The Rise and Fall of Popular Music
[A polemical history]
Here is a listing by author, editor or category of many of the books I have been using for some years, and in writing this one. I have not named editions, since they vary from one country to another, many of my copies are old and some of the books are out of print.
ALLEN, Walter C.
Hendersonia (1973; self-published)
Allen, who died in 1974, was a doyen of the small army of researchers into early jazz. His book about Fletcher Henderson is a history of the band, almost day by day, and includes a complete discography. Hard going for the uninitiated but indispensable for the dedicated fan, it is the fruit of the sort of meticulous scholarship that only a fan could produce.
American Musicians: 56 Portraits in Jazz (1986)
American Singers: 27 Portraits in Song (1988)
Barney, Bradley and Max: 16 Portraits in Jazz (1989)
Balliett (1926-2008) was jazz correspondent of the New Yorker, and these are collections of his journalism. Barney, Bradley and Max ran the most famous clubs in New York; the book includes a portrait of the wonderful NYC radio personality Jean Bach. Collected Works: A Journal of Jazz 1954-2000 is a definitive collection of New Yorker pieces.
Biographies of individual musicians and pop stars are uncountable, but here are some of my favourites. Bix: Man and Legend, by Richard M. Sudhalter and Philip R. Evans (1974), was the first great jazz biography, and new ones can still be measured against it: Hoagy Carmichael, Paul Whiteman, Bill Challis and the whole cast are discussed in great detail. (See also SUDHALTER below.) Also recommendable are Mingus by Brian Priestley (1982), Miles Davis by Ian Carr (1982), Forces in Motion by Graham Lock (1988; interviews and notes on Anthony Braxton's 1985 tour of England), Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life and Times of Benny Goodman by Ross Firestone (1993) and Wishing on the Moon: The Life and Times of Billie Holiday by Donald Clarke (1994). There is no definitive book on Duke Ellington, and perhaps cannot be, but a very good one is Ellington: The Early Years by Mark Tucker; Tucker's Duke Ellington Reader and Lewis Porter's A Lester Young Reader (1991), are excellent compilations. Porter's John Coltrane: His Life and Music (1998) will not soon be superceded; Rob van de Bliek's Thelonius Monk Reader (2001) is also very valuable. Terry Teachout's Pops (2009) is a valuable biography of Louis Armstrong, and he was working on a book about Ellington next.
Autobiographies are usually 'as told to' books. Some of the best of these are mentioned in the text of this book. Biographies of pop people tend to be disappointing, such as the several fat books about Bob Dylan, perhaps because the whole point of his work is that we are supposed to be living our own lives, not reading about him; but Clinton Heylin's body of Dylanology is admirably clear-headed, and Peter Guralnick's two-volume biography of Elvis Presley is surely definitive. (See GURALNICK below, and MURRAY for Jimi Hendrix.) The best books about pop and rock tell us as much about the times as the lives, for example, Jon Savage's England's Dreaming: Sex Pistols and Punk Rock and Chris Heath's Pet Shop Boys, Literally. Significantly, both these are too long, telling us more than most of us need to know. In country music, Nolan Porterheld's Jimmie Rodgers (1979) and Charles R. Townsend's San Antonio Rose: The Life and Music of Bob Wills (1976) and Colin Escott's Hank Williams: The Biography (1994) are all excellent; all have discographies.
See also CHILTON and several others, below.
American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle (1978; rev. 1986)
This describes year by year all the musical shows that opened on the New York stage from 1866 (The Black Crook) to 1985, with enough style to make the book a time-eater: once you open it, a couple of hours will go by. Bordman's other books include a biography of Kern (1980); in this connection Andrew Lamb's Jerome Kern in Edwardian London also must be mentioned (ISAM monograph no. 22). The Institute for Study in American Music, Conservatory of Music, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, published about thirty monographs, all worthwhile (see SANJEK).
Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans (1977)
South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous (1987)
The first of these was originally called Walking to New Orleans. The books combine passionate advocacy with good writing and an almost off-hand ability to set everything in its time and place.
