"The Lost Beach Boy" (David Marks with Jon Stebbins, Virgin Books LTD, 2007)
There are three main difficulties with this book that prevent it from becoming essential. The first two are understandable though: David Marks was all of 13 when he joined his next door neighbours The Wilsons in becoming a fully fledged Beach Boy and 15 when he left. That unfortunately means that when we as readers want Dave to be hanging out with Brian and seeing what makes him tick or watching the Beach Boys genius writing songs or honing his craft in the studio he's out having fun with Mike and Dennis, completely missing the experience of a lifetime because he's a young kid who doesn't know any better. Worse, he leaves the story in 1964, when the Beach Boys have barely got going, after one row too many with manager Murry Wilson, so for most of the book he's huffing in the sidelines and talking about what he could have been missing rather than what he saw. Thirdly, unforgivably, Dave seems to have been little involved in his own book, which comes across as a single interview filled in by his co-writer and amazingly is written in the third person almost throughout (which surely makes it unique as an autobiography!) All that said, Marks is a likeable character who deserves his chance at putting his side of the story straight after so many years of 'official' books giving him a bad name and his ability to sum up characters in a few sentences is uncanny. There are quite a few titbits here that no other book on the Beach Boys has got too, although sadly most of them are on the savoury, unrepeatable side (best moment: getting nagged endlessly by room-mate Mike - which idiot put those two together? - into writing home, Dave writes under Mike's watchful eye: 'Dear mum and dad, I'm having a fucking great time on the road! We're drinking lots of whisky and screwing whores in every town! Mike has asked me nicely to write it all down for you, which I will when I see you soon!')The book certainly picks up when Dave starts speaking personally - and goes downhill again when he's a washed up has been (although the info that an angry and rejected Murry Wilson once tried to build his band into rivals to the Beach Boys makes for a fascinating twist). Against all the odds, dave seems to have fallen on his feet, playing with his old band and - some five years after the book was published - touring as a fully fledged Beach Boy with Brian for the first time since 1965. After reading this book you want to wish him well - but it's honestly not the best or most revealing Beach Boys tome out there on the market. 4/10
From later editions of News, Views and Music:
Mat Snow "The Beatles: Solo" (Book, 2013)
The most interesting tales from the Beatles' story often come from the 'solo years', when so many fans seem to have stopped listening. With four very different yet complementary tales to tell and access to many unseen photographs these books should have been superb, especially bound together in a handsome box set that's one of the single heaviest items I own (the complete mono and stereo Beatles CD boxes have nothing on this!) However, big print, limited space and a need to toe official party lines mean that these books are only really interesting for those who don't know the story all that well. Frankly, if you're prepared to spend that kind of money on a set this big then you already know the basics and there aren't enough details here to excite - even in the lesser known tales of George and Ringo's careers. That said, however, even a longterm Beatles nut like me didn't know a good quarter of the photographs printed large in these books and the volumes have been produced with a lot of care and consideration. The jury's still out as to whether getting mock-up modern style impressions of each Beatle face on each book was good idea (and why jump around years and facial styles so much - surely an all-'Peppers' moustachied band or an all-clean shaven circa 'Rubber Soul' look would have been a better choice?), although some fans reckon they're the best thing about the whole set. One for the newbie interested in the band's lives after the split - or for the collector who wants absolutely everything. 3/10
From a later edition of News, Views and Music:
Kevin Howlett "The Beatles: The BBC Archives" (Book, 2013)
Kevin Howlett is the expert on the band's BBC recordings and his first initial book about the 'Beatle Broadcasting Company' is one of my most treasured possessions: in turns informative, witty and wise. Moving on 30 odd years, however, and there's remarkably little that's come to light that wasn't already known when the first book was published. If anything, the fact that there are now two official BBC double-album sets available to all means that there's less reason for a book like this to exist in this day and age, re-printing transcriptions from chatter already available from the Beatle's mouths as it were and full of descriptions for performances that we can now hear and evaluate for ourselves. Had this book been another value-for-money paperback you could pick up for a tenner I'd have