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Book Recommendations for the Music Lover

If you didn’t know, music plays such an important part in my life.

My mother is a self taught musician. She can’t read music, but if she’s heard the song, or can listen to it a few times, she’ll pick it out on the piano without too much delay. My whole life, for as long as I can remember, is punctuated with memories of my mom playing on her piano, or her bass or acoustic guitar, or her drums. If she wasn’t playing, she was singing- in the car, in the house cleaning, on stage at the yearly volunteer fire-station fundraiser.

There were also times where her friends would come over and jam, or visa versa, and she even played in a gospel band for a little bit. She played whatever fit the mood- classic country (Patsy Cline was a favorite), classic rock (Hotel California, a fave warm-up), and current country and pop. In summary, my mom made me love music.

img_0633Now, the sad thing is, I’m hopelessly tone deaf and the only place I really allow myself to sing is in the car- alone- or at concerts where everyone really can’t hear me. That, I get from my father.

But dad taught me something else- how to appreciate music. Obviously, he’s my mom’s #1 fan, but he’s also a huge classic rock fan- and he’ll oblige with some country or folk music. So growing up, he made this game, ‘Who sings it?’ And it didn’t matter where we were, whenever we had the tunes on, we’d play the guessing game. I’ll be the first to admit, we were not very good at it, but after years of learning, we got really good at knowing who sang it, even before the first words were sung. When we all started developing our own tastes in music, we’d talk about what we liked about newly discovered songs and artists.

As the bookie in me tends to, I started looking into the history of the songs, artists, and the surrounding time periods, seeing how some of my favorite songs came to be. So, I thought I’d compile those amazing musical reads into one post. If you’ve got a music lover in your midst, I’ve got a recommendation for them!


 

The Rolling Stone Interviews with introduction by Jann S. Wenner
Published: November 1, 2007, Back Bay Books

Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: drugs, sex, rock and roll lifestyle, suicide, overdoses, eating disorders, death.

img_6128This compilation of interviews from Rolling Stone magazine from the late 1960’s all the way to the new millennium. Written by different journalists, each interview manages to delve into the personal thoughts of music legends and era icons. Rolling Stone has the reputation of getting the private moments, the exclusive information, and the raw emotion in it’s interviews, from the most high profile guests. The questions are deeply researched and the answers open and honest, and written as spoken. It’s an answer to everyone who has wanted to know what it’s like to be a fly on the wall near Lennon, or Jagger, or Springsteen.

For me, these interviews are a way to connect myself to the icons that I grew up with, that my parents grew up with. For any one, they are a way to see what they were like off stage, off TV, out of the limelight. I love reading about their inspiration, the artistry behind their product. And personally, I get a thrill when I can mentally “hear” the interviewee’s diction in their responses.

Mick Jagger from The Rolling Stones, explaining the ingredients that made “Satisfaction” a signature song:

It has a very catchy title. It has a very catchy guitar riff. It has a great guitar sound, which was original at the time. And it captures a spirit of the times, which is very important in those kind of songs.

If you’re a classic rock fan, a rock and roll fan, a blues fan- this book is for you. If you’re into journalism, and want to see some emotional interview examples- this book is for you. If you want to see celebrities in a different light, or get inside their minds- this book is for you. If you just dig music, or history, or just want some artistic or political inspiration, take this book off the shelf.

Girls Like Us by Sheila Weller
Published: January 1, 2008, Washington Square Press

Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: drugs, sex, rock and roll lifestyle, suicide, overdoses, eating disorders, death.

Girls Like Us is about three leading ladies in songwriting- Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon. In the book, there are alternating segments for each woman, and they include biographies, histories of their musical developments, and stories about the time period that these women lived in.

img_4790Carole King, born Carole Klein, grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and at an early age decided to change her last name to King (using a phone book for inspiration) and started her career composing music with a group of fans. As her talent grew, she ended up writing songs for Aldon Music, a publishing company that influenced the Brill Building 1960’s pop sound. She married fellow songwriter Gerry Goffin at seventeen, and at eighteen, they wrote one of the most significant history-breaking songs of the time- a 1958 hit called “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, sung by the Shirelles, an all black girl group. For a white Jewish female songwriter to write a hit song for an all black female group was groundbreaking. Soon, she was hammering out hit after hit on her piano, writing for the latest artists, and crafting her signature style of using simple melodies with a classical twist, and pairing them with soulful R&B rhythm. This is what kicked off Carole’s career, but it was only the beginning.

Roberta Joan Mitchell, known as Joni Mitchell, grew up in  Alberta and Saskatoon, Canada, before making her way to debut in Yorkville Village in Toronto. Raised by her strict mother, Joni started to slightly rebel (maintaining a dual persona of good girl and bad girl) by following her artistic and bohemian side. She attended an liberal arts school, and though she loved to paint, she decided to follow her true calling- performing. She started working in a coffee shop and was given the opportunity to sing- and despite mixed reviews from the owners, she was booked as the shop’s back up performer and well received by the local audience. Despite personal struggles, she didn’t hide her past- instead, she turned her heartache into lyrics and sang them like an intimate confession to her audience.