CHAPPLE, Steve, and Reebee GAROFALO
Rock'n'roll is Here to Pay (1977)
A useful book about the development of the modern music business, though the last chapter predicts some sort of flower-power utopia.
Who's Who of Jazz (1985)
Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz (1987)
The Song of the Hawk: Life and Recordings of Coleman Hawkins (1990)
English trumpeter and bandleader Chilton is a very good researcher. Who's Who of Jazz, first published in 1972, is subtitled 'Storyville to Swing Street'. An A-Z of jazz people born before 1920 who did most of their work in the USA, it is a specialists' lodestar of accuracy. Biographies of Louis Armstrong (1971, with Max Jones) and Billie Holiday (Billie's Blues, 1975, surveying only her musical career from 1933) were trail-blazers; monographs on McKinney's Cotton Pickers (1978) and the Jenkins' Orphanage (A Jazz Nursery, 1980) are each one of a kind; Stomp Off, Let's Go (1983), about the Bob Crosby band, is fun (though it apparently had no editor and looks like an explosion in a print shop). With his biographies of Bechet, Hawkins and more recently Louis Jordan, Chilton reached a new height: the combination of the cantankerous and the lyrical that was Bechet and the very private Hawkins will probably never be better captured, and all the recordings are expertly dealt with.
New Orleans Jazz: A Revised History (1996)
The curate was an assistant to a parish priest in the Anglican church, and he wasn't paid much. He couldn't afford to throw away food, so his breakfast egg might be only "good in parts". The song from South Pacific says "You can't fix an egg when it ain't quite good", which is probably a more realistic attitude to eggs past their sell-by date. But the concept of the curate's egg can often be applied to a musical performance, or to a book.
This book is strap-lined "The development of American music from the origin to the big bands", but the development from old New Orleans to "dixieland" through Chicago Style to the Swing Era is strained, to say the least. There is no information about the author, but the book is described as "the first revision of jazz history since the 'standard' version was first proposed in the 1930s." There is no indication which was the old "standard" version; the concept of it is a straw man for Mr. Collins to strike down.
Furthermore, Collins, whoever he is or was, does not really like jazz very much. A "jazz band [he writes] is an imitator band, one that primarily tries to copy the sounds, usually from recordings, made by bands composed of musicians." He writes about the original front line of violin, clarinet and cornet (as in Buddy Bolden's band) being able to play "three tunes at once", but seems able to use the phrase "collective improvisation" only with reluctance. He writes about "beautiful ornamentation" but refuses to define it as improvisation. Throughout he refuses to allow that an "ear player" might be able to improvise beautiful ornamentation, equating improvisation with "faking": "Even some performers capable of reading music take a perverse pride in being able to produce the utmost nonsense from a musical instrument." Against all the evidence he insists that "cross-rhythms and polyrhythms...did not exist in African music". He writes about "The 'second line' of street dancers which traditionally followed the brass band parade": in fact, they preceded it. He desperately needs hierarchies: there are six levels of skill among musicians; when he gets to his sketchy chapter on big bands, he says there were three kinds: sweet, mechanical, and swing. Nowhere does he define "mechanical".
One of our leading jazz researchers writes, "I think there is a whole subculture of New Orleans fans and researchers who don't mingle with the rest of the world." Yet despite all this, much of the Collins book is fun to read and even valuable, because a great deal of research has been done on music in New Orleans and the places and circumstances in which it was played, going all the way back to the early 18th century. There are excerpts from interviews and old newspaper articles; some of this is a social history as much as a musical one; there are many illustrations, not very well reproduced. Certain myths are exploded (again). You just have to be careful to avoid certain parts of the egg.
COOK, Richard, and Brian MORTON
The Penguin Guide to Jazz (1992)
The first print-run of this book was too short, because bookshops refused to order enough copies; sales are brisk, and no wonder. Virtually every jazz artist is found here in A-Z format and nearly all their currently available releases are intelligently commented upon, so that if you are interested in an artist, you can decide which records to take a chance on. The coverage is international, and sensibly ignores the fact that many discs nowadays are imports in various countries. There are almost 1,200 pages and an index for finding side men and women. This book is indispensable.