been more forgiving, but this one dresses everything up to look 'big', being a massive hardback book that comes in a massive box that retails at a staggering £45 (over a third of the price, don't forget, of the entire Beatles studio catalogue on CD). There are one or two new photos in the book and a much longer analysis of each 'cover' song the Beatles chose and where they came from, but there simply isn't enough that's 'new' here to qualify releasing such an expensive tome. The one great thing about this set is the 'limited edition' portfolio full of re-creations of BeatlesBBC-related memorabilia down the years. We've heard the 'producer's notes' for the Beatles' auditions many times before ('Paul McCartney - no. John lennon - yes. An unusual group, not as rocky as most, more county and western with a tendency to 'play music') but to actually see the words as written, together with all the typed-up hype Brian Epstein gave to try and sell the band, is exquisite. Ditto the chance to read audience research reports for both the Beatles' final radio broadcast from 1965 and the Magical Mystery Tour TV special, both of which are slated by a chosen panel of viewers even more than legend recalls (reading this, it's amazing the Beatles ever worked for the Beeb again). This should have been a one-off re-creation together with a re-issue of Howlett's original, illuminating book however - not an epic paving slab of a volume that actually adds remarkably little to the Beatles tsory we didn't know already. 4/10
From a later edition of News, Views and Music: John Lennon “The Lennon Letters” (Book, 2012)
I must confessed I passed on this book when it came out because I don’t think I’d seen a Beatles book get that many bad reviews since Albert Goldman tried to turn Lennon into a hopeless pill-popping junkie in a 1982 biography. ‘That’s a shame’, I thought, ‘because there’s a great book in there somewhere’; even as a youngster Lennon was telling his Aunt Mimi not to throw away his witty writings and cruel comics because he thought he’d end up famous and would stick them in a book one day. Sadly not all that much survives from Lennon’s early days (in fact far less than I’d thought does – you’d think some of Lennon’s family plus the many school-friends who chuckled over his ‘Daily Howl’ would have kept copies, especially after he turned famous), but then Lennon was such a prolific letter writer during the 15 years (1965-80) this book mainly covers that it’s still a fat and revealing one. The reviewers mainly complained about two items: a 13-year-old request to a cousin to borrow a bike and a 37-year-old househusband list of instructions for assistant Fred Seaman to follow, claiming both were inane and unrevealing. Yes they are – but the other 282 items are terribly revealing, shedding light on multiple aspects of Lennon’s life. The highlights are many but for me include some very sweet letters to fans offering encouragement for their own adventures and dreams (even long past the Beatles days when you’d have thought he’d have given up), a fascinating diatribe written in defence of children’s television and especially Sesame Street (written not to a paper, like so many of these letters, but direct to a complaining mum who’d written in to Lennon’s local), a scrawled note on top of what Lenon erroneously thought was the Beatles’ 1962 Decca audition tapes (see above) and posted to McCartney with the claim ‘what a great band!’ at the height of their 1971 fall-out and his last ever signature, signed mere hours before his death. Along the way Lennon sheds light on his complicated family set-up (who knew that he’d got back in touch with so many of his cousins after moving to America?) although its a shame that their letters to him don’t survive to keep up the correspondence. Lennon, surely, must have had one eye on doing a book like this one day – even when tired, grumpy or pushed for time his responses are often laugh-out-loud hilarious and he often talked about making a book like this; full marks to his close friend Hunter Davies for patiently collecting so many of these letters and scribblings down the years, often tracking down fans who bought their items at auctions and graciously wanted their fellow fans to experience them too. The only thing really missing is some sort of timeline to pull the book together and help it keep the ‘smaller’ items in context against the bigger events in Lennon’s life and I’d also be mighty surprised if more of Lennon’s jottings about his music hadn’t survived down the years (surely a cassette anorak like Lennon, who taped everything, would have written logs or labelled his demos?) Still, ‘Lennon Letters’ is arguably the most revealing and fascinating Beatles book for ever such a long time, kind of like Ringo’s ‘Postcards From The Boys’ book (the Lennon ones are in this volume too) but bigger and better and with more research done to put each letter or doodle in context. The book Lennon deserved all these years – but if only it had been done 30 odd years ago when more of Lennon’s work (especially his teenage years) might have survived.
