Added On: Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Sunday Times best books of 2007: music

Racy recollections of bad behaviour, rehab and recovery dominate our reviewer's pick of the year's most entertaining music books

ERIC CLAPTON: The Autobiography
Century £20

Many years in and out of rehab have clearly taught Clapton the importance of being truthful – even when the truth entails unflattering accounts of drink, drug and sex addiction, and a weird relationship with his manager, which for years got in the way of his bonding with anybody else. This barely ghosted book reads as if it were stitched together, almost verbatim, from interview tapes, but the life it describes is so unusual – from his absconding mother, to the infatuation with Pattie Boyd (his best friend George Harrison’s wife) to the death of his son Conor, and beyond – that even Clapton agnostics will find it difficult to put down.

TONY VISCONTI: The Autobiography: Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy
Harper £8.99

The book’s subtitle highlights the main reasons why this memoir by the American record producer Tony Visconti is worth seeking out. A classically trained musical omnivore who moved to Britain in 1967, drawn by a fascination with the Beatles and George Martin, Visconti became, almost by accident, one of the prime movers of glam rock. His outsider’s view of London’s tiny, tatty underground scene of the late 1960s is wonderfully vivid, as is his close quarters observation of the sibling-esque rivalry between the young David Bowie and Marc Bolan. Visconti’s recent canonisation by Morrissey gives his story a usefully contemporary ending.

HEAVEN AND HELL: My Life in the Eagles 1974-2001 by Don Felder
Weidenfeld £20

Nobody expressed the schizophrenia of 1970s rock’n’roll better than the Eagles. The West Coast country crooners who made their name singing sweetly of Peaceful Easy Feelings swiftly turned into paranoid, coke-addled ego warriors, endlessly feuding in the bar of Hotel California. Former guitarist Felder has resisted various legal moves to stop him becoming the first band member to tell the inside story. What surprises is not so much the lurid tales of sex, drugs and music business skulduggery, but Felder’s unembittered tone and his humane desire to understand how the Eagles’s original five-man hippie democracy sank so low, so fast.

BIT OF A BLUR: The Autobiography by Alex James
Little, Brown £16.99

Blur’s bigeyed bass player, Alex James, has led one charmed life. In fact, to judge from the hair-raising exploits he recounts here with insouciant, guilt-free glee, he is lucky to have survived the 1990s. After Blur became one of the poster bands of Britpop, James embarked on a seven-year binge during which he claims to have spent £1m on cocaine and champagne, while frantically bedding any woman who crossed his path. Faye Dunaway and Marianne Faithfull appear to have been the only ladies to have resisted his approaches before his Damascene conversion to monogamy, parenthood, broadsheet journalism and cheese-making on his farm in Wiltshire. This might have made a salutary tale if the author hadn’t so obviously loved every last minute of it.

RE-MAKE/RE-MODEL by Michael Bracewell
Faber £20

The importance of British art schools as breeding grounds for pop talent (from John Lennon to Jarvis Cocker) has long been acknowledged. Subtitled Art, Pop, Fashion and the Making of Roxy Music 1953-1972, Bracewell’s book is the first to tackle the reasons why, exploring the complicated exchange of ideas that turned art students such as Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno into pop musicians, and converted the other more musically oriented members of Roxy Music into art rockers. More of a cultural inventory of postwar Britain than an exercise in band hagiography, ReMake/ReModel works as a secret history of the domestic pop scene – as well as explaining how utterly alien it is to America’s.

LONELY AVENUE: The Unlikely Life and Times of Doc Pomus by Alex Halberstadt
Cape £14.99

Compared to the evergreen songs he wrote – Save the Last Dance for Me, Teenager in Love and various classic Elvis tracks such as Viva Las Vegas – Doc Pomus has remained a shadowy figure. Crippled by polio as a child, he became obsessed with the blues as a teenager because, he said, “To the world a fat crippled Jewish kid is a nigger.” By the time he was in his thirties, Pomus was a pillar of New York’s Tin Pan Alley hit factory, and despite his career slide thereafter, at his death in 1991 he was one of the few progenitors of pop to have retained the respect of the rock generation that rendered his line of work obsolete. Halberstadt’s book tells the story of a remarkable character with all the pace and verve you would expect from a veteran American showbiz journalist.

IN SEARCH OF THE BLUES by Marybeth Hamilton
Cape £12.99

Hamilton’s revisionist account of the Delta blues (subtitled Black Voices, White Visions) has, understandably, ruffled feathers. Her argument that the adoration of Mississippi-based itinerant hobos such as Robert Johnson was less about their musical achievement and more to do with the cultural neuroses of certain white, male record collectors (“prepared to laud black creativity only when it is old and decrepit”) can sound strident. But the author’s well-researched tales of the naive misjudgment of dirt-poor black musicians (notably the convicted murderer Leadbelly) by their unintentionally exploitative white patrons make a gripping and often funny read.

BESTSELLERS

1 Eric Clapton: The Autobiography
(Century) 49,085

2 Ronnie: The Autobiography by Ronnie Wood
(Macmillan) 19,995

3 Barefaced Lies and Boogie-woogie Boasts by Jools Holland
(M Joseph) 17,000

4 Bit of a Blur by Alex James
(Little, Brown) 16,445

5The Autobiography by Johnnie Walker
(M Joseph) 15,660

Bestsellers list prepared by The Bookseller using data supplied by and copyright to Nielsen BookScan taken from the TCM 02/01/07-10/11/07

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