Note: By 2008 the 9th edition of Cook & Morton was in print, and material had to be cut from each edition for space reasons. This book should be on the Internet, but Penguin remains mired in the last century.
The World of Duke Ellington (1970)
The World of Swing (1974)
The World of Earl Hines (1977)
The World of Count Basie (1980)
('As told to . . .')
Night People by Dicky Wells (1971)
Duke Ellington in Person by Mercer Ellington (1978)
Those Swinging Years by Charlie Barnet (1984)
The British-born Stanley Dance (1910-99), long resident in California, once had a letter printed in a British jazz journal in which he angrily refused to understand why so many jazz records have been bootlegged over the years, despite the way the owners of the masters sat on them. He was an opinionated man and no doubt a 'mouldy fig', but a valuable journalist. Most of the books are oral histories, revealed by Dance's power of observation and editorial skill to be perhaps the most important genre of all. The World of Swing, for example, covers over forty musicians and singers, mostly interviewed, from the world-famous to the more obscure but still influential. It is a myth that jazz musicians are inarticulate; Dance lets the feeling of what the music is all about come through the personalities.
Hit Men (1990)
The damning book we were all recommending to one another, and well written too. The subtitle, 'Power Brokers and Fast Money inside the Music Business', says it all. The paperback edition is updated.
Voices of the Jazz Age (1990)
Swing, Legacy (1991)
Eight vintage profiles and twenty somewhat later ones. The first contains a good article about Bix, and the interview with Sam Wooding not long before he died is good stuff taken down in the nick of time.
A thriving industry. (See also ALLEN, COOK and MORTON, HARRISON, KINKLE and WHITBURN.)
RUST, Brian Jazz Records 1897-1942 (n.d.).
Brian Rust passed away in his sleep on 5 January 2011, aged 88. He made himself the godfather of all discographical researchers with his two fat volumes, for many years published by Storyville Publications (see WRIGHT below): they are still the basis of jazz discography, used for many years by fans, collectors, researchers and authors of sleeve-notes, who sometimes even acknowledge them. Rust's The Victor Master Book, vol. 2 (self-published) was a fascinating one-off, listing Victor records made from 1925 to 1936 by master number (with indexes for artists and song titles). There never was a volume 1. The latest editions of Jazz Records and of American Dance Bands are now available at Rustbooks Publishing. The Columbia discography and other Rust items are from the Greenwood Press.
DIXON, Robert M. W., and John GODRICH Blues and Gospel Records 1902-1943 (1982). Another classic from Storyville.
LEADBITTER, Mike, and Neil SLAVEN Blues Records 1943 to 1970 is a two-volume update of the earlier classic including R&B, the first volume (A-K) published by Paul Pelletier's Record Information Services in 1987. Leadbitter had died in 1974. Volume 2 (L-Z), credited to Leadbitter, Fancourt and Pelletier, finally came out in 1994 and was worth the wait.
BRUYNINCKX, W A complete jazz discography printed in Belgium, divided into categories of traditional, swing, modern, progressive, modern big band and vocalists. It comprised thirty-five paperback volumes and is now available on a CD-ROM.
HOUNSOME, Terry Rock Record (1991). It began as the limited edition Rockmaster in 1978; this edition (which could be the sixth, depending on how you count them) lists all the albums by 10,000 rock bands and artists, with personnel, labels and numbers of editions in various countries. A new edition came out in 1994; Hounsome's Record Researcher Publications also issued Single File, which listed over 100,000 British singles. Hounsome's work is now available on disc; go to www.recordresearcher.com.
NOVITSKY, Edward and RUPPLI, Michel Compilers of exhaustive and authoritative discographies of American labels Aladdin/Imperial, Atlantic, Blue Note, Clef/Verve, Decca, MGM, Mercury, Prestige, and Savoy, all available from the Greenwood Press. Michael Cuscuna is co-compiler of Blue Note, Bob Porter of Prestige and Savoy.
Written in my Soul (1987)
Interviews with 'rock' songwriters (including Carl Perkins and Willie Dixon). Elvis Costello: 'I can't actually play any musical instrument properly. I can't read music. And here's the New York Times calling me the new George Gershwin ... It was embarrassing to watch these people fall into the trap of their own critical conceits.'
