Top 10 music books of 2016

Eoghan O’Sullivan rounds up the best music books of the year
Top 10 music books of 2016

Sylvia Patterson - I’m Not With The Band

Subtitled ‘A writer’s life lost in music’, this 400-page book charts Patterson’s journey from enthusiastic pop fan from Perth, Scotland, to senior staff writer at Smash Hits aged 23 to trying to decipher why pop stars lose their pep.

Smash Hits’ heyday coincided with ‘the second Great Eighties Pop Boom’ (the first involved Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, FYI) and sees Patterson ruminate on a glum George Michael interview, which involved her asking what love feels like.

An engaging, often hilarious book for the 80s kids and people interested in the music and music-mag industries.

Bruce Springsteen - Born To Run

For the past seven years, the Boss has been writing his memoir, a 500-page-plus, 79-chapter definitive word on everything Bruce-related.

It opens as both fans and cynics could have predicted: “I come from a boardwalk town where almost everything is tinged with a bit of fraud. So am I.”

It continues in a similar, genuine everyman, us-against-them mentality, from humble roots with an alcoholic father to the heights of the titular album and later playing the Super Bowl half-time show.

The chapter on the death of Clarence Clemons, the E Street Band’s saxophonist, is among the saddest few pages you’ll read this year.

Simon Reynolds - Shock and Awe

Having tackled Retromania, post-punk, and rave and dance music, Simon Reynolds, the premier music journalist/chronicler, turns his hand to glam rock.

Often derided and dismissed, Reynolds reclaims and celebrates a genre redolent of TMI costumes and schlocky choruses.

David Bowie looms large over a genre that began as he had his first major hit, Slade are celebrated alongside Queen, Alice Cooper, and Roxy Music.

As with his previous tomes, Shock and Awe is almost 700 pages long and sometimes overreaches itself, stretching glam to the likes of Kanye West and Prince.

But even the most educated of music fan will find new titbits to sing on reading this.

Paul Morley - The Age of Bowie

“The only way I could begin to say what I wanted to say about David Bowie was to write a book,” journalist Paul Morley declares of The Age of Bowie.

Apparently written in 10 weeks, Morley, who advised the V&A curators on their wildly successful exhibition of Bowie artefacts a couple years ago, manages to capture the essence of Bowie, how his changing faces meant different things to so many people.

At times too in awe of the artist formerly known as David Jones, having become a fan while listening to John Peel’s show in the early 70s, it still a moving tribute that will help those still in mourning.

Graeme Thomson - Cowboy Song: The authorised biography of Philip Lynott

The cover of Cowboy Song, written with the co-operation of the Lynott Estate, features Phil Lynott hiding under his giant afro and biting his fingernails.

How apt: Graeme Thomson paints a picture that this larger-than-life rockstar who just doesn’t fit in.

A black child in 1960s Dublin, the self-deprecating Lynott has always stood out.

The early years are informative — he sang ‘Hey Joe’ at a Skid Row rehearsal; “I reckon I could sing it better than that,” says guitarist Bernard Cheevers.

Lynott is soon kicked out of the band, and then meets Gary Moore.

Thus begins the rise of one of Ireland’s greatest rock bands.

Cowboy Song doesn’t shy away from the drug-fuelled downfall of Lynott, however.

An informative, inspirational, and sad biography.

Bob Mehr - Trouble Boys: The True story of the Replacements

Even if you don’t know the story of one of the most influential US bands of the 80s, from the early pages of this biography, you know Trouble Boys won’t have a happy ending.

Alcohol defined their family lives — and the Replacements quickly become known for their drinking.

Music critic Bob Mehr is a fan who tries to understand why these critics’ darlings didn’t get their dues until it was too late — singer Paul Westerberg ponders why “40m people [don’t] know us from a hole in the wall”.

Their breakup, at a free show in Chicago in front of 25,000 people, is inevitable.

Johnny Marr - Set the Boy Free

From the moment you put down Morrissey’s bile-filled, infuriating, Penguin Classics autobiography, you knew Johnny Marr’s side of the story wouldn’t be far behind.

Like Morrisey, Marr grew up in Manchester surrounded by Irish relations, falls for music, and is soon knocking on the singer’s door to form the greatest English band of the 1980s — one wonders if they would have bonded without music, as Marr admits he isn’t a big Oscar Wilde fan.

The Smiths loom large here, though after all that’s been written already, there isn’t much for the die-hard to pore over.

However, his reunion with Morrissey, albeit in a pub while Marr was remastering the Smiths’ back catalogue, will leave many with baited breathe. If only...

Roz Crowley - Macroom Mountain Dew

Music festivals are almost throwaway in 2016, with myriad ones catering to various tastes seemingly every weekend.

Not so back in the 1970s/80s.

Macroom was that generation’s Electric Picnic/Oxegen/Féile.

Mountain Dew lasted for seven years and drew the likes of Rory Gallagher, Van Morrison, and Elvis Costello to the Cork town.

Roz Crowley, in this entertaining, well-illustrated recollection of the time, gathers various memories from acts, entertainers, and more to convey just how groundbreaking Mountain Dew was.

Hot Press editor Niall Stokes is one of the many attendees quoted: “There was a sense that if they could do it, then other bands could too. It was a watershed, a moment which, more than any other, marked the changing of the guard.”

Brix Smith Start - The Rise, the Fall and the Rise

Adopting her name from the Clash’s ‘Guns of Brixton’, Brix Smith Start arrives in Manchester, aged 20, from California.

She soon finds herself playing bass with the Fall (for six years) and married to the singer, the vulgar Mark E Smith.

This memoir sees Start divulge horrific details of her youth — she tells of being tied up in a basement and raped — as well as what living the life of a rock n roll star looks like: Getting sick on Joey Ramone after taking heroin, apparently.

“He was extremely gracious about it,” she recounts.

Mike Love - Good Vibrations: My life as a Beach Boy/Brian Wilson - I am Brian Wilson: A memoir

Score-settling is often what seems to drive music memoirs: From the aforementioned Marr vs Morrissey rivalry to Substance: Inside New Order, Peter Hook’s humongous rebuttal to Bernard Sumner’s sober take on things a couple years ago, never underestimate a musician’s ego.

And egos don’t get much bigger than Brian Wilson. Or, for that matter, his Beach Boys bandmate Mike Love.

They’ve both released memoirs at practically the same time. Love offers: “I’m a Pisces, and Brian, a Gemini; and it is said that a Pisces writes out of inspiration while a Gemini writes out of desperation.”

Wilson does not take many shots at the ‘villain’ of the Beach Boys, and, though rambling, his ghostwritten account of life discusses his mental illnesses as well as the many highs.

Following the excellent documentary Love & Mercy in 2014, surely these are the last words on the Beach Boys.

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