Music Book Reviews

Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton's Little John?
Music's Most Enduring Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed

[Three Rivers Press]

If you are looking for a good resource for that upcoming Music Trivia night at your local bar or just love general minutiae of the rock and roll variety, this is your book.

New York-based British journalist, and Rolling Stone contributing editor Gavin Edwards touches on some old chestnuts like who Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” is about, Led Zeppelin’s infamous mudshark episode, and whether or not Robert Johnson sold his soul. But he also delves into many more obscure inquiries like sources of inspiration for The White Stripes, Tom Waits’ tattoos, and who are Tommy Lee’s rivals in the BIG rock star dept. (“One for the ladies,” indeed.) Fun, fact-filled--as much as can be expected under the circumstances--and fully recommended.

Music Lust: Recommended Listening for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason
[Sasquatch Books]

As the music director of Santa Monica-based radio station KCRW, daily host of the station’s popular Morning Becomes Eclectic show and its weekly edition, Sounds Eclectic, as well as music consultant/supervisor for various television shows and feature films, Harcourt is in a unique position to take on the role of tastemaker for thousands and even millions of listeners out there. On Music Lust he assembles what can be perceived as suggestions for a variety of playlists for your personal MP3 player, and very much takes a lowest-common-denominator approach in the process.

There are a few factual errors in his general info, which probably won’t be of consequence to the casual music fan for whom this book is seemingly intended--music geeks need not apply; all others may proceed--but is, nonetheless, an entertaining read and a good starting point for the young kid or older aspiring music fan in your midst.

The Rock Snob's Dictionary: An Essential Lexicon of Rockological Knowledge

Allegedly, the purpose of this book is to place the reader on equal footing when facing the obscure artists, sub-genres and references that are the domain of your garden-variety rock snob. But what it actually comes across as is something else: a humorless compendium of info that screams “We are even superior to the Rock Snob for we have compiled this source book for you. Sigh.”

Yes, the mysteries of what a Hammond B3 is, the importance of Laurel Canyon, and who Curt Boechtter was, are all explained here. But why the authors decided to adopt an even more obnoxious tone than the supposedly holier-that-thou geeks they’re aiming to deflate is not. Useful but not very enjoyable.

One Train Later: A Memoir
[Thomas Dunne Books]

Although we have read those by Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, and Joe Jackson, generally speaking we tend to stay away from autobiographies of musicians for various reasons. One of them being the equivalent of not wanting to meet your heroes: what if their petty humanity shatters the myth?

While this does happen to us with One Train Later, it is Sting and not Andy Summers that we leave this book disappointed by. The accounts of his ego running wild are not a surprise but further confirmation that a man who influenced us so much early on was frequently self-centered and cruel--especially when dealing with those he shared the dream.

Summer's narration of the ups and downs of his exploits from the outset of his career in music all the way through the end of the line for The Police, the band that ultimately brought him fortune and fame are humorous, witty, self-deprecating, honest, and ultimately enlightening.

A great read.

33 1/3 Greatest Hits, Volume 1
Edited by David Barker
[Continuum International Publishing Group]

33 1/3 are a series of pocket books each featuring individual full-length reviews of some three dozen seminal/influential albums such as Exile On Main Street, Sign of the Times, OK Computer, Pet Sounds, and Live at the Apollo, written by a variety of music journalists and occasionally, artists themselves (Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz, Joe Pernice of The Pernice Brothers, and The Decemberists' lead singer Colin Meloy, among them).

Greatest Hits collects the first chapter of many of these as a teaser of sorts. Avoid it. You’re better off picking up any of the individual books in the series that might strike your fancy. But proceed with caution: some of the books are lengthy dissertations on the nature of the artists in question and the author’s personal relationship with their music and/or influence and very little in the way of the album they are supposed to be discussing.