Showtime at the Apollo (1985)
In the Groove (1986)
The first covers fifty years of the great Harlem venue, while the second contains interviews with a dozen record producers, from John Hammond and Milt Gabler to Nile Rodgers.
Expensive Habits (1986)
Subtitled 'The Dark Side of the Music Business', stories from the British pop industry about how easy it is to get cheated. Of Gilbert O'Sullivan's hit albums in the early 1970s, Back to Front was number one and grossed £1,700,000, of which he received only £60,000. He had to go to court to get more royalties and control of his own copyrights.
The Fabulous Phonograph 1877-1977 (rev. 1977)
Still a good survey, updated from the 1955 edition.
Where Did Our Love Go? (1985)
The Death of Rhythm and Blues (1988)
The first tells the history of the Motown label. The second study asks how black music can retain its identity in a white-dominated music industry, inevitably touching on the perilous position of black culture in a society whose engine is white-bread economics.
Lost Chords (1942; repr. 1970)
'The Diverting Story of American Popular Music', a period survey of songs and business up to the 1930s. The last chapter is titled 'Juke Box, Jazz, Swing, and Boogie-woogie' to make the book look up to date, but says little about any of these, sticking to Tin Pan Alley.
The Sound of the City (1970; rev. 1983)
Somewhat breathless 'Rise of Rock and Roll' story by a British DJ and label boss who knew his stuff, written around the records themselves and not neglecting byways such as swamp rock. The book has never been out of print and is used in undergraduate music appreciation courses. Gillett (b 20 February 1942, Morcambe, Lancashire; d 17 March 2010, London) was a much-loved presence on British radio. He had attended Columbia U. in New York City, where his master's thesis led to his first book. He also later wrote Making Tracks, about Atlantic Records. After attending a Youssou N'Dour show in 1984 he became a champion of what soon came to be called world music,
Jazz Masters of the '40s (1966)
Swing to Bop (1985)
The first is one of a series, of which the others (Jazz Masters of the '20s by Richard Hadlock, '30s by Rex Stewart, etc.) are also worthwhile. The more recent book is 'an oral history of the transition in jazz in the 1940s' in the musicians' own words, and priceless.
Tin Pan Alley (1930)
A period piece on the heyday, with an introduction by Gershwin.
The Mansion On The Hill (1996)
'Dylan, [Neil] Young, [David] Geffen, [Bruce] Springsteen and the Head-on collision of rock and commerce'. The heartbreaking and fascinating story of how an idealistic generation sold out, or was sold out.
Jazz West Coast: The Los Angeles Jazz Scene of the 1950s (1986)
The largely white cool jazz scene was commercially successful (as post-war jazz went), but suffered from critical snobbery in a sort of reverse racism. This survey is full of good sense and especially useful now that many of the records have been reissued on CD. West Coast Jazz by Ted Gioia (1992) is also very good.
Feel Like Going Home: Portraits in Blues and Rock'n'roll (1971)
Lost Highway: Journeys and Arrivals of American Musicians (1979)
Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom (1986)
Two volumes of affectionate, well-written portraits, and a definitive history of soul music. His two-volume biography of Elvis Presley, Last Train To Memphis and Careless Love, will not be bettered. Another book was about Robert Johnson, but will be superseded when controversial research may be published.
HAASE, John Edward (ed.)
A marvellous survey of every aspect - waltzes, the banjo, women in ragtime, everything you can think of - in nineteen chapters. Contributors include Max Morath and Edward A. Berlin (whose own 1980 book is very good), and there are interviews with Gunther Schuller and Rudi Blesh.
Yesterdays: Popular Song in America (1979)
The best survey I know, it begins in England and sticks to songs, and is well illustrated. Weakest in the last couple of chapters, because the songs of the rock era lend themselves less well to this kind of treatment.
I Hear You Knockin' (1985)
'The Sound of New Orleans Rhythm and Blues', in the form of profiles of over thirty musicians and producers. The best sort of fan's book, to put alongside Broven.
