In the interests of suspense I’ve created my own personal Hit Parade of the best music books of 2016, and straight in at No 10…
10 I Read The News Today, Oh Boy by Paul Howard. Not strictly a music book but this gets in by being about the live-fast, die-young socialite Tara Browne, who “blew his mind out in a car” and inspired the Beatles’ greatest song, A Day In The Life. When the Swinging Sixties’ most fabulous sex goddess, Anita Pallenberg, turns up at your 21st you should probably think it’s all downhill from there, and after a few more groovy wing-dings, it was.
9 The ABC Of 1-2-3 by Billy Ritchie. Before Roger Dean painted the prog-rock world on album sleeves, three Scots planted the first flag only to fall right off the edge. My 2012 story tracking them down is reproduced in keyboardist Ritchie’s version of events and there’s since been a TV documentary. A 1-2-3 reunion next, lads?
8 Loose Canon: The Extraordinary Songs Of Clive James And Pete Atkin by Ian Shircore. With his health failing James has been writing like a fury: columns, poems, essays and another book of dazzling TV criticism. But he loved more than anything in the 1970s trying to become the next Hal David, the new Johnny Mercer.
7 Eternal Troubadour: The Improbable Life Of Tiny Tim by Justin Martell and Alanna Wray McDonald. If you loved Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In as much as me you probably would have accepted as its court musician a large, crazy-haired, big-nosed, ukulele-picking clown singing Tiptoe Through The Tulips in a helium-high voice. That’s exactly what the show got.
6 Small Town Talk by Barney Hoskyns. When Bob Dylan came off his motorbike in the upstate New York town of Woodstock, lots of hippies decided: “Man, I think I’m gonna crash here for a while.” This is a biography of the town and the Svengali, Albert Grossman, who when he realised Janis Joplin couldn’t kick the drugs, secretly took out an insurance policy which would pay him $200,000 on her death.
5 Never A Dull Moment: Rock’s Golden Year by David Hepworth. Ya boo sucks to Hepworth, coming back for another go at the “My fave band’s better than your fave band” game popular in school common rooms now that he’s got long trousers, historical perspective and bigger words. The year is 1971, the albums included Sticky Fingers, Led Zeppelin IV and Tapestry, the argument is persuasive.
4 Shock And Awe by Simon Reynolds. “Does anyone really want to read 650 pages on glam rock?” queried the Spectator. Too right. The world was uniformly grey in the early 1970s; the music world was all denim and cheesecloth. Reynolds is great on David Bowie, but also Gary Glitter, who was no more of an opportunist who’d failed with other styles. The double-drumming of the disgraced Leader’s hits was the soundtrack to my youth club being trashed by the Clockwork Orange-apeing Young Mental Drylaw.
3 Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen. I thought I was done with The Boss. Not developed more sophisticated tastes – far from it – but those three-and-a-half-hour shows wear you down. Then, without telling anyone, he went and wrote his memoir – brilliantly.
2 I’m Not With The Band by Sylvia Patterson. Two Perth-tinged tales vie for the top spot. With a comic-book whoosh, Patterson escaped DC Thomson to become Smash Hits’ fearless interrogator of pop stars. To Beyoncé: “Have you ever been sick down your cleavage?” To a newly-celibate Prince: “What do you do with an ill-timed erection?”
1 Young Soul Rebels: A Personal History Of Northern Soul by Stuart Cosgrove. A thrilling, tops-off, dance-all-night winner. Cosgrove rates books by the gripability of the third sentence. He gets right down to it, for this is his opener: “Nothing will ever compare to the amphetamine rush of my young life and the night I was nearly buggered by my girlfriend’s uncle in the Potteries.”