available by RCA/Sony Music through iTunes to extend its copyright before its fiftieth anniversary was reached, though it was removed just a couple days later. Most, but not all, of the tracks came out on a vinyl Record Store Day LP in 2022. Although the title, I’m So Free: The 1971 RCA Demos, gives these a 1971 date, they seem more likely to have been done in early January 1972, right before or as the sessions for Reed’s first solo LP started in London. In excellent quality, these are fine, heartfelt performances that are more forceful and edgy than the far more slickly produced tracks used on his debut. Although the similarity in the plain acoustic guitar backing can become a little wearing over the course of the 56 minutes, it would make a fine bonus disc for a more widely available expanded version of his self-titled debut Lou Reed album.

The demos of “Hangin’ Around” and “Perfect Day,” incidentally, are the same ones that were added to the 30th anniversary edition of Transformer as bonus tracks. “Perfect Day” is a little different, however, as a brief half-minute aborted take one is also included, ending with a curse and a laugh after a stumble. Reed then promises, “I’ll leave out the tricky guitar bits, I think.” The version of “Ocean” is the same superb, dramatic performance as one that had been bootlegged for many years without details as to its source, finding its first official release here. However, as with “Perfect Day,” it’s preceded by a brief take 1, which combines some vague studio chatter with a mere fifteen seconds of instrumental guitar strumming before it’s abandoned.

Richard Robinson, who produced Reed’s debut LP, is likely present for most or all of the demos, as Reed gives an “okay Richard” shout-out near the end of “I Love You.” “I’m Sticking with You,” “Going Down,” “Ride Into the Sun,” “Hangin’ Around,” and “Love Makes You Feel” are all identified as “take 2,” leaving open the question as to whether other takes exist. These might simply be brief incomplete first takes, like the ones of “Perfect Day” and “Ocean” that did make the copyright extension release.

3. Booker T. & the MG’s, The Complete Stax Singles Vol. 2 (1968-1974) (Real Gone). The later years of Booker T. & the MG’s were kind of odd, as their two 1969 Top Ten singles, “Hang ‘Em High” and “Time Is Tight,” were as popular and good as anything they recorded, except maybe “Green Onions.” Overall, however, they weren’t as creative or consistent as they had been in their pre-1968 period. Some of the cuts are rather routine and laidback, and the instrumental versions of “Mrs. Robinson” and “Something” don’t rework those familiar monster hits in interesting ways, though they actually did reach the charts, “Mrs. Robinson” entering the Top Forty. Five of the post-1970 tracks were billed to “The M.G.’s,” and as you’d expect suffer from the absence of Booker T. Jones.

This is still pretty pleasant groove music, often decorated by Steve Cropper’s always sharp bluesy guitar. There’s a general shortage of killer riffs, however (“Hang ‘Em High” and “Time Is Tight” excepted). And Jones’s nicely melancholy composition “Meditation” certainly seems to owe a lot to “Summertime,” though he might have underestimated “Hang in High”’s B-side, the moody and jazzy “Over Easy,” with Booker on piano instead of his usual organ. Although it’s one of the best little known tracks, he called it “me and my cohorts at our most pretentious” in his autobiography, adding, “the song is so un-Memphis-like, so un-MG’s-like. It sounds as if it was recorded at some swank Chicago nightclub on the South Side.”

4. Various Artists, Something Inside of Me: Unreleased Masters & Demos from the British Blues Years 1963-1976 (Wienerworld). It’s not so obvious from the song list, but this four-CD, 96-track compilation includes five previously unreleased cuts of particular historical note. These are the five by Boilerhouse, who included a teenage Danny Kirwan shortly before he joined Fleetwood Mac. A few of the other artists will be known to serious British blues aficionados, including one-man band Duster Bennett; Dave Kelly; and Al Jones, though Jones is more known for less blues-oriented mild folk-rock he released in the early 1970s. Maybe throw in Brett Marvin & the Thunderbolts too, but otherwise these names will draw blanks even with those interested enough in this genre to pursue rarities, like Dynaflow Blues; the D.J. Blues Band; the Nighthawks (unrelated to the far more famous US group of the same name); Tight Like That; Jeff Curtis & the Flames; and Shakey Vick’s Big City Blues Band, to name a few.

Certainly this isn’t nearly on the level of notable multi-disc British blues compilations like Sire’s History of British Blues back in 1973, or Grapefruit’s Crawling Up a Hill: A Journey Through the British Blues Boom 1966-1971 just a couple years ago. With a couple exceptions, these are more like the foot soldiers or, to be blunter, also-rans that populate the back ranks of any genre in force. Most interesting by far, if as much or more for historical interest than the quality of the music, are the five songs by Boilerhouse, recorded in summer 1968 very shortly before Kirwan joined Fleetwood Mac. Elmore James’s “Something Inside of Me” would be redone by Fleetwood Mac, and the earlier version here isn’t too different in arrangement, with Kirwan’s talents obvious at this formative stage. The other Boilerhouse material isn’t as impressive, highlighted by an instrumental version of Otis Rush’s “All Your Love.” Note that there’s a brief skip on “Something Inside of Me” as the acetate from which it’s sourced is damaged, which is conscientiously explained in the liners, as are some other sonic deficiencies. 

Some of the better other material is supplied by Duster Bennett, with seven July 1965 recordings (with a bit of percussion accompanying Bennett’s vocals/guitar/harmonica). These are highlighted by the brief off-kilter instrumental “Kimberly,” a refreshing break from the standard blues progressions dominating most of this anthology that sounds more like Davy Graham than straight blues. It’s too bad the 1968 acetate from which “Worried Mind” was taken is in rough shape, but it’s one of his more energetically satisfying performances. The D.J. Blues Band, at the earliest part of the period covered here with four November 1963 cuts, have an enjoyable sort of blues-rock-jazz crossover a bit reminiscent of some somewhat better known groups of the time making the crossover from jazz to more accessible blues-pop-rock, like the Mike Cotton Sound. While I’m not a big fan of Al Jones generally, some of his country blues-flavored outings (all from the early ‘70s) show more gutsy imagination and folk guitar dexterity than most of the other acts on this collection, particularly “Liza.”

There’s not as much so say about the numerous other artists and tracks on this compilation. Most of them aren’t bad and indeed often reasonably enjoyable while they’re playing, but don’t stick out either in terms of performance or material. Jeff Curtis and the Flames are really more like early British Invasion rock’n’roll than blues with their heavily Chuck Berry-flavored sound on their late-’63 efforts, not that it’s a bad thing. The Nighthawks (the most heavily represented act with eighteen tracks) and Brett Marvin & the Thunderbolts are pretty tight if pretty generic and unexceptional; the selections more inclined toward jug band, straight country blues, and piano blues can grate. So this can’t be recommended even to many average British blues fans, unless you’re a Fleetwood Mac completist. But if you do have a particular fanaticism for the first decade when the form was at its peak, it can still strike an acceptable chord, accompanied by a super-detailed 150-page booklet with plenty of period photos/graphics and session info.

Top Thirty (Or So) Music History Books of 2022

Compared to music documentaries and reissues that are up my alley, it’s more of a prime age for books. There are many rock history books, and some in related styles that interest me, getting churned out now, some on stars, some on acts and niches that seemed unimaginable to get honored with full-length volumes just a few years ago. There are so many I couldn’t get to them all, with a dozen titles at the least lined up on my list of things to check out that I couldn’t in time for this blogpost. No doubt I’ll become aware of at least a few other 2022 books I haven’t yet found out about. Good ones will be reviewed as the “this came out in 2022” part of my 2023 list, though that’s probably cold comfort to the writers and publishers.

But there are a lot of books on this list, including some in a special section for 2021 releases I didn’t read in time for my 2021 blogpost. Some of them rank as high as they do because of my special interest in the subject matter, such as my #1 and #2 picks. For some others, detailed research into some artists I’m particularly passionate about make up for imperfections in the writing, and I’ll always favor that over immaculate prose for subjects that don’t arouse my curiosity.

A word about those imperfectly written books. There are some comments in the reviews spotlighting mistakes and sloppiness. While those aren’t the main things I look for in reading and reviewing, it seems like more such carelessness is slipping into such books, and not just self-published ones. Sometimes they’re in best-sellers written by famous musicians and music business moguls. Most reviews don’t have the space to point specific ones out, and when I do, it’s a reminder that more care should be taken in getting dates, sequences of events, spellings, and larger issues right.

That’s especially the case considering many such facts can be easily researched, and that knowledgeable writers and fans are available to read the copy and correct errors before they get into print. This is often done for histories of major social movements and politicians, and music history isn’t less important to get right. Fortunately, the majority of books here don’t make numerous obvious slips. 

1. The Byrds: 1964-1967, by Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman & David Crosby (BMG). Even by the standards of coffee table books, this is a literally heavy tome, weighing almost nine pounds. At about $150, it’s also pretty expensive. And it’s a photo book, not a standard narrative one. Still, it ranks pretty high on my list because I’m a big Byrds fan. The photos are really good, and I haven’t seen many of them (some of them outtakes from sessions that generated familiar images, including record covers) before, although I’ve seen many Byrds photos. And the three surviving original Byrds do contribute numerous quotes for the text, done specifically for this book, not taken from archive sources. While there are a few dozen pages at the end about some Byrds reunions, most of this does properly focus on their 1964-1967 prime.

While I always like more text in books like these, their memories are pretty good and entertaining, usually concentrating on the actual pictures and their settings, not so much on their general history (although there’s some of that). Sometimes they admit they don’t remember the photos or the events in which they took place, but at least they don’t pretend to and/or state false memories that are factually inaccurate. The departure of drummer Michael Clark at the end of 1967 should have been explained at least a bit more, but for those who want more of the actual Byrds story, there are Johnny Rogan’s massive Byrds tomes, though those are expensive too.

Here are just a couple deep dives that struck me of interest. Crosby, perhaps unsurprisingly, has some very ungracious things to say about their first co-manager Jim Dickson, and also their first producer, Terry Melcher. He says “Melcher couldn’t produce a Kleenex box. He knew nothing about audio, nothing about recording, nothing about songs, nothing about our band. Knew nothing about anything.” McGuinn, always more diplomatic, is quite complimentary about Melcher, whom he “believe[s] was a big part of the Byrds’ success,” and points out that “Terry didn’t like David’s songs, so he wasn’t putting them on the album. That was the key point that they disagreed on.”

Also, some Barry Feinstein photos make it clear that the great picture sleeve for the “Eight Miles High” single, where Michael Clarke is about to flick a spoon at an oblivious David Crosby’s head, was taken in mid-1965 in Chicago. The book, however, doesn’t include the actual photo from the picture sleeve. Which I would have liked, in part because that might have given McGuinn, Hillman, and Crosby a chance to explain what was happening in that wonderfully goofy photo. It’s a minor missed opportunity, but again, at least they didn’t make up something factually wrong.

And there’s not much memorabilia in the book, but an item of great interest reproduces the unused liner notes publicist Derek Taylor wrote for their second album, Turn! Turn! Turn! These refer, with extreme (by the standards of the day’s notes) candor, to a physical fight between Crosby and Clarke in the studio; to Crosby undermining Clark’s confidence as a guitarist; to McGuinn and Crosby maneuvering to let only three Clark songs on the album; and to Columbia manufacturing 200,000 unused sleeves for a “The Times They Are A-Changin’” single that didn’t come out. And this is from a publicist! These kind of frank insights into a band’s conflicts were rare in any kind of press in the mid-1960s, and certainly unheard of in liner notes. But it’s definitely valuable as a historical document, even if no one should have been surprised that it wasn’t used on the LP’s back cover.

I have more detailed comments about specific parts of the Byrds’ history I found especially interesting in the book in this blogpost

2. The Beatles 1963: A Year in the Life, by Dafydd Rees (Omnibus Press). Like the Byrds book reviewed above, this day-by-day log of the Beatles’ activities in the 1963 is for the devoted fan, not so much for the general one. With about 500 pages of entries for every day of the year, and many sidebars of eyewitness accounts in tiny print, it might even be for the hardcore fan. I think people who read lists like mine aren’t average casual rock fans, however, so it’s okay to put this pretty high on mine, acknowledging that not everyone’s as big a Beatles devotee as I am. Although this covers just one year, within that frame it’s more detailed than any of the other calendar Beatles books out there. Every gig, radio show, TV appearance, and recording is here, delineated in pretty exacting detail, along with other activities of numerous sorts the group undertook. The growth in one year of the band from an emerging group with a mid-chart debut hit to the biggest entertainment phenomenon the UK had ever seen, with some stirrings of early Beatlemania in the US at the very end of the year, still astonishes. So does the sheer amount of work the group packed into 1963, going all over the British Isles (and for a week to Sweden) and fitting in sessions at EMI, the BBC, and numerous other media obligations almost nonstop, with just a couple vacation breaks. 

Although this is well written and very readable, there’s some unavoidable repetition in the nature of the concert accounts, especially in the final months, with show after show of kids lining up hours or days beforehand, hysteria at the event, the difficulty of getting the band in and out of the venues, the inability of the audience to hear the music over the screams, and so forth. These are still spiced up with some unusual stories, including from many youngsters who were there at these events. Better, however, are a good number of eyewitness accounts and memories from notable peers, including members of the Searchers and the Fourmost; Rod Argent of the Zombies; Peter Asher; and even Vic Arnold, bassist of the Lorne Gibson Trio, who remembers that he and the trio’s guitarist, Steve Vaughan, are playing with some members of the Beatles for the “Pop Goes the Beatles” theme on their BBC radio series of the same name. The majority of rock fans might not care about trivia like that, but I do, as I’m guessing a good number of other Beatles fanatics do. Mark Lewisohn’s in-the-works Beatles history is better for more readable insight into their career with huge detail and context. But he undoubtedly won’t be able to fit in as much forensic detail on 1963 as this book does, for those who are interested.

3. The Islander, by Chris Blackwell with Paul Morley (Gallery). The memoir by the founder and, for about four decades from the late 1950s, head of Island Records is satisfying on most levels. Much of  the music and how he was involved in signing and helping to guide  Island artists is discussed, in an even-handed tone that avoids the boasting and self-involvement found in many such autobiographies. There are inside, though not unduly gossipy, stories about many key Island stars, from his roots in early reggae and Jamaican music to his first big hits with Millie Small and the Spencer Davis Group, and then on to Traffic, Cat Stevens, Bob Marley, Free, and U2. Refreshingly, there’s also some attention paid to performers on the Island roster who would be considered cult artists, like John Martyn  and Nick Drake, as well as to some key producers, like Guy Stevens and Jimmy Miller. Island’s brief and mixed detours into New York no wave and Washington, DC go-go music are also here as evidence of its eclecticism, but not overplayed. The ruminations on the business end of setting up and running a label don’t get bogged  down in dry industry talk, and there’s not too much about his nonmusical personal life to distract from the main focus on the music and the music business. The point is sometimes made, but not  overbearingly, that often the most effective way of running an enterprise such as Island is to let artists be themselves and let things happen, instead of pushing them in short-term commercial and artistic directions.

