Michael Jarrett’s Producing Country: The Inside Story of the Great Recordings is one of the best oral histories of country music to come around for quite some time. But rather than telling that history from the point of view of the artists and musicians, Michael takes us on the other side of the glass into the control room to hear from the producers and engineers who recorded the music. It’s a great angle that gives the story another dimension.

Covering from 1927 to 2010, Jarrett talks to some of the biggest producers in the genre getting the inside scoop on many of the biggest hits in country music. All of it is told in their words from interviews Michael conducted (with a couple of exceptions such as Don Law, whose son, Don Law Jr, speaks for him).Jarrett - Producing C-300-X

Michael was kind enough to talk a little about the book:

Music Tomes: Your book really tells the story of the history of country music from the other side of the glass than it is normally told from. How did you get interested in relating that side of the story?

Michael Jarrett: I don’t consider myself a record collector. I’m not sufficiently obsessive. For example, I’m certainly not what’s sometimes called a completest. That said, I’ve bought and listened to a whole lot of records for, what is now, a whole lot of years. Early on, I began to notice that the names of producers were pretty good indicators of whether or not I would like a recording. For example, I might not know the name of a new artist, but if, say, some guy named Jerry Wexler produced the artist’s recording, I’d most likely enjoy it. After all, I’d noticed that Wexler produced Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, and then, surprise, Willie Nelson. “How does this happen?” I began to wonder. How is my experience of music—which seems so personal and autonomous—shaped by some mysterious figure called “the producer”? Not to mention, how was it that magic seemed to occur so frequently in the presence of certain producers? Did producer Bob Johnston, for instance, have anything to do with the Bob Dylan albums I so dearly loved? I suspected that he did, but if so, what in the world was it? It certainly was not apparent. Finally, why didn’t people talk more about producers?

MT: You’ve interviewed many of the great country music producers. Is there anyone you would have liked to interview but never got the chance?

MJ: Anyone? There are many people I wish I could have interviewed but didn’t get the chance. One of the painful consequences of knowing what I now know about production is a hyper-awareness of missed or never-available opportunities. Among the dead, I’ll single out one name. I wish I could have spoken with pioneer producer Uncle Art Satherley. He and Don Law are music’s Lewis and Clark. Among the living, one figure looms large–Billy Sherrill—though I’m happy to say that my book has plenty of material on Sherrill. Even so, I can’t think of a production job any better than the one Sherrill did with Tammy Wynette’s “Till I Get It Right.”

MT: What traits did you find that the most successful producers shared?

MJ: If anybody is capable of brokering peace in the Middle East, I’d put my money on a record producer. Record producers not only work peacefully with some of the planet’s most difficult people they prompt those people to create great American art. All of the producers I’ve met, are natural diplomats and psychologists. Harold Bradley told me that people constantly tried to get his brother, famed producer Owen Bradley, to admit that Patsy Cline was “difficult.” I’ll bet Cline really could be unbelievably difficult, that is, to anybody except Owen Bradley. And that’s, finally, why Owen Bradley was one of the greatest record producers ever.

MT: How have you seen the role of the producer change over the years?

MJ: Nowadays, mainly because of hip-hop and dance-pop, kids know the names of producers, and they understand what producers do—at least kinda sorta. That knowledge points to a gigantic change in production. It probably began way back with Phil Spector, but the contemporary producer is incontestably an artist in his or her own right, even though most producers still strive for some level of “invisibility.”

Another change—and one that bugs me—charts something like a late consequence of recording technology. Many of today’s producers understand their job as the creation of perfect (often flawless) tracks. No wonder producers are seen (and see themselves) as artists. In the past they featured themselves more as instigators or, to mix metaphors, as midwives of great music. Their job was to prompt or to enable amazing performances. (Engineers captured these performances.)

MT: What are you currently working on?

MJ: I’m working on a companion book to Producing Country, that is, most likely, its inverse. This week, the manuscript’s working title is Recording Jazz. Next week, it might be The Jazz Record. Here again, I’m using record producers to tell an oral history. But with jazz the producer’s role is, predominantly, self-effacement. In a very important sense, jazz aspires to a calculus that would eliminate production altogether: the great jazz album is understood as engineered but, probably, not produced. Even so, jazz producers tell some great stories, and they do much more than logic would suggest.