A Jazz Retrospect (1976; 1991)
A collection of first-class jazz journalism, the kind that never goes out of date. Harrison was one of the first to describe Ellington accurately as a miniaturist. He also wrote the jazz entry in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and he writes about classical music too; a collection of that would also be worth having.
HARRISON, Max with Charles Fox and Eric Thacker
The Essential Jazz Records, Volume 1: Ragtime to Swing (1984);
Volume 2: Modernism to Postmodernism (2000) (with Thacker and Stuart Nicholson).
Thematically arranged by decades and styles, it provides commentary on a great many of the most valuable recordings. LP issues are listed, but that does not matter; original recording dates and complete personnel are given, so you can know what you are getting in today's CD editions. The point is that the commentary is illuminating, and so stylish that it can be enjoyed for its own sake; it is even fun to read about music you have already been listening to for years. The second volume was a long time coming, but the integral two-volume edition by Mansell is a delight.
Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music (1984)
Well written, full of interviews and love of the subject, to go on the shelf next to Guralnick.
Say It One Time for the Brokenhearted (1987)
Subtitled 'The Country Side of Southern Soul', this is an eye-opener of a book about the influence of country and soul on each other. His list of forty masterpieces of country soul ought to be bootlegged if necessary on CD.
Talking Jazz (1987)
A useful collection by one of the best-known British music journalists, introduced by Jones and intelligently edited, often from interviews over a period of years. His piece on Billie Holiday alone is worth the price.
KINKLE, Roger D.
The Complete Encyclopedia of Popular Music and Jazz 1900-1950 (1974)
Compiled by a dealer and auctioneer in old records, these four fat hardback volumes have now been out of print for a while. Two volumes are an A-Z of recording artists (many mainstream people with no entries in other books) and two are lists and indexes: one lists musical shows and films, representative hit songs and records year by year; also listed (by catalogue number, which sounds boring until you learn how to wallow in it) are all releases on several important labels from the mid-1920s to the early 1940s. Incredibly accurate, Kinkle's work was computer typeset in the USA in the early days of that technology, and after many years of using it I finally found one mistake: he got Judy Garland's death date wrong by six months.
Appetite For Self Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age (2009)
I have always said that the record business was good at shooting itself in the foot; now in 2010 I am adding this book to this list of books because it tells very well the sad story of the suicide of the major labels. They could not read the handwriting on the wall and were superceded by digital technology; a great many musicians nowadays wouldn't even think of looking for a 'deal'. But the outsized greedy personalities and the huge amounts of money that were wasted in the 1980s and '90s make a good story.
LAX, Roger, and Frederick SMITH
The Great Song Thesaurus (1984)
Lists songs with dates and information about each, and is divided into several sections (British, American, Indexes, etc.). Goes back much further than SHAPIRO below, but accepts stories as fact, such as that Mother Goose was an American.
Singers and the Song (1987)
Meet Me at Jim and Andy's: Jazz Musicians and Their World (1988)
Cats Of Any Color: Jazz, Black and White (1994)
Journalist, editor, lyricist and sometime vocalist, Gene Lees always writes well, but when he writes about something he loves, magic happens. These books collect pieces from his unique monthly Jazzletter, launched in 1981. He has also written biographies of Oscar Peterson and Lerner & Loewe, and an 'as told to' book, Henry Mancini's Did They Mention the Music? (1989).
The Freedom Principle: Jazz after 1958 (1985)
Ornette Coleman: The Harmelodic Life (1992)
The first is a first-class book on the subject by an important Chicago journalist; you know it is good because it sends you straight to the record shelf. His treatment of Coleman is important, treating the life and the music as one, befitting a great artist.
Best of Jazz: Basin Street to Harlem (1978)
Enter the Giants (1981)
Trumpeter, bandleader and a famous voice on British radio, Lyttelton (1921-2008) was also a good writer. His article on Basie trombonist Dicky Wells, for example, should send you to the records to hear what he is talking about.
MALONE, Bill C.
Country Music USA (1968; rev. 1985)
Impossible to imagine a better survey of the subject: fat, authoritative, a good read, a good index.
The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1,001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (1989)
You can argue with Marsh, founder of Detroit's Creem magazine in 1969, about his choices, but not about his love of the music. Relive the days when it was fun to buy singles, and be reminded why.