It might seem crabby to carp about some shortcomings in a pretty good book, but it’s frustrating that some art rock groups —particularly King Crimson, Jethro Tull, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer—that had huge success for Island in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and were presumably key to building the company’s strength, are barely mentioned. Some pretty interesting cult artists from their vintage years, like Nico and Kevin Ayers, are also barely  mentioned, and while he gives brief high praise to Marianne Faithfull’s comeback on Island, you’d think there’d be more to say about that than just a few sentences. Meanwhile Grace Jones gets most of a chapter, and it’s not one of the more interesting ones. If the thinking of the author and/or publisher was that it would be excessive to expand the book by one or two hundred pages, that’s a mistaken line of reasoning for fans such as myself, and I think there a quite a few.

There are also a few inaccuracies that demonstrate these books aren’t always copyedited by people with deep knowledge of popular  music history. Peter Grant’s referred to as making the leap from driving visiting American rock’n’roll stars around the UK in 1963 to managing the Jeff Beck Group and Stone the Crows a year later on the way to managing the Yardbirds. But the Jeff Beck Group and Stone the Crows didn’t even get together until a few years after 1964, and it would be a pretty neat trick to manage Stone the Crows on the way to managing the Yardbirds, since Stone the Crows didn’t start until 1969, and the Yardbirds broke up in 1968. You don’t need to know anything about music to realize that Millie Small couldn’t have been fifteen when Blackwell arranged for permission to bring her from Jamaica to England, since it’s written that she was born in 1946, and the letter of parental permission, reprinted in the book, is dated March 12, 1963. Later in the book she’s referred to as dying in May 2020 at the age of 72. Is it so hard to do the correct math?

4. A Song for Everyone The Story of Creedence Clearwater Revival, by John Lingan (Hachette). Although there have been a few previous books on CCR, this is the first one to tell the story thoroughly and well. It’s not ideal, as the author too often ties in commentary about what was generally going on in the world and counterculture during their lifespan. But the bulk of the text is devoted to CCR’s career, going from their lengthy origins as the Blue Velvets and the Golliwogs, with a lot of coverage of their 1968-1972 peak. The heart of the research is based on extensive interviews with bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford (though John Fogerty did not participate), and there’s a lot of inside detail into the band’s evolution and considerable highs and lows. The story is told without quotes from Lingan’s first-hand interviews, and while I favor the approach that uses direct quotes rather than telling the story as a narrative without them, it works okay here.

The group’s improbable transformation from also-ran, undistinguished regional band to superstars is explained with plenty of passionate analysis of their recordings, Fogerty’s songwriting, and their fraught relationship with Fantasy Records. Naturally much of this dwells on Fogerty’s creative process as he wrote virtually all of their original material, besides being lead guitarist, lead singer, and the most responsible for how their studio tracks were cut. The crucial point of his ascendance to dominance of the band seems to be when he overdubbed the backing vocals for “Proud Mary” without their presence, explaining to the others right afterward that he was going to be controlling almost everything other than playing rhythm guitar, bass, and drums from that point onward. Despite their phenomenal success in 1969-1971, they didn’t seem too happy (Fogerty included), and their painful breakup is explicated at length. Appropriately, there isn’t too much about their post-CCR work, though Fogerty’s battles with Saul Zaentz of Fantasy Records merited a bit more space. But you can read about those in Fogerty’s Fortunate Son memoir, which also gives his forceful point of view of his role in CCR’s history.

5. This Bell Still Rings: My Life of Defiance and Song, by Barbara Dane (Heyday). Now in her mid-nineties, Dane has had an incredible career, even if she’s never been too famous or approached having anything like a hit record, whether singing folk (the style she’s most identified with), blues, or jazz. Her 450-page memoir is rich with detail about her career and life, stretching back to the first stirrings of the folk revival in the early 1950s. To a greater degree than almost any performer of note, her life and art has been entwined with leftist politics, her recording and performing career likely suffering commercially as the result of the many stands she took. She’s not regretful about this, recounting her at times wildly up and down experiences in the record business, the performing circuit, and activist organizations with candor and occasional humorous zings. It’s both thoughtful and entertaining, and goes by faster than you might expect, as there are so many chapters there are a fair number of beginning-end pages with a lot of white space.

There are a lot of areas covered here, and her recordings aren’t neglected, with her stints at various indie labels from tiny to sizable noted, all the way up to her one major label LP (for Capitol) in the early 1960s. There are associations, from fleeting to tight, with a host of famous figures, ranging from Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger to less predictable ones like the Chambers Brothers and future Frank Zappa/Linda Ronstadt manager Herbie Cohen. There are inside stories about some of the most celebrated folk clubs, like the Ash Grove in Los Angeles, and rather tireless international travels, often to places rarely visited by Western performers, especially Cuba, but also the likes of the former East Berlin and Soviet Union.

There were obstacles thrown into her path by the government, which made it more difficult for her to travel abroad and spread her music and speak about her politics, and more surprisingly the Communist Party, who threw her out in the 1950s on spurious charges. Even more surprisingly, she discovered many years later that her first husband, Rolf Cahn—himself a figure in the folk scene—had informed on her to the FBI, though with little apparent consequence. She admits to some mistakes and regrets in both her professional and personal lives, particularly balancing commitments to her family with the need to constantly be on the road promoting her music and politics. In her early career, however, that was necessary just to survive with a growing family and no reliable income from her first two husbands.

The narrative does start to rush more and more after the 1960s, and at times I would have liked more detail on certain events, like the Paredon label she and her third husband, longtime Sing Out! editor Irwin Silber, founded in the early 1970s for non-mainstream international folk, often of a political bent. It’s disclosed that there are a fair amount of unreleased tracks she recorded for Capitol in the early 1960s and Arhoolie a few years later, and some more info, if known, about how that happened would have been interesting. Or, more on how she managed to record a folk album for a different label while signed to Capitol, a complication that’s only noted in passing.

It’s also mentioned in passing that the manuscript was cut in half, and while the whole thing would be too much for most readers, here’s a message to publishers in general: could it be considered to do deluxe editions of such books with all or most of the available text? That was done for Mark Lewisohn’s Tune In (the first of his planned massive three-volume Beatles discography), and there are at least two other music books I’ve liked where I know the original manuscript was at least twice as long. There are extended and superdeluxe editions for lots of music recordings, and that can be done for music books too.

6. Felix Cavaliere: Memoir of a Rascal, by Felix Cavaliere with Mitch Steinman (self-published). Since this is a self-published work (though easily orderable online), this has escaped much notice. I haven’t seen a single review, and wouldn’t have known of its existence if not for a passing mention in an online post about something else. While a figure like Cavaliere is deserving of more thorough proofreading and higher quality photo reproduction, for the most part it’s a decent, solid, and entertaining autobiography that properly focuses mostly on his time in the Rascals. It’s certainly better than the yet more obscure memoir a few years ago from another member of that band, guitarist Gene Cornish, that had far more of the pitfalls associated with self-published books.

While many of the basic details of the Rascals’ career here will be familiar to serious fans of the group, Cavaliere relays them in a fresh storytelling manner that’s not embroidered with too many gratuitous thank-yous and bitter asides. There are stories of how he wrote or co-wrote numerous Rascals songs; their Atlantic Records recording sessions; and their efforts to help the cause of desegregation by insisting black acts share their bills. He generally has positive memories of the other Rascals, but does portray singer Eddie Brigati as a frequently difficult and contrary guy who held back their longevity, with some reservations about Dino Danelli’s commitment in their post-hits years. There are some unusual anecdotes that don’t make it into standard histories, like how “You Better Run” was written about a particular fraught affair he had, or how the other Rascals tried to do some recording (still unheard) without him when he took a brief vacation from the group in the late 1960s.

In common with many a memoir, the last sections are by far the least interesting, focusing on reunions and some repetitious sentiments about how blessed he’s been, how some opportunities were missed, and the awards he’s won. Some of the typos and mistakes that could have been easily eliminated with better proofing are frustrating if minor flaws in what is otherwise a worthwhile book. It shouldn’t take that much more time, for instance, to fix the spellings of “Marvin Gay” and “Barry Gordy” in the same paragraph, or avoid the embarrassment of noting an Otis Redding show at the Whisky a Go Go in 1968, the year after his death.

7. Wayward: Just Another Life to Live, by Vashti Bunyan (White Rabbit). Vashti Bunyan was briefly managed by Andrew Oldham in the mid-1960s and recorded a couple obscure mid-‘60s pop singles, including a song written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, “Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind,” that the Rolling Stones didn’t release in the 1960s. More famously, but not exactly famously, she put out an obscure Joe Boyd-produced 1970 mild folk-rock album, Just Another Diamond Day, with musical contributions from members of the Incredible String Band and Fairport Convention. The LP was rediscovered a few decades later and has gained a considerable cult following, leading Bunyan to reactivate her musical career and do a couple more albums. All this in itself would make for a pretty interesting story, but her early life was far more unusual than it was for most musicians with this kind of back story. In the late 1960s, she and her then-partner traveled by horse and wagon from London to the Outer Hebrides, the experience generating many of the songs that were written for Just Another Diamond Day.

This memoir isn’t huge, but it doesn’t have to be bigger than it is. It properly focuses on her late-‘60s journey, with some coverage of her more poppish pre-1970 recordings and experiences with Oldham, as well as a final section on her comeback of sorts. Much like the singer’s music, it’s rather modest and self-effacing, but also forthright and entertaining. There are detailed stories of the numerous odd incidents and mishaps she had on her way from roughly the south to the north of Britain, as well as the unexpected kindnesses and hassles for being hippies that she suffered. In retrospect some of her and her partners’ decisions to live rough for so long might seem reckless and naive, but she acknowledges this. She also notes, without undue bitterness, how she was sometimes disrespectfully treated by her partner Robert Lewis. It’s a countercultural saga that’s difficult to imagine happening today, and while some fans might wish for more of a focus on her music, her songwriting and recording sessions are recounted in satisfying detail. So is her dissatisfaction with much of her work at the time, and her belated appreciation of it when she realized how much it meant to listeners she didn’t know she had.

8. On the Street I Met a Dog: An Autobiography and the Definitive Story of the Chesterfield Kings, by Greg Prevost, edited by Massimo del Pozzo (Misty Lane). Although perhaps not a name well known or known at all to many general rock fans, Prevost has been a mainstay of the garage revival scene since the late 1970s, usually as singer with the Chesterfield Kings. His lengthy memoir has a lot of interest to Chesterfield Kings fans, including meticulous details of their origins, tours, and recordings, down to track-by-track rundowns of many of these. But it should carry considerable interest even if you’re not a major fan of the group, as it’s stuffed with colorful anecdotes common to many a struggling underground act: the tour mishaps, shady promoters, recording deals that backfire, unsympathetic studio engineers, and more. In Prevost’s case, it was perhaps in some ways even more difficult than for the typical underground/indie act as he was diligently reviving styles out of sync with both contemporary and alternative trends, in particular the mid-‘60s garage rock he focused on (and often covered) with the Chesterfield Kings.

Prevost is also an archivist, historian, and writer of note, and while the book mostly covers his activities as a musician, there’s also coverage of his work as a noted fanzine publisher (of Outasite in particular) and manic collector. There are also encounters with an amazing roster of figures, not all of them the ‘60s garage rockers you’d expect, though some of them are here too, like Question Mark and Mark Lindsay. There are also meetings with Ray Davies, Graham Nash, Mick Taylor, and even (briefly) Mick Jagger that cast a somewhat different, and usually sympathetic, light on these superstars than usual. There are also some brief encounters that case big stars in an unflattering light (Elvis Costello, Joan Jett), and some interactions that are downright surprising (a double date including Lydia Koch, soon to rename herself Lydia Lunch). 

Not all of this might entertain those not too deeply into his catalog, as there are sometimes microscopic details of recording sessions (including the obscure origins of the many songs he’s covered), tours, and even collecting vintage TV shows. But it’s a testament to the extraordinary perseverance needed to maintain a half-century or so career playing music more for love than for realistic hopes at stardom or even profit, though some brushes with major label interest and big-time media coverage made it seem momentarily possible. While critical at times of some of his associates, particularly as the Chesterfield Kings wound down and reached a cul-de-sac of sorts, he doesn’t spare himself in examining faults and failures. His recent more blues-oriented efforts as Greg Stackhouse Prevost are also discussed, leaving the impression of a man more at peace with his stubbornly uncommercial approaches than he was at times when he achieved wider recognition in his youth.

9. Zal! An Oral History of Zalman Yanovsky, by Simon Wordsworth (self-published, This nearly 300-page, large-sized paperback draws on interviews with more than 75 people who knew or were associated with the Lovin’ Spoonful guitarist. The quotes are connected by overviews of what was happening in his career and life for each chronologically sequenced chapter. This covers not only his time in the Lovin’ Spoonful, but also his pre-Spoonful groups the Halifax 3 + 1 and the Mugwumps; his obscure, not so great late-‘60s solo album; his brief time as guitarist in Kris Kristofferson’s band at the beginning of the 1970s; and assorted other miscellaneous musical projects. Those, however, were sparse after the early 1970s, Yanovsky devoting most of his final quarter century to running a restaurant in Kingston, Canada.

There’s a ton of information, usually relayed in a storytelling format, about this colorful fellow. The best parts, to no surprise, are those about the Spoonful, and there are plenty of those. Yanovsky does come across as someone whose over-the-top humor and pranks were not for everyone, or certainly could wear out their welcome. Sort of like Keith Moon, rather than being fun most of the time but hard to deal with the rest, it seems more like he could be fun some of the time and often hard to deal with, though he wasn’t as destructive or manic as Moon. There is a lot about his guitar work and the Spoonful’s records and concerts, and the controversial fallout from the drug bust of him and Spoonful bassist Steve Boone in 1966 is not overlooked. While descriptions of a lengthy interview (and he rarely discussed the Spoonful after the ‘60s) he gave Karl Baker in the 1990s lead you to believe it was somewhere between disappointment and disaster, actually the interview (reprinted in full near the end) is pretty good and informative.

As valuable as this is for serious Spoonful fans, the book could have benefited from some editing, and not just for the occasional misspellings and awkward grammar you find in many self-published volumes. There are quite a few “maybe it was funnier if you were there” stories, and repeated testaments to his good heart and zany humor, that could have been tightened up or dropped. There’s a lot of space for his time as a restaurant owner, cook, and Kingston citizen in his later years, and not everyone will be too interested in that era. There are many photos and memorabilia reproductions, quite a few rare, though some are printed in such small size that it’s difficult to make them out. These shortcomings shouldn’t seriously bother dedicated Lovin’ Spoonful fans, who will likely be willing to sift through the material for what they want to know. And there’s more coming, as the author and Baker are putting together a Lovin’ Spoonful “day by day” book.

10. The Who: Concert Memories from the Classic Years 1964-to-1976, by Edoardi Genzolini (Schiffer Publishing). The production values of this large-sized hardback might be more impressive than the contents, and this ranks as high as it does because of my avid interest in the Who, rather than the pure quality of the material. Still, it does collect many previously unpublished accounts of Who concerts, mostly from fans, though there are a few from people who knew and/or worked with the group. There are also many photos of them in concert, hotel rooms, or other locales, often taken by fans rather than professionals, and sometimes taken by the same fans who provide their memories. The eras are tied together by some basic historical overviews of various points of their career by the author.