From a later edition of News, Views and Music:
Paul McCartney “FAB – An Intimate Life” (Book, 2009)
Not wanting Paul to feel left out, I also bought a Readers Digest condensed version of this biography – and wished I hadn’t. While Paul doesn’t come out of this book as badly as some others down the years (try Geoffrey Gilluinao’s – he actively hates the Beatles, but that hasn’t stopped him writing four books about them to date), you still can’t help but feel that the author is trying to dish the dirt. So what we get here are lots of McCartney’s drug busts and Apple-era in-fighting separated by the odd bit of sniping from Denny Laine’s 1982 article after Wings were effectively ‘sacked’ (which to be fair he’s since retracted – in part anyway) and some petty snipes at the McCartney children (poor Heather McCartney – Linda’s eldest, not Mrs Mills – has been admirably out of the public eye and should be supported, not gawped at like a nosy neighbour over a fence which is how the author comes over at times in the book). You could argue that Macca courts the attention sometimes (nobody comes out of the Heather Mills era well) and yet compared to what he could have been I’ve always found Macca remarkably grounded and giving (at least the author is generous enough to mention the foundation of LIPA, the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, exactly the sort of thing a teenage Lennon and McCartney longed for on Merseyside), for all his occasional faults and egotistical tendencies (after all, you can’t have that many people scream at you for that many years and come of it the same the other side). And yet at times this might well be the best McCartney biography around – certainly for the Wings era. The author has a good feel for McCartney’s music, which albums and tracks are his best (and which should have remained unreleased) and the contributing factors that made him turn a particular way at a given moment. My advice is, it’s worth it for a £1 (especially with three other, sadly non-music books included) and the odd flash of insight – but read it after a proper McCartney book (the Barry Miles ‘Many Years From Now’ one is still about the best, even if it’s a tad ‘officialised’ and skips over the bad bits) to get the full effect.
From a later edition of News, Views and Music:
Graham Nash "Wild Tales" (Book, 2013)
We've already had books by Crosby and Young (get a move on Stills!) so in many ways 'Wild Tales' ought to be redundant. Add in the fact that Graham barely mentions his first band The Hollies (even though there's never been an autobiography from a member of the 1960's third best selling singles band before - or even a biography, frustratingly) and in many ways 'Wild Tales' is a lost opportunity. But Graham's book is arguably the best read of the three, dealing fairly but firmly with all the characters who fade in and out of the book and with a memory for detail that Neil doesn't seem to want to remember and - a decade of drugs hell later - David can't. There are lots of gems strewn across this readable book, from spot-on caricatures of CS and Y (the three members' response to Graham's manuscript, quoted in the last paragraph, speaks volumes - especially Young's comment 'what a load of &*%!') to memories of individual songs (I've always wondered what the poetical 'Broken Bird' from 'Whistling Down The Wire' was all about - now I know it's a model of a bird Graham's then-girlfriend, now-wife Susan was working on when he 'surprised' here in a scene out of 'Ghost' and shouted 'I love you!' , causing her to accidentally break the head off the bird she was sculpting). Caught somewhere between Crosby's wonderful but simplistic book (where periods of his life are either all-good or all-bad) and Young's (which was characteristically 'him', but in a rambling, uninformative way), 'Wild Tales' manages to re-tell familiar stories with an easily recognisable voice. The book isn't perfect (there's less about Nash's Salford poverty-stricken background than I expected) and some albums get ridiculously short shrift (1994's return to form 'After The Storm' doesn't even warrant a mention), but Nash's picture of a trio who went from having everything to effectively nothing in 40 years is moving indeed (the picture of Crosby's descent and Nash's helplessness is well handled and if anything even more harrowing than David's own take on it in his own book). Best of all, central to the book is the theme that we've been harking about on this website for some time now: the brave decision Graham took to leave his band, his wife, his best friend and the country of his birth to work with two maniacs he was already banging heads with (thankfully Graham seems to feel he made the right decision, although given the many tales of bust-ups over the years the reader might not be so sure). All in all an illuminating read that might suffer from coming after two other band members have had their stories told but actually trumps the pair of them. 7/10
