As the world again mourned the loss of a pioneering talent—Aretha Franklin, who died in August—PW was readying our annual look at the season’s music books. In a bittersweet note of timing, a portrait of the Queen of Soul appears on the cover of the forthcoming Voices (Counterpoint), in which Nick Coleman examines the subtleties of musical expression.
It’s among several titles that turn a critic’s eye toward various performers and genres. Other books look at the creators behind the hits, or examine the interaction of popular music and sociopolitical history. In addition to previewing these titles, we also speak with booksellers about the music books that have them most excited for the coming season, making for a harmonious collaboration.
Cult of Personality
The next several months bring a new wave of personal reflections from rock titans and pop idols, as well as profiles that aim to shed light from an informed observer’s perspective.
Acid for the Children
Flea. Grand Central, Nov.
Every self-respecting rock band should spawn at least one live-to-tell memoir, and now the Red Hot Chili Peppers has its second. Following lead singer Anthony Kiedis’s Scar Tissue, which has sold 429,000 print copies since it pubbed in 2004, the tale of Flea, the band’s virtuoso bassist and ants-in-his-pants showman, is one of de rigueur drug excess and edgy living that ultimately leads to self-discovery.
Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star: The War Years, 1940–1946
Gary Giddins. Little, Brown, Nov.
Singer, actor, and radio personality Bing Crosby was the greatest star in the American cultural firmament during the WWII era. In the second volume of Giddins’s massive biography project—after 2001’s A Pocketful of Dreams—the eminent jazz critic captures Der Bingle at the peak of his career. “Giddins packs exhaustive research and detail into his sprawling narrative while keeping the prose relaxed and vivid,” our starred review said, “and sprinkles in shrewd critical assessments of Crosby’s music and films.”
Andrea Warner. Greystone, Sept.
Sainte-Marie, a Cree Canadian, has made her mark as a spellbinding performer, a wide-ranging songwriter (“Universal Soldier,” “Until It’s Time for You to Go,” “Up Where We Belong”), and a tireless indigenous rights activist. Pop culture writer Warner charts the career of the 1960s folk icon, revealing the passion of her music, her personal relationships, and her advocacy. Joni Mitchell contributes the foreword.
Hindsight & All the Things I Can’t See in Front of Me
Justin Timberlake. Harper Design, Nov.
Earlier this year, just ahead of a Super Bowl halftime show performance and album drop, Billboard staff debated: “Is Justin Timberlake the Best Male Pop Star of the 21st Century?” His forthcoming book, under embargo until release and written with Sandra Bark, does not purport to answer that question, but instead offers fans numerous personal photos, anecdotes, and other material drawn from his childhood through the present.
K.K. Downing, with Mark Eglinton. Da Capo, Sept.
In what our review called a “detailed and earnest look,” Downing recounts his four-decade career with Judas Priest. The now-retired axe man witnessed firsthand the group’s commercial heyday in the 1980s, its intense rivalry with fellow Brit metal maniacs Iron Maiden, and the notorious legal controversy, ultimately dismissed, linking the band’s lyrics to teen suicide.
My Love Story
Tina Turner. Atria, Oct.
At the apex of her extraordinary, if unexpected, wave of success as a solo artist, Turner told her rags-to-riches story in 1986’s I, Tina. The memoir, written with Kurt Loder, became the template for the 1993 film What’s Love Got to Do with It. Three decades on, in a book under embargo until release, the Queen of Rock and Roll elaborates on her dark days and career highlights.
Philip Norman. Little, Brown, Nov.
Having profiled the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, Brit-rock biographer Norman now turns his sights on the tumultuous life of guitar great Eric Clapton: his rise as a revolutionary instrumentalist, his strained relationships with George Harrison and Pattie Boyd, his heroin and alcohol addictions, the death of his four-year-old son, and his status as one of the most respected icons in rock music.
Thanks a Lot Mr. Kibblewhite
Roger Daltrey. Holt, Oct.
