The Bookshelf

I was recently invited to be the once-weekly music blogger at the blog Consortium Of Seven. Here’s a piece I posted there this week:

I used to be just a record buyer. Every once in a while. I’d find myself at a record store, a flea market, or a garage sale, and come home with an LP or two. And I’d get them as presents for birthdays or Christmas.

By the time I was thirty-three, at which point I made a major life change, I had about two-hundred LPs, just a couple of boxes’ worth. Sixteen years later, at the cusp of another major life change, I had 3,000 LPs, a massive collection grown far beyond reason.

We’ll talk about the records and how the collection grew another time, probably several other times. Today, I want to talk about the books. As I got more and more records over the years, I not only wanted to listen to the music, I wanted to know where it fit historically, so I began buying books: Books that listed the records that hit the Billboard charts, books of album reviews, encyclopedias of rock music and the various other genres that surround it, and more.

And as I shifted to CDs in the 2000s (with about 1,500 of them on the shelves now) and then began to write about music, I needed – or at least wanted – more books. More books about the various Billboard charts. More encyclopedias. More books of reviews, of lists, of any possibly useful (and some entirely useless) pieces of data about American recorded music (and the music we listened to before recording began in earnest in the early Twentieth Century).

BooksI’m not going to list all the books (and special editions of Rolling Stone) I have on the shelf in the picture. But I thought I’d offer a nugget of information from seven of those books grabbed not entirely at random to give readers an idea of the kind of information I find interesting.

The first edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide (released in 1979; there have been at least three more since) gives the Beatles’ 1969 album Abbey Road five out of five stars: “One remembers snatches of melody, the great guitar fills and solos (which spawned a whole school of guitar accompaniment in the Seventies), the harmonic swells. The second side of Abbey Road is perhaps the most purely musical work the Beatles ever created, and in its own way, it stands with their best.”

Joel Whitburn is the great collector and publisher of chart data from Billboard and other music periodicals, and at least ten of his volumes are on my shelves. From Top Adult Songs, 1961-2006, we learn that the Carpenters were the top Easy Listening/Adult Contemporary artists of the 1970s, with twenty-three singles reaching that chart, fourteen of them going to No. 1. (For what it matters, my favorite Carpenters’ single of that decade is “Goodbye To Love,” which unaccountably went only to No. 2 on the Easy Listening chart and to No. 7 on the magazine’s main pop chart, the Hot 100).

From the 2001 volume Folk & Blues: The Encyclopedia, we learn that in 1978, Mary Travers of Peter, Paul & Mary summed up the trio’s work by saying “We are the children of Pete Seeger, We come from the folk tradition in a contemporary form where there was a concern that idealism be a part of your music and the music a part of your life.”

In a 1999 reissue of his 1989 volume The Heart Of Rock & Soul; The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, critic and historian Dave Marsh ranks “Anarchy In The U.K.” by the Sex Pistols at No. 100. He writes: “What’s this doing here? You could say that it represents the tip of an iceberg: the sum total of punk and post-punk music that “Anarchy” and the Sex Pistols inspired. But it might be more accurate to call it the entrance to a tunnel in a cave, leading to a buried universe.”

The Whitburn book titled #1s tells us that on September 6, 1969 (the day after I turned sixteen and just weeks after I became very interested in the Top 40), the No. 1 records in Billboard were “Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones on the Hot 100, “Share Your Love With Me” by Aretha Franklin on the R&B chart, “A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash on both the country and the Adult Contemporary charts, Johnny Cash At San Quentin on both the pop and country album charts, and Hot Buttered Soul by Isaac Hayes on the R&B album chart.

Another Whitburn book, A Century Of Pop Music, tells us that the No. 1 record for 1915, the year my maternal grandparents were married, was “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary” by John McCormack. It was one of twenty-five records McCormack placed on the charts in the early years of the Twentieth Century.

In his 1989 book Beatlesongs, William J. Dowlding gathers information about the writing and recording of every track the Beatles released during their years together, every song written by the group’s members and recorded by other musicians, and many of the Beatles’ recordings that were unreleased at the time. He notes that “You Never Give Me Your Money,” the first part of the long set of suites on Side Two of the LP of Abbey Road, was written by Paul McCartney alone. Dowlding quotes George Harrison as saying of the track, “It does two verses of one tune, and then the bridge is almost like a different song altogether, so it’s very melodic.”

And here’s an appropriately titled tune for this piece: Dion’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Book Of Dreams.” It’s from Dion’s 2000 album Déjà Nu.

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