Rock 'n' Roll 'n' Reading


October 22, 2006


Time once again to catch up on our rock 'n' roll reading. Here is a look at some of the most noteworthy music books released in recent months.


Get your Floyd fix here
Ardent Pink Floyd fans whose appetites were only whetted by the recent David Gilmour and Roger Waters tours can get two more fixes in the form of a couple of valuable additions to the book shelf. The Dark Side of the Moon: The Making of the Pink Floyd Masterpiece by British music journalist John Harris (Da Capo Press, $15.95) is part of the publisher's occasional series diving deep into the creation of rock classics, and the author draws on new and original interviews with the band members and key players behind the scenes to tell the story. The anecdotes are fascinating, and all the more so because no one had any inkling that the disc would become one of the most popular in rock history, with total sales now topping 30 million.

"They told me what the album was about: birth, and death, and everything in between. I thought it was rather pretentious, to be honest," session vocalist Clare Torry tells Harris. The band played her the track they wanted her to sing on. "I said, 'What do you want?' They said, 'We don't know!'" So Torry delivered the wordless orgasmic moaning that millions would come to know as "The Great Gig in the Sky."

Less music journalism and more super-fan obsession (and I mean that in the best way) is Comfortably Numb: A History of "The Wall," Pink Floyd 1978-1981 (PFA Publishing, $39.95) by Vernon Fitch and Richard Mahon. This lavish, full-color, hardcover tome is a complete geek treat, thanks to its beyond in-depth and encyclopedic compendium of just about everything you ever needed to know about the band's last great album. You want extensive interviews with the creators, rare photos, studio logs cataloging the time spent and equipment used on each track, and examinations (complete with transcribed stage patter) of every live "Wall" performance? It's all here. And if you've ever wondered how Toni Tennille (minus the Captain) came to sing backing vocals on the album, or what the symbolic significance of those marching hammers was, well ... the answers to those and every other question you could pose are here as well.

Superfans get in on the action
Another fan book that rises above the genre is Mark Wilkerson's Amazing Journey: The Life of Pete Townshend (Lulu Press, $34.95), a whopping, 641-page tome that follows the Who's founder from birth in Chiswick, London, in the spring of 1945 through the summer of 2005. "The book began as a hobby in 1997," Wilkerson says, and he spent eight years researching it. It suffers some from the lack of original interviews with its subject, and for relying a bit too much on long quotes from published materials, but it is nothing if not exhaustive and thorough, and though the author is clearly a devoted acolyte, he doesn't shy away from thorny episodes in Townshend's life, such as his arrest for pornographic images found on his computer. Because of its straightforward, just-the-facts (and I mean all of them) approach, Amazing Journey will be the ideal companion and balance to the rock legend's long-promised autobiography, if he ever actually delivers it.

Great Pretenders: My Strange Love Affair with '50s Pop Music by Karen Schoemer (Simon & Schuster, $25) is a fan book, too, but one of a different sort. A Gen X'er who rose from writing for photo-copied fanzines to penning "serious" music criticism for Newsweek and the New York Times, Schoemer held the modern rock fan's typical disdain for the lush '50s pop music that predominated in the days before Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry exploded onto the scene. Then one day, a Connie Francis box set landed on her desk, and she found herself strangely drawn into the music and a re-examination of sounds and artists (Francis, Fabian, Pat Boone, Patti Page) who'd provided the soundtrack for her parents' early love affair. The result ultimately was a book that is part memoir, part journalistic history, and some music lovers have faulted it for blurring the lines. Its real strength, though -- beyond Schoemer's conversational and often funny writing -- is in exploring a way to listen to music that you may think has nothing to do with the genres you love, or the present music scene.

"Subterranean wishes and dreams rose right to the surface, and the stickiness and complexity of sex sank without a trace," Schoemer concludes about the music she came to love. "Betrothal solved everything. Love would endure forever, unchanging, unimpeded, a Platonic ideal, an impervious force. These singers sounded so sure of themselves. I envy that conviction -- it's what we've lost."


And then there were ...
Finally, we have two other books chronicling unsung heroes of the past. Acappella Street Corner Vocal Groups: A Brief History and Discography of 1960s Singing Groups by Abraham J. Santiago and Steven J. Dunham (Mellow Sound Press, $22.95) provides biographies and discographies of vocal combos that made their mark after the heyday of doo-wop, at a point when the British Invasion was overshadowing these sounds, and it serves as a handy reference for collectors interested in digging deeper. Then, it's time to give the drummer some with Bob Cianci's The Great Rock Drummers of the Sixties (Hal Leonard, $19.95), a collection of illuminating profiles of greats such as Ringo Starr, Charlie Watts, Mitch Mitchell, Keith Moon and Ginger Baker, as well as lesser heralded players such as solo surf drum king Sandy Nelson and Mick Avory of the Kinks.