MT: Can you recommend some of your favorite music tomes?

MJ:Here are fifteen great ones that I pulled off my bookshelf. I love them all. Meaning, I want to start rereading right now. They are in no particular order:
Colin B. Morton and Chuck Death, Great Pop Things: The Real History of Rock and Roll from Elvis to Oasis.
Geoff Dyer, But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz.
John Cage, Silence.
Michael Ondaatje, Coming Through Slaughter.
Mark N. Grant, The Rise and Fall of the Broadway Musical.
Richard A. Peterson, Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity.
Ted Fox, In the Groove: The People Behind the Music.
Krin Gabbard, Jammin’ at the Margins: Jazz and the American Cinema.
Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad.
Peter Guralnick, Sweet Soul Music.
Nathaniel Mackey, Bedouin Hornbook.
Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century.
Christopher Small, Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening.
John F. Szwed, Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra.
Alex Ross, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century.

Nothing gets discussion going like a good list. Jim Beviglia has been doing just that for the past couple of years on his blog Countdown Kid. Shortly in to the life of his blog he was approached by a small press that began publishing some of the list as ebooks. His first two traditionally published books continue the count down, first with Bob Dylan and then with Bruce Springsteen.

Fresh off his Honeymoon, Jim took a few minutes to talk to us about the new books and the journey getting there.CDdylan

Music Tomes: For your first two books you decided to jump in to the deep end and cover Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. What was the process like to boil their catalogs down to 100 songs each?

Jim Beviglia: My process starts with listening to all the music the artists have released, from the beginning of their careers to the their most current albums, and giving every song a preliminary ranking. That ranking is based on how well I think the artist achieved what he set out to do, what kind of impact the song makes when you hear it, the way the lyrics play off the music, things like that. I try to take any personal associations I have with the songs out of it and be as impartial as possible, as if I was hearing them all for the first time. Some would say that’s impossible, since music is always personal and subjective, but I try to do it anyway.

Once I have the songs ranked, it allows me to separate them into smaller groups so I can rate one against another. That gets me down to my preliminary lists, which I then go through carefully to see if I’ve underrated or overrated any song in particular. After a few adjustments, I usually arrive at my final Top 100 list. I try to be as thorough with the process as possible, because I know how passionate fans are about this stuff. I know because I’m pretty passionate about it myself. With these two artists, it was a difficult task, albeit a fun one, because these two guys have so many incredible songs.

MT: Obviously all lists are subjective, so what is the craziest criticism you’ve heard about the book?

JB: I had some guy on Amazon who gave my Dylan book a 1-star rating even though he admitted he didn’t read it; he just saw the list and disagreed with my choices. What I try and tell people is that the list is the hook. These books are really about the essays which accompany each songs, which I hope reveal my deep appreciation for these artists and maybe provide fresh insights into their incredible bodies of work. Of course people will disagree with the rankings; the commonality between my readers and me is the real passion we have for the music.

MT: You published a similiar line of ebooks before this. How are the digital publishing world and traditional publishing different for what you’re doing?

JB: For one, the e-books are a little smaller, which meant that I didn’t have to do a lot of editing from my original blog to put it into the e-book form. For the traditional books, I beefed up every essay to really give those people paying the book price their money’s worth. As a writer, that extra space allows you to really dive into each song and go pretty deep.

The e-books for me were a nice little surprise opportunity that came to me courtesy of Endeavour Press in London; I’d like to do more in the future if I can find the time. The hardcover books that I’ve done are really a point of pride for me, because having my name on a book cover is really something that I could never have conceived when I began freelance writing about a decade ago.

MT: The books drew from your great site, Countdown Kid. What prompted you to start the site?

JB: When I began freelance writing, I latched on with a really cool music site that allowed me to write at length about my favorite music. That’s where these lists began. Alas, the site went under, and when I began writing for other sites, they just didn’t have the space for long-form writing about music. I would only get assigned certain reviews and always with a very specific word count, which felt a little restraining. I had been spoiled by that first experience and wanted to get back to it.