Pete Townshend, the guitarist and songwriter for the Who, may be the acknowledged mastermind behind the legendary British hard rock band, but Daltrey, the rugged, vocal-chord tearing, mic-swinging singer, brought the lion-maned sex appeal. Townshend had his say in 2012’s Who I Am, which has sold 113,000 print copies; Daltry steps up this fall with his embargoed memoir.
Behind the Music
It takes a village to raise a child, and to nurture an enduring musical legacy. New books look at the producers, record executives, and others behind groundbreaking recordings, revealing the good, the bad, and, at times, the very ugly sides of the music industry.
Anything for a Hit
Dorothy Carvello. Chicago Review, Sept.
Carvello, an industry insider since the 1980s, is a rock and roll survivor. As an assistant to the legendary record executive (and, in Carvello’s telling, unabashed libertine) Ahmet Ertegun, and then as the first female A&R executive at Atlantic Records, Carvello worked with artists including Skid Row and INXS. Facing down rampant sexism and outright misogyny, Carvello recalls the struggles of a decidedly pre–#MeToo era in what our review called a “hard-hitting, profanity-laced tell-all.”
Bring It on Home
Mark Blake. Da Capo, Dec.
A godfather of hard rock, Peter Grant was a bouncer and pro wrestler before becoming a manager. He used his weight—professional and, when necessary, physical—to propel the careers of Jeff Beck, Bad Company, and, perhaps most famously, Led Zeppelin. Blake, author of books on Freddie Mercury, Pink Floyd, and others, shows how Grant’s behind-the scenes machinations became part of rock and roll mythology before his death in 1995.
Randall Sullivan. Atlantic Monthly, Jan. 2019
Still officially unsolved after two decades of investigation, the murder of hip-hop superstar Notorious B.I.G., which followed just months after the murder of Tupac Shakur, remains wrapped in mystery. Sullivan, who first delved into the procedural and legal morass of both investigations in 2002’s Labyrinth, continues the search for possible truths, detailing allegations of rampant police corruption and conspiracy that have sidelined the case.
Go Ahead in the Rain
Hanif Abdurraqib. Univ. of Texas, Mar. 2019
A Tribe Called Quest, the influential group that incorporated jazz and other musical influences on its groundbreaking albums of the 1990s, receives its due from poet and cultural critic Abdurraqib. The author of the acclaimed essay collection They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us (which PW’s starred review called “mesmerizing and deeply perceptive”), Abdurraqib positions the Queens, N.Y., outfit as prime movers in the maturation of hip-hop.
Kenneth Womack. Chicago Review, Sept.
Producer George Martin will be remembered always as the man who helped the Fab Four achieve their sonic identity. The second volume of Beatles scholar Womack’s look at Martin’s work focuses on the final years of the group’s lifespan, which spawned landmark albums including Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Abbey Road. Womack also attends to Martin’s later collaborations with artists such as America, Jeff Beck, and Elton John.
That Thin, Wild Mercury Sound
Daryl Sanders. Chicago Review, Oct.
In 1966, Bob Dylan could have recorded his follow-up to Highway 61 Revisited with any number of top-notch rock musicians. Instead, he headed to Nashville and cut the majority of Blonde on Blonde with the ultraprofessional session players on hand. The result, as music journalist Sanders recounts, became one of Dylan’s greatest albums—one that owes much to his collaborators, among them producer Bob Johnston and keyboardist Al Kooper.
Walk This Way
Geoff Edgers. Blue Rider, Feb. 2019
How did hip-hop, born of block parties in the Bronx, become the enduring pop soundtrack across the present-day U.S.? One answer is postulated by way of the breakthrough 1986 hit “Walk This Way,” a collaboration between rappers Run-DMC and hard-rocking Boston band Aerosmith. Washington Post national arts reporter Edgers examines how the meeting of two seemingly disparate musical genres laid the cornerstone for the cultural integration that exemplifies modern hip-hop.
Time After Time
The power of music to help define a historical moment, a nation’s language of youthful expression, or even its understanding of gender identity is examined in books that span genre and generational lines.