The entries by those who saw the Who could have sometimes done with some editing, sometimes going off into rambling non-band-related tangents about the era or personal experiences of growing up during the times. There’s some repetition, between entries and within entries, of basic sentiments about how incredible they were in concert. But there are some good stories, including some specifics about instrument destruction at various shows, and a non-show-one where Sally Mann Romano remembers Keith Moon abandoning an expensive rented Porsche with the motor running in an empty intersection in Los Angeles traffic when he got impatient at a red light. Most remarkable, however, is how accessible the Who could be to fans determined to meet them offstage—not just in the pre-Tommy pre-superstar days, but on occasions well into the 1970s. Fans who managed to wangle their ways into backstage areas or hotel rooms were often welcomed, and they, especially Pete Townshend, could be generous with inviting them along to shows and sometimes giving free tickets.

Many of these photos are rare, but they run the gamut from top professional images to numerous blurry, out-of-focus and/or dark/poorly lit/distant amateur snaps. My favorite is certainly the one of an August 10, 1968 gig at the Jaguar Club in St. Charles, Illinois that shows Townshend swinging upside down from a pipe above the stage—during the show, not at a soundcheck or something like that—after smashing his guitar on the pipe. There aren’t many pre-1968 entries and overall they’re heavily tilted toward US shows. It’s a book that will primarily be valued by serious Who fans, but there are many of those, and they’ll get a lot out of the pictures and words, though there are numerous better Who books with a wider scope.

11. What Was the First Rock’n’Roll Record?, by Jim Dawson and Steve Propes (Genius Music Books). In 1992, the first edition of this valuable book had entries for fifty singles issued between 1944 and 1956, discussing in depth how each of them led to rock’n’roll, ending with actual rock’n’roll classics by Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, and Elvis Presley in 1955 and 1956. This updated and revised thirtieth anniversary edition adds some corrections, clarifications, and additional material. It’s hard to tell how much bigger it is since the layouts of the editions are different, but there’s definitely more text. If the bulk if it hadn’t been previously published, it would occupy a much higher position on this list.

Whether you read it for the first time now or are a completist making sure you have the new edition, this is essential for its fluidly stated, heavily researched descriptions and analyses of these fifty singles, many of them pretty famous, some quite obscure, even if they were R&B or country hits in their day. Seminal discs by the likes of Bill Haley, Joe Turner, the Drifters, Fats Domino, Muddy Waters, and the like are here. Chart positions and notes about what records influenced them (and which records it went on to influence) and cover versions supplement the detailed histories of how the records were made. But there are also numerous less celebrated records and artists by the likes of Arkie Shibley (“Hot Rod Race”) and Stick McGhee (“Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee”), as well as key one-shots by groups like the Crows, Chords, and Penguins. Of course there are arguments to be made for many classic tracks that could have been included, like Haley’s “Crazy Man Crazy” or Presley’s “Mystery Train,” though if a list has to be limited to fifty, it’s inevitable it can’t cover everything. It makes one wish the authors would do a second volume covering fifty other singles that didn’t make it, though as almost all of the artists and their associates are gone, that would make first-hand research much more difficult.

12. Stunt Rocker: The Many Adventures of Andy Ellison, by Andy Ellison (Wintergarden). He’s not a household name, but singer Andy Ellison has a considerable cult following for fronting 1960s British mod band John’s Children, and then Jet and Radio Stars in the 1970s. His 200-page memoir has a chatty diary sort of feel, though it doesn’t suffer for that, as he’s a pretty good storyteller. The stories are usually pretty good, too, though they emphasize the daredevil leaps and pranks he did onstage, which caused him many injuries, some quite serious, over his nearly six-decade career. Generally he and his bands were more interested in causing mayhem than anything else, not just onstage, but on endless if entertaining mishaps they went through (some of their own making) on tour, and even in school and on holiday. They must have had a considerable amount of charm to get away with what they did, and also to get managers and record deals, some of them high-profile, like Simon Napier-Bell, who was managing the Yardbirds when he took on John’s Children. Marc Bolan’s brief and tumultuous time in John’s Children is discussed, as are Ellison’s brushes with numerous famous stars, including the Who, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and David Bowie. There are also unsurprising but amusing conflicts with record labels, and plenty of odd jobs Ellison took to keep going between bands.

How’s the music fit into all of this? Well, sometimes it feels wedged between the emergencies, confiscated equipment, and staying one step ahead of the authorities. But it’s there, Ellison discussing the writing and recording of some of the more notable records he was involved with, like John’s Children’s “Desdemona” (with Bolan), and some obscure ones, like his wistful 1967 single “It’s Been a Long Time,” used in the film Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush. The idiosyncrasies of his numerous bandmates over the years get space too, and he expresses regret over the firing of original John’s Children guitarist Geoff McClelland, forced out of the band at Napier-Bell’s instigation to make room for Bolan. I wouldn’t have minded more about the music and records, though you can read some more specific comments about his ‘60s discs in his liner notes to John’s Children’s A Strange Affair comp.

Like so many such memoirs, the last sections rush through the last few decades and various reunion shows and tours, and there are good and often rare photos throughout the book. There’s also a good share of jumbled chronology, like Ellison meeting Lennon at Apple’s headquarters on Savile Row before he comes across him when the Beatles are working on Magical Mystery Tour, which was broadcast before the group moved into Apple. More innocuously, he remembers mailing a copy of the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers with pot and LSD sealed inside to Spain in July 1970, almost a year before the LP was released. This won’t bother too many readers or seriously impede the fun, but is another testament to how these small-run books could benefit from some outside proofing by knowledgeable fans.

13. Some New Kind of Kick: A Memoir, by Kid Congo Powers with Chris Campion (Hachette). Although his name isn’t well known to the general public, Powers is fairly famous in the rock underground as a guitarist who did stints with the Gun Club, the Cramps, and Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds. If a bit uneven, his memoir is pretty good, covering his time in all of those groups in some depth, though there’s considerably more space given to the Gun Club, particularly how he learned guitar and developed a style from scratch with encouragement from Gun Club singer Jeffrey Lee Pierce. He also writes a lot about his pre-pro years growing up as a Latinx gay misfit in Los Angeles, and though numerous memoirs follow a similar trajectory of finding identity through punk and new wave as a teen, he tells it in a more interesting and humorous way than the norm. A good number of his mishaps crossed the line from typical teen high jinx to obnoxious and even dangerous incidents, and while there might be some more detail about them than necessary, they are relayed without much pride or guilt.

Fans of the Gun Club, Cramps, and to a lesser degree the Bad Seeds will find a lot about their music and peculiar inner dynamics. Being in the Cramps, for instance, was a bit like being in a cult, and his time in the Bad Seeds came to an unceremonious end when Mick Harvey announced he was returning to guitar from bass. Jeffrey Lee Pierce comes off as a talented but volatile figure who was nearly impossible to put up with. But because his collaboration with Pierce meant so much to him artistically, Powers usually did, as associates of hard-to-abide behavior of talents sometimes do – even if Pierce wasn’t nearly as legendary as figures of the sort like Jim Morrison, Frank Zappa, or even Captain Beefheart. In the process, he came up with a guitar style that was, although some would consider it amateur given his lack of prior experience, distinct and individual. As in so many musical memoirs, Powers fell prey to addiction and relapse, his path through those fairly similar to what you’ll read in other autobiographies, though it doesn’t dominate the narrative as much as it does in some other such books.

14. Like a Rolling Stone, by Jann S. Wenner (Little, Brown). Two previous books on Wenner and/or Rolling Stone—Joe Hagan’s Sticky Fingers (2017) and, to a much fainter degree, Robert Draper’s Rolling Stone Magazine (1990)—portrayed an ego-driven publisher and editor. In Sticky Fingers in particular, Wenner comes off as pretty despicable. These books shouldn’t be discounted, but Wenner’s own huge 550-plus-page memoir has its merits and interest. The style is rather matter-of-fact, covering his life and career from his upbringing and co-founding of Rolling Stone in 1967 up to his and the magazine’s changes through 2020. Much of the text is broken into bites of one to several paragraphs, roving from incident to incident and observation to observation. 

Wenner’s criticized by some purists for not liking music enough or even at all, but there is a lot of musical coverage here. Not all of it’s the same-old, either, as he discusses some topics not dealt with much in other sources, like the British edition of Rolling Stone in the late 1960s; his production of Boz Scaggs’s debut album, which in his account was far more involved than being a token presence; and, in a surprising brief political aside, the revelation that 1984 presidential candidate Alan Cranston asked if Wenner could do fundraising concerts for him where the money from ticket sales would go unreported (Wenner admits to saying yes). The book isn’t bereft of self-deprecating humor (though it’s not abundant), and he confesses that his rather infamous rave review of Bob Dylan’s Slow Train Coming “should have been sent back and cut in half.”

As expected, the most exciting parts of the book discuss the early San Francisco-based years of Rolling Stone, when the magazine was marking new territory in rock and then general journalism. It gets less exciting as the years roll on and Wenner gets less interested in music, and more in expanding a publishing empire that would also include US magazine. It’s a long way from putting Captain Beefheart on the cover in 1970 to getting excited, as Wenner does, about getting a scoop on Brad Pitt’s marriage to Angelina Jolie. Many of their more serious stories, music and otherwise, are detailed, though the constant references to the awards they won are unnecessary. Some of the less flattering footnotes to his journey are glossed over, like his putting his landmark early-‘70s interviews with John Lennon into book form against Lennon’s wishes (though he writes “I had the clear right to do so”), or not examined, like Garry Trudeau’s mildly satirical portrait of him in Doonesbury as “Yawn Wenner.” There are more stories of hobnobbing with pals Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Bono, and Bette Midler than most readers would likely wish, and the huge pile of short, oft-jet set-celeb-oriented anecdotes gets tiring by the volume’s later stages.

Time for mistakes that not many readers will care about: there are a few minor ones relating—surprisingly considering how well Wenner knew the Beatles’ catalog when he interviewed Lennon—to the Beatles, such as placing their final concert in 1965, and the recording of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band in 1969. More annoyingly, he remembers buying the UK version of Revolver in London in the summer of 1966 when it “had been released in the UK but was not due out in the US for another two months.” Revolver was released almost simultaneously in the US (albeit missing three tracks from the UK version) and the UK in August 1966. Maybe the confusion arose from those three missing tracks having been released in the US two months earlier on Yesterday…and Today, though that’s hardly the same thing as Revolver coming out in the UK two months earlier. Alas, it doesn’t stop there; in the index, the entry for the album reads “Revolver (album; Rolling Stones).”

15. Wicked Game: The True Story of Guitarist James Calvin Wilsey, by Michael Goldberg (HoZac). Jimmy Wilsey is most famous for playing lead guitar on Chris Isaak’s early albums, particularly on Isaak’s early-1990s hit “Wicked Game.” Before that, he was bassist in the Avengers, San Francisco’s leading punk band in the late 1970s. That might not seem like enough to build a 416-page book around, but his life was pretty interesting, if tragic, as he died homeless in 2018 after about a quarter century of drifting through drug abuse, troubled relationships, and only sporadic musicmaking. This biography covers almost as much as that life as possible, including interviews with the other Avengers, other members of Isaak’s backing band Silvertone, girlfriends, and others dating back to his Midwest childhood.

Although the depth of research is impressive, the text could have benefited from some pruning, with a good share of the comments reiterating basic facets of Wilsey’s sweet, good-natured character and how his addictions damaged his life and creativity. His music isn’t ignored, with detailed passages about his distinctive rockabilly-surf-influenced guitar work. Although they weren’t nearly as commercially successful as Isaak, the sections on the Avengers are extensive, with a lot of colorful context about the early San Francisco punk scene in which Wilsey became immersed. His rewarding but ultimately frustrating (particularly on the financial and credits sides) collaboration with Isaak is covered in depth, though Isaak himself and Wilsey’s wife were among the few notable figures not to grant interviews for this book. Wilsey’s descent into irresponsible addiction was longer than most, and it dominates the post-1990 chapters, making for even more prolonged decline than is usually featured in the many other rock books that end this way.

16. From Squeaky Clean to Dirty Water, by Larry Tamblyn (BearManor Media). Tamblyn was keyboardist in the Standells, most known for their classic garage rock hit “Dirty Water,” though they had a few other smaller hits and a respectable body of mid-‘60s recordings in the more accessible garage rock style. His memoir covers their career in detail, from their beginnings as a Los Angeles club band to their peak with a tougher sound in the mid-‘60s. There’s a lot about the big range of ups and downs of being on the road and navigating the rough waters of the Hollywood record business, including a good share of touring mishaps and affairs with admirers. There are also anecdotes, if sometimes short ones, of artists they met and played with, such as the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds, and even of briefly meeting Syd Barrett (“who seemed to be spaced out, not unlike our own Dick Dodd at the time”).

The best sections, however, are those that go over their mid-‘60s prime, including pretty in-depth memories of their most well known recordings, produced and sometimes written (as “Dirty Water” was) by Ed Cobb. If you, like many viewers, first saw them (whether at the time or on reruns) when they guest starred in an episode of The Munsters, well, there’s more here on that experience than you’ll read anywhere. So’s some lowdown on their appearance (including performing the title song) in Riot on Sunset Strip. More obscurely, it’s not so widely known that Dewey Martin was on drums for a bit before Buffalo Springfield, and Lowell George briefly a Standell in the late ‘60s, as discussed in the book.

While it’s not uncommon in rock groups, it’s unfortunate that Tamblyn has had some major conflicts with band members over the years, on which he gives his lengthy perspectives. These were worse with guitarist Tony Valentino than any of the others, Larry feeling Tony angled for more attention and credit than he merited from around the mid-‘60s onward. He’s respectful of Valentino’s musical abilities, however, writing that he “may not have been the greatest guitarist, but he had a knack for coming up with the simplest most enduring guitar riffs.”

He’s also complimentary about drummer Dick Dodd’s value as a lead singer, though critical of Dodd’s decision to leave for a solo career (Dodd had actually left for a bit before “Dirty Water” hit, which is where Dewey Martin came in). Cobb comes in for both some praise and flack, Tamblyn expressing disappointment in some of his and Tower Records’ decisions (and the failure of “Try It” to gain more airplay owing to supposed controversial lyrics), although he projects his pride in lesser known tracks like “Someday You’ll Cry” and “Rari.” The group’s decline in popularity and tumultuous sporadic comebacks are covered in the final chapters, but the emphasis is rightly on their ‘60s prime.

17. Undercover: 500 Rolling Stones Cover Versions That You Must Hear!, by Peter Checksfield (self-published, This might be of limited interest to those who aren’t rather hardcore Rolling Stones fans, but that’s a pretty sizable niche, and this is the kind of book that such intense devotees will value. Checksfield details 500 cover versions—principally of compositions by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, though some by Bill Wyman and the early group pseudonym Nanker-Phelge are also here—from 1964 to the present. Besides noting recording info for both the originals and covers and succinctly describing each cover, there are also interviews (if usually pretty brief) with 130 musicians involved in the cover versions. There are naturally some pretty famous interpretations detailed—the Who’s “The Last Time,” Marianne Faithfull’s “As Tears Go By,” the Flying Burrito Brothers’ “Wild Horses,” both Otis Redding and Devo’s “Satisfaction,” and Ike & Tina Turner’s “Honky Tonk Women” are just a few.