CDspringsteenThat’s why I decided to do the blog. I didn’t really care how many readers I acquired when I started; even if I was a tree falling in the woods, at least I’d be writing about the stuff I loved. It stunned me when people actually found out about the site and started looking forward to my posts. That made me want to do more. Honestly, without the readers of my blog, none of the books or my job with American Songwriter ever would have happened. I am eternally grateful for those folks who read the blog, which is part of the reason I try to keep it active even as my schedule gets busier.

MT: What are you currently working on?

JB: I’m just now doing the research for my third book in the Counting Down series, which is going to be on the songs of The Rolling Stones. I’m really excited for that challenge and hope to have the writing done at the end of this year for release next summer. Beyond that, my passion project is a book on the music of the 80′s. I grew up then and have a yearning to defend an era of music that some people feel is cheesy or kitschy. I’m hoping to start digging into that this winter.

MT: Can you recommend som eof your favorite music tomes?

JB: In conjunction with my books on Dylan and Springsteen, I would suggest Dylan’s own Chronicles Volume 1 and Dave Marsh’s definitive biographies of Springsteen. And, back to my love of the 80′s, the oral history of MTV, I Want My MTV, is an absolute blast. Off the top of my head, those are three that I’d highly recommend.

The Week’s Release (7/20-26)newreleases

[Note: These are affiliate links, but if you are going to buy it anyway, why not help out the site at the same time?]

The Muscle Shoals Sound: Muscle Shoals Sound Studio (How the Swampers Changed American Music), Carla Jean Whitley, The History Press, July 22, 2014

While cruising around Amazon one day, I was recommended this ebook by Jonathan Bernstein. Jonathan has written for Rolling Stone, Oxford American, American Songwriter, and other fine publications. His new book is a focused study of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” examining the cultural and musical impact of the song. It’s a deep-dive well worth the read.”

Jonathan took a few minutes to tell us a little more about the book,sweethome

Music Tomes: What drew you to the story of “Sweet Home Alabama”?

Jonathan Bernstein: Well in a certain sense, the song is completely over-discussed. There have been countless debates about whether or not the song comes out in support of Governor Wallace, and whether or not the song was, and is, racist, as if any of those questions are answerable. But what fascinated me most about “Sweet Home Alabama” was the fact that such an iconic, overplayed song has for the most part only ever been talked about in this one way, this either/or, liberal/democrat, North/South sort of dead-end argumentative way.

It seemed like there was so much more to the song that hadn’t really been addressed. I had so many questions that I wanted to explore: Where does “Sweet Home Alabama” fit in a larger historical context of American popular music? Why are people all over the world making their own cover versions of the song? It felt like those questions were begging to be explored.

MT: You talk a little about Merry Clayton in the book and her reaction to the song. After the part about the Governor, the singers sing “Boo, Boo, Boo.” What does that add to the ambiguity of the lyrics?

JB: Merry Clayton’s presence adds such an important layer of confusion and ambiguity to the song. Her ambivalence towards singing in the song is such a great metaphor for the song’s own inner-conflict, and the background singer’s “boo, boo, boo” line is probably responsible for more debate than any other aspect of the song. I love that those boos exist, and I love how unexplained they are. Are they booing Gov. Wallce? Are they booing the people who support Gov. Wallace? Are they mocking people who boo Gov. Wallace? I have no idea!

Since my book came out, I’ve read a comment from someone saying that Gary Rossington (Skynyrd’s guitarist) once said in an interview that the line was supposed to be “and America says Boo, Boo, Boo!” I have no idea if that’s true, nor do I really care, but it’s a great example of how eager people are to either dismiss, or make a huge point of, those boo’s, depending on their politics.

MT: Why do you think the song has resonated with people across the world, even to the point of them adapting it to their own uses?

JB: I found that internationally, “Sweet Home Alabama” is often used as a stand-in for the idea of America, almost as a Hollywood version of Americana. I’ve read reports of the song being played all over the world, in places you’d never expect for it to show up. I think the song sparks a lot of curiosity about the United States, and the American South for those who’ve never really lived in America, and a whole lot of homesickness and nostalgia for those who have.

