This was a truly remarkable year for books having to do with music. Annual “best of” lists usually are fairly similar: a handful of rock biographies, pop culture academic texts, and oral histories dominating the unified tastes of many print tastemakers. At the end of 2017, though, almost every round up of favorites seems different from each other, and this one features some books that were not even barely reviewed at all during the year (Brave Punk World), and some lavished with praise otherwise (Everything Is Combustible, Good Booty). The amount of marginalized diversity and creativity in music books is expanding against a mainstream of anti-intellectualism, giving one hope that the minority voice in music and writing will emerge stronger through the next couple of years of political struggle.
1.The Mudd Club by Richard Boch
The Mudd Club is a deliciously deep dish first-hand account of the creation of the punk scene in NYC, from a bouncer and scene mover who reports on all of it as if he was working the room and keeping the maelstrom from overcoming the world too fast. Workers’ stories like these are often much more fascinating than musician bios; many more of these visceral insider books would be welcome.
2.Brave Punk World: The International Rock Underground, From Alerta Roja to Z-Off by James Greene, Jr.
Greene, Jr., who wrote a killer biography of the Misfits a couple of years ago, not only leaves American cities like New York and Seattle to find punk, he literally spans the globe encyclopedically chronicling the bands, scenes, fanzines, and cultural phenomenon of the musical movement everywhere else in the universe.
3.The Singing Earth by Barrett Martin
The Singing Earth is a dual view of the continent from the city at the end of the world, Seattle; this veteran musicians travel the globe, setting its collective mind on fire. From tales previously untold both from the Northwest underground to becoming a major player, Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin both unveils secrets of the flesh and the soul, and continuing into their solo triumphs. A necessary volume on the history of the last great wave of rock, a glimpse into the eternal moment of Ecotopian desire.
4.Everything Is Combustible by Richard Lloyd
Everything is Combustible is a riotous book of rebellion and salvation, from a founder of punk who literally helped create the stage on CBGBs and make its first great music on it in the band Television. Unafraid of confessing depraved sins, but also willing to grant grace to a world he was illuminating with his utterly brilliant lead guitar playing. Spanning decades of fisticuffs and fearsome fucks, from Jimi Hendrix to many punk chanteuses, it all arrives at a point where for some things to survive some things must die. This book transcendently describes all avenues of living and dying in the same life.
5.Hit So Hard: A Memoir by Patty Schemel, drummer of Hole
Patty was a true Pac NW punk who defined a sound and stance in early 90s rock; but she also lived up to the gritty noir consequences of putting desire first in honor of art. A history of hidden Seattle through the spiritual decomposition of one uber-talented warrior woman. Sex work, drugs, alcoholism tales, but also a fierce survival tale in a world where everyone around you seems to want to be the girl with the most cake.
6.In Search of Soul: Hip-Hop, Literature, and Religion by Alejandro Nava
Alejandro Nava leads the reader through an incredibly mind-expanding collection of historically-based spiritual journeys and rumination, leading from the music of slaves to the music moving all the masses, in devotion and progress. Probably the most illuminating and edifying book on religion and popular music developed from the Third World ever scribed, origins of soul traced from biblical origins to the mafias of Haitian megachurches.
7.DID IT! From Yuppie to Yippie: Jerry Rubin, An American Revolutionary by Pat Thomas
DID IT! tells of bizarre tales from deep inside the American experiment, as one shamanic shape-shifter goes from one side of the resistant-culture war boldly into the dark heart of capitalism. Thomas was the author of the crucial Listen, Whitey! about Black Power and music; in dozens of interviews here (especially with counter culture women of the time), he takes us on a one man odyssey about music, revolution, the abuse of power, and fall and decline of imperialism.
8.Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music by Ann Powers
Ann Powers gives a perfect rumination on how the body and the spirit intersect in a sweeping history of popular North American music, by one of America’s best writers. Wonderful stories about both the erotic and the sacred, unafraid to examine all the extraordinary expressions of rock, pop, soul, and jazz oscillating feverishly through the charts.
9.Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine, by Joe Hagan
Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine is Loved and hated, both the subject and the book, this is the music business and publishing world’s Apocalypse Now! Hagan spent decades studying Rolling Stone publisher Wenner and shows both an appreciation for his Faustian will to power but can’t help but loathe the frequent damage that it caused. This will probably be taught in journalism classes for decades.
10.Woman Walk the Line: How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives by Holly Gleason
Holly Gleason shares intimate revelations about the women who shaped country music by award-winning essayists and prose experts, who chop up their personal lives with portraits of honky-tonk goddesses like June Carter Cash, Loretta Lynn, Emmylou Harris, Lucinda WIlliams, and more. A wide sweep of generational inspiration, this tome is a necessary one for understanding how popular music became much more communicative for everyone involved, and why the country keeps turning back to its passionate Southern roots.