But the accent is on pretty obscure ones, and it’s doubtful anyone but Checksfield has heard all of these. As one of the most outstandingly rare examples, the Swinging Blue Jeans performed the early Jagger-Richards composition “So Much in Love” (never released by the Stones) on the BBC in 1965; it was only issued on a 2019 digital-only compilation, and even the Blue Jeans’ Ralph Ellis doesn’t remember doing it. Virtually all of the Stones’ originals from the ‘60s were covered at some point, and it took some digging to get them represented; the UK “Paint It Black” B-side “Long, Long While,” for instance, was done in 1968 by a Greek group, the Idols. The songs Jagger and Richards “gave away” in the mid-1960s without putting on Stones records are covered, and some of the musicians who did those are tracked down and interviewed, including some from mighty unknown outfits like the Toggery Five and West Five. While there aren’t many interview comments from the most famous figures who interpreted the Rolling Stones, there are a few, like Devo’s Gerard Casale going over his group’s “Satisfaction” in great detail, and Sandie Shaw discussing her 1969 rendition of “Sympathy for the Devil.”

Even narrowing down the list to 500 requires selectivity, and obsessive collectors might note the absence of a few covers that might have been worth including. To cite just one, it’s surprising Rotary Connection’s quasi-classical arrangement of “Lady Jane” (with Minnie Riperton on typically stratospherically high vocals) isn’t here, though a couple other Stones covers they did are. There are also a wealth of pretty obscure post-1970s covers that aren’t as interesting to read about as the earlier ones (particularly those from the ‘60s), though the interviews asking musicians about how and why these were recorded are okay. There are also basic black-and-white illustrations, mostly of artwork and labels from the cover recordings, and stills from filmed performances of some of the cover versions.

18. Chuck Berry: An American Life, by RJ Smith (Hachette). Besides being one of rock’n’roll’s top founding figures, Chuck Berry had an enormously complicated and often controversial personal life. Both are covered in this biography, which isn’t the first one of Berry, even if you don’t count Berry’s autobiography. Despite its heft, it’s not wholly satisfying, even if the writing is livelier in some ways  than it is in the best Berry book, Bruce Pegg’s Brown-Eyed Handsome Man.  There are numerous digressions into the context of Berry’s times and music, particularly his early years in St. Louis, some worthwhile, and some more like superfluous padding. Smith intelligently analyzes much of Berry’s music, and digs into some of his recording sessions, but hardly covers or fails to mention some of his classics at all, including “Memphis, Tennessee”; “Reelin’ and Rockin'”: “Little Queenie”; “Carol”; “Almost Grown”; “No Particular Place to Go”; and others.

Although Smith did more than a hundred interviews for the project, many of the key figures (not just Berry himself) are gone, and some of the ones Smith does quote have peripheral or no connections  with Chuck. Much attention is given to the most controversial activities that got him into trouble (particularly those that got him in jail in the early 1960s), and while those can’t be glossed over, some more weight on his music would have been preferable. Or more inside accounts, like good ones he does get from Steve Miller, whose band backed Berry in concert in 1967.

It’s too spotty to be definitive, though all Berry fans, of which there are many, will find much material to interest them in what’s covered, spanning his entire life. If you are a big fan, although you probably know this already, be aware that the documentation of his less admirable traits might make you feel like you know more about him than you wished. These include his oft-gross sexual fetishes, his mercurial insistence on using and sometimes tormenting scrappy pickup bands, and his generally unpredictably wayward manner of dealing with many social situations.

19. Lightning Striking, by Lenny Kaye (Ecco). Kaye, veteran rock writer most known for assembling Nuggets, and veteran guitarist most known for his longtime association with Patti Smith, picks “ten transformative moments in rock and roll” as the subject of this book’s chapters. These aren’t the kind of historical overviews that will uncover much material that’s unfamiliar to readers who know a lot about these junctures, whether it’s Memphis in the mid-1950s, Liverpool in the early 1960s, or London in 1977, up to Seattle in the early 1990s. Kaye does touch upon and colorfully detail/analyze many of the highlights, the essays’ value lying no much in the information (though there are some little known stories and facts) as his perceptions of how they signified and pushed through the evolution of new styles.

He also draws upon some of his own experiences as a young fan, aspiring musician, early rock critic, and guitarist in the Patti Smith Group, and these are the most interesting passages in the book, though they’re much less numerous than the straighter historical accounts/summaries. They’re especially to the fore, as you’d expect, in the chapter on New York in 1975, which has much coverage of how the Patti Smith Group formed and rose to fame; other memories of his time with Smith dot some of the later chapters, going up to a Seattle concert that got canceled at the onset of the 2020 pandemic. There’s some pithy humor and attention paid to bit players, as in this bit about a Frost album in the chapter on Detroit in the late 1960s: “There’s eleven minutes of the Animals’ ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place,’ though they won’t be getting out of Detroit.”

20. Leonard Cohen: Untold Stories: From This Broken Hill, Volume 2, by Michael Posner (Simon & Schuster). Posner interviewed more than 500 people for a mammoth, three-volume Leonard Cohen oral history. This first volume, reviewed on my 2020 best-of list, covered his life until the end of 1970. This equally long (475 pages) book covers 1971 until the late 1980s, and is similar enough in structure and tone that I could almost reprint my review of volume one. The difference is that the era it deals with is somewhat less interesting, though it included some notable or at least notably odd projects, like the album he did with Phil Spector and the composition of “Hallelujah.”

Again the sheer volume of information and stories might at once impress serious fans and exhaust many readers. Although the music and records are given substantial coverage, there’s more room given to his serial and sometimes simultaneous affairs with women than anything else. Maybe some people feel that these are as interesting, or at any rate as important to Cohen’s story and character, as anything else he did. I’m not one of them. It gets to the point where you dread transitions on the order of “while he was still constantly seeing and bedding x and y, when he traveled here he also started a liaison with z.” Even more than many lengthy oral histories, there are contradictory accounts and interpretations of many incidents, as well as genuflections about what a genius Cohen was and how kind he could be on many occasions.

After making my mixed feelings clear, here’s one of the more interesting stories from the book, and one I don’t remember hearing or reading elsewhere. Eric Andersen says a friend of Cohen’s told him that Leonard came to her home, saw some of Andersen’s records, and broke them over his knee. In the very next quote, this is vehemently denied by that friend, Aviva Layton. 

21. The Dylan Tapes, by Anthony Scaduto (University of Minnesota Press). Anthony Scaduto’s 1971 book Bob Dylan: An Intimate Biography was one of the first comprehensive biographies of a major figure in rock. Many subsequent books and much subsequent research has filled in tons of details he didn’t find, but it was an admirable job in establishing a foundation for what Dylan had done. This equally lengthy book has transcripts of interviews he did with a couple dozen of Dylan’s associates, ranging from his high school girlfriend Echo Holstrom to Dave Van Ronk, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Joan Baez, and John Hammond Sr., as well as conversations he had with Dylan himself after most of his research was done.  

Like some similar books, this brings home how a finished product that selectively quotes from and contextualizes interviews is a better read than the relatively raw information. However, serious Dylan historians will appreciate being able to read the original interviews, although maybe not so much for additional facts as for insight into the personalities of some of these people from how they talk and react. There isn’t too much in the way of prime stuff that didn’t make the cut, though there are some such bits, like Elliott filling in more details as to how he ended up singing on the original 1964 outtake version of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and why that wasn’t used; Carolyn Hester discussing the mixed effects of many folkies’ boycott of the Hootenanny TV show (due to the show’s refusal to book Pete Seeger), which she thinks cost the whole scene a lot of exposure; and Dylan telling Izzy Young that Peter Stampfel was one of his favorite singers. There’s also Eric von Schmidt dismissing Phil Ochs’s verdict of Highway 61 Revisited as the best album ever made with the words “Phil Ochs judging, you know, a total musical thing is, is like me judging, you know, a kind of tea-drinking contest. I don’t think Phil Ochs knows that much about music.”

It’s also interesting to see how much was still unknown about some basics of Dylan’s life and career only about ten years after he turned professional. Numerous interviewees get basic facts about what happened when wrong or don’t remember, even though only five to ten years had passed in most cases. Scaduto also missed talking to many figures who’d speak about Dylan in the 1960s in years to come, especially musicians and producers who worked with him after he moved from folk to rock. But Dylan scholars now have more to chew on with the publication of these transcripts, though Scaduto’s finished book remains of significantly greater value.

22. For the Records: Close Encounters with Pop Music, by Gene Sculatti (Swingin’ 60 Productions). As a rock journalist for about half a century, Sculatti’s most known for co-authoring the book San Francisco Nights: The Psychedelic Music Trip, 1965-1968, as well as presenting radio and Internet shows featuring music he loves. This slim semi-memoir is dedicated to very personal memories of records and music that were special to him, mostly from the 1950s and 1960s, though there’s some attention paid to later sounds. As a one-sitting reading it’s reasonably entertaining, if not full of information that will be unfamiliar to serious enthusiasts of early rock, though some rarities are discussed.

It’s dotted with some inside stories of experiencing the San Francisco scene, working in the rock biz as a writer and record company employee, and record collecting—he once came across twenty copies of the Grateful Dead’s rare debut 45 on the Scorpio label before it was fully realized how valuable it was, though only three of them were purchased. More often, however, he expresses appreciation for hearing the music, often dating back to his first experiences with certain bands and records. One observation that was crucial to elevating this to a place on this list was his remark that songs on the Beach Boys’ Friends album “wouldn’t have been out of place in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”—a comment bound to enrage many Beach Boys fans, but also one that’s pretty accurate.

23. Corporate Rock Sucks: The Rise & Fall of SST Records, by Jim Ruland (Hachette). In the late twentieth century, SST was one of the most prominent and downright ubiquitous independent labels, often but not always recording noisy rock with connections to  punk and (less frequently) metal. This documents its rise and, well, not so much fall as near-disappearance in the twenty-first century. For an outfit that put out discs by Black Flag, the Minutemen, Hüsker Dü, the Meat Puppets, Screaming Trees, and (more briefly)  Sonic Youth and Soundgarden, among others, there’s been some mystery about how it operated and fluctuated. It put out so much product that even 400 pages isn’t enough to fully detail the music it generated, and some acts who issued a lot (Leaving Trains) or little (Opal) on SST don’t get nearly as much attention as the aforementioned bands. But this gets a lot of the nuts and bolts (including Raymond Pettibone’s distinctive artwork on early SST releases) into print, drawing on both first-hand and archival interviews, although Greg Ginn, the most important figure as Black Flag guitarist and the chief force behind SST, did not make himself available.

As anti-corporate as their ethos were (at least at the start), it’s not always an uplifting story. Mine is not a universally popular opinion, but the attitude the artists and music often espoused, at least in SST’s early years, could be wearisome in its constant aim to alienate audiences with music and confrontational behavior that pushed the boundaries of both volume and obnoxiousness. The label sometimes put out an absurd oversaturation of product—seven albums, unbelievably, by the unappealing and uncommercial (even by SST standards) Zoogz Rift in 1987 alone—much of it mediocre mixtures of punk and hard rock. That helped lead to some problems with acts being able to release their records in a timely manner, the label being able to get promptly paid by distributors, and the SST roster being able to get paid promptly or at all. Those issues aren’t unique to SST or to big independent labels. But combined with Ginn’s growing legal battles (particularly those involving experimental band Negativland, which are extensively detailed), SST shrank into a catalog outfit by the twenty-first century. Much of its catalog is out of print, and the author speculates this might be in part due to tapes getting damaged or lost, also advocating for the return of the music to the acts so that they can be restored to availability.

If it seems like a tale that doesn’t lend itself to humor, there’s some, although it’s often of the gallows variety. In a tribute to how laboriously Black Flag toured and helped build a circuit for SST bands to play, Ruland describes Ellensburg, Washington (home of Screaming Trees) as “a place so out of the way that Black Flag had never played there.” After Chuck Dukowski (part of several SST acts, including Black Flag, as well as being heavily involved in the label’s operations) went into a long discourse in an interview with Flipside explaining how verbalizing thoughts was futile, the editor reminded him, “Unfortunately, we are a printed publication.” In an offhand acknowledgement of SST’s significance and prolific discography, Screaming Trees Mark Lanegan noted, “We loved everything on SST. We listened to all those records—even Tom Troccoli’s Dog.”

24. Jimi, by Janie Hendrix and John McDermott (Chronicle Chroma). Certainly this well-produced coffee table volume would have rated higher had there not already been many Hendrix books, including some by co-author McDermott, who’s generally done the best of these. This is more like an overview to coincide with Hendrix’s eightieth birthday, without much material that will be new to big fans. While the basic historical text is fine, it functions mostly as a complement to the many images. Those are dominated by photos of Hendrix onstage and offstage, interspersed with some memorabilia like concert posters, advertisements, tickets, some unattributed vintage reviews, drawings, and handwritten lyrics. A good share of the pictures are rare or at least infrequently published, some dating from his pre-Experience days as a sideman. One surprise is an ad, apparently from early 1967, which bills a Sunday show as “roaring into 1967 with the new weirdo trio Jimi Hendrick’s Experience.” But this is more something for a casual fan, or to give to a youngster just getting into Hendrix, than for someone who’s already read a lot about him.

25. Rock on Film, by Fred Goodman (Running Press). There was another book titled Rock on Film back in 1982 that’s the best such work, although it naturally only covered films through the early 1980s. This is an entirely different book, and while it’s not nearly as comprehensive, it’s still a worthwhile if rather basic overview of a genre that’s spun off hundreds if not thousands of titles that could be considered rock on film. It has a few pages each on fifty rock documentaries, biopics, concert films, movies starring rock stars, and such from the mid-1950s to the present. There are also brief “double feature” sidebars in each chapter on rock films that are good complements to the ones in the longer essays. Those essays strike a decent balance between concise description and more in-depth, sometimes behind-the-scenes detail, with intelligent perspectives on their assets, flaws, and how they fit into the context of their times.

Most of the movies are pretty familiar, if generally worthy of selection. There aren’t many obscure titles, and every fan will find some notable films missing, whether famous ones like Help! or relatively little known ones such as Hardcore Logo and recent documentaries like Alison Ellwood’s Laurel Canyon (an entirely different movie from the fiction one of the same title from 2002 directed by Lisa Cholodenko, which is included). The author’s a little too generous toward biopics, but there’s some first-hand material via interviews with directors Cameron Crowe, Jim Jarmusch, Penelope Spheeris, Taylor Hackford, and John Waters. For many entries on lots of films that don’t make this book, the 1982 Rock on Film is recommended, as (less strongly) is Marshall Crenshaw’s 1994 book Hollywood Rock. While mostly accurate, there are a few factual mistakes in this one that should be corrected if there are subsequent printings, such as: Rock’n’Roll High School was released in 1979, not 1976. 

26. Looking for the Magic: The Arista Records Story, by Mitchell Cohen (Trouser Press). What do Barry Manilow, Patti Smith, Graham Parker, Lou Reed, Gil Scott-Heron, Cecil Taylor, and Whitney Houston have in common? Well, they were all on Arista Records for at least part of the label’s first decade from around the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, when Clive Davis started and ran the company after losing his job as a Columbia Records executive. Arista certainly put out some significant and even alternative, at times downright underground records. But really, it was a mainstream record company without as much of an identity as many other successful independents, from Atlantic and Elektra to Sun and Motown.