On a structural level, the song itself really lends itself to adaptation. You have the highly specific, geographical verses mixed with a relatively vague chorus about missing your homeland. “Alabama” itself isn’t so important; that word is really set up well to serve as a placeholder for the city/country/state of your choice, and it’s easy enough to fill in your own appropriate, geographically-relevant verses.

MT: This piece is published by a digital publisher who is specializing in long-form journalism published as small ebooks. Do you see a future for long-form music journalism in this model?

JB: It remains to be seen, but yeah, I do. A lot of people still have a hard time being convinced to pay to read something on the internet, but I think that’s going to change. You have to assume that in ten or twenty years, there are going to be considerably less physical books about music being published, but there’s still going to be an audience that wants to read the type of lengthy, involved music writing that wouldn’t necessarily be published by big online publications. Paying a few bucks on a piece of writing that takes an hour or two to read seems like a logical mid-point between three hundred page music biographies and magazine music writing. There are plenty of stories and subjects that need more than just a couple pages in Rolling Stone or Pitchfork, but don’t necessarily warrant being drawn out into a full-length book. I think you’ll see a lot more publishers, big and small, like the New New South (which published my E-book) sprouting up in the next few years.

MT: What are you currently working on?

JB: Right now I’m happily just focusing on more more shorter term pieces, so I think I’ll be sticking to things like reviews, interviews, and profiles for a while, until I hopefully come up with another bigger project.

MT: Can you tell us some of your favorite music tomes?

JB: Sure- there are a few great books on single songs that definitely helped me write my E-book on “Sweet Home Alabama.” Jody Rosen wrote a fantastic one about “White Christmas,” and Greil Marcus has a really fascinating exploration of “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan.

A few other of my favorite music books I’ve read lately have been Turn Around Bright Eyes, by Rob Sheffield, which is a really entertaining book about karaoke, and Blues People, by the late Amiri Baraka, which traces the cultural history of African-American music from 17th century slave chants to 1950′s rhythm and blues. Out of the Vinyl Deeps, a collection of Ellen Willis’ incredible music writing, has also been a mainstay lately.


Win a copy of Sweet Home Everywhere! Thanks to Jonathan and New New South we have a copy for one of you fine readers. To enter to win, just share this article on Facebook or Twitter and we will randomly select one of those shares! Hashtag your entry #sweethomemusictomes. We’ll announce the winner on Wednesday, July 23.

In 1991, Collin Raye’s “Love, Me” hit the charts forcefully, and country music fans fell in love with Raye’s voice and music. During the 1990s, he sold over eight million records. While he had his own professional and personal struggles during those years, they were nothing compared to the struggles he and his family faced in 2010 when, after a long fight with an undiagnosed neurological disease, Raye’s granddaughter, Haley, succumbed to her illness and died. In one poignant scene in his new memoir, Raye describes his inability to walk away from Haley’s coffin after her funeral because he knew that he’d never see her again once the funeral director closed her coffin.cr-cover-01

While Raye’s memoir focuses on the emotional roller coaster that he and his family faced during Haley’s illness and death, as well as on how they got through it to the other side, his book also give us a peek at the beginnings and the ups-and-downs of his music career, his personal life, and his thoughts on the current state of country music.

Henry Carrigan caught up by phone with Raye at his home in Nashville to chat with him about his book and his music.

Henry Carrigan: What prompted you to write this book now?

Colin Raye: Well, Ignatius Press approached me about writing it. You know my granddaughter, Haley, died in 2010 from a neurological disease. Her struggle—we watched her diminish over a five-year period and just not get better—and our struggles and grief were made public on FOX News. So, the publisher initially asked me to write a book about my faith journey, about the ways faith has helped my family and me. Then, of course, Ignatius asked to put in a little bit about my career in music and the music business, so the book morphed into many other things. While I did it as a kind of self-help book, we have a little stuff in here for everybody, from the ups and downs of my music career and my opinions about the current state of country music to the my struggles over Haley’s death and the ways my faith helped me get through it.

HC: Why did you choose this title for the book?