Variety Music Cavalcade (1959; rev. 1962)
Subtitled 'Musical-historical Review 1620-1961', this was a terrific idea spoiled by its lack of proper indexes. A list of hit songs for each year is accompanied by contemporary news: with 'Shake, Rattle and Roll' in 1954 came the U.S. Senate's censure of Joe McCarthy, the first news of a link between cigarettes and lung cancer and the coining by McCall's, a women's magazine (recently renamed Rosie after a TV celebrity, whereupon it disappeared forever), of the word 'togetherness'; the fiction best-seller, Lloyd Douglas's The Robe, was held over from the year before. But the index lists only the songs.
MURRAY, Charles Shaar
Crosstown Traffic: Jimi Hendrix and Post-War Pop (1989)
Shots from the Hip (1991)
Murray is the brightest and most amusing of rock critics. The American Lester Bangs had an enchantingly surreal style, but was a believer in rock myths and did not convince me. You have to love the music to be a critic, and I know some who have gone off it, but Murray (who is British) will never have to give up on it, because he has no illusions about it, or about anything else: he has the sense to find most things funny. His biography of Hendrix is a model of its kind, ranging more widely and intelligently than most rock biographies; his collection of journalism from 1972 to the present will remain valuable.
RAMSEY, Frederick, Jr, and Charles Edward SMITH (eds)
Jazzmen (1939; repr. 1985 with introduction by Nat Hentoff)
A collection of fifteen pieces by such authors as Wilder Hobson and Otis Ferguson, two of the earliest American jazz journalists. Hentoff's generation was inspired by it, and it is still recommendable.
READ, Oliver, and Walter L. WELCH
From Tinfoil to Stereo (1959; rev. 1976)
Written by enthusiasts, wordy and even repetitious but 'unputdownable', this classic came from an obscure publisher in Indianapolis. Still the best account of the evolution of sound recording, by the time it was updated and republished copies of the original edition were changing hands for several hundred dollars. Interesting illustrations too, as well as several indexes.
A-Z books of rock, pop, country music and so on have too many words and not enough entries, rarely an index and usually an unacceptable number of factual errors. The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, edited by Donald Clarke (1989), was the first single-volume reference book to cover all the genres; I name my own work because it has remained the best value, with more than three thousand entries (including entries for genres, and listing all the albums for many artists). Its nearest competition was compiled by rockists who had Buck Clayton playing saxophone instead of trumpet. By the time an updated edition of the Penguin came out in 1998 the bookstores were full of imitators. The work now has nearly 4,000 entries and can be read on this website.
In jazz, however, there are irreplaceable books for specialists. John Chilton's Who's Who of Jazz is mentioned above, Leonard Feather's venerable three volumes of The Encyclopedia of Jazz (1960, 1966 and 1976) were valuable for the large number of more obscure entries, and a new edition was completed by Ira Gitler after Feather's death. The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (1988 and 1994) was widely criticised for its ommissions; I have not seen the more recent and much more expensive edition. Jazz: The Essential Companion, by Ian Carr, Digby Fairweather and Brian Priestley, was a well-written and useful A-Z, as was The All Music Guide To Jazz. Blues Who's Who by Sheldon Harris (1979) is also indispensable. (See also KINKLE; for A-Z books of songs, see LAX and SMITH, and SHAPIRO.)
The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock (1974)
The story of how country music was reborn in Texas when Nashville got too slick while remaining intolerant. Incredible that this book does not have an index.
Jazz Style in Kansas City and the Southwest (1971)
A good survey. Russell was the founder of Dial Records, recorded Charlie Parker and was Parker's manager for two years; he also wrote Bird Lives! (1973), the first and still the fullest Parker biography, but all the books about Parker seem to be flawed by bad memories and wishful thinking on the part of the witnesses, as though Parker were a mirror in which people saw what they wanted to see.
See DISCOGRAPHIES, above.