Cohen, who worked at Arista for much of this period, doesn’t spend more time than necessary drawing out this history in this slim but snappy overview. It helps that he doesn’t take Arista’s importance unduly seriously, with some pretty witty summaries of various hits and flops’ impact. On Reed’s Street Hassle, for instance: “The critical consensus was that it was Reed’s best album since whatever the critic thought his last best album was.” Besides some interesting stories on how the likes of Smith, Reed, and Parker were signed and marketed, there’s quite a bit of attention paid to artists and records that remain obscure, whether they had much quality or not, by the likes of Linda Lewis, Willie Nile, and David Forman. 

There’s also quite a bit of space on Arista’s early ventures into jazz, which were about the most avant-garde of any sizable label of the period. How did Scott-Heron, Taylor, Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton, and the like end up with a pretty big company when they had no chance of making a big profit? It’s not entirely clear, except that some people at Arista had the chance to sign people they liked on the basis of their art and did so. Also covered are the label’s roots in Bell Records, with some tasty trivia such as a note about the saucy cover version of David Crosby’s “Triad” by actress Sally Kellerman (true!). Arista also organized some quality semi-forgotten reissues of vintage jazz and R&B by buying the Savoy catalog, promos of which gave them a chance to strengthen relationships with rock critics like Lester Bangs. Which is a lot more interesting than reading about Whitney Houston’s breakthrough, which ends a book spiced with numerous vintage Arista-related photos, ads, and record covers/labels.

27. Lifted, by Ringo Starr (Julien’s Auctions). Some major Beatles archival projects over the last few years have highly worthwhile, including the Get Back documentary, Paul McCartney’s The Lyrics book, and to varying degrees superdeluxe box set editions of their final albums. Like The Lyrics and those box sets, this 226-page coffee table photo-oriented book is expensive, but it isn’t nearly as valuable. Starr presents and (usually briefly) comments on photos from throughout the Beatles’ career, some of them uncommon, but a good number of them pretty familiar. As you’d expect, his comments are down-to-earth and radiate plaintive wisdom, making his affection for the other Beatles and pride in what they accomplished clear, though without disclosing surprising inside information.

Maybe it’s too much to expect a detailed account along the lines of The Lyrics or (as a better but relatively overlooked source of recollections) Miles’s Paul McCartney: Many Years Ago. But considering this is $100 or so counting postage (and only available through Julien’s Auctions), some more text, or maybe some unpublished memorabilia if any more exists in Starr’s vaults, would have been welcome. Still, Ringo sometimes phrases things in a right-on manner that could only come from him, like his memories of how the Beatles’ grandiose plans for early 1969 concerts in exotic locations for the Let It Be film ended up with them just going up to the Apple roof: “We often began with big ideas, and then in the end, we got it down to the right idea.” And if the price tag makes you wince, take heart that at least the profits go to Starr and his wife’s charitable Lotus Foundation.

28. I’ll Be There: My Life with the Four Tops, by Duke Fakir with Kathleen McGhee Anderson (Omnibus Press). Duke Fakir wasn’t the most well known of the Four Tops; the late Levi Stubbs, their main lead singer, was. But he’s the only one left of a group that managed to stay together in its original lineup for more than forty years. His memoir is average at best, though it does cover the basics of their slow, decade-long rise from a club act that only put out sporadic records, through their 1960s peak at Motown and their post-Motown decline in recording popularity. There’s not as much detail on specific hit records as fans would like, though some, like “Baby I Need Your Loving,” “Reach Out (I’ll Be There),” and “Walk Away Renee” are discussed in reasonable depth. There’s a lot on faith, family, and good fortune that isn’t too stimulating, and some if not much coverage of the Tops’ problems with substance abuse and ill health, which aren’t too extreme by star standards. It’s a minor point, but it’s disappointing that their brief pre-Motown time at Columbia is just given a passing mention, considering their 1960 single for the label was produced by John Hammond.

If this is something of primary interest to serious Motown fans, here are a few relatively little known items, according to these pages. Levi Stubbs was offered a solo career, but declined to stay with the Four Tops; he also turned down a starring role opposite Diana Ross in Lady Sings the Blues because there weren’t roles for the other guys in the band. The Four Tops originally thought of their signature song, “Reach Out (I’ll Be There),” as  an album track and disagreed with Berry Gordy’s decision to make it a single, changing their minds when they heard how good it sounded on the radio. Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations sang Fakir’s tenor part on the hit “Bernadette” when Duke wasn’t feeling well. Fakir is half Asian-American, as his father was from Bangladesh. He remembers making plans to marry Mary Wilson of the Supremes in the mid-1960s before going back to the family he had with his first wife. The account of how Four Top Obie Benson  helped Marvin Gaye write “What’s Going On” is also interesting.

But here are a few errors that should be noted, and even if they’re not central to the Four Tops’ saga, it’s surprising they slip through in a book from a publisher that’s put out many music history volumes. I’m not a jazz buff, but I know that when Fakir talks about the Four Tops seeing pianist Earl Garner, that should be Erroll Garner. More seriously, Fakir gives a couple pages to talking about how David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks both left the Temptations in 1968 “at the same time.” That’s not correct. Ruffin did leave the Temptations that year, but Kendricks stayed with them until 1971, for a period that saw some of their biggest and best hits, including a #1 single Kendricks sang lead on in 1971, “Just My Imagination.”

29. Christmas Everyday! Glam Rock Albums 1970-1976, by Peter Checksfield (self-published, Although this 204-pager isn’t too extensive, it’s useful for those who want a basic reference guide to British glam rock of the 1970s. Most likely this is the only such guide. Two hundred albums are each given a page with a rating, track listing, basic discographical information, British chart positions, a list of TV broadcasts on which material was performed, and non-album A-sides recorded around the same time. The author also gives brief opinionated reviews of each record, and while the reviews could have been longer, they’re descriptive and not afraid to run counter to conventional wisdom – Roxy Music’s albums are not highly regarded, for instance. Who exactly qualifies as a British glam rocker is up for debate, but the selection is more inclusive than exclusive, allowing for the Move, Rolling Stones, Faces, 10cc, and others who might have been more of an influence on glam (or influenced by glam) than glam per se. Glam bedrocks like David Bowie and T. Rex are here, of course, as well as a good number of fairly obscure acts like Jet, Slack Alice, and the Winkies.

In 2022, the prolific Checksfield also put a 650-page large-sized paperback,Top of the Pops: The Punk & New Romantic Years 1976-1985. This lists every clip on every episode of the top British pop music program, along with the chart positions of the songs performed/played on the week the clips aired; thousands of stills from the clips; basic additional info about the performers; and a few first-hand stories from artists about being on the program. This doesn’t just focus on punk and new romantic music aired on Top of the Pops; it’s a reference book that lists everything. This isn’t my favorite era, but is worth knowing about for enthusiasts, though it’s too bad there aren’t more first-hand interview bits from performers, as those are the most interesting part of the book. One example is Andy Ellison of Radio Stars remembering how they were accidentally cued to play Wings’ “Mull of Kintyre,” and went into a “furious, impromptu, heavy punk version” until a producer demanded they stop.

30. The Jordanaires: The Story of the World’s Greatest Backup Vocal Group, as told by Gordon Stoker with Michael Kossner and Alan Stoker (Backbeat). The Jordanaires are most famous for singing backup vocals on many Elvis Presley records. But they also sang on records by more than two thousand other acts, including Ricky Nelson, Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee, and Clyde McPhatter, usually though not always recording in Nashville. This is a patchy kind-of-memoir, since it’s based around memories Stoker (who died in 2013) relayed at various points in his life. The text is filled in by some linking narrative by Kossner and other comments by relatives and associates, particularly Stoker’s son Alan. Their work with Elvis, as you’d expect, gets the most ink, and there are some good stories, like how they first heard him when “Mystery Train” came on the radio and immediately heard a link to the kind of gospel they had sung, or how they hated the vocals they did on “Hound Dog.” (On that score, they were outvoted by the public, who made it a huge deserved hit and have probably rarely noticed imperfections.) There’s also a lot about working with Patsy Cline, including details about a minor mistake on “She’s Got You” that again very few have noticed. There are also obscure historical anecdotes of interest here and there, like Buddy Holly’s plans to have them overdub vocals on a gospel album he was planning before his death, or how Nelson’s “Lonesome Town” originally had a beat and backup instruments before it became a ballad with just guitar and vocals.

However, there’s a fair amount of repetitious testimonies to the abilities and good character of the Jordanaires and some of the legends they worked with that could have benefited from tighter editing. Gordon Stoker’s own observations have a good deal of the “I’ve been so blessed and fortunate” sentiments that are often found in such books. A fair number of major artists with whom they worked aren’t discussed at all; there’s little or nothing on records they sang on by Ringo Starr, Connie Francis, and Fats Domino, to give just a few examples. Maybe not much is remembered about those, considering they were so busy they treated their work as something like a regular job. But if you’re hoping, for instance, for insight into their vocals on an obscure but excellent record like the Blue Things’ mid-‘60s folk-rock single “I Must Be Doing Something Wrong,” you won’t find details here. The text sometimes rambles between topics and eras, and there are also quite a few quotes and stories—some interesting, some not so interesting—about the general Nashville studio scene rather than about the Jordanaires in particular. The book’s best treated as something to dip into for some specific stories about artists they worked with that are of particular interest to you.

31. Still Alright, by Kenny Loggins with Jason Turbow (Hachette). No, I’m not a Kenny Loggins fan. Still, like so many post-‘60s stars, he did some unlikely time in garage and psychedelic bands. He was briefly in the Electric Prunes (after the lineup that did their first three and best albums altered), and before that a teenage L.A. garage band, the Second Helping. That was enough to get me to check this out of the library, and actually Loggins does cover both of those stints with some detail, though not a huge amount. It turns out, for instance, that Leon Russell helped with the fuzztone guitar effect for the Second Helping’s best known recording, “Let Me In” (which has shown up on ‘60s garage compilations). There are a few pages on his time with the Electric Prunes, with an amusing abundance of near-disaster touring stories.

Of course, the bulk of the book is devoted to his stardom with Loggins and Messina and as a solo artist. I’m not very interested in those recordings, but the book itself is more interesting than you might think. There’s a fair amount of drugs and sex—not enough to rival many accounts from the era, of course, but more than you’d guess from his pretty clean-cut image. There’s also a lot about the weird and sometimes ruthless mechanics of the record industry in the ‘70s and ‘80s, told with more wit and less ego than expected. (He even describes one of Loggins and Messina’s biggest hits, “My Music,” as “a jaunty piece of crap” whose sax solo “sounds to me like a giant fuck-you to Jimmy, and probably to me, too.”)

There’s a lot about his mixed musical and personal relationship with Jim Messina, who could be much more controlling than Loggins liked, though Kenny constantly gives him a great deal of musical respect too. There are some of the drug problems, dives into new age-ish experiences, and family matters that are usually staples of rock star memoirs, but not so much that they’re overwhelming. For those who wish, there are also inside perspectives on some of his compositions and recordings. In the quality of the writing and the personable perspective, it’s above average for musician autobiographies, though certainly not for everyone whose tastes often drift beyond the mainstream.

The following books came out in 2021, but I didn’t read them until 2022:

1. A Pig’s Tale: The Underground Story of the Legendary Bootleg Record Label, by Ralph Sutherland & Harold Sherrick (Genius Music Books). The legendary bootleg label this documents is Trademark of Quality, one of the most prominent—if not the most prominent—such enterprises when rock bootlegs took off at the end of the 1960s through the mid-1970s. This 328-pager mixes text on the label’s story with many illustrations, which include the artwork for every one of their releases from 1969 to 1976. Also pictured are some of the original tapes and tape boxes used to source the music, as well as details for the tracks and where they were recorded, whether they were live performances or studio outtakes. Magazine and newspaper clippings covering early rock bootlegs are reproduced, and the label’s one venture into extensive liner notes—a seven-page interview with Yardbirds singer Keith Relf, for the Yardbirds bootleg More Golden Eggs—is, remarkably, reprinted in full, if in type so small it strains the eyes.

The text is the most interesting part, as it traces the history not just of this label, but of early rock bootlegging, which has generally been secretive and ill-documented. The TMOQ people started their operation with the first famous rock boot, Bob Dylan’s Great White Wonder, soon moving on to actually recording one of the other most famous early ones, the Rolling Stones’ Live’r Than You’ll Ever Be. The details of how some young guys with modest resources found the rare tapes, pressed and distributed the records, and soon graduated to secretly taping decent-fidelity concerts by big acts are pretty fascinating. It’s amazing how relatively easily they were able to smuggle fairly sophisticated recording equipment into big venues to record the likes of the Stones. Naturally these activities also got them pretty close to trouble with the law, leading to the imprint’s shutdown in the mid-1970s. 

I could have done with more text with specifics about some of the productions, like how they got to interview Relf for Modern Golden Eggs, although that’s been covered elsewhere. The text, while pretty thorough and well written, sometimes has a fairytale tone, and obviously some pseudonyms are used for some of the people and places involved. It’s still a valuable book whose appearance would have seemed as unlikely fifty years after the label’s heyday as those Stones and Dylan bootlegs were when they first appeared in 1969.

2. Keep on Shining: A Guide Through the Music of Love & Arthur Lee, by William E. Spevack (WES). For its thoroughness, this 570-page volume can’t be faulted. It analyzes and describes every recording by Love and Lee in depth, and not just the Love albums from the 1960s and 1970s that are most familiar. It also includes his handful of more obscure pre-Love recordings; his sporadic and erratic, usually low-profile post-1970s releases; and, crucially, the many solo recordings by Bryan MacLean, even MacLean’s barely known Christian music releases. While it’s a reference book more than anything else, it’s more readable and entertaining than the usual such enterprises, with plenty of quotes from the band and their associates drawn from books, articles, liner notes, and interviews, some pretty hard to find. Like a lot (most?) small press/self-published volumes, this has its share of typos and grammatical lapses that could have benefited from editing, but they’re not nearly as egregious as they are in many such productions.

The author’s assessment of Love and Lee’s work can be very generous, particularly for his work after Love’s fine first three albums in the mid-1960s. It’s much more generous than mine, for instance, as I fall into the camp of those who find his post-Forever Changes material far inferior, and sometimes quite dull. Still, Spevack isn’t afraid to dole out criticism when merited, and does know his stuff well, though sometimes the language is overly precious. Love, Lee, and MacLean did put out a lot of material recorded after 1967, and it can be a slog to get through every last entry—though not as exhausting as it would be to actually listen to all of it. Take heart, however—a little more than 200 pages deal with pre-1969 recordings, which itself offers a lot to digest, even if it’s by far the most interesting section of the book.

3. Through the Prism: Untold Rock Stories from the Hipgnosis Archive, by Aubrey Powell (Thames & Hudson). With Storm Thorgerson (and later Peter Christopherson), Powell was part of the Hipgnosis design team that produced album covers and other artwork for numerous rock bands. They are, by far, most famous for the numerous Pink Floyd covers in which they were involved between the late 1960s and early 1970s. But they also designed covers for Wings, Genesis, 10cc, Led Zeppelin, and plenty of other acts, as well as eventually moving into film. Powell’s book isn’t a thorough from start-to-finish memoir, but covers a lot of the main bases of his experiences, primarily with Hipgnosis, from the time it started in the late 1960s. The accounts are usually focused on the stories behind their most famous LP sleeves—several by Pink Floyd (not just The Dark Side of the Moon), The Lamb Lies Down on BroadwayVenus and Mars, and Houses of the Holy—though covers by the likes of 10cc are noted too, as are projects like product design and videos.

