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Friday, August 19, 2022

The 10 best music books of 2021 – NME

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From in-depth examinations of scenes to meaty memoirs and an entire book about, erm, chewing gum, this was a great year for literary musos
It’s been an amazing, bumper year for music books – perhaps time off the road inspired our favourite artists to dust off the manuscript that’s been languishing in a drawer. Whether you’re on the hunt for some last-minute Christmas stocking fillers, or a hefty tome to hide behind when things get heated after the Queen’s Speech, look no further than NME‘s best music books of the year…
The Beatles’ Paul McCartney has written some of the best-known lyrics of all time, and in this chunky volume – edited by the Irish poet Paul Muldoon – Macca lays out the fascinating stories behind ubiquitous classics such as ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Eleanor Rigby’. As well as being crammed with intriguing pieces of trivia (‘Yesterday’s original lyrics were: “Scrambled eggs / oh, my baby / How I love your legs”) it makes for a detail-packed autobiography told through music.
Killer line: “Writing a song is like talking to a psychiatrist”,
“Some day I’ll have to tell you the rest,” writes Dave Grohl in his mostly wholesome memoir, which sticks largely to digging into the origin story of how a bored kid from the suburbs of Virginia ended up in Nirvana and later founded  Foo Fighters. It makes for an alternative, more personal retelling of how he ended up drumming in the biggest bands in the world.
Killer line: “You never know how much Beatles memorabilia you have until a Beatle comes to visit”
Would you be brave enough to share the contents of your phone notes – chaotic shopping lists and drafts for long paragraph texts alike – with the world? As you’d perhaps expect from listening to her candid, brutally honest music as Self Esteem, Rebecca Lucy Taylor is up for the challenge, and through a series of poems, diary entries and brief notes, her debut book tells the story of how the former Slow Club member turned solo, contextualising her solo project’s ethos in the process.
Killer line: “You might be bored of my four chords but there’s still so much I want to say”
Beginning with the Primal Scream frontman’s childhood growing up in Springburn, Glasgow, ‘Tenement Kid’ tells the story of a kid who dreamed of becoming an astronaut and ended up becoming a “cosmonaut of inner space” instead,  defining a generation with his psychedelic dance-rock. Concluding with the release of ‘Screamadelica’ in 1991, it leaves plenty of room for a sequel, too.
Killer line: “Don’t be a spectator, be a creator – that’s what the message of punk was, and, to me, that’s also the legacy of acid house.”
Spanning 50 years of modern music, The Roots’ founding member Questlove covers a lot of ground in his sixth book – drawing lines between Dr. Dre, Tears For Fears, OutKast and Prince, frequently examining why certain pieces of art become embroidered into the tapestry of history while others fade away.
Killer line: “Much of the time, history gets told when people are permitted (or even invited) to tell it — in other words, when someone who is already interested in telling a story is charged with doing so.”
These days, people barely bat an eyelid when an artist posts a sponsored #ad on the ‘gram, but in the early ‘90s – soon after Nirvana signed to DGC Records – the idea of an alternative act signing with a major label came attached with a huge stigma. For bands like Green Day, Blink-182, and Jimmy Eat World, “selling out” still came at a cost, and in some cases, the pressure caused bands such as Jawbreaker to implode completely. Penned by American music writer Dan Ozzi, who also co-authored Laura Jane Grace’s autobiography, it’s an intriguing look at a pivotal time for the music industry.
Killer line: “No band ever thinks they’re ever going to sell out. Until, one day, they do.”

Questlove. Credit: Getty

Irish singer-songwriter Sinéad O’Connor has never been one to conform to the rules of a ‘well-behaved’ woman in music, infamously ripping up a photograph of the pope on Saturday Night Live in 1992 and semi-sabotaging her own career. As she details in Rememberings speaking up has always felt more important than being famous. Bracingly honest, Rememberings might be emotional, but it also plays host to some excellent anecdotes that highlight O’Connor’s wicked sense of humour – see the time she put on a disguise and joined a protest against herself.
Killer line: “I never signed anything that said I would be a good girl.”
Since 1994, artist Stanley Donwood has designed all of Radiohead’s artwork – and as Thom Yorke and the rest of the band work on music, their go-to artist often works on the visual side in parallel. The process often relies on, as Donwood once put it to DIY, “Thom’s ability to fuck up whatever it is that I’m painting.” Teaming up for this ‘commonplace’ book of sketches, scribblings, early lyrics, and scrawled out notes, Yorke and Donwood give a rare glimpse into the inner workings of their creative collaborations.
Killer line: “It seems a dreadful mistake has been made: the local paper has printed an article about a gentleman who really does have this enviable talent, but they have put my photograph above the article”.
Since the advent of the internet, music has become more and more genre-slippy, and the lines that once divided artists into various camps – ”dance” “punk” “hip-hop” – are increasingly blurred. Putting forward an interesting perspective on the whole thing, Kelefa Sanneh writes passionately about the community around these clearly defined groups; this is an elegy for a time the streaming age is quickly leaving behind.
Killer line: “I loved punk because I didn’t see myself represented in it… Black, brown-skinned, biracial, African. It was thrilling to claim these alien bands and this alien movement as my own.”

Self Esteem, shot for NME by Eva Pentel.

This alternative spin on biography starts with a piece of chewing gum being flung by Nina Simone during a performance at Nick Cave’s Meltdown festival in 1999. The book’s author, Bad Seeds member Warren Ellis, treasured the book for 20 years by its author. With an introduction from Cave, Ellis’ book hinges on a strange idea, but winds up as a tribute to the small moments that become a music fan’s beautiful treasures. In the process it captures what it means to love music in the first place.
Killer line: “I hadn’t opened the towel that contained her gum since 2013. The last person to touch it was Nina Simone, her saliva and fingerprints unsullied.”
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© 2021 NME is part of NME Networks.

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