American Popular Music and Its Business (1988)
Sanjek (1916-86) was a BMI executive who spent his retirement completing this massive three-volume work, which began as an ISAM monograph. The volumes are titled 'The Beginning to 1790', '1790 to 1909' and '1900 to 1984', and have nearly 1,500 pages as well as indexes and bibliographies. When I obtained my copies, I stopped everything and wallowed in them for weeks, and still consult them as often as any books on my shelves. Statistics, squabbles, technology and takeovers are all here; since Sanjek's death his son has done an abridged single-volume edition.
SCHICKE, Charles A.
Revolution In Sound (1976)
The first half of the book is a detailed and readable history of the early years of sound recording and the record industry. Exactly halfway through, Schicke makes a glaring error, confusing Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, and the rest of the book, dealing with what was then Schicke's contemporary business world (he was an executive at London Records in New York), reads like a boring magazine article.
Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development (1968)
The Swing Era (1989)
There is not really a recommendable single-volume history of jazz; you need to read several books, of which these should be the first. Recognised as a gem of good sense and scholarship on publication, Early Jazz is also immensely readable, and the next volume is just as good.
Waiting for the Man (1988)
'The Story of Drugs and Popular Music' is more than that, going back to the medicine shows seen in so many old Westerns, which were peddling nothing but dope; it comes up through the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 and the problems of Keith Richards and the Allman Brothers Band to the substitute addiction to scientology, giving a list of victims.
SHAPIRO, Nat, and Nat HENTOFF
Hear Me Talkin' to Ya (1955)
One of the first oral histories of jazz, compiled from interviews, letters, magazine articles and so on. A classic and still fascinating.
SHAPIRO, Nat, and Bruce POLLOCK
Popular Music, 1920-1979 (1985)
Three hefty books cumulating and updating eight earlier volumes indexing over 18,000 songs, including introductory essays, indexes and much info on each song. Pollock also published Volume 9, 1980-1984.
52nd St: The Street of Jazz (1971)
Honkers and Shouters: The Golden Years of Rhythm and Blues (c. 1974) The Rockin' 50s (c. 1974)
Black Popular Music in America (1986)
The Jazz Age: Popular Music in the 1920s (1987)
Shaw joined Leeds Music (which later became MCA) in 1945; a songwriter, publicist, record producer and college professor, he won ASCAP's Deems Taylor Award a couple of times. He also wrote biographies of Frank Sinatra (1968) and Harry Belafonte, among other things. The first three listed here are the best. 52nd St was originally called The Street That Never Slept, and is good on the clubs and their influence on music. The next two are insider's books, full of vitality, detail (for example, on the origins of the classic R&B labels) and, especially Honkers, valuable interviews with such people as Ralph Bass and Art Rupe. Shaw's later books are surveys and appear hurried; they are cramped and hard to read and have the occasional minor error.
Off the Record (1988)
In this book, record-company executive Joe Smith combines arrogance and ignorance. His book is a disgrace (and from a Warner Communications Company). Not only is there no index, you have to make your own table of contents: over two hundred short interviews are put together in no particular order. The interviews themselves do not look like interviews at all and many of them are worthless. (Paul Weston told me that the interview with him and Jo Stafford as printed was nothing of the kind.) There are so many that there are nuggets to be found, however, and the book goes on the shelf next to Fox and Flanagan. Smith is like a cook in a bad restaurant, not knowing that the job could just as easily be done well.
The Music of Black Americans (1971; rev. 1983)
A masterpiece of scholarship by a Harvard professor of music and Afro-American studies, it covers every aspect of black musical achievement in the USA beginning in the early seventeenth century, and provides plenty of social context as well. Indispensable.
SPELLMAN, A. B.
Black Music: Four Lives (1966)
Originally called Four Lives in the Bebop Business, a classic on the music of its period in the form of profiles of Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Herbie Nichols and Jackie McLean. It also paints a depressing picture of what it is like to be a black artist trying to make a living as an original, competing with your own dead predecessors, who themselves struggled all their lives.
SUDHALTER, Richard M.
Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz 1915-1945 (1999)
A tour de force by the Bix-inspired cornetist and biographer of Bix, who has also had a parallel career as a first-rate journalist. An exhaustive and fascinating portrait not only of scores of musicians who might never receive their due because of today's political correctness, but of the times and the business in which they worked.
