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  • Writer's pictureBlair Morgan

Chill Beats and Cozy Pages: 3 Music-Inspired Books for Your Winter Reading List

The winter has truly landed in these parts one benefit is getting through the reading pile and there appears to be no let up regarding the music arising from anything related to the golden age of last century



"All You Need is Love" by Peter Brown & Steven Gaines

 

"Finally made the plane into Paris, honeymooning down by the Seine, Peter Brown called to say you can get make it ok, you can get married in Gibraltar near Spain"


The Ballad of John & Yoko , 1969


By the mid 80's the appetite to read every conceivable detail of the Beatle's existence hadn't quite reached the  level of intrigue or interest that occurred post Anthology & Britpop in the mid 90's. After Philip Norman's "Shout" , "The Love You Make" co authored by Steve Gaines and Peter Brown, a close friend and business associate of The Beatles, was the most notable contribution documenting the Beatles rise and implosion . However over the years with painstaking research by the likes of Mark Lewisohn, "The Love You Make" became an oddity, not helped by both third and first person perspectives and a sloppy narrative .It is something primary author Steven Gaines does not disagree with , as outlined in this recent interview on the great Something About the Beatles podcast.

 

Timely for a revision especially as Peter Brown, now in his late 80's  was quoted in the NY Times "The only people left are Ringo and me" (there are a few more (eg Pattie Boyd, Jane Asher) but Brown as an employee of Manager Brian Epstein and effectively the COO of Apple Corps is arguably closest (and name checked above in a Beatles track).

 

The approach this time is to take the primary source interviews that Gaines (more often than not in the presence of Brown) conducted in the latter half of 1980 (with John Lennon still alive but tragically a couple of weeks away from being interviewed) alongside some narrative guidance from Brown as an intro to each interview. And what interviews these were. Within a decade of the bands breakup and with memories still clear , some of these recollections shed new light onto the dynamic of the band, the personalities and the (usually bad) business dealings.


It is hard to put this down once you start reading and Lennon & McCartney don't come out of this looking like the carefully manipulated iconic personalities that have been allowed to develop. Lennon basically is a nasty piece of work while McCartney is a rampant womaniser and pot head. As for George Harrison , he seems to be off on frequent tangents equal parts spiritual then imploring the authors to secure a copy of his recently released "I Me Mine"  semi-autobiography. Then there is probably the only interview with Allen Klein as well as John Eastman both key figures on opposing sides of the infamous lawsuit (Paul vs the other three). There is so much to unpick and ponder here, like anything with the Beatles the sum is always more than it's parts.


Summary: Essential reading


Rod Stewart: The Classic Years by Sean Egan

 

You have a sense Sean Egan is apologetic about writing this book (admittedly slim at circa 200 pages ) regarding Rod Stewart.  It's all there in the book jacket "Many have long found it difficult to take Rod Stewart seriously."

 

"Rod Stewart: The Classic Years" chronicles the creative peak of his career, namely the arc of his debut self titled solo album in the late 60's through to his last Mercury release Smiler in 1973 and sweeping up the iconic Faces releases occurring throughout this time .

 

Reading at times  like an extended 33  1/3 book album critique , Egan's thorough research and engaging writing style bring Stewart's flamboyant personality and immense but ultimately wayward talent to life.  There are key interviews with the likes of  ex bandmates Ian McLagan, Jim Cregan, Kenney Jones, Martin Quittendon (co writer of "Maggie May" & other early songs, ex Management and notably his partner through these years Dee Harrington).

 


Egan is clearly a fan of this early work and rates Every Picture Tells a Story as one of the greatest albums of all time. Stewart had a particular vision for his music in the early years , acoustic driven , a core band with Quittendon , Ronnie Wood, Micky Waller on drums. You could call it pastoral or a British vision of Americana , whatever he made some great production choices and proved he could could write or co write great songs (you may be sick of "Maggie May" but as a song the chord structure is unconventional but somehow works (zero chorus!) . A point of contention is that Egan treats the Faces material as lightweight in comparison to Stewart's solo recordings during this time - consider "A nod's as good as a wink to a blind horse, yes a stupid title but contains some of Ronnie Wood's greatest guitar playing ,and the quality of the Stewart/Wood collaborations ("Miss Judy's Farm", "Stay With Me") in conjunction with Ronnie Lane's material ("Debris") easily put this on a par with what Stewart was doing solo during this time.


A late eighties box set of Stewarts was named Storyteller and that sums up what Stewart was able to conjure up during this time , it was something sporadically seen when he shifted to the both major labels and the showbusiness profile he seemed to crave; an Atlantic Crossing in more ways than one. It's a timely reminder of how good he was.

Summary: Easy to read yet valuable look back

 

"Scattershot" Bernie Taupin


"Scattershot", is a perfect title as Bernie Taupin is all over the place with his autobiography. Least we forget it, and Bernie is not slow to remind us, he is  the  lyricist behind Elton John's greatest hits and was a reasonably consistent co writer over the breadth of Elton's career.


 A shameless namedropper Bernie ensures he peppers each chapter with "famous" names and his proximity to them . Witness the chapter on John Lennon and the lead up to his last public performance with Elton in 1974 at New York's Madison Square Garden (cue pictures of Bernie "hanging" with John on a private jet and side stage) .  He often writes that "we performed here, we recorded here, our best album is this etc etc" , giving the distinct impression that Bernie was part of the band too (he wasn't, he just wrote the lyrics and Elton John is the artist on the tickets and on the album covers etc ) . In fact Taupin seems to have a longstanding gripe about the recording studio environment and both his treatment by certain people and his aversion to them.


In short he seems to have some things to get off his chest.....


I had no idea he co wrote "the most awesomely bad song of all time " (he quotes this from somewhere),  "We Built This City"  the gigantic hit during the 80's for Starship (formerly Jefferson Airplane). Bernie takes an opportunity to put the boot into Grace Slick the Starship vocalist who reportedly hated the song thus.. "I wouldn't go knocking one that people are going to remember long after the rabbit's dead*. Do I like the song ? It's a moot point . If I hadn't written it, no, but I did so I stand by it...". Elsewhere he takes some pot shots at the likes of Rod Stewart for moving to the US but behaving like a Brit with his affection for the likes of Soccer  "quirky breed of Englishmen who emigrate to the US then proceed to fervently cling to every bit of Britishness."


We are taken to many many exotic places and cities on planet earth (Christchurch even gets a brief mention in a chapter devoted to the Australian exploits over the years) and read about many of his female companions along the way (including multiple failed marriages).

Musically there are glimpses into the process that he has undertaken with Elton over the years and there is no doubt he has a deep sense of music history (there is a great telling of his quest to have the great Willie Dixon recognised in various Halls of Fame).


Is this worth reading? Well consider this extract and be warned (and remember this is a man who has written words to fit in with music over nearly 60 year which makes some of the writing style in the book even more puzzling.

 

" In a melancholy rain, the murmur of the wind sang softly through the live oaks and drummed the leaves above our heads , the rhythmic tattoo of the heavy late summer drops playing into the fantasy...."


Yes the sentence above has not ended yet but you get the point. Hence be prepared to skim read often over the nearly 400 x pages (including tedious pages on the merits of rodeo in the US , something Taupin adopted as a pastime in conjunction with his ranch purchase in California).


*a reference to the Jefferson Airplane hit "White Rabbit"


Summary: Proceed carefully, it's preferable to just listen to the music.


Happy Reading !!



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