A selection of music books you really do need to go out and buy if you a lover of music (80s and disco music in particular). They are in no particular order, and even if they occasionally contain viewpoints I might not wholeheartedly agree with, or may contain the odd error, they are all essential reading, written by those in a good position from which to describe, explain or simply tell a story. Please feel free to add your own preferences in the ‘comments’ section.
YEAH YEAH YEAH – THE STORY OF MODERN POP, Bob Stanley, 2013
If you want a place to start then it’s all here – every genre, every decade, and every big star featured in one huge volume of not far under 800 pages. This is one hell of a read, and perhaps requires a good prior understanding of the subject matter but is expertly written by someone who has done it all in the music industry in terms of writing about and being heavily involved with the music industry, as well as being at one time a member of a highly successful chart act.
33 REVOLUTIONS PER MINUTE – A HISTORY OF PROTEST SONGS, Dorian Lynskey, 2010
The front cover of this near 850 page tome indicates that this is ‘an exhaustive history of protest music’, and it is certainly not wrong! From Billie Holiday and Woodie Guthrie, through Stevie Wonder, The Clash, to more recent songs from the likes of Public Enemy, The Manic Street Preachers and Green Day, the most significant protest songs of them all are afforded their own chapter.
PWL FROM THE FACTORY FLOOR (EXPANDED EDITION), Phil Harding, 2010
A really good, behind the scenes look at the ‘pop factory’ that dominated the music scene in the late 1980s and early 90s. As a huge Stock, Aitken Waterman fan this held particular interest, especially as it is written by one of the ‘team’. The inside story of their immense success with acts such as Kylie and Jason, Bananarama and Divine is coupled with details of the sound equipment used to record the biggest hits (and non-hits, of which, remarkably, there were quite a few). Towards the back of the book, there are several interesting SAW discographies, including one that features unreleased tracks and demos. This is a deceptively long book at over 600 pages.
‘Disco sucks’ I hear you say? No it doesn’t. As a huge fan, there are two books that have been on my bookshelf for a few years. SATURDAY NIGHT FOREVER – THE STORY OF DISCO, Alan Jones & Jussi Kantonen, 1999 & TURN THE BEAT AROUND – THE SECRET HISTORY OF DISCO, Peter Shapiro, 2005. Although they cover much the same ground, each compliments the other. Disco wasn’t just about the music (and the music wasn’t just about The Village People), it was also the fashion, the drugs, and the sex (and lots of it). Unfortunately I was just a bit too young to enjoy the hedonistic pleasures offered in the 1970s, but was around to see it re-emerge as a force again in several types of genre, the following decade.
LAST NIGHT A DJ SAVED MY LIFE – THE HISTORY OF THE DISC JOCKEY, Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton, 2006 edition, is another large volume, at 600 pages, and covers much of the same ground as the two books above, However, this is, as the title suggests, more a study of the DJ him/herself rather than disco music itself. Definitely one of the best selections on this list.
RIP IT UP AND START AGAIN – POST PUNK 1978-1984, Simon Reynolds, 2005
Cabaret Voltaire anyone? Joy Division? Heaven 17 or The Associates? Britain’s rock/pop history has never been dull, particularly with labels such as ZTT, Rough Trade and Factory creating the headlines as much as those acts that defined the era, set in the backdrop of a tense political backdrop both in the UK and worldwide. This is a fantastic look back at those years when I was just discovering, and exploring the hidden depth and less hidden the delights of pop music.
INDEPENDENCE DAYS – THE STORY OF UK INDEPENDENT RECORD LABELS, Alex Ogg, 2009
The aforementioned labels also feature highly in Alex Ogg’s commentary. This book also featured a myriad of lesser known labels through the years, some of which were created as a backlash to the powerful, yet cumbersome and oft out-of-touch major labels, with others that were formed as a political statement, through to those set up primarily to release one man’s (or woman’s!) music. With many many interviews recorded, Ogg’s near 600 page effort deserves to be on any music lover’s bookshelf.
LAST SHOP STANDING – WHATEVER HAPPENED TO RECORD SHOPS, Graham Jones, 2009 (new edition due out in 2014)
Exactly. What has happened to them? This book promises to be ‘A journey through an industry in turmoil’ and it certainly delivers. It is actually so much more than a look back at famous old record shops that are no longer with us though, as Jones, who has worked within the industry, and for several record companies, also delivers fascinating insights into how our music charts were compiled..or rather ‘rigged’ to suit various interest groups. Never mind the recent problems faced by HMV, remember the independent record shops and the second hand ones too. Little did most of you know that I used to buy my records – sorry, spend most of student grant – at ‘The Left Legged Pineapple’ in Loughborough. That particular town’s youth will never know the pleasures that could be had there..
Two further books are essentially local studies. However, being as good as they are, they will have a wider audience among pop aficionados. BEATS WORKING FOR A LIVING – SHEFFIELD POPULAR MUSIC 1973-1984, Martin Lilleker, 2005, is a look at a city that is synonymous with rock and pop acts such as The Human League, Heaven 17, ABC, Pulp and Def Leppard. There have been many other fine bands emerging from the Steel city both before and since those better known days. The likes of Artery, The Comsat Angels and of course Cabaret Voltaire also deserve their places in history, and here they given just that.
And then there is BRADFORD’S NOISE OF THE VALLEYS volume 1 – A HISTORY OF BRADFORD ROCK AND POP 1967-1987, Gary Cavanagh with Matt Webster, 2008
This is a unique type of book concept. Not only are all of Bradford’s rock and pop acts of the era featured here, this large A4 sized publication features ‘family trees’ that detail the changing membership of local bands, and the personnel links between each of those bands. You don’t have to be from Bradford itself to appreciate the quality either.
Volume two, taking the story up to 1998 is now out, although I haven’t yet got round to buying a copy. I will do though, if it’s half a good as the first volume then it will make a great addition to any music book collection (there’s also a CD set available, containing music from many of the featured bands, as well as an ‘updated’ edition of volume 1.
IS THAT THE 12” MIX?, Rob Grillo, 2010 Ok, I know, I had to include this. A light-hearted look at the obsessive music collector and the history of the 12” mix (and the 12” remix, the 12” dub mix, the 12” limited edition picture disc remix, and so on…)
Most of these books are easily available online, or orderable at your high street store (and especially at the declining number of independent bookshops that need your trade if they are to survive).