Powell is a pretty good storyteller, and his accounts are spiced by numerous illustrations—not just album sleeves, but also photos from location shoots and various unused designs. Maybe some of the more obscure Hipgnosis sleeves could have been discussed, like the hideous one for Toe Fat’s Two. Then again, the most interesting stories tend to be the ones associated with the most famous covers, like the elaborate operation necessary to get the image of the pig and Battersea Power Station for Pink Floyd’s Animals, or the burning man (actually a stunt man) for the same group’s Wish You Were Here. For those interested in the mechanics of how these designs were done, he sometimes offers details like camera models, though these aren’t too abundant.

It is striking how extreme and fanciful the ideas of some of these rock stars were for their covers, and how heedless of some risks Hipgnosis was in getting them done, whether it meant hanging out of helicopters or transporting statues to the Alps. These sometimes involved a lot of money and environmental resources, and were sometimes altered or canceled at the whim of artists and their management. Are those days gone? They’re certainly not the same as they were in the late twentieth century, especially as Hipgnosis often insisted on photos of real scenarios and objects.

4. Chapel of Love: The Story of New Orleans Girl Group the Dixie Cups, by Rosa Hawkins and Steve Bergman (University Press of Mississippi). Hawkins was one of the three women in the Dixie Cups, who had the #1 hit “Chapel of Love” in 1964 and a few others in the mid-‘60s in their brief recording career. The reasons it was so brief are explained in this slim but worthwhile memoir, although the book’s padded by some general historical information about the times. In one respect, the Dixie Cups’ ascent to brief stardom is like a fairy tale, getting discovered by Joe Jones (who had a big early-‘60s hit with “You Talk Too Much”); getting whisked to New York to get a record deal with Red Bird Records, run by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller; working with top Brill Building songwriter/producers Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich; and getting a #1 hit within a few months. Unlike many stories from such figures, Hawkins does go into the recording sessions, record releases, and general process of working out the songs in some detail.

The flipside of this near-instant success is grim even by the standards of music business duplicity. Hawkins’s account portrays Jones as a villain on the order of Gary Glitter and Jimmy Savile. He not only, as she tells it, repeatedly ripped off their earnings in numerous ways, hassling their right to use the Dixie Cups name for decades beyond the 1960s. He also repeatedly raped Hawkins, as well as physically taking advantage of the one of the other singers in a later version of the Dixie Cups. He also got them off Red Bird to a brief deal with ABC Paramount that didn’t work out well, and Hawkins feels they didn’t get much of a chance to record because of Jones’s bad reputation. Admirably considering the circumstances, the story’s told in a calm manner, making room for some other interesting things the group went through, like their harrowing tour of Vietnam and their cross-country bus tours and interactions with other mid-‘60s stars.

5. Tenement Kid, by Bobby Gillespie (Third Man). To UK audiences, Gillespie needs no introduction. The longtime frontman of Primal Scream had numerous British hit records, and before that was drummer in Jesus & Mary Chain in the mid-1980s. In the US, Primal Scream never got more than a cult following, maybe accounting for why this didn’t come out Stateside until 2022, though it was published in the UK the previous year. His memoir covers his tough working-class upbringing in Glasgow through his approximately decade-long rise to British stardom with Primal Scream’s 1991 album Screamadelica. It’s a pretty straightahead account in which Gillespie makes no bones about his frequent excesses, whether confrontational behavior onstage or indulgence in drugs, particularly ecstasy as Primal Scream immersed themselves in the acid house scene. This is tempered by his championship of socialist values and the communal experience of the acid house crowd, though the tension between maintaining these passions with a hunger for rock and roll stardom isn’t often addressed.

Aside from recounting his oft-volatile rides through Jesus and Mary Chain (where he was told he had to quit Primal Scream if he wanted to stay in the band) and Primal Scream, as well as his more obscure pre-JMC group the Wake, there’s a lot about the context that gave rise to musicians such as Gillespie. He was a big punk fan before performing, then getting into ‘60s garage and psychedelia, and then acid house, most of the while maintaining a passion for investigating other styles like soul. You kind of wonder how he found time to listen to all the records he was influenced by and incorporate them into what he was writing and recording. There are also insights into what it was like to be an act for the Creation label, whose chief honcho Alan McGee had been friends with Gillespie since their teenage years. For American audiences, even ones with knowledge of punk and post-punk from the time, he writes with zealous ardor about many bands and discs that were barely known in the US at the time, maybe even if you were constantly listening to college radio. His cockiness as to the innovations he saw Primal Scream making and joy in provoking audiences might verge on inflated self-importance to some readers, though as a writer he’s incisive and for the most part keeps your interest even if you’re not familiar with the ins and outs of his story or milieu.

6. Rock Concert, by Marc Myers (Grove Atlantic). Subtitled “an oral history as told by the artists, backstage insiders, and fans who were there,” this has accounts of performing and staging rock concerts from the early 1950s through the mid-1980s. That’s too big a subject to fully document in a 300-page book, and if you’re inclined to cite gaps like the relatively skimpy coverage of British and soul gigs, they’ll be plenty to pick on. It’s better to treat this as an episodic collection of memories and anecdotes, many by stars like Roger Waters and Alice Cooper, but also plenty from more behind-the-scenes promoters, stagehands, and concertgoers. Rock festivals in particular get a lot of space, but there’s also room for the earliest rock shows put together by Alan Freed in the early-to-mid-1950s, as well as the spectacle of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. There are also some thoughts on how rock transitioned to arenas and stadiums, though some of the nuts and bolts of how electronic ticketing developed and how shows with special effects were devised can be kind of dry. 

7. The Blues Dream of Billy Boy Arnold, by Billy Boy Arnold with Kim Field (University of Chicago Press). Chicago blues singer, songwriter, and harmonica player Arnold is most known for a batch of sides he cut for Vee-Jay in the mid-1950. In particular, he’s known for the original versions of “I Wish You Would” and “I Ain’t Got You,” both of which were covered for singles in 1964 by the Yardbirds when Eric Clapton was in the group. He’s also known for playing harmonica on Bo Diddley’s classic “I’m a Man,” one of the sides on Diddley’s first single in 1955. He didn’t record much in the two decades or so after that, unfortunate as that was the prime of electric Chicago blues and its crossover to R&B and rock. Still, he played a lot in the city and knew many of the Chicago blues, early rock’n’roll, and blues-rock greats, sometimes accompanying them on stage.Now in his mid-eighties, Arnold has a much sharper eye for detail than many musicians his age. His memoir is nonetheless uneven, if worthwhile for serious Chicago blues fans. Some parts ramble between subjects, and some are rather list-oriented as to things like who played at what club, or the basics on his numerous post-‘70s albums. The best sections are the detailed accounts of his early sessions on Vee-Jay and with Bo Diddley, but also his numerous comments on giants of the local scene and what is was like to meet and play with them. These include many key figures, like his early idol Sonny Boy Williamson (the first one), Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Junior Wells, and Little Walter, as well as young ‘60s white blues guys like Paul Butterfield and Charlie Musselwhite. He also has interesting memories of the Chess and Vee-Jay labels, and, sadly unsurprisingly, not getting paid royalties, particularly for “I Wish You Would” and “I Ain’t Got You.” He offers more, and insightful, comments about the need to write and perform original material than many blues musicians do in interviews and books, though he didn’t get as much chance to record it in his younger days as he should have.

Also out this year, but not a music book: My book San Francisco: Portrait of a City, on Taschen Books:

Top Dozen (Or So) Music History Documentaries of 2022

There was a slight slowdown in the kind of music documentaries I like to see in 2022, and not as many top-tier ones as there have been in some recent years. And there weren’t classic documentaries on the order of last year’s The Beatles: Get Back and Summer of Soul, or 2020’s Laurel Canyon. That’s how it goes sometimes. You can’t have high points like these every year.

Nonetheless, there were enough worth seeing to fill out a dozen or so reviews on my 2022 list, supplemented by reviews of a few 2021 releases I didn’t see until this year. As always, I didn’t get to every doc I might have liked, like the one on King Crimson, for instance. Some others I haven’t seen have only screened briefly at festivals so far, like the ones on 1970s L.A. session musicians, Judee Sill, Dionne Warwick (first screened at a 2021 festival, but not airing on CNN until January 2023), Roberta Flack (already screened at a festival, and not airing on PBS until January 2023), and Don Letts. If I see those in 2023 and like them, they’ll make it onto my 2023 best-of blogpost in my usual supplement of items worth noting from the previous year.

1. Travelin’ Band: Creedence Clearwater Revival at the Royal Albert Hall. In April 1970, CCR were filmed in concert in London’s Albert Hall. While the footage has unofficially circulated for a long time, this hour and a half documentary marks its first official release. To fill out the running time, though purposefully so, the first part is a condensed but useful rundown of how Creedence rose to superstardom, with excerpts from TV/concert performances and promo films, and some brief interview snippets from the era with band members. The majority of it simply presents the concert, filmed in a straightforward no-frills fashion. The image and sound  quality are better than they are on the unauthorized copies, and the performance is solid and gutsy.

Creedence weren’t the most visually exciting act, and besides leader John Fogerty, they weren’t too animated onstage. Fogerty famously dominated their music, and he also dominates their concert  presence, singing and shaking like an electric current is surging through his body. In retrospect the setlist could have benefited from some of their less frenetic classics like “Down on the Corner” and “Who’ll Stop the Rain.” But most of their big early hits are here, including “Proud Mary,” “Born on the Bayou,” “Green River,” “Fortunate Son,”  “Travelin’ Band,” and “Bad Moon Rising.” So are some of their better relatively deep tracks, particularly “Commotion,” and decent covers of “Midnight Special,” “Night Time Is the Right Time,” and “Good Golly Miss Molly.” The set-closing “Keep on Chooglin’” choogles on too long, but that’s how it often goes for concert finales, and most  of the set features far more concise numbers.

A good number of music documentaries these days try to be arty and act as much as a vehicle for a director’s personal expression as an actual document of the performer and the music. One such movie is detailed near the bottom of this list. That’s really not  necessary most of the time (and is sometimes a significant drawback), and wouldn’t be at all appropriate for Creedence Clearwater Revival, one of the most straightahead no-nonsense great groups of all time. So you get a straightahead, no-nonsense document here, and that’s how it should be, even if their interview comments are on the brief, ordinary, and sometimes even mundane side. I had not seen the promo film of “Looking Out My Back Door” that plays alongside some of the credits, so make sure you stick around for those.

2. The Lost Weekend: A Love Story“The Lost Weekend” is the name often given to the year and half or so from around mid-1973 to early 1975 when John Lennon and Yoko Ono were separated. The love story this documentary addresses was between Lennon and May Pang, an assistant to John and Yoko who became Lennon’s girlfriend during this period. She narrates this 95-minute film, which tells the story of her and John’s affair from her perspective. While her voiceover can be sentimental and melodramatic, it’s reinforced by a wealth of period film clips, photos, and interviews, some pretty rare. There are excerpts from TV interviews Lennon gave at the time, and Pang’s given since; home and amateur movies from the era; and interviews from associates like publicist Tony King, Alice Cooper, and session drummer Jim Keltner, though John’s son Julian is the only one featured in recent on-camera interviews (besides Pang herself in a brief reunion with Julian near the end). There’s not much Lennon music, but there are a good number of his drawings, some specifically (and graphically) about his relationship with Pang. Some animated sequences fill in some gaps where not much or any period films/photos/graphics are available.

Of course with John Lennon being long gone and Ono only represented by a few film clips, this might not be the fullest record of a pretty complicated situation. It does let Pang voice her take on it and memories at length, emphasizing that in her view Lennon had a lot of love for her and was often happy during this time. Yoko comes off as a fairly manipulative figure, helping to arrange the affair until she wanted to resume her life with John, and then setting up a scenario where Lennon visited her and never came back. It’s noted that communication and even intimate relations between Lennon and Pang didn’t entirely stop after he returned to Ono, though the post-1975 years don’t get much coverage. There are also some recollections and comments on Lennon’s sporadic visits with Paul McCartney in the mid-1970s, who delivered a message from Yoko to John asking him to return, though that wasn’t acted upon for some time. Considering she worked for Allen Klein’s company before becoming a personal assistant to Lennon and Ono, there aren’t comments on Klein and how he affected relations between the Beatles, though the termination of his position with the Beatles at the end of 1974 is noted with photos. But you can’t have everything, if Pang indeed had any insight into that complicated situation.

3. Neil Young, Harvest Time (Neil Young Archives). It’s hard to know whether to even list this as a standalone film, since it’s part of—and just one DVD disc—in a five-disc box of the 50th anniversary edition of Young’s Harvest album. In keeping with the kind of eccentric catalog marketing we expect from him, although a website dedicated to the film indicated that screening times would be displayed starting December 1, none have. It has screened a few times in at least one theater in Marin County, however, and that’s enough to count it as a documentary you (hopefully) won’t have to buy the whole box to see.

Harvest Time is a two-hour documentary, or perhaps more precisely, a compilation of footage taken during the making of Harvest. This includes recording sessions at his barn in Northern California and Nashville with the Stray Gators; vocal overdubs in New York with Stephen Stills and David Crosby (for “Alabama”) and Stills and Graham Nash (for “Words”); the two tracks Young recorded, on piano and vocals, with the London Symphony Orchestra in London; and miscellaneous scenes of Young and others being briefly interviewed, fooling around and relaxing on his ranch and in studios, and Neil being interviewed at a Nashville radio station. Basic subtitles tell you who’s who, though since it does jump from place to place in non-chronological sequence, it would have helped to have some other basic subtitles explaining how the clips fit into the album’s evolution.

Since the pace is erratic and at times drags, this is primarily for serious Young fans. There are a lot of those, however, and the better parts, which comprise the majority of the film, are certainly interesting, for close looks at the Harvest material as both works-in-progress and nearly-final versions. Some of the repetitious jamming on basic riffs and chord progressions at the barn goes on way too long (especially in the instrumental part of “Words”). But the more concise performances are very good and very live, including Young playing with the symphony, which is done in the same room as the orchestra, not as overdubs. It’s pleasing to see Young getting along well with the rest of CSNY on their vocal sessions, and there are appearances, if cameo-like, from a number of important associates, like producer Elliot Mazer, keyboardist and sometime arranger Jack Nitzsche, and Louis Avila, the ranch caretaker who inspired “Old Man.”

While the interview bits can be mumbly and unrevealing, a few interesting comments pop up. Young says “Alabama” wasn’t so much about the state Alabama as things he was feeling, and when London Symphony Orchestra conductor David Meecham asks him if he knows about Pink Floyd, he seems unfamiliar with the group—not as surprising, maybe, as you might think, since they had yet to become US superstars with Dark Side of the Moon. The young boy (who looks about ten) who does an impromptu off-the-air interview with him at the radio station actually asks reasonable questions for someone his age, and Young tells him his favorite artist, at least at the moment, is Merle Haggard. The kid had interviewed Ringo Starr when he was in Nashville to do Beaucoup of Blues, and says Ringo told him he didn’t enjoy making Let It Be. Young comments, fairly reasonably, that it could have been because that record was done in pieces (albeit most of it was done in January 1969), and that Buffalo Springfield’s last album was also done that way.