Lee Zimmerman. Texas A&M Univ., Feb. 2019
Defining the Americana genre can be as difficult as defining America itself, but music journalist Zimmerman gives it a welcome shot. His overview is expansive, touching on blues, folk, and country roots pioneers; folk-rock innovators including Bob Dylan, the Byrds, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band; and present-day practitioners including the Avett Brothers, Elvis Costello, and Ruthie Foster.
Burning Down the Haus
Tim Mohr. Algonquin, Sept.
Did punk rock help bring down the Communist state in East Germany? This “lively narrative,” our starred review said, makes the case that the openly defiant behavior of a cadre of disaffected German youth, galvanized by the freedoms brandished in Western punk music, inspired a wider rebellion against the government. Mohr, a translator and former Berlin DJ, documents the travails of the Ostpunks (Eastern punks), who held onto their antiestablishment principles despite government harassment and continual fear of betrayal.
Simon Philo. Rowman & Littlefield, Oct.
Decades before gender fluidity took center stage in the national cultural debate, glam rock, which flourished for a few brief years in the U.K., was blurring lines and shaking up defined roles within pop music. Philo examines the 1970s breakthrough successes of David Bowie, T. Rex, Roxy Music, and other pioneers, and how their outsized audacity altered the social texture of rock and roll.
Houston Rap Tapes
Lance Scott Walker. Univ. of Texas, Oct.
Galveston, Tex., native Walker teams up with photographer Pete Beste to update their 2014 title of the same name, now out of print. At least one-third of the material is new, including interviews with Scarface and Slim Thug, and Sire Jukebox of the original Ghetto Boys, among others. The oral histories, drawing on interviews conducted from 2005 to 2017, highlight the connections between the artists and the community they built.
Small Town, Big Music
Jason Prufer. Kent State Univ., Jan. 2019
Kent, Ohio, infamous for the 1970 Kent State University shootings, also spawned a robust and influential music scene. Drawing on vintage concert reviews and firsthand reminiscences, Prufer paints an affectionate picture of a music-hungry community that welcomed artists including Pink Floyd, the Clash, the Replacements, and Bruce Springsteen—as well as hometown heroes Devo and Joe Walsh—often at early, pivotal stages of their careers.
Ian Winwood. Da Capo, Nov.
Punk rock, born of the tumult of the late 1970s, blossomed again in the ’90s. With the rise of West Coast bands such as the Offspring, Rancid, and Social Distortion, punk spoke to—and was sold to—a new generation. Winwood examines the phenomenon, focusing on the massive commercial success of Green Day, whose album Dookie sold tens of millions of copies worldwide, and the Offspring, whose Smash remains the top-selling independent record in history.
Wasn’t That a Time
Jesse Jarnow. Da Capo, Nov.
The Weavers, a quartet that included Pete Seeger and Ronnie Gilbert, made folk music popular nationwide, peaking with the 1950 megahit “Goodnight Irene.” Group members’ past dalliances with the Communist Party and outspoken support of labor unions and civil rights issues brought on the ire of political zealots, swiftly culminating in the foursome’s dismissal by its record company and a media blacklisting. Jarnow documents the group’s rise, fall, and revival.
When it comes to music, nothing surpasses personal taste—teenage flirtations with hair metal or midlife plunges into esoteric Eastern European folk music notwithstanding. But an informed critic brings a wealth of knowledge and discernment that can elevate appreciation.
The Classical Music Lover’s Companion to Orchestral Music
Robert Philip. Yale Univ., Dec.
Orchestral classical music, due to the expansiveness of its core repertoire, can be the most difficult genre for an uninitiated listener to approach. Educator Philip dives in deep, surveying 400 works—including symphonies, concertos, suites, and ballet scores—by 68 composers, ranging alphabetically from Bach to Webern and spanning 1700–1950.
The Indispensable Composers
Anthony Tommasini. Penguin Press, Nov.
In 2011, Tommasini, the chief classical music critic of the New York Times, wrote a series of articles naming what he believed to be the 10 greatest classical music composers of all time. Undaunted by its reception—“I am aghast at the neglect of Tchaikovsky,” one irate reader wrote, “which only exemplifies the pointlessness of the rankings”—Tommasini expands his list to include Monteverdi, Schoenberg, and others for a total of 17 favorites, supplementing his selections with biographical info and musical analysis.