From a later edition of News, Views and Music: " Sweet Judy Blue Eyes - My Life In Music " (Judy Collins, Book, 2011)
Folk singer Judy Collins isn't an AAA member, so the appearance of her autobiography on the list might be a puzzle to you. The title is a clue though - she's named the book not after one of her songs but after one of Stephen Stills' best known works, inspired for and named after Judy. In fact Judy spends more time talking about Stills' career than she does her own (with cameos for Crosby, Nash and Young) and this book is in many ways a 'love note' written in return for that song (sent through the publishing industry instead of the post, as it were). The pair's love-hate relationship is at the heart of this book, although it was probably with a sigh of relief that Stills read the proof and found out she's actually been very kind about the whole thing (apologising for her behaviour more times than Richard Nixon after Watergate, although to be fair the problems were probably on both sides), regretting that the pair never got it together despite their 'special' relationship (although she doesn't mention the bit about running off with another musician without telling him in 1970, unknowingly contributing to the first CSNY breakup in one stroke). Stills comes across as a sympathetic soul, in fact, always there at the end of a phoneline when Judy needs him - which isn't a view of their hero most CSN books have given!; it's certainly interesting after so many years of hearing just Stills tell his side of his story to know that she, too, felt they had 'connected' on some higher plain than other mere mortals, calling him the only person she really trusted to reveal her 'inner' self. The book was published not long after Stills' 'Just Roll Tape' from 1968 was discovered and released -taped late at night after a session Stephen worked on with Judy - and her take on those mainly unfinished Stills songs are fascinating (as we often suspected, many of them were indeed written about her). Sadly Collins is less interesting talking about her own interesting career (I'd have been very annoyed with this book if I hadn't got such an interest in Stills) and doesn't talk about many of her records at all (or her appearances on The Muppet Show!) The photographs are great though!
From a later edition of News, Views and Music "Searching For The Sound: My Life With The Grateful Dead" (Phil Lesh, Book, 2006)
We Deadheads waited a long time for one of the actual band to tell their story and the fact that it was the no-holds-barred Phil Lesh talking surely meant we were in for a treat. After all, this is the same Lesh who sent engineers and producers alike quaking under their chairs during the band's 60s heyday and who was the only band member to have had a big row, splitting off on his own (albeit long after Jerry Garcia's death when the others were still playing as 'The Other Ones'). However, the years have seen Lesh mellow - this book is more a reflection on several years that seem wonderful in hindsight, working with wonderful people and searching for an elusive sound that was wonderful on the good days - and not on the others. Understandably, Lesh's near-death from hepatitis (he was waiting for a liver transplant the same year as David Crosby) has made him slow down and see the world with more patience than his younger self ever had. Unfortunately that means this book doesn't really have much more to add that you can't get from any other good Dead biography - indeed Lesh's memory is occasionally sketchy, so he doesn't actually remember the music as well as many of the Dead writers. Still, this isn't a bad book and it's nice to hear some of the stories of the band working together that haven't been heard before - it's just not the honest warts-and-all revelation that fans were perhaps hoping for.
