Note-worthy reading: 2018's top 10 music books and memoirs

It’s been a great year for music books and related memoirs. Eoghan O’Sullivan selects ten of the best

Rory Gallagher - The Man Behind the Guitar by Julian Vignoles

One of Ireland’s greatest musicians, Vignoles says Gallagher’s songwriting chops are often forgotten. He charts his journey from Derry to Cork to a life on the road, from the acrimonious split with Taste to being front and centre of his own band.

Vignoles, who has previously produced TV shows on Christy Moore and Paul Brady, uses fascinating illustrations throughout, including Gallagher’s early success with the showband Impact, and draws on scores of interviews. Brian May, asked if the devoutly religious Gallagher should have been more pushy for success, said: “If he had, he wouldn’t have been Rory Gallagher.’

Inner City Pressure - The Story of Grime by Dan Hancox

Dizzee Rascal won the Mercury Prize for grime’s first masterpiece, Boy In Da Corner, in 2003, yet the genre will only headline Glastonbury for the first time with its biggest superstar, Stormzy, in 2019. It’s always been seen as the outsider, says journalist Hancox. It was born in inner-city London in the very early Noughties, with a bunch of hyperactive teenagers running from the police as well as from pirate station to pirate station. Hancox explores the coming together of crews such as Roll Deep (home to Wiley, Dizzee, and Tinchy Stryder) and Boy Better Know (Jme and Skepta), as grime is finally afforded the recognition it deserves.

My Thoughts Exactly by Lily Allen

One of the great modern popstars seeks to correct the narrative about her career. Did she shine just because of her showbiz parents? Well, despite what she claims, she obviously did.

But she probably would have ascended to the top regardless. It’s a memoir that spares nobody, least of all Allen herself, who describes reaching a nadir of drink and drugs on tour, her abortion, sexual abuse in the music industry, and, perhaps most harrowing of all, her stalker hell, when she had to practically convince the police what was going on. “I had long felt like my psyche was full of demons. Now I felt like the shadows themselves were full of them, too.”

It will give you the fear.

To Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine

The Slits guitarist wrote one of the music books of the decade in Clothes, Music Boys, and her new memoir, based on discovering both her late, separated parents kept their own diaries ahead of their divorce proceedings, delves further and cuts deeper. Told through vignettes, it burns with anger, from growing up working class in ‘60s London to comforting her mother on her deathbed, as they listen to Albertine’s interview on radio.

“Mum commented on every record I chose and every word I uttered between songs. ‘Hmmmm, not really my taste that one,’ or ‘I didn’t like that one at all…’ I found myself getting upset, as if it mattered whether my mother liked Sun Ra or not.”

Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz

The loss of Adam Yauch lingers for the two remaining Beasties, who have channelled their grief to create possibly the greatest music book ever. Comprehensive doesn’t do it justice — it’ll take over an hour just to flick through. Featuring a plethora of intimate photos from across their 25-year career, they discuss how they met, touring with Madonna, and fighting for their rights with their apathetic label around Paul’s Boutique. There are maps of New York haunts, graphic-novel interludes, guest chapters (Amy Poehler rates their videography; Kate Schellenbach explains how she was kicked out of the band when Rick Rubin came on the scene); a cooking section, and a ridiculous amount more. The be all and, sadly, end all for Beastie fans.

Chamber Music: About the Wu-Tang (in 36 Pieces) by Will Ashon

The years 1993 and 1994 saw hip hop and rap hit its apex, and nothing hit higher or harder that Wu-Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers. Ashton, a journalist and former label boss, says there are lots of ways to write about an LP, explaining that he wants to take us through “the culture to which the album belongs”. He takes us on a journey from deepest Africa to cocaine-addled US streets, meandering into jazz offshoots and Native Americans. At times bemusing (“Some of these experiments interrelate, some don’t. Some teach us new things... others less so. Some are baffling, frankly,”— like the album itself, it can be exhilarating. A new kind of in-depth fandom.

She Begat This - 20 Years of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Joan Morgan

Has it really been 20 years since That Thing? “There was a late-summer day in 1998 when all hell broke loose,” writes Morgan. “Everyone in the music industry and in the world of hip-hop journalism knew it was coming, something solo from Lauren Hill, but how could we have known?” It’s impossible to think back on the pre-release anticipation of Hill’s debut - still her sole solo studio release) - yet it’s as fresh as ever. Morgan is a fan and, though it’s a slim volume, takes us through the competing opinions of The Miseducation and the impact it had, especially for black women.

Thanks a lot, Mr Kibblewhite by Roger Daltrey

The Who frontman delves into his life from being born at the height of the blitz to penning the song for a generation as well as Tommy and Quadrophenia.

The title comes from an old headmaster who, after expelling Daltrey from the same school that Pete Townshend and John Entwistle attended, told him he’d never amount to anything. Fans will delight in stories about explosive drummer Keith Moon (“He was never just a boozer, he was a connoisseur of booze”) and the workings of his relationship with Townshend.

Coal Black Mornings by Brett Anderson

Suede are not for everyone and this memoir is not for every Suede fan, ending as it does before they get going (Anderson is writing about those heady days in Afternoons With The Blinds Drawn, due October 2019) - he calls it a prehistory. He says he didn’t want to write the usual ‘coke and gold discs’ memoir. Born into a post-war working-class family, Anderson could never have dreamed of gracing the cover of Melody Maker. He’s most interesting discussing how his musical tastes developed.

Paul Simon - The Life, by Robert Hilburn

Paul Simon played a triumphant show at the RDS during the summer as part of the Homeward Bound farewell tour — it was the same venue he had performed at in Ireland for the first time, alongside Art Garfunkel, in 1982. His has been a long and storied career, and in Hilburn’s telling, he gets the biography he deserves too.

Hilburn charts the heady ascent of the duo in the 1960s — though Simon only saw this as “merely the first stage of his career” — to the controversy over apartheid and Graceland.

For Simon, it was all worth it for the art. As gleaned here, the music trumps all.


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