CR: In 2010, my daughter, Brittany (Haley’s mom), and I wrote a song called “Undefeated” [from the album His Love Remains] before Haley died. It’s an alt-rock song about faith that’s become, and remains, one of my most popular songs and most requested at shows. It ran in the top ten for 24 weeks in a row. You know, the song and the book emphasize the ways that God’s love remains even though we might question whether or not He knows what he’s doing. It’s about God’s not turning away, even when I’m about to.

HC: How long did it take you to write the book?

CR: About two years. It’s one of the hardest processes I’ve been through.

HC: Tell me a little bit about your vision of yourself as a musician.

CR: When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was be in a band and sing good songs with great harmony. I wanted to make records and to be a singer of great songs. By the time I got my chance, my management wanted to pitch me as a solo artist. When I wrote “Little Rock, and it hit the charts, I thought, okay, maybe this is what I’m supposed to do. Playing my shows, I realized that people liked what they were hearing and my songs were inspiring them. The reason I got into this business in the first place is to make someone feel the way that the Eagles or other bands made me feel when I first heard their music. I can remember exactly where I was when I first heard “Hotel California,” and I hope my music touches people or becomes so much a part of their lives that they’ll look back and say, “I remember where I was the first time I heard ‘Love, Me’ or ‘Little Rock’.” I’ve never been comfortable with the fame aspect of it, though, and I’ve always admired Dylan and Neil Young because of the way they could let ego get out of the way of the music.

CollinRayeHeadShotHC: You have a chapter on the current state of country music in the book.

CR: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s the one that most people want to talk about because I’m saying honestly what I think about what’s happening in country music these days. My granddaughter, Mattie, and her generation are on the verge of growing up thinking country music is about buzzkill, tattoos on a girl’s back playing peek-a-boo, and the art of being redneck crazy. The problem is that the labels are being run by accountants, and they’re just putting together acts that can bring in the money. So, they’ll say, “Hey, why don’t we put country and rap together?” I’m just voicing what 9 out 10 people are thinking, and I’ve been gratified with how much support I’ve gotten.

HC: Are there artists you think run counter to this trend?

CR: I’ve been a fan of Miranda Lambert from the beginning. I always knew she had a soul far older than her years. I like Lady Antebellum, and Hunter Hayes; I think he’s singing good songs.

HC: What lessons would you like readers to take from your book?

CR: Well, I’m telling the story of how God saved my family and why I think He did and why we’re still thriving on the other side of our tragedy. It’s also important to me to tell the story of how important that Catholic faith has been to me in my own personal journey. Ultimately, this book is for everyone; this is a story about what happened to me and how my story I hope can help you if you’re facing similar issues in your life.

HC: What’s next for you?

CR: I feel like I’m singing better than I ever have, and I’m grateful for that. I’d like to make a Big Band record at some point. I want to do an album of classic country songs, those obscure songs that were great hits but that are now forgotten. I’d like to do an album of my favorite love songs of the last thirty years.

HC: Can you recommend some of your favorite music tomes?

CR: No, not really. I do find inspiration in biographies about my heroes, but my textbooks are albums.

Henry Carrigan writes about music and music books for Engine 145, American Songwriter, No Depression, Publishers Weekly, and BookPage.

The Week’s Release (7/13-19)newreleases

[Note: These are affiliate links, but if you are going to buy it anyway, why not help out the site at the same time?]

Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyoncé, Bob Stanley, W. W. Norton and Company, July 14, 2014

Let It Rock: The Story Of Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet, Neil Daniels, Soundcheck Books, July 15, 2014

North Florida Folk Music: History and Tradition, Ronald Johnson, The History Press, July 15, 2014

Who Did It First?: Great Rock and Roll Cover Songs and Their Original Artists, Bob Leszczak, Rowman & Littlefield, July 16, 2014

Joel Selvin is an New York Times best-selling author and music journalist. His newest book Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm and Blues delves into the history of R&B and Soul music using producer/songwriter/performer Bert Berns as the central figure of the tale. Joel was nice enough to take a few minutes to talk with us about the book and other projects.Here Comes Night_FINAL

Music Tomes: When you conceived the book, how did you decide to make Bert Berns the central figure? His name is in the title and his story fully told, but he also acts as a connector for many other stories and events in the book.