FRom a later edition of News, Views and Music: "The Truth - My Life As Oasis' Drummer" (Tony McCarroll, Book, 2010)
Oasis' first drummer is a likeable chap. Long dismissed as the 'Pete Best' of the band (Noel Gallagher erroneously claimed that he overdubbed a lot of the drums on the band's first album himself), McCarroll was badly treated by one and all - which seems poor return for the effort that all the band put in in the early days (when Noel wasn't even in the group, still travelling the world as the Inspiral Carpet's roadie). McCarroll's claims that he has no axe to grind is clearly wrong (he loves sticking it to Noel - and quiet bassist Paul McArthur to some extend, although he seems fond of both Liam and Bonehead), but you sense that the drummer's view of the band is probably more accurate than either of the Gallagher's (Tony's reports of success going to Noel's head circa 1994-7 as Alan McGee's 'favourite' and talk of a 'masterplan' that revised all Oasis' real history sadly rings very true). In fact Oasis sounds like an even more unhappy band than we fans thought, and not just between the brothers either as all the band quitting at some stage during their first two years of success! The drummer was just unlucky enough to be trapped in the middle. McCaroll is at his best at the beginning of the story, though, before Oasis have even formed, receiving an eerie premonition of things to come when he and his gang are set upon by a group of older teens including Noel Gallagher, teasing him for his Irish ancestry (Noel doesn't take too well to being reminded of his Irish ancestry in front of all his friends, but does at least have the grace to allow the young Tony to 'escape'!) McCarroll remains quite an upbeat character throughout - which is quite a feat in itself given the tough circumstances - but in the end this is a sad and unsettling book, with five people who were at the peak of their powers in 1994 dissolving in a sea of acrimony and bitterness without any real reason for any of it. The appendix list of gigs that the early Oasis played (as taken from his diaries) is especially useful.
From a later edition of News, Views and Music: "Syd Barratt - A Very Irregular Head" (Rob Chapman, Book, 2010)
One of the better Syd books around, Chapman's work is another that tries to work out why Syd had 'an irregular head' by looking at his past and the triggers that set him off into his sudden decline somewhere around the Autumn of 1967 - and on that score it fails. Syd's sorry story seems to be unfathomable and any amount of looking at childhood photographs and old Pink Floyd clips won't give us any more clues. However, the sheer wealth of detail in this book - and the exciting amount of access to unseen things from Syd's childhood and the Floyd's early years - give it a leg-up over other Syd biographies and there's lots here even the biggest Floyd scholar probably hasn't come across. As ever, though, the story goes cold somewhere around 1970 (after Syd's two solo albums) and even for a comparatively short book there's not actually that much 'story' to get to grips with. Syd the artist will always be an enigma - but if you want to know about Syd as a human being, studying the facts rather than conjecture, this is about the best book on Barratt yet.
Also from a later edition:
Pete Townshend "Who I Am" (2012)
Pete’s book should have been titled ‘Who Am I?’ rather than ‘Who I Am’ because even after reading the whole of it and knowing his Who and solo work backwards I still don’t know. All of Pete Townshend’s songs have been about identity, each of them extensions of the very first Who single ‘I Can’t Explain’ and it speaks volumes that this book was several decades in the making (Pete starting the work during his years as an editor at book publishers Faber in the early 80s) because you get the sense that there’s still more Pete wanted to tell us. Contemporary reviews have slammed the book for being too self-absorbed and empty, but I actually dispute that: Pete is always honest, at least in his dealings with himself if not always other people and if you’re a fan you’ll want to know all the details about everything in Pete’s life – chances are there’s more extra-curricular projects going on (from bookshops, recording studios and music that never saw the light of the day) than you’d think. Pete is also a very good companion, writing from the heart and admitting his mistakes while also trying to put his side of events in Who life across – the book really skips along from chapter to chapter as you’d expect such an erudite lyricist to do. The problems for me are that Pete doesn’t spend enough time talking about his songs; taking its cue from Keith Richards this book is more a list of the drug abuse and rehab visits than it is a detailed take on when, how and why Pete wrote what he did. Despite being quite a large book there also isn’t as much detail as I’d like – and a curse on the editors for asking Pete to trim the manuscript down to size (as if a generation brought up on double disc Who rock operas want to see their hero cut down to size!) Sadly, too, there’s not as many untold stories in this book as in some others – The Who wore their hearts on their sleeves so often that there’s less to find in this book than in, say, Dave Davies’ or Brian Wilson’s (as much as the latter book can be believed