Is It Still Good to Ya?
Robert Christgau. Duke Univ., Oct.
The self-proclaimed dean of rock criticism is now in his 70s, and his ongoing influence is felt wherever thoughtful music writing is valued. This collection of work spanning 1967–2017 highlights his omnivorous taste, showing Christgau to be just as comfortable reflecting on Woody Guthrie, Sam Cooke, and the Spice Girls as he is on Radiohead, Mary J. Blige, or Youssou N’Dour.
Nick Coleman. Counterpoint, Nov.
One singer can transport a listener, while another might leave the same listener cold. It’s a mystery, one that British arts and music journalist Coleman explores by way of examining the power of the voice itself and how it defines the work of singular performers including Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Mick Jagger, Roy Orbison, and Patti Smith.
Women Who Rock
Edited by Evelyn McDonnell. Black Dog & Leventhal, Oct.
McDonnell, a noted pop culture writer and a professor of journalism at Loyola Marymount University, brings together a strong roster of female music critics, including NPR’s Ann Powers and dream hampton, to assess the work of 104 women music makers, among them blues empress Bessie Smith, dance-floor chameleon Madonna, and reigning pop diva Beyoncé.
Sight and Sound
These days, only the most dedicated vinylphiles pore over the stylized publicity shots and liner note ephemera that may come packaged with an LP. But interest in the visual side of music remains, whether it’s the photos documenting an iconic album’s recording sessions or a concert poster that conveys the spirit of a live performance decades later.
Vikki Tobak. Clarkson Potter, Oct.
In this visual hip-hop history, journalist and curator Toback draws on outtakes from numerous photoshoots held in recording studios, on video production sets, and elsewhere, granting a look at artists including Wu-Tang Clan, Nicki Minaj, Tupac Shakur, and NWA in the thick of creation. Writers and old-school scenesters (Bill Adler; Fab 5 Freddy) offer commentary, and musician and hip-hop connoisseur Questlove contributes the foreword.
Imagine John Yoko
John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Grand Central, Oct.
The second solo album of John Lennon’s post-Beatles career, recorded in 1971, is the subject of this making-of project compiled by Ono, his widow. Relevant photos accompany reminiscences from collaborators including bassist Klaus Voormann and drummer Alan White, as well as John’s older son, Julian.
Alan Light. Smithsonian, Oct.
One of the indisputably great figures in American music, Johnny Cash was also among the most photogenic. Light, a former editor-in-chief of Vibe and Spin, worked with Cash’s family to produce this “stunning and lavishly illustrated biography,” our reviewer said, which includes more than 150 personal photos, as well as lyric sheets and other memorabilia.
Led Zeppelin. Reel Art, Oct.
The visual allure of Led Zeppelin in its prime was a not-inconsiderable element of the band’s colossal appeal. This volume, which collects unreleased photos and official artwork, is the first illustrated book to be produced in conjunction with the three surviving group members—Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones—and its release is timed to the 50th anniversary of the earliest live appearances of the original foursome.
Rock Graphic Originals
Peter Golding. Thames & Hudson, Oct.
Having outlasted its original purpose, artwork designed to promote rock concerts and festivals is now considered covetable treasure. Golding, a British clothing designer and scene maker who has been collecting music-related artwork since the 1960s, presents selections from a collection that spans the mid-’50s through the late ’80s. British counterculture figure Barry Miles examines the cultural and political zeitgeist of the times in the introduction.
Rock Stars at Home
Chris Charlesworth, Eddi Fiegel, et al. Apollo, Jan. 2019
Be they homey domiciles or, more typically, extravagant pleasure domes, the dozens of rock star homes documented here in 200 photos shed light on their owners’ personalities. Readers can ogle the over-the-top dwellings of Elton John and Michael Jackson, and also sneak a peek at the places that Debbie Harry, and members of the Clash and the Sex Pistols, lived prestardom.
Steve Futterman writes about jazz for the New Yorker.
Below, more on music books.
PW asked members of our BXsellers Facebook group to share the music titles that they’re most looking forward to in the coming months.