Joel Selvin: It worked the other way around. I set out to write a biography of Bert Berns and quickly came to realize how the material lent itself to an ensemble piece. I was fascinated by Berns’ music and the more I learned about his life story, the more I realized he was writing his pathology in his songs. As the research spread out, it became clear to me that I needed to tell the full story of the entire scene for Berns’ story to be fully understood and it transformed the book from a simple biography into something more epic and panoramic.

MT: You ran into some resistance in your research (you quote Jerry Wexler as saying, “I don’t know where he’s buried, but if I did, I’d piss on his grave.”). How did that affect the story you wanted to tell?

JS: I would have liked to talked to Wexler, Ahmet, Neil Diamond and Van Morrison, but I can understand their reluctance. I don’t think there’s anyway they can look good in this story.

MT: You also quote Ben Fong-Torres in 1976 saying this was a great untold story of music. You started on the book in the late-1990s. Why did it take so long for someone to pick up on the story?

JS: I can only explain what took me so long, but I have always been surprised that another better known, more qualified writer didn’t beat me to this.

MT: Was there anything in your research that surprised you?

JS: I was surprised every day, starting with discovering Tommy Vastola’s BMI songwriting credits and all the way through court documents detailing the sale of Atlantic Records to ABC TV that never occurred. The real stories have never been told; only candy-coated versions.

MT: What are you currently working on?

JS: The Haight is a book of more than 300 photographs by the late, great Jim Marshall, coming this October from Insight Editions, by far and away, the greatest collection of photos yet from the ’60s SF scene. We found something like 300 rolls of color film that have almost never been seen.

MT: Can you recommend some of your favorite music tomes?

JS: I love Michael Dregni’s biography of Django Reinhardt. Moanin’ At Midnight: The Life of Howlin’ Wolf by James Segrest and Mark Hoffman knocked me out. I am looking forward to the upcoming Louis Prima biography by Nick Tosches because he writes better than all of us.


[Music Tomes is proud to partner with AllMusicBooks.com to present a review every month here on the site. Be sure to check out the other great reviews they have!]

33rhell_1Richard Hell and the Voidoids: Blank Generation (33 1/3 Series) by Pete Astor
Reviewed by 2bitmonkey
Richard Hell is one of the few main cogs in the late ’70s NYC punk scene that isn’t easily associated with a single band, as he co-formed not one, not two, but three legendary punk bands: Television with best friend Tom Verlaine, then the Heartbreakers with former New York Dolls Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan (the Dolls broke up the same week that Hell quit Television), and finally Richard Hell and the Voidoids. This would seem to imply an egomania, or at least an inability to get along with others, but Hell is quoted in Pete Astor’s 33-1/3 book as giving plenty of credit for classic punk album Blank Generation to his fellow Voidoids. Circumstances seemed to have just conspired to making Hell the wandering soul of punk such that he is often forgotten when talking about the punk legends. He shouldn’t be though – after all, Malcolm McLaren said that Hell was his inspiration for the Sex Pistols and that the song “Blank Generation” was the inspiration for the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant”. That’s high praise.

That is why I’m disappointed with Pete Astor’s Blank Generation. This was a chance to take a truly great album and re-introduce it to the public so that it gets the attention it deserves. That’s one of the critical functions of a 33-1/3 book. It’s what Kevin J.H. Dettmar does so well in his mini-book on Gang of Four’s Entertainment! Prior to reading that book, I didn’t appreciate the complexities and depth to be found in Entertainment! I didn’t agree with everything Dettmar had to say, but I could see where he was coming from. It made me think about and appreciate the album in a new way. Astor’s book didn’t do that for me.