anyway). However, I enjoyed Pete’s book a lot more than all the nagging reviewers seemed to and there are some excellent passages on the band’s early years (when an anxious Pete reveals that he was far more immature than his school friends, John Entwistle included) and on the deaths of Keith and John. Pete is open too about the ‘paedophile’ story that broke a few years back; true fans like me have always said that Pete was only doing ‘research’ for his art and to help come to terms with his own confused childhood, but it’s nice to hear Pete break his silence on the matter when he could so easily just have skipped what must have been a hard chapter to write. If you’re a fan you won’t learn much you didn’t already know, but this is still one of the better Who books around and I for one would love to see a second volume one day with a more detailed look at Pete’s music and early career. Overall rating – 7/10
From a later edition of News, Views and Music:"Keith Moon - Instant Party" (Alan Clayson, Book, 2005)
More a series of essays linked by interview clips by those who knew Keith, this is an intriguing companion to 'Dear Boy' that isn't as comprehensive a work and is clearly meant for those who know their Who chronology in-depth so they can follow the story (this is very much Keith's stories, not theirs) but adds quite a few fascinating titbits of detail. The book starts with a quote from Tony Hancock about not being able to take his 'character' on or off and you sense that our old friend Alan Clayson is more interested in what made Keith tick than in telling all the old stories about cars driven into swimming pools and TV sets being thrown out of windows. Ultimately, though, a list of Keith's faults and biggest mistakes (including running over his own chauffeur after being mobbed by a crowd) is only half the story - the 'darker' side of Keith so apparent here and the fun-loving soul largely sketched in 'Dear Boy' are two parts of the same coin, Keith's mistakes and larger than life personality driving the fun and vice versa before the whole thing got out of hand by the mid-70s. Still, Clayson does get to grasps with at least part of Keith's character and this is a maturer, kinder book than most in the same spirit. There's almost no mention of the actual music Keith made, though, which seems odd - he might not have driven The Who like Townshend but his contribution was key to all the albums he played on.
Neil Young "Waging Heavy Peace" (2012)
Neil’s book is as curious and mercurial as the artist himself. The singer admits early on that he’s writing this book not in some big outpouring of emotion but in-scattered half hours between other events in his life and admits too that this book was only written because for the first time in about 50 years there was no great wealth of music trying to push through his sub-conscious (something thankfully healed by the double CD set ‘Psychedelic Pill’ last year, although to be honest that album – like this book – needs a good editor). The chapters come in scattershot form depending on whatever is on Neil’s mind that day, switching quickly from his early years to career highlights to the present day in the same way that his music veers from electric to acoustic seemingly overnight. This actually isn’t as irritating as that might sound (as long as you’re not actually trying to look anything up!) and Neil is a likeable reading companion, much warmer and open than you’d probably expect from the years of no-media and being ‘cushioned’ by his close business pals. In fact there’s more about Neil’s family, friends and colleagues than there this about himself, which is a lovely touch but slightly grating as all Neil can add about his friends are potted biographies or interviews fans will already know inside-out. If nothing else it’s nice to hear Neil being open about his son Ben, born with cerebral palsy and proudly referred to as ‘Ben Young’ throughout, as if Neil can’t believe he’s related to such a strong and courageous fighter. Neil, infamously, didn’t even let his record company or band know how poorly his son was when he was born or how many hours of therapy Neil and wife Peggy spent with him, so its nice to hear Neil talking properly about his very special bond with his son. Elsewhere like so many AAA stars Neil also spends comparatively little time talking about his music: the only song that’s discussed in any detail is the legendary curio ‘Will To Love’ and the story of how that song was born seemingly in one go (when, typically, Neil should have been doing something else) is the highlight of the entire book. Had the other chapters been as good as this one then the curiously titled ‘Waging Heavy Peace’ (‘Broken Arrow’ might perhaps have been a better name as it all means the same thing) then it would have been the book of the decade – as it is Neil’s autobiography feels a little lightweight, exactly something done to fill in the time (and while Neil, sacred of inheriting dementia from his father, can still remember everything) but not definitive. My advice is to read this book alongside the ‘Shakey’ biography if you want a full-blooded and detailed account of Neil’s life and frankly the OTT ‘best music book ever’ reviews of the day are wrong, but for all its rambling nature and non-linear order this book is still of much interest to fans. Overall rating 6/10.