Carly Simon, from the Bronx in New York, grew up in a house full of women, surrounded by privilege and modern female nurturing. Yet, she harbored insecurities and was desperate to gain her father’s approval- so she began to perform. After her father’s death, she was left with a lack of closure on their relationship, which spilled into other relationships as Carly stepped into the dating pool. She ‘played house’ with a man whose career came first in the relationship, and Carly realized that she wanted to perform, not hold court. Teaming up with her sister Lucy in a sister act, they started touring but struggled to get exposure even after their demo song hit the top 100. After another failed romance and the sister act failing, Carly was alone. Trying again, she took her guitar and with the help of two men, made her way back into songwriting, and didn’t look back.

As each woman’s story is revealed, the reader also meets the people that were important influences and supporters of their music and careers. From their family members, to their friends, to their coworkers, to their lovers, each woman had dozens of colorful characters working beside them. Almost interview style, memories and details of defining moments were shared about these ‘supporting characters’, as well as their own personal backgrounds and how each story wove into the grand scheme of supreme songwriting. The biggest take away is that these women started out just like you and I, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, each navigating the turbulent world they lived in. 

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce
Published: July 13, 2017, Random House Trade

Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: depression, loss of business.

img_2214In 1988, Frank, owner of The Music Shop, only sells vinyl in a world that is technologically shifting towards CDs and cassette tapes. He loves all sorts of music, and believes nothing sounds as good as vinyl. Frank grew up only listening to classical music, favoring Chopin, due to his mother Peg’s influence until the fateful day that he ventured into a record store. There, he learned about the broad spectrum of music and the effects that it can have on a person. Soon, he was known for being a man who could find the perfect album or identify a song for any given customer- without them even asking. Unfortunately, Unity Street was in turmoil- shops were closing or being bought out by developers, and barely making ends meet. Frank, and a few fellow shopkeepers on the street, are determined to keep their doors open and support each other.

One fateful day, a woman is passing by The Music Shop in a green coat. Frank is watching her, caught up in her beauty, when suddenly she passes out. Acting quickly, Frank and his shop family jump to her rescue, calling an ambulance while Frank reassures her that he’s not going to leave her alone, that help is on the way. As he watches her leave in the ambulance, Frank wishes he could see her again under different circumstances. After a few days, the woman walks into the shop and introduces herself to Frank as Isle Brauchmann, and thanks him for coming to her rescue. Everyone in the shop, including Frank, is fascinated to have this woman reappear, but Frank knows that despite the sudden admiration for Ilse, there’s not a chance she’d ever fall for a guy like him. Then, when she mentions that she had a fiance, he throws up an emotional wall between them and urges her to leave.

Taken aback, Isle doesn’t understand why Frank is pushing her away, but she can’t seem to give up on him. She comes back to the shop, and demands music lessons from Frank. Guarded but still hopelessly falling for her, Frank takes on the assignment to help support his shop. Soon, Frank and Isle are having weekly lessons at the local cafe, discussing the wonder of music- the imagery, the emotion. Yet, in the back of Frank’s mind, his past prevents him from feeling worthy of Isle’s love.

Joyce gave me some serious Fredrik Backman vibes throughout her novel. Though the characters are quirky and the humor is well timed, there was still a deep undercurrent of emotion that stirred underneath and pulled me in. Frank’s backstory and relationship with Peg and Deb broke my heart, and all I could do was cheer on Ilse in the hopes that she could see through his tough exterior. I absolutely adored the ending, and I won’t spoil it for you but I kept giggling and smiling as the narrator gave the listeners the full experience. It was magical, in the most cheesy way. I also loved geeking out with Frank about his music, because I too enjoy many of the same bands and musicians. Through Joyce’s writing, the readers are easily able to join in on the conversations of music appreciation.

Useless Magic by Florence Welch
Published: July 10, 2018, Crown Archetype

Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: love, relationships, heartbreak, diversity, equality, death.

img_2249The collection from Florence Welch, lead singer of Florence and the Machine,  is comprised of five sections- one for each album (LungsCeremonialsHow Big How Blue How Beautiful, and High As Hope), and one for a collection of Welch’s poetry. Within each section are the lyrics to the band’s songs (sorted by album), mementos from the tours, and notes from Welch. In between all these are photos, art pieces and designs that are just freaking gorgeous. The whole compilation is like a scrapbook from Welch’s point of view.

I also just want to note that if you’ve never really listened to the band, or thought about their lyrics, then please do. They’re a wonderful example of how poetry can become lyrics, how lyrics can become a performance. They’re very clever and create such imagery- and this is why the band is often considered “art rock”. In my opinion, there aren’t a ton of bands out there who get this creative with there lyrics, which makes them a standout group. I also love how Welch’s voice is very distinct, and while reading her book, I could easily bring up the sound of it to accompany the words on the page.

I don’t know what else to say about this other than it’s a beautiful cloth-bound piece of art, and absolutely perfect for anyone who is a fan of the band or Welch herself.

More Recommendations

There are a few more recommendations I wanted to keep as their own reviews, but they should certainly be added to this list! Here are a few links to even more awesome music-related books that were recently published.

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Categories: Music, Recommendations

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2 replies

  1. Loved The Music Shop! You might also love The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom! 🙌 one more music themed book I’ve read but didn’t enjoy as much as these two is The Ensemble.

  2. Not sure how I posted a anonymous 😱 ~Carol

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