Some of the musical highlights are performances that didn’t figure or are unlike those on the final album, like a solo piano version of “Journey Through the Past”; a solo banjo version of “Out on the Weekend”; and an unplugged guitar-harmonica version of “Heart of Gold.” If you want more from this era, the box has Young’s just-over-half-hour BBC TV concert from February 23, 1971 on both DVD and CD.

4. Johnny Hallyday: Beyond Rock (Netflix). Hallyday was about the closest equivalent France had to Elvis Presley, though it’s doubtful his rabid French fans (and there were many) would quite claim he was Elvis’s equal. This five-part, nearly three-hour documentary series covers his long and volatile career with fervor, with many, many archival Hallyday performance and interview clips. There are also archival clips of his wives and lovers (including his first wife Sylvie Vartan, herself a big French singing star), and several associates, biographers, and general media figures are heard in voiceover comments. The pace is so fast it verges on hectic, covering his life from his beginnings as a teenage hitmaker heavily influenced by American rock’n’roll, through his next half century or so as an up-and-down superstar and occasional actor.

Although there are a good number of clips of Hallyday in musical performance from the early 1960s through the early twenty-first century, nerd collectors from the English-speaking world should be cautioned that it’s not too heavy on analysis of his records and musical progression, such as it was. If you want stories about the Jimi Hendrix Experience opening for him on some of their first shows in late 1966, or the Small Faces  backing him on some late-‘60s recordings, or his attempts to break into foreign markets by recording in Nashville and appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show—or even his fine starring role in the 2002 film The Man on the Train, which might be the artistic feat for which he’s most known to English-speaking audiences—be warned that there are none. There is, however, a lot about his stormy marriages and romances, which besides Vartan included noted singer Nanette Workman and star French actress Nathalie Baye (herself more known to British and North American audiences than Hallyday), as well as the teenage daughter of one of his best friends, who became his third wife. There’s also a lot about his generally reckless celebrity behavior, including car crashes, alcoholism, and an attempted suicide.

Plus there’s plenty of time given to his over-the-top, massively expensive in-concert spectacles, which got ever more gargantuan in his later years. Even if Hallyday’s music is not to your taste, these have their share of sheer weirdness, as when Paul Anka keeps trying to get a sort of MIA Johnny to come out and start a major Las Vegas concert in the mid-1990s. Hallyday helped fly over many French fans for these shows, which were considered a major disappointment. These were committed admirers of the singer whose general appraisal of the man’s talents were unlikely to be dampened, but non-French viewers will likely still be mystified by his massive French superstardom, culminating in a large state funeral after his 2017 death. As unlikely as this series will be to make new converts outside of his homeland, it has its share of entertainment and social history value, if bloated a bit by the frequent focus on his personal foibles and family issues.

5. Buffy Sainte-Marie: Carry It On. This hour-and-a-half documentary in the American Masters series follows a common format for that PBS program: interviews (many recently done with Sainte-Marie), numerous brief archival performance and interview clips (many of the music ones are exceptionally brief), and plenty of historical photos. The format might be typical, and with a career as long and multi-dimensional as hers, there’s no way to cover everything, or cover much of what it does touch upon, in depth. What is presented is worthwhile, however, particularly Sainte-Marie’s own extensive memories and perspectives, even if some of them have been covered quite a bit in other interviews. Associates interviewed include Taj Mahal, Steppenwolf’s John Kay, Robbie Robertson, and in a testament to how highly regarded she is by some other musicians who sold a lot more records, Joni Mitchell (interviewed while the film was in production, and after her very serious illnesses of recent years).

While her music is naturally detailed from her early-‘60s folk revival roots to a November 2021 concert shortly after the famed venue (Toronto’s Massey Hall) reopened, so is her acting (including her long-running part-time cast membership in Sesame Street), activism on behalf of Native Americans, and her views on how she feels her music was actively suppressed by the government in the 1960s and 1970s. Her sometimes rough experiences in the music business, and particularly Vanguard Records, are noted. So are, to an unusual degree even for a public television special, the sexual molestation she suffered as a child and the abuse she endured in her marriage to her second husband, musician/arranger/songwriter Jack Nitzsche. Although there’s much praise heaped upon Sainte-Marie’s music and character, an unexpected note is sounded by Joni Mitchell (who generally is very complimentary about Buffy) in how Mitchell changed her opinion about “Universal Soldier,” feeling it was inappropriate for the effect it might have on soldiers returning from Vietnam.

Sainte-Marie says that Mitchell didn’t sign to Vanguard because of how they’d treated her, and Mitchell remembers not going with Vanguard because of unreasonable terms, specifically requiring multiple albums per year. It’s a footnote of sorts within this documentary, but it would be interesting to get Vanguard’s point of view on this, whether their perspective would be different or not. Maynard Solomon, the key executive at Vanguard, died in 2020, and of course might not have been available or willing to participate in a project like this. I did get to speak to him briefly when I was researching my books on 1960s folk-rock about twenty years ago, and I don’t know whether the label’s relationship with Sainte-Marie would have come up had I interviewed him, but in any case he declined to be interviewed.

6. Bonnie Blue: James Cotton’s Life in the BluesCotton had a long career as one of the best blues harmonica players, and was also a serviceable singer and songwriter, though his instrumental virtuosity was by far his biggest distinction. This documentary is kind of sketchy as far as presenting a thorough biography, though it hits on key points like his first recordings for Sun Records in the 1950s; his work as a vital sideman to Muddy Waters; his crossover to white rock audiences starting in the late 1960s; and his struggles with throat cancer late in life, which didn’t keep him from continuing to play harmonica and record. Cotton was interviewed for the film not long before his 2017 death, though these segments aren’t too numerous, and subtitles are used as his voice had been ravaged by disease. There are many comments by some who knew or worked with him, and of course some crucial associates from his prime, like Waters, are gone (in some cases very long gone). So much of the interview material was done with musicians who worked or were influenced by him in his final decades, some with rather tenuous connections to the man. Also interviewed were two of his managers (one of whom was also his wife in his final decade), along with a girlfriend from the ‘70s.

Much is left uncovered in this film, like his records for Verve and Vanguard in the late 1960s, arguably his best (and for that matter most of his other records). A previous wife is mentioned, with few additional details. But there’s some good stuff, like his memory of how he came up with the harmonica riffs for Waters’s classic “Got My Mojo Working,” which he feels sold the song. There are also archive clips, if usually on the brief side, of Cotton in performance going back to his appearance in Muddy’s band at the Newport 1960 Folk Festival. Some color footage of Cotton at his most animated, looking to be from the late ‘60s, is good enough that you wish there was more, perhaps as DVD/Blu-ray extras in the future. His spot on Playboy After Dark in the late ‘60s, with Luther Tucker on guitar, is conspicuously missing, maybe for licensing reasons. 

One minor part of the film that caught my attention, though it’s not too crucial to the whole: Al Dotoli, who managed Cotton in the 1970s, discusses freeing James from a management deal with Albert Grossman. Dotoli says that Grossman sent Cotton out for low-priced gigs to fill out bills when bigger stars weren’t available, and feels Grossman was destroying the bluesman’s career by undervaluing him. He remembers freeing Cotton from Grossman’s management after telling Grossman that he’d be getting a lawyer involved. Subsequently, Dotoli relates, Cotton’s fees went way up for concerts. Grossman did not have a reputation of being easily cowed, and I wonder if there is more to this story, though I don’t think it will be told if so, especially with Grossman also long gone.

7. Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues. There’s a lot of material sourced for this documentary, including archival clips stretching from the early 1930s to shortly before Armstrong’s death in the early 1970s; interviews, some with Armstrong, some on camera but most heard as audio-only over images, with several dozen musicians and critics; and interview tapes the jazz legend made discussing his life in his later years. While it covers a lot of territory, it’s kind of rambling, jumping between eras and subjects, if in a somewhat chronological order more often than not. There are many other places you can learn about Armstrong in a more thorough manner that’s sequenced in an order where it’s easier to follow what happened when. However, there aren’t many other, if any other, places you can see and hear so much of and about him at once, much of it rare. For that reason it’s worth viewing, though it might be more something to stoke your curiosity about learning more than a definitive summarization up of what’s most important about Armstrong.

Within a format that’s not my first choice for structuring documentaries, this includes quite a few clips from his numerous appearances in films; discussion of his civil rights activism, though this was muted in comparison to some of his contemporaries, particularly younger ones; and his overseas trips that helped spread jazz and US culture abroad. His music isn’t ignored, some of the points made including how he helped define the range employed by jazz with his use of high notes, and how his style of scat singing was, like his trumpet playing, innovative and influential. One of the most amusing references is to a quote by James Baldwin, who after hearing Armstrong’s version of “The Star Spangled Banner” remarked that it was the first time he’d liked that song. Reviews of this film have sometimes emphasized how the previously unheard interview tapes have a lot of racy language, but although that would have been scandalous had it been widely heard at the time, it’s now not too much out of the ordinary for how many celebrities have been caught talking on record.

8. Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story. This is tangentially related to rock music history, and even that tangent might be little known or unknown to many outside of the UK. In the UK, however, Savile was hugely famous as a radio disc jockey and host of Top of the Pops. He was also highly visible in other TV programs and media, and as a fundraiser for charities and general hobnobber with celebrities, getting knighted in 1990. In the US, his connection to rock is mostly known via his role as compere in mid-‘60s NME Pollwinners Concert clips that have gained wide circulation. Globally, he’s now hugely infamous as having been revealed as a sex predator in hundreds of cases that came to light soon after his 2011 death.

This two-part, three-hour documentary doesn’t cover his life in a linear fashion, and non-UK viewers might come away with gaps as to his rise to fame and his chief activities. Instead, it emphasizes his ghastly private life, and the trail that led to the posthumous revelation of his nefarious deeds, as well as his successful burial of those from legal and public eyes while he was around. As the subtitle announces, it’s a horrific story, combining lots of vintage footage with interviews with many of his associates and investigators. Grim it is, not only if principally for documenting his sex crimes. Those aside, he was a pretty creepy fellow with no apparent inner life, and, at least to this viewer, not very funny, though it was as a comedian of sorts that he gained renown. Many of his jokes about what he did in his free time, glossed over as not-so-naughty bits when they were uttered in very public forums, are strikingly sexist. With hindsight, they’re also very strong hints as to what he was really up to on his own time, which makes the public’s acceptance of his behavior galling, as well as the actual behavior itself.

9. If These Walls Could SingThe history of Abbey Road Studios, formerly EMI Studios, is enormously extensive even if you don’t count what the Beatles recorded there. It’s too much to cover too comprehensively in a ninety-minute documentary, which does include a lot of Beatles, though not as much as you can find out in many other sources. The subject warrants a multi-part series, but leaving aside the incompleteness and just going on what is covered, this has some interesting material. This includes first-hand interviews with Ringo Starr, Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Cliff Richard, Elton John, the Gallaghers from Oasis, and naturally Paul McCartney, whose daughter Mary directed this Disney-streaming feature. There are also some interesting archive clips, not just of the lives of the above-named artists, but also less obvious names like Cilla Black and classical cellist Jacqueline du Pre. There are a few uncommon stories and unexpected inclusions, like Jimmy Page and Shirley Bassey remembering recording the theme to Goldfinger, where Bassey collapsed after hitting the final operatic sustained note, and Fela, who’s discussed (not interviewed, obviously) in relation to his ‘70s recordings there.

Fans of all sorts of mainstream and specialized tastes, of course, can list a bunch of interesting artists and projects that aren’t covered. Just in the Beatles era, there’s the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle and the Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow, which might not be as iconic as Sgt. Pepper, but also expanded the boundaries of what was possible in a rock studio recording. The Hollies are only covered in relation to Elton John’s piano part on “He’s Not Heavy, He’s My Brother,” and Merseybeaters Gerry & the Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer pretty much skipped (not to mention George Martin-produced mod band the Action, if you want to get cultish). Speaking of Martin, what about the Goons and Peter Sellers comedy records he made before the Beatles? Or even the early Beatles solo records by George Harrison and John Lennon where sessions were held at Abbey Road? 

The list could go on, though for what’s covered, the value lies not so much in novel information as hearing the stories told in the words of the participants. Starr has a funny comment about how McCartney would nag the Beatles to record: “If hadn’t had been for him, we’d have made like three albums instead of eight.” Actually the Beatles made more than eight albums (eleven full ones in the UK plus some non-album EPs and singles), but the point’s clear enough. The last sections dragged as I’m not interested in John Williams’s Star Wars soundtracks or the more recent artists, but appreciation of those parts will vary according to viewers’ tastes, not the competent direction.

Spoilsport alert: a clip of Pink Floyd from early 1967 identified as having taken place in Abbey Road’s Studio Three was actually filmed in Sound Techniques, as verified by numerous Pink Floyd/Syd Barrett books. Quality control slipped on that one. More seriously, the section with Kanye West, though brief, is the kind of inclusion not welcome here or anywhere else.

10. The Sound of 007 (Prime Video). There have been no other film series besides James Bond’s where the music is so well known or important. Of course, there have been few if any popular series of this length, accounting in part for the familiarity of many of the theme songs (and some motifs in the soundtracks) even to viewers who haven’t seen many of them, or aren’t particular fans of the franchise. This documentary covers a lot of the music used from the first Bond films in the early 1960s to the present, with first-hand and vintage interviewers with many of the performers, composers, record producers, and film producers. There are also many clips from the movies and some of performances of the songs, which are necessarily brief to keep within the ninety minutes.

No one’s taste is going to be so broad that they’ll like all (or perhaps even the majority) of the Bond music, as the styles stretch over more than half a century. But it’s likely almost everyone likes at least something, even if you haven’t kept up with the series for many years, as I haven’t. Performers represented, and sometimes interviewed, include Paul McCartney, Shirley Bassey (of both “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds Are Forever” fame), Tom Jones (“Thunderball”), Nancy Sinatra (“You Only Live Twice”), Jack White, Billie Eilish, Tina Turner, Duran Duran, and naturally John Barry, the most important by far of the composers who’ve worked on the instrumental part of the soundtracks. The origination of the super-familiar principal instrumental theme is discussed in some depth, and the point is rightly conveyed that Barry managed to combine big band and orchestral music, as well as parts of jazz, pop, and rock. Structurally this jumps back and forth between eras and themes pretty quickly, and a more chronological approach would have pleased me, if not necessarily the majority of viewers. There’s still something of interest for almost everyone here, though it’s likely few if any will be interested in all of the music discussed.

11. Moonage Daydream. Perhaps the most discussed and to some degree acclaimed music documentary of the year, this somewhat avant-garde look at David Bowie got its share of good-to-rave reviews in the music and mainstream press, including five-star ratings by the Guardian and Record Collector. Every social media post I saw about it in the week after its release was similarly complimentary. I was wary, however, after a filmmaker, musician, and general fanatical rock/Bowie fan whose opinion I respect saw it in IMAX days after its release and expressed major, even severe disappointment. He went as far as dubbing it an infomercial for Bowie’s catalog. For good measure, he added that all the Bowie fans he knew—and he knows more than one or two—agreed with his assessment. So do I, even if I’m not quite as down on the movie as he is. If nothing else, it’s good to know I’m not alone, even if he and I might be in the minority.

