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CD Reviews:
Grammys, Beatles, Miles And More Mark New Music Books

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, December 30, 2007

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Rounding up a few of the late-season entries on the music book shelves...

And the Grammy Goes To...: The Official Story of Music's Most Coveted Award by David Wild (State Street Press, 240 pages): [2.5 stars] A colorful, coffee table-sized tribute to the Grammy Awards, which turn 50 this year. It's a handsome and, as a sanctioned publication of the Grammy-supervising National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, safe overview of the previous 49 ceremonies, recalling winners, notable performances and memorable podium quips without much analysis or even acknowledgement of the Grammys' occasionally questionable credibility. Perhaps the subtle approach -- photos of Barry Manilow and the Starland Vocal Band, winners of the 1977 Best New Artist trophy, on facing pages, for instance -- was deemed more effective. The accompanying trivia DVD is good fun, however.

Fab Four Faq by Stuart Shea and Robert Rodriguez (Hal Leonard, 510 pages): [3 stars] There are more Beatles books out there than Paul McCartney has silly love songs, but this one mixes scholarship with trivia -- and a good sense of humor. Shea and Rodriguez trip lightly but knowledgeably through Beatles' lore, confirming rumors and debunking myths, offering highly subjective lists of the best Beatles songs, books and instruments, and even delving into arcana such as 10 acts that knocked the Beatles from No. 1 on the charts and the group members' favorite vices. An enjoyable and useful volume, whether read in one sitting or one chapter at a time.

The Official Punk Rock Book of Lists by Amy Wallace and Handsome Dick Manitoba (Backbeat Books, 313 pages): [3.5 stars] You can find plenty of scholarly analyses of the whole punk movement, but this book poses the question -- Why bother? Wallace and the Dictators' Manitoba instead have a great time tossing out concepts and ideas, tracking the origins of punk rockers' stage names, chronicling hobbies (the Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten as a teenage vampire hunter) and pre- and post-fame jobs, and enlisting some of those musicians to provide lists of their own. It's the kind of book that rewards a random thumb-through, and, like Lays potato chips, we bet ya can't read just one list.

Eye Mind: The Saga of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators, the Pioneers of Psychedelic Sound by Paul Drummond (Process, 424 pages): [3 stars] Roky Erickson was America's Syd Barrett, a rock 'n' roll visionary who succumbed to drugs and an inability to balance artistic ambition with ephemeral fame. Drummond's dense, painstakingly researched tome digs beneath the mythology and downright ignorance surrounding Erickson's existence, unearthing not only reams of information and first-hand reports from those on the scene but also a trove of photos that help to put some flesh into the story. It's a fascinating, er, trip, but it's so comprehensive that it's recommended for devotees rather than dabblers.

]The Message: 100 Life Lessons From Hip-Hop's Greatest Songs By Felicia Pride (Thunder's Mouth Press, 276 pages): [2.5 stars] The tone is a little -- OK, maybe more than a little -- serious and self-important. But this hand-sized collection of essays about "The Message," "Jesus Walks," "Planet Rock" and 97 others makes a literate case for lyrical import and can be used to whack over the heads of all those gratuitous hip-hop haters who diss the music without even hearing a note.

The Miles Davis Reader edited and compiled by Frank Alkyer (Hal Leonard, 356 pages): [3 stars] An exceptional collection of articles about, interviews with and reviews of the late trumpet great and his works from the pages of DownBeat [cq] magazine. An illuminating adjunct to the music that only makes you want to hear more of it.

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