Monday, April 15, 2013

National Library Week: Books on Music Monday

To mark National Library Week, this week I am writing about some of my favorite books in my chosen topics: Monday Music, TV Tuesday, Wednesday Comics, and Film Fridays. Today being Monday, let's talk about some of my favorite books about music. 

The Billboard Book of Number One Hits by Fred Bronson
First up, one of my favorite books of all time which just happens to be about a resource about music. I got my first credit card while I was still in college. My father gave me some good advice: as soon as I got a credit card I was to buy something relatively inexpensive and then pay it off immediately. This would create a good credit rating. After all, just having a card you never used wasn't showing that you had any credit history at all! So pretty soon after I got my first credit card I came across The Billboard Book of Number One Hits. It would have been something close to $20, but I bought it on credit. It's been all down-hill since then...! Although I do still have a pretty high credit rating. :-)
This book lists every single Number One song of the Rock Age, from Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley & His Comets (number one for 8 weeks in July-August 1955) to We Are The World (number one for 4 weeks in April 1985). So if you want to know what was the number one song during some special event in the past, this is the book for you. If you want to know how many or which Beatles songs went to number one and which didn't, this is also the book for you. If you like music and you like history and you like to know a little bit about the singers or writers behind the songs, this book is for you. 

I've actually ended up buying this book three times. It was one of the few books I brought with me to Japan when I moved there. While living there, I came across the Japanese version and bought that. I bought it for my wife as a present so she could learn more about US American music, but I in fact ended up reading it more often than she did. 

Then a few years after I came back to the States I came across the Updated and Expanded 2003 version, shown below. I bought that one, and gave my older copy to my brother-in-law. He enjoys it now as much as I did. 

The Monkees' Tale by Eric Lefcowitz
When I was in college I would frequent my college bookstore. Like all college bookstores, they sold textbooks and also your odds and ends, such as books published by minor or local publishers. Well while I was in St. Paul, Minnesota I came across The Monkees' Tale. It's a trade paperback that tells the whole story of how four VERY individual musicians or actors came together to create a pop-culture phenomenon. This book is chock-full of photographs and interviews with the four Monkees, a list of all of the TV episodes, and a list of all of their albums. Plus at the back there is a whole section on Monkees Memorabilia. It's a fun read and a book I pull out and re-read whenever I get that urge.   

Nowhere To Run by Gerri Hirshey
This is a book I was given by my friend Tori in high school. Unlike the other books I've talked about so far, this is not a trade paperback or full of photos. It is basically a real-life book with text only. As a high school kid just beginning to appreciate all the different types of music out there, it was a difficult read. And besides, as Billy Joel says, you can't tell the sound of a new band from an interview in a magazine. 

I took this book with me when I went to Japan in the summer of 1983. It was the ONLY book I had to read while I was surrounded by a foreign language and culture. In that environment, I devoured it. I made copious notes in the brackets to track down singers or bands that I wanted to listen to after I got back to the US. This book helped solidify my love for Soul music, and increased my knowledge of what had gone before.  
Girl Groups by Alan Batrock
I don't know where I came across the book Girl Groups. I think there had to be some documentary or special about the topic, and that is where I first heard of it. Then I tracked it down at a library and read it. A few years later I came across it at a bookstore during one of my trips back to the US and picked up a copy.

The book is an interesting history of the sometimes misogynist music industry. Phil Spector is a great example: he would switch lead singers to whoever was available and then release all of them under the name The Crystals. Also, Mary Wells was hired by Motown to be a writer, but when she got popular they refused to let her record her own songs. You've probably never heard of groups like The Angels or The Dixie Cups, but I'm willing to bet that you've heard the songs "My Boyfriend's Back" or "Chapel of Love." Girl groups were a commodity in a way that boy groups didn't seem to be. Of course, by the time the Beatles arrived groups that not playing their own music basically went away, regardless of gender.

The Supremes by Mark Ribowsky
Speaking of girl groups, here's the most commercially successful one, The Supremes. This is a relatively recent addition to the music library. I came across it in the past few years. I had read Mary Wilson's autobiography Dream Girl: My Life As A Supreme, but because it was told from her perspective there was too much left out or written around because she wasn't a part of it. This book, although more "gossipy" than I usually like, did seem to try to keep its journalistic credentials by citing all types of sources. In the most dramatic area, the firing/quitting of Florence Ballard as a Supreme, he tells the story from several points of view, allowing the reader to try to figure out what the actual truth (?) might be. In that sense, it's a good book.

By the way, I did not buy this book. I found it in one of my internet searches for photos of "the girls" and then reserved it at my local library. So thank you again, Columbus Metropolitan Library!

Diary Of A Player by Brad Paisley & David Wild
This is the latest book I've read about music or a musician. I noticed it at my local library in the BIOGRAPHY section while my wife was looking at flora & fauna books. I have a man-crush on Brad Paisley's music and I wondered if he was as fun as he sounds like he would be. So I picked this up and read it in, like, two days. It's a breezy, easy-to-read chronological travelogue of how Brad got to where he is today. He comes across as a level-headed, kind-hearted, and down to earth fun guy. He respects his elders and appreciates just how lucky he is. If you like Brad Paisley's music, or want to learn about the popular country & western music star, I recommend this book. 

Now, you might be thinking, Where is the book about The Beatles? Well, to tell you the truth, I've never found one that I liked. I've read a few but they seemed too light. In the past few years there have been quite a few books but *they* seem to be too in-depth for me. Anybody have any suggestions that I can search for at my local library? ;-)

And to end this column, how about some music?
Nowhere To Run 
by Martha & The Vandellas 
filmed in a Ford (?) factory in Detroit! 

My Boyfriend's Back 
by the Angels
Southern Comfort Zone 
by Brad Paisley 
recording on 10-5-12 in Columbus OH 

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