At the very beginning Astor highlights exactly why Hell is such a compelling figure. I highlighted the very first paragraph in the preface, taking particular note of this passage: “Like all the best rock and roll, here was someone … who remained mired in the emotional onslaught that adolescence brings. And had no intention of doing anything other than continuing to wallow in its endless contradictions and rail against it with poise, poetry and an elegant sneer. Just another permanent adolescent, staring down the world.” The book could have been – should have been – an exploration of how Blank Generation exhibits this, how the album is the best example of Hell railing against adolescence with poise, poetry and an elegant sneer. It’s easy to see those qualities in the best tracks off of the album, like the slow “Betrayal Takes Two”, the Frank Sinatra cover “All the Way” (included in the album reissue only, but mentioned in the book as if it were on the original), the brilliant title track, and my personal favorite “The Plan”. It’s there too in most if not all of the other tracks – but it’s not my job to show you to them, its Astor’s. Astor had a theme fall right into his lap, and instead his theme was …

None. There is no theme to the book overall, nor are there ones even within the chapters (which are given headings like “Worlds” and “Texts” that have no apparent meaning). I acknowledge that as someone who wanted to get to know Hell better, there’s a decent amount to like here. I think there is some unique information offered about the man, the song-writing process, and the skills and roles of the other Voidoids (the short bio on guitarist Robert Quine is particularly good). I’m better off for having read it. Having said that, there’s just so much missing. Astor could have (and probably should have) given Blank Generation historical context, explained why it was important. He could have (and most definitely should have) broken down each song, analyzing the structure, instrumentation, texture, and of course the lyrics. Richard Hell is a brilliant lyricist! In a single paragraph review of the album, AllMusic.com says “while most punk nihilism was of the simplistic ‘Everything Sucks’ variety, Hell was (with the exception of Patti Smith) the most literate and consciously poetic figure in the New York punk scene. While there’s little on the album that’s friendly or life-affirming, there’s a crackling intelligence to songs like ‘New Pleasure,’ ‘Betrayal Takes Two,’ and ‘Another World’ that confirmed Hell has a truly unique lyrical voice, at once supremely self-confident and dismissive of nearly everything around him (sometimes including himself).” I’m at a loss as to how Astor could have generally neglected to discuss the album’s lyrics when he spends page after precious page (the book is only 112 pages long) discussing Hell’s non-musical influences, though it’s explained somewhat here: an interview Astor gave to 33-1/3 almost two years before the publication of Blank Generation where he talked about why he chose this particular album and what he hoped to accomplish with the book. Astor is an academic, who intended all along to take at least a partially academic approach to the book. Good for him, but I kept thinking as I read, “Perhaps I’m not enough of an intellectual to understand what Astor is saying.”I personally needed a lot less Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Lautréamont and a lot more Richard Hell and the Voidoids (or even other punk comparisons).

If you like my review, check out my blog over at http://www.2bitmonkey.com !

The Week’s Release (7/6-12)newreleases

[Note: These are affiliate links, but if you are going to buy it anyway, why not help out the site at the same time?]

Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records, Amanda Petrusich, Scribner, July 8, 2014

The Week’s Releases (6/29-7/5)newreleases

[Note: These are affiliate links, but if you are going to buy it anyway, why not help out the site at the same time?]

The Key to Music’s Genetics: Why Music is Part of Being Human, Christian Lehmann, Thames River Press, June 30, 2014

Dark Star: An Oral Biography of Jerry Garcia, Robert Greenfield, Harper Collins, Kindle Edition

Turn Right, Turn Left, Repeat, Gern F., Insomniac Press, June 30, 2014

The Beatles Encyclopedia [2 volumes]: Everything Fab Four, Kenneth Womack, Greenwood, June 30, 2014

The Day the Country Died: A History of Anarcho Punk 1980–1984, Ian Glasper, PM Press, July 1, 2014

Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables: The Early Years, Alex Ogg, PM Press, July 1, 2014

Producing Country: The Inside Story of the Great Recordings (Music/Interview), Michael Jarrett, Wesleyan, July 1, 2014

George Clinton: The Cosmic Odyssey of Dr Funkenstein, Kris Needs, Omnibus, July 1, 2014

The Art of Classic Rock: Rock Memorabilia, Tour Posters and Merchandise from the 70s, 80s and 90s, Paul Grushkin and Rob Roth, Goodman, July 1, 2014

American Ballads: The Photographs of Marty Stuart (Frist Center for the Visual Arts Title), Susan H. Edwards, Kathryn E. Delmez and Marty Stuart, Vanderbilt, July 4, 2014