Country: Living Legends and Dying Metaphors in America's Biggest Music (1977)
Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story (1982)
Unsung Heroes of Rock'n'roll (1984)
Where Dead Voices Gather (2001)
Country gives the lie to the Nashville image of country music as upright and puritanical: not just gossip, but songs, personalities, forgotten roots and the darker side of the history. The third book is useful fun on the most influential popular music of the late 1940s and early 1950s; not all the heroes are entirely unsung, but most people have never heard of Hardrock Gunter or Jesse Stone. The last book is a search for an obscure but influential recording artist, Emmett Miller, perhaps the last white American minstrel, but it is more than that: a trawl through an American culture that most of us know nothing about. A biography of Dean Martin had bad reviews which it probably did not deserve: Tosches' somewhat surrealistic style serves the subject matter.
TRAVIS, Dempsey J.
An Autobiography of Black Jazz (1983)
An affectionate memoir of Chicago's musical history, using a great many interviews and illustrations. Travis became a pianist like his father, and at the age of sixteen in the mid-1930s was the youngest bandleader registered with the musicians' union. A good read.
VAN DER MERWE, Peter
Origins of the Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentieth-Century Popular Music (1989)
A scholarly book and a delight, tracing influences around the world and down through a thousand years. European folk music, for example - hence much American country music - probably comes originally from the Middle East, not medieval or Renaissance Europe.
WARD, Ed, Geoffrey STOKES and Ken TUCKER
Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock and Roll (1986)
A readable history by three journalists, one each for the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Like most rock books, it assumes that nothing much happened before 1956, it is not true, for instance, that Stephen Foster never received any royalties. But when it gets to the meat, there are insights, such as Stokes on why Bob Dylan did not sell records to blacks: 'Though Dick Gregory might joke about finally getting served at a Woolworth's lunch counter only to find out that the food was lousy, the subversive sentiment underlying the joke would remain buried.'
Top Pop Singles 1955-1966
Top Pop Albums 1955-1985
Top R&B Singles 1942-1988
Top Country Singles 1944 1988
Pop Memories 1890-1954
Whitburn's Record Research, Inc., began reprinting the Billboard charts in the early 1970s, producing expensive books for DJs and cultists which turned out to have a wider appeal. The latest editions do much more than this, providing blurbs on the artists and much else; they are still expensive but unusually well made for a good deal of use. Most of these books have been updated, and there is an annual yearbook update; the spiral-bound Daily No. 1 Hits tells you what was number one in the USA each day from 1 January 1940. The most remarkable is Pop Memories, which uses hobbyist columns, sheet music sales, record company lists, radio and jukebox plays and so on to create charts going right back to the beginning of the record business. The earliest Billboard charts had only fifteen or twenty places, but Pop Memories creates longer lists, giving a better view of many artists and provides a lot of info about the pre-WWII era, though just how the longer and earlier lists of 'hits' were calculated remains questionable.
American Popular Song: The Great Innovators 1900-1950 (1972)
A gentle, loving, intelligent masterpiece: an appreciation of the best songs and composers of our century by a man who was one of them, but too modest to include any of his own. Of perhaps 300,000 songs, Wilder examined about 17,000 and mentions or quotes the music of around 800 of the best. More valuable for those who read music, but there are insights for everybody who loves songs.
As Serious as Your Life: The Story of the New Jazz (1977)
A detailed survey, full of interviews, about how hard it is to make a living at it, it also affirms that the music is an important part of the community; by a British woman who earned the trust of that community.
Mr Jelly Lord (1980)
'King' Oliver (1987)
'Fats' in Fact (1992)
Like Walter Allen's Hendersonia, these are documentary histories of the artists' activities with discographies and illustrations. 'King' Oliver is an update of an earlier book by Allen and Brian Rust. Wright (1929-2010) was publisher and editor of Storyville magazine, and also published Tom Lord's Clarence Williams (which documents the activities of one of the busiest people who ever worked in black music), Brian Rust and Dixon and Godrich (see DISCOGRAPHY). There are beautiful tributes to Brian Rust and Laurie Wright at Rustbooks Publishing.