Books. They're like songs, except they go on longer and there's no sound. But they're still quite good!
I don't really know what I intended this post to be when I started writing it, but what it's ended up being is a very strange selection of music books from the past, the present and the future. It's an assortment based on very little rhyme and absolutely no reason. Some books are good, some are quite bad. Some are interesting, some are boring. They're all worth a go, though.
(I'm assuming you've already read the Lily Allen book.)
Wildcard by Christopher Maloney (2018)
I read this over Christmas but given how closely Maloney's 2012 X Factor reappearance as a wildcard contestant mirrored the story of Jesus' own comeback perhaps you'll find it makes sense as an Easter read.
As you might expect there are some unintentionally ludicrous moments in this book — it's incredible to think that among the billions of sentences written in the history of humankind never before have the following words appeared in the following order: "I was now living off crackers and spam and lasted four days before vomiting everywhere on a fermented egg."
Which may seem funny in isolation, but it's not so funny in context: Wildcard tells the story of a man whose life has rarely, if ever, been easy. Wildcard isn't the greatest book of all time but it's an important read for any of us who at one time or another have cheerily dismantled Maloney or celebrities like him.
Spotify Teardown: Inside The Black Box Of Streaming Music by Maria Eriksson 'et al' (2019) / The Future Of Music by David Kusek and Gerd Leonhard (2005)
On the left: a legendary book from fifteen years ago that got loads of things right.
On the right: a new book I haven't read properly yet and which seems, shall we say, a little light on jokes, but which also (among some quite dry business stuff) unpacks a lot of information about how Spotify ended up becoming a pop force whose full impact nobody really saw coming.
You can get a fair idea of what Spotify Teardown's like via the Amazon Look Inside feature.
Fried & Justified by Mick Houghton (2019)
Music publicist Mick Houghton's account of two decades' work in the music industry isn't out for a few months, but an advance copy arrived in the post last week and I finished it yesterday.
I first encountered Mick when I was an extremely annoying twelve-year-old who didn't really understand what music publicists did, but I sort of figured out that if you phoned them, like, on an actual telephone, and if they were as patient as Mick Houghton, they might sometimes send you music by and photographs of your favourite band. Maybe that sort badgering is only really tolerated if the publicists have themselves experienced the feeling of being, as Houghton describes his youth in the first page of this book's first chapter, "mad about music as a teenager".
Fried & Justified is frank and sometimes funny, and I suppose it's mainly a memoir, but it's something else, too. One of Houghton's most successful acts once wrote a book in which they told readers how to have a Number One single; while not presented or intended as such, Fried & Justified could easily be regarded as a manual on how to be a decent music PR.
No God But Herself: How Women Changed Music In 1975 by Jessica Hopper (2021)
Look, strictly speaking this book doesn't exist yet but I think we can all safely assume it will be very much on the right side of readable. (Hopper's 2015 collection of writing is an absolute banger.)
Selling The Pig: The Final Days Of EMI by Eamonn Forde (2019)
The weird thing about the whole absurd story of a record label being bought then totally bollocksed up by an investment group is that it happened REALLY RECENTLY and SORT OF IN FRONT OF OUR EYES, and somehow the full extent of the shambles was never really obvious.
Anyway, Eamonn's book is the opposite of shit as well as being a) jaw-dropping and b) very funny in parts, the latter of which you really can't ever take for granted in books about the music industry. Selling The Pig does also highlight just how ludicrous, compared to most other industries, the music industry can be: all the guesswork, all the excess, all the failure that's somehow part of the plan. There are times in this book when you almost — almost — feel sorry for the people who came in and thought they could fix it.
Cover Stories by Richard Easter (2018)
This one just arrived in the post so I've only had the chance for a quick flick through but it's based on a great idea: each chapter takes a different song and explores its characters in the form of a short story.
"I wondered what was going on outside the tracks," Easter explains in the introduction. "The composer gives us so much, but what about the rest? What does Dolly Parton's Jolene look like and why's she stealing everyone's men? What's her back story?"
Cover Stories expands the worlds of songs like Bowie's Space Oddity and Ed Sheeran's The A‑Team. (If there's a second volume I'd definitely read a chapter on Rihanna's Man Down.)
One Hundred Lyrics And A Poem by Neil Tennant (2018)
Apart from the bad font on the cover this has to be the perfect popcultural artefact, right?
It contains a 15-page introduction in which I assume Neil talks about the songwriting process, but I'm not totally sure because I am saving it for a special day. You've got to have something to look forward to in life, right?
(Neil's collection was the first in what's turned out to be a series of collected lyric 'tomes'; Kate Bush and Shaun Ryder have already chucked theirs out, presumably there'll be an Anne-Marie one along before too long.)
Peter Powell's Book Of Pop by Peter Powell (1980)
In which, over 120 pages, Radio 1 DJ Peter Powell attempted to cover the total history of pop music and the workings of the entire music industry, while also telling readers how to be popstars and throwing in the occasional quiz. The result was, well, not great, but this is such a fascinating artefact.
Loads-slash-most of the book is gloriously out of date now, of course, but Peter's advice on how to write a hit song is hilariously blunt and, if you take a click through some of 2019's biggest songs, it remains spookily accurate:
"The melody .… has to fit whatever the current trends in music happen to be. Try listening to and studying the Top Forty. If you play an instrument, try playing one of two of the songs and get the feel of the way the chords are strung together. Then change them around and see how that sounds."
Outstanding. If you'd like to read this book there are currently two copies on Amazon — one is £0.01 and the other is £24.40 (?) so take your pick. If you can't be bothered with all that but still fancy a glimpse of what Radio 1 DJs were like four decades ago, clear 25 minutes in your diary for A World Of Difference on YouTube. It's an old BBC documentary that follows the surprisingly bleak early morning routine of Noel Edmonds as he hosts the Radio 1 Breakfast Show.