It’s hard to know where to start in even describing, let alone judging, this strange take on Bowie’s legacy and accomplishments. It’s not laid out in linear chronological fashion, and doesn’t have interview material with anyone but Bowie, represented both by visual and voiceover archive interview clips. I can handle this, though it’s not my favorite form of documentary. However, it seemed like a good third or so of the movie was loud and garish hoo-hah, including lots of sequences featuring special effects graphics and historical images/photos that were not specifically (or often even generally) related to Bowie. Such images/photos were used a lot in Todd Haynes’s Velvet Underground documentary, which I also thought unnecessary in their abundance. But there’s a lot more such material in Moonage Daydream.

More importantly, even if I thought the VU documentary was imperfect, generally it was pretty worthwhile. I can’t strongly recommend Moonage Daydream, even after (yes) seeing it in IMAX. There are plenty of snippets, if usually brief, of Bowie in performance, some rare, some pretty common. There is, however (and it seems deliberately), little context, or sense of how exactly he evolved through his various unpredictable phases, other than some reflections on his move toward the superstar mainstream in the 1980s. There’s also an inordinately large amount of screen time given to seeing Bowie on escalators or walking around exotic locations, although at least he’s present, unlike in the march of images without Bowie associations.

One uncredited voiceover (not Bowie’s), presumably from a critic or media figure, credits him with running before he even walked considering his accomplishments in several media, including music, film, and (with the Elephant Man) theater. It’s true he explored all those mediums, but he did have to walk before he ran, struggling for five years with several record labels and non-hit records before his 1969 “Space Odyssey” hit. Then there were three more years before his next hit, which included some of his best (though not most commercially successful) music. This isn’t addressed at all, other than with the inclusion of some very brief images from the period. Nor is his short but significant shift toward blue-eyed soul music in the mid-1970s.

Many (especially young viewers) not too familiar with Bowie will likely find the movie’s arc hard or impossible to follow (and in his Record Collector interview, director Brett Morgen contended there was an arc and narrative). Big Bowie fans won’t find much here, at least in the way of hard musical content and perspectives from the singer himself, with which they’re not already familiar. So I’m not sure who’ll get a lot out of watching it—other than, admittedly, the numerous reviewers and fans who are praising or raving about the film.

Although some of the press for the film emphasized the director’s access to rare and previously uncirculating material from Bowie’s archive, there’s relatively little such footage to see (or voice to hear) for fans to chew on. Some of the footage most heavily drawn upon is pretty common, like sequences from D.A. Pennebaker’s Ziggy Stardust documentary of a 1973 concert, or scenes from his best known (and best) film as an actor, The Man Who Fell to Earth. Key associates like Mick Ronson are seen but not mentioned. Some key associates, like his first wife Angie, aren’t mentioned or, as far as I could tell, seen; it’s hard to say with the near nonstop assault of images, many brief. These include glimpses of a script for a Diamond Dogs film and a 1974 diary (I think that’s the year; it flew by onscreen fast) that would be interesting to read, though you only see fleeting glimpses that will be impossible to decode unless you can read freeze frames on home video.

So what’s this doing on my year-end list? There is some material that’s uncommon, like Jeff Beck’s guest spot on lead guitar when Bowie does “Love Me Do” and “The Jean Genie” in the 1973 “retirement” concert Pennebaker filmed, which didn’t make it into the Ziggy Stardust documentary. I’m not sure where the performance of “Rock and Roll with Me” was filmed—I think it might be an outtake from the mid-‘70s Cracked Actor TV documentary (excerpted a bit in various places in Moonage Daydream)—but I hadn’t seen it before. I’ve seen a lot, but not all, Bowie interview clips; some here were unfamiliar and fairly interesting.

There’s also some soundcheck and concert footage from 1978 London performances that Record Collector hailed as “the holiest of holy grails,” though it’s not my main Bowie era. Asked by the magazine whether the whole gig exists on film or Moonage Daydream includes everything from that source, director Morgen retorted, “Do you have another question?” It’s the kind of answer you might associate with someone like Lou Reed (himself seen only very briefly, despite his substantial influence upon and interaction with Bowie), and not an appropriate one for someone charged with accessing Bowie’s archive for what might be the only such extensive opportunity.

This was a long review, and for the short version, I’ll use a two-word quote from The Man Who Fell to Earth. Bowie’s character asks his former chief scientist (played by Rip Torn) if the scientist liked the album he’s made, The Visitor. Torn’s character replies tersely, “Not much.” An opinion to which the director of Moonage Daydream might respond by quoting Bowie’s character’s response: “Oh. Well, I didn’t make it for you anyway.”

12. Spector (Showtime). This three-and-a-half-hour, four-part docuseries isn’t quite a music history film. More than half of it’s specifically devoted to Spector’s trials for the murder of Lana Clarkson, though his musical career takes up the majority of the first episode, and some of the second. His trials, which resulted in a long prison sentence in which he died in jail, should not be ignored in an overview of his life, and nor should his frequent harmful and abusive behavior. Music was a big part of his life, however, and could have gotten more attention than it does here. What’s covered of that part of his history is pretty interesting, including good interviews with a number of close associates, among them Carol Connor of the Teddy Bears; fellow Brill Building songwriter-producer Jeff Barry; Darlene Love; La La Brooks of the Crystals (who gives a notably different account of the production of “Da Doo Ron Ron” than Love does); Nedra Talley of the Ronettes; session musicians Don Randi and Carol Kaye; biographer Mick Brown, who did the last interview with Spector before Clarkson’s death; and, if only briefly from archive footage, Ronnie Spector and Tina Turner. Phil Spector is represented by some archive footage, some interview clips from the early 2000s from Vikram Jayanti’s documentary The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector (Jayanti is also interviewed), and scenes of Spector in the courtroom.

This is more of a true crime documentary than a music one, and that side of the story is covered exhaustively, and not just with courtroom footage and period news clips. There are also interviews with prosecution and defense attorneys, Spector’s driver the night of the murder, a juror, Spector’s daughter Nicole, Clarkson’s mother, and friends and associates of Clarkson, who’s seen in much footage taken from her work as an actress and comedian. If you’re as sensitive to chronological accuracy as I am, it’s unfortunate the sequencing can give the impression that Spector produced John Lennon’s Rock’n’Roll album before his marriage to Ronnie Spector nearly a decade earlier, though there aren’t other missteps on that order. The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector, from 2009, has not been available on home video or through streaming as far as I know, but has some other interesting information and perspectives about Spector’s work and criminal activity.

13. Just a Mortal Man: The Jerry Lawson Story. Jerry Lawson was lead singer in the Persuasions, the (usually) a cappella harmony group with a strong soul bent. This documentary aired on PBS, and Persuasions fans should be aware that it’s a film about Lawson, not specifically about the Persuasions, though they strongly figure in the coverage. The approach is conventional, with numerous brief bits of archival performance footage as far back as 1968 spicing memories from Lawson (who died when the project was in post-production), family, associates (the closest of which is manager/producer David Dashev), and later vocal groups who claim the Persuasions as an influence. There are plenty of sincere testimonies to his talent and character that, again in common with many music documentaries, could have done with some editing to avoid repetition of similar sentiments.

If you’re looking for in-depth examination of the Persuasions’ career, this comes up short. Frank Zappa’s involvement in helping launch their recording career is touched upon only briefly; the other Persuasions, aside from bass singer James Hayes, are barely mentioned; and their albums hardly discussed. There’s a lot about Lawson’s personal life, including his family background; his unfortunate fallout late in life with Hayes, the Persuasion to whom he was closest; his problems with alcohol, though he stayed sober the last twenty years of his life; his second marriage; and his post-Persuasions work helping the developmentally disabled in Arizona. While acknowledging that the intent of the filmmakers was probably not to cover all the bases of the Persuasions, the too-brief numerous performance snippets from the late 1960s and 1970s make one hope someone writes a biography of this unusual and creative group, as much of a niche project as that is.

The following movies came out in 2021, but I didn’t see them until 2022:

1. Ennio. Although this has a 2021 date, as far as I know this two-and-a-half-hour documentary on Ennio Morricone has barely shown in the US, where I saw it as an online stream as part of a festival. Morricone was incredibly prolific in his lengthy career, and maybe there are some committed fans who will be dissatisfied with what it doesn’t include, or the brief coverage of many of the soundtracks and recordings it does cover. I can’t imagine too many people being dissatisfied with this film, however, since it gets through an immense amount of ground. There are extensive interviews with Morricone himself, by the looks of them done not long before his 2020 death, in which his recollection is good and his stories interesting. There are also several dozen interviews with associates and composers, many of them not so well known to English-speaking audiences. But quite a few of them are, including Joan Baez, Clint Eastwood, and directors Sergio Leone, Bernardo Bertolucci, Roland Jaffe, and Quentin Tarantino.

There are also excerpts from dozens of the films he soundtracked, from the internationally famous to the obscure. There’s some attention paid to the ‘60s Italian pop records he worked on as arranger, and while most of those artists are unfamiliar to English-speaking listeners, he occasionally did work with American stars—not just Baez, but also Paul Anka and Chet Baker. There are also archive clips dating back to his boyhood of Morricone himself in performance (on trumpet or, later, conducting) and being interviewed, as well as of interviews about Morricone. It does drag a bit near the end as awards and tributes dominate the screen, and certainly the most interesting and bulkiest sections address the peak of his career in the 1960s and 1970s. But while two-and-a-half hours might sound like too much if you’re not a fanatic, the pace is pretty snappy, and the assembly of clips from so many sources impressive.

2. The Beatles in India (MVD). Indian music was a significant influence on the Beatles for a while, and so was the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for almost a year, culminating in the Beatles’ visit to study transcendental meditation with him in Rishikesh. This documentary looks at how they (and particularly George Harrison) integrated the sitar and Indian music into some of their songs and records in the mid-1960s, and their visit to Rishikesh in early 1968, which ended with the group leaving without finishing their TM course. This ground has been covered by many other books and some films, but to its credit, this does have some material that will be unfamiliar even to big Beatles fans. In particular, there are film clips and interviews from their 1966 stopover on the way back from Manila; clips from Harrison’s visit to study sitar with Ravi Shankar later that year, including bits from a radio interview that wasn’t rediscovered for many years; and quite a bit from the 1968 Rishikesh jaunt. 

There are also interviews with some Beatles associates, most valuably George’s first wife Pattie Boyd; some Indian journalists and photographers who interacted with the group; and some of the other people who were in Rishikesh when the Beatles were there, including the mother of the tiger hunter who inspired “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill.” True, a lot of people aren’t heard from, whether the surviving Beatles, Donovan (also at Rishikesh), Mike Love (also at Rishikesh), or Mia Farrow (also at Rishikesh). There’s also some extraneous Beatlemania footage and interviews that could have been excised to pare this down a bit. It’s still above average for the many peripheral Beatles documentaries made without a ton of resources.

3. Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road (Texas Pet Sounds Productions). This follows a format that plenty of other rock and celebrity docs do, mixing some (not a ton) of vintage footage and interviews with plentiful testimonials from fellow musicians and recent footage of Wilson talking, recording, and performing. While some of the talking heads are from veteran stars (Elton John, Bruce Springsteen), others are from much younger artists of subsequent generations, making basic points about Brian’s life and work. Much of the content stems from conversations between Wilson and his music journalist friend Jason Fine as they drive around Los Angeles, sometimes revisiting his former homes and haunts. Wilson’s never seemed the most comfortable interview subject, and his memories and answers can be pretty terse here.

There are other documentaries that will tell you more about Wilson and the Beach Boys, and some big fans might be disappointed there’s not more substance in this one. So might some more casual fans, the film jumping back and forth chronologically without giving a linear history of his life and artistic evolution. Whatever your grounding, it’s best to treat this as a modest endeavor that doesn’t have excessive depth, but has interesting stories here and there. It does touch upon some sensitive subjects like his rough relationships with his father and psychiatrist Eugene Landy, and celebrates his ones with brothers Carl and Dennis, though Mike Love is barely mentioned (albeit Brian does praise his singing). There’s also some, though not much, old Beach Boys footage that isn’t often seen, like a 1964 interview in Oklahoma.

Note that the fifteen minutes of DVD extra are worth seeing if you’re interested enough to see the main documentary, since the outtakes are about on par with what’s in the principal feature, and don’t overlap in the subjects covered. If you want something to get angry about, a clip of the Beach Boys performing “I Get Around” is subtitled as being from 1963, though the song wasn’t recorded until 1964.

4. Fanny: The Right to Rock. Fanny were one of the first all-women rock bands who played their own instruments to make a mark, issuing a few albums on major labels in the early 1970s. I find their story more interesting than their music, which was hard rock with touches of glam, but the story’s told pretty well in this documentary. Most of Fanny’s members were interviewed (with keyboardist Nickey Barclay a notable exception), as were producers Richard Perry and Todd Rundgren, and a few admiring famed musicians like Bonnie Raitt, Kate Pierson of the B-52’s, and Kathy Valentine of the Go-Go’s. There’s not a ton of archival Fanny footage, but there’s some, as well as many vintage photos. Aside from the expected obstacles they ran into as a pioneering all-women band, the discrimination some members faced because of their Filipino background and/or gay sexuality is also discussed. So are the wild times at their Los Angeles group home in the early 1970s; the painful departure of original drummer Brie Howard, ascribed to getting pushed out at the behest of Perry; and how their Top Thirty single “Butter Boy” was inspired by (though not about) David Bowie, a fan of the group who had a brief relationship bassist Jean Millington.

Millington does speculate at one point that Fanny didn’t get bigger because they didn’t have great pop songs of the kind the Go-Go’s would. Personnel changes and lack of commercial headway led to their split in the mid-1970s, but Jean Millington, her sister and lead guitarist June Millington, and Howard reunited for a 2018 album. Much of the film focuses on this reunion and the recording sessions, though in a sad and unexpected turn of events, Jean Millington had a stroke that paralyzed her right side a week before the reunited lineup were to play their first show.

5. Punk the Capital: Building a Sound Movement (Passion River). From about the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, Washington, DC had one of the most active punk scenes, becoming particularly known for hardcore-oriented groups from the early 1980s like Minor Threat. This hour and a half documentary covers its history pretty well, with interviews from key figures like Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins (who sang punk in DC before joining Black Flag), but also lots of other musicians, writers, recording studio personnel, and other scenemakers. Some of the bands interviewed and/or seen in archive footage are pretty obscure, at least if you’re not a punk collector, a la Enzymes, the Nurses, and Tru Fax and the Insaniacs. Others managed to make an impression outside DC and a good amount of records, like the Slickee Boys and Bad Brains. Be aware that much of the archive footage, with plenty of slam dancing and stage diving from the later years, is dark and blurry, though that’s kind of to be expected in much of what survives from the punk underground.

In some ways, the DC scene was typical of punk communities that made a mark: outsiders and misfits finding a home, wanting to do something different than the mainstream, doing things yourself when it seemed impossible through conventional channels, and the like. The key venues Madam’s Organ and the 9:30 club are part of the story, as is Dischord Records, who put out many records associated with DC punk, and were run by Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson. Like some other regional punk hotbeds, such as the ones in Southern California, DC punk was in danger of getting dangerous as the audience expanded and more thuggish violence occurred at shows. That’s discussed too, and it’s also noted that DC punk maintains a following as the scene was more heavily documented and archived than its usual counterparts.

The DVD has about fifty minutes of extras for the dedicated, including additional interviews with and footage of Scream, Void, and the Slickee Boys. 1960s garage rock completists should note that there’s an unexpected brief sequence with material about ‘60s DC garage band the Hangmen, since they were managed by the father of a couple guys in Scream.