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More Music Books for Holiday Gifts

Dec. 15, 2016
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New books on music keep coming, touching on everything from guitars and songs to the people who play and write them.

The Clash FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About The Clash City Rockers (Backbeat Books), by Gary J. Jucha

Whether or not they were the only band that mattered, to quote their catch phrase, The Clash were widely admired for their social engagement and their musical progression form bare-knuckled punk 45s through the more classic rock of London Calling and the Jamaican-influenced ambitions of Sandinista. Veteran rock writer Gary J. Jucha follows the band from their origins in the London milieu that also spawned The Sex Pistols through their implosion in the ‘80s and the post-Clash careers that followed. True to its title, The Clash FAQ is packed with fan-bait information.

Anatomy of a Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits that Changed Rock, R&B and Pop (Grove Press), by Marc Myers

In his Wall Street Journal column, Marc Myers interviews songwriters and draws out the stories behind their work. Anatomy of a Song collects 45 columns, their subjects arranged chronologically from Lloyd Price’s 1951 hit “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” and concluding with R.E.M.’s 1991 track “Losing My Religion.” Myers’ introductions for each song are perfunctory, but he asked the right questions and pulled stimulating, illuminating responses from the authors of songs by everyone from Joni Mitchell to The Clash. Since by the 1950s the recording studio was already becoming an instrument in its own right, many of the conversations concern recording as well as writing the songs.

The History of Rock in Fifty Guitars (The History Press), by Bruce Wexler

The idea of framing history through a set number of people or artifacts (50 seems to be a popular number) has caught on. Although his 50 essays aren’t arranged chronologically, Bruce Wexler does a decent job of telling rock’s story through its characteristic instrument, the guitar. Although his language is often hyperbolic—by what metric was Metallica “the most successful heavy metal band of all time” or Pete Townshend “the best rhythm guitarist of all time”?—his account benefits from including important lesser-knowns such as Jet Harris from British instrumental band The Shadows. The many color photos will delight guitar nuts, but the descriptions are clear enough for non-musicians to follow.

Bill Clifton: America’s Bluegrass Ambassador to the World (University of Illinois Press), by Bill C. Malone

Long before he became America’s foremost country music historian, Bill C. Malone was drawn to Bill Clifton for the singer-guitarist’s “unapologetic display” of country tradition. Years later he discovered that Clifton was the pseudonym for a scion of great wealth, a stockbroker with an MBA who discovered country music from the workers on the family estate. Convinced that this was the music of decent folk with sound values, Clifton became an antiquarian of old-time Americana whose interests converged with the likes of Mike Seeger and the folk-blues revival of the 1950s and ‘60s.

In the Midnight Hour: The Life & Soul of Wilson Pickett (Oxford University Press), by Tony Fletcher

Wilson Pickett was one of the great singers to emerge from 1960s soul music. On hits such as “In the Midnight Hour” and “Mustang Sally,” Pickett brought gospel music’s grit, fervor and promise of ecstasy into the secular charts. With In the Midnight Hour, Tony Fletcher has written the first full biography of Pickett, presenting his story with engaging prose rooted in solid research. Fletcher finds Pickett’s origins in the poverty of rural Alabama and inner city Detroit as well as the African-American churches. The singer switched from gospel to R&B for money, which remained a prevailing concern through a life that ended with bad drugs and disco but left a legacy that continues to influence music today.

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