Aidan Smith: Carly Simon, and other great music memoirs of 2015

Carly Simon. Picture: Getty Images
Carly Simon. Picture: Getty Images
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IN THIS day and dread-filled age can a chap still say, without fear of causing an international incident, that he used to spend a lot of his loafing adolescence thinking about Carly Simon, her album sleeves and in particular the one for Playing Possum?

Well, I’ve done it now. But can I also say that Boys In The Trees (Constable, £20) is absolutely tremendous and my music book of the year?

A bourgeois princess? A privileged upbringing in New York and at the country house? A career over-reliant on one song? Over-reliant on long legs, tumbling hair, sensual mouth the rest of the time? More famous, in the final reckoning, for the men she slept with? All of these things may be true but this is still a great story, told with flair and devil-may-care.

Yes, her father was Richard L Simon, co-founder of the publishing house Simon & Schuster, but while dad doted on her two beautiful older sisters, he ignored Carly. She developed a stammer. Doctors-and-nurses games with the boyfriend of one of those sisters were pretty advanced for her being just seven. The “overly sexual atmosphere” at home was ramped up some more when her mother hired a live-in tutor for the youngest child and turned him into her toyboy. Mum created a secret passage for these liaisons. The boy got drafted; she went with him. She wouldn’t return when her husband suffered the first of his heart attacks. He knocked on her door during the one which would kill him but got no reply. She was with her lover.

Aha, exclaims the amateur psychoanalyst: all of this would explain Simon’s own romantic misadventures with lotharios of that permissive age, including Jack Nicholson, Mick Jagger, Kris Kristofferson and Warren Beatty. Simon was in therapy herself at 11am the morning after Beatty and she had “made love like in a movie”. The shrink explained: “You’re not the first patient of the day who was with him last night.” Beatty, Simon reveals, was the inspiration for the second verse of You’re So Vain. Two other guys in the song have yet to be identified – reason enough for another volume of memoirs.

Shrinks specialising in rock musicians would surely trip each other up in the race to put the Kinks brothers on the couch. As Johnny Rogan explains in Ray Davies: A Complicated Life (Bodley Head, £25), his subject has been almost permanently irritated by younger sibling Dave. Complicated is one word for Ray. Others collected here include capricious, contrary, cheapskate and cold fish – and that’s just the Cs. Dave asks Rogan: “Can you use the word c***?” Great songwriter, though. Waterloo Sunset is one of the greatest ever.

Elvis Costello looked at one stage like he might inherit Davies’ Albion minstrel role but, strangely, his songs haven’t worn well. Too bitter? Too wordy? You always felt he had a good book in him, though, and Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink (Viking, £25) is a love letter to his father Ross McManus of the Joe Loss Orchestra – “a bloody better singer than you’ll ever be,” cabbies would often tell him.

David Cavanagh’s Good Night And Good Riddance (Faber, £20) is a love letter to a radio show, or shows – 265 of them presented by John Peel. It’s also a cultural history of Britain. Many of the artists featured in the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony – David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Mike Oldfield, the Sex Pistols, Dizzee Rascal etc – owed first spins on the wireless to the grump in the bobbly jumper – “as BBC as Richard Dimbleby, Robin Day, John Arlott and David Coleman.”