When’s the best time to write your autobiography? That’s a tougher question for musicians than all those diary-keeping politicians. Do you get it done early, when you’re still big news but there’s less life to record, as Stormzy, 25, and Lily Allen, 33, did this year? Or late, like The Who’s Roger Daltrey, 74, whose memory banks may be f-f-fading away even though he did less hard living than his bandmates?
Perhaps somewhere in the middle is best. Those who peaked in the Nineties can currently offer wise perspective without the haziness of greater distance. The most entertaining music book of the year was by Beastie Boys Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz, simply titled Book (Faber & Faber, £32).
There’s an underlying sadness to the heavy hardback’s existence – the pair only wrote it because they couldn’t make another album after third member Adam Yauch died from cancer in 2012. But any book that requires a page outlining the difference between an inflatable penis and a hydraulic one can’t be too downbeat. There are hundreds of photos, tabloid front pages recalling their brief UK notoriety, and even comic and recipe sections. The rap pranksters go on to detail a case of hives that left Horovitz looking like “an itchy pickle” while on tour with Madonna, explain the origin of their term for selling out – “kissing the monkey on the nose” – and switch to glossier paper to allow fashion journalist Andre Talley to hammer their dress sense.
It’s surprising that Brett Anderson had time to write Coal Black Mornings (Little, Brown £16.99) given that he is thriving again as the frontman of Suede, whose eighth album hit the top 10 a few months ago. He seems to have done it now to leave plenty of time for volume two. This one ends in 1992, just as the Melody Maker were about to call Suede the best new band in Britain and fame’s hurricane would hit. That leaves more room for him to talk about formative misery, his eccentric Liszt-obsessed father and his grey childhood in Haywards Heath. Those looking for bitchery about mercurial guitarist Bernard Butler or Blur’s Damon Albarn will leave empty-handed, til next time.
Tina Turner, at 79, has had the time to tell her tale twice. My Love Story (Century, £20) supercedes I, Tina, from 1986. Its title may surprise some, given that her best known relationship, with Ike Turner, was no love story. A quick scan through the index is all the reminder you need: “cocaine habit”, “controlling nature”, “womanising”, “hitman to kill TT, attempts to hire” and so on. The love of the title comes from Erwin Bach, a German music executive who she married after 27 years together in 2013. Never mind giving her a ring – last year he gave her one of his kidneys. Various illnesses and the recent suicide of her son Craig cast a shadow over her tale of survival, but her tone is consistently optimistic.
Roger Daltrey is another upbeat storyteller in Thanks a Lot Mr Kibblewhite (Blink, £20), titled as two fingers to the headteacher who expelled him at 15 and told him, “You’ll never make anything of your life.” As the working class scrapper who belts out the tunes, he does seem isolated from his stranger bandmates at times, and struggles with singing Pete Townshend’s song about gender identity, I’m a Boy. Next to the tortured, destructive guitarist and wild man Keith Moon, he’s the sensible one. When he’s briefly kicked out of the band in 1965, it’s not for unprofessional behaviour but for flushing the others’ drugs down the toilet. But the passages from the band’s recent years, now that just him and Townshend remain, show that he’s a loyal, likeable man.
The professional writers have been busy as ever, with prolific biographer Philip Norman taking on Eric Clapton in Slowhand (Orion, £25) and sometime NME man Chris Salewicz digging into the occult fascinations of Led Zeppelin’s mysterious guitarist in Jimmy Page: The Definitive Biography (HarperCollins, £20). There were also thorough, fascinating studies of entire genres such as Dan Hancox’s Inner City Pressure: The Story of Grime (William Collins, £20) and the ambitious Mars by 1980: The Story of Electronic Music by David Stubbs (Faber & Faber, £20). The latter journeys all the way from Jesuit priest Jean-Baptiste Delaborde’s clavecin électrique in 1759 to the cacophonous EDM of Skrillex today.
Bruce W. Talamon presents a narrower timeframe in Soul R&B Funk: Photographs 1972-1982 (Taschen, £50). The photographer, who would go on to shoot Indiana Jones films with Steven Spielberg and document Barack Obama’s inauguration, was front row and backstage at a time when black music’s audiences were getting bigger and their outfits louder, especially in the case of George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic. As a coffee table book big enough for Bootsy Collins’s star-shaped sunglasses to be viewed life-size, it’s a beautiful thing.
For those seeking more esoteric pleasures, the oddest music book of the year contained neither biography, history or photography. The Music: A Novel Through Sound (Unbound, £14.99) is by Matthew Herbert, a sound artist perhaps best known for his album One Pig, made entirely from the sampled noises of a single pig from birth to slaughter and beyond. The book is a vivid series of sound descriptions, from “Three bullets through a car boot in quick succession” to “The silence after a bee has left a flower”. It’s a marathon score that the reader hears in their mind, a bizarre experience a world away from the latest crop of life stories.