Wednesday, November 19th, 2003

Can’t Stop Won’t Stop Reading List, Part 1


I’ve been teaching a class on Saturdays at Media Alliance on breaking into music journalism. Came up with a list of books for folks to check out and thought yall would find it interesting…

Not to be confused with a canon, but certainly loaded.

Bangs, Lester. Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung

The classic collection of essays that has justly defined the legend. For most folks, this is where music writing begins. But for me it starts with…

Baraka, Amiri (Leroi Jones). Blues People

This classic survey of the development of black music from slavery through jazz works on a number of levels—as history, polemic, and finally, as brilliant criticism.

Barrow, Steve and Dalton, Peter. Reggae: The Rough Guide

More than just a record guide, this is something close to a definitive history of the development of Jamaican music from the 60s through the present. Peppered with reviews, oral histories, and useful chronologies.

Bowman, Rob. Soulsville USA

Four out of five music critics have recommended this 1997 history of Stax Records that was 12 years in the making. Beautifully written, exhaustively researched, the gold standard.

Brewster, Bill and Broughton, Frank. Last Night A DJ Saved My Life

A fine narrative history of the development of the modern DJ. Diggers love the classic club playlists which allow them to turn their own bedrooms into the Roxy, the Paradise Garage or the Loft.

Christgau, Robert. Grown Up All Wrong

The collected writings of The Dean, one of the two most influential critics alive and the curmudgeonly curator of the annual Village Voice Pazz and Jop Poll, which once was, before hip-hop arrived, the last word on critical consensus. Doesn’t include his explosive essay on Ice Cube’s Death Certificate, but the rest amply rep his ability to cut through to the hearts of icons.

Cross, Brian. It’s Not About A Salary

The definitive history of L.A. hip-hop lets the pioneers, the stars, and the street heads speak in their own voices. Spans three decades of black cultural production in the City of Quartz. Generously illustrated with his beautiful black and white shots of the scene in the early 90s, which now have historical, not just aesthetic value. Goes for $100+ on ebay. Will not be reprinted.

Ego Trip’s Book of Rap Lists

Somehow anticipated the Blenderized lists-as-journalism movement, and still did it 1000x better. Captures the sheer ambivalent, mixed-up, polycultural, middle-finger fun of being a hip-hop head like no other book except Upski’s Bomb The Suburbs. Will probably remain one of the top three books ever written about hip-hop when we’re old and grey and angry at the noisy young’uns.

Eshun, Kodwo. More Brilliant Than The Sun

Equal parts ornery, airy-fairy, and visionary. An Afrofuturist revisionist history that links Herbie Hancock with Kool Keith. Takes the position that “keeping it real” is the death of black music. Farther out than David Toop, though not as far out as Dave Tompkins.

Fricke, Jim and Ahearn, Charlie. Yes Yes Y’all

Replaces Hager (see below) as the definitive account of the old school, told in the pioneers’ own words. If the book lacks some contextualizing, it’s still hard not to take in the photos and flyers, read the excerpted transcripts, and not be carried away by the joy of the whole thing.

Frith, Simon. Performing Rites

A British cultural studies pioneer who has done more than any other academic to establish pop music as a field worthy of study writes a corrective to the current bland, overly celebratory excesses of that same field. Makes you hear the Pet Shop Boys and read Adorno differently.

George, Nelson. The Death of Rhythm and Blues

A relentlessly original survey of the tortured relationship between black music and America’s racial integration experiment from post-WWII through the dawn of Def Jam’s mid-80s crossover. By itself, his recounting of the forgotten history of black radio, from segregation to the origins of “urban” radio, is invaluable.

Gillett, Charlie. The Sound of The City

An expansive, enthusiastic and entertaining survey of the rise of rock from the end of World War II through the 60s, tracking the rise of the music, the artists, and the industry. Also indispensable for the footnotes that list rosters of indie and major labels through the decades.

Hager, Steven. Hip Hop

Fearless journalism and book one of the Old Testament of hip-hop. The book that established hip-hop studies, hip-hop journalism, and yes, hip-hop hagiography. Also the book that became “Beat Street”. After the movie came out, Hager gave up and went on to become editor of High Times. Original goes for $300+ on ebay. Mostly reprinted in last year’s Adventures In The Counterculture.

Kelley, Norman, ed. Rhythm and Business: The Political Economy of Black Music

Fine, if incomplete, recent effort to bring analytical tools back to the study of the economics of pop, a noble effort itself amidst the Blenderizing of music journalism. It’s incomplete because both hip-hop’s transformation of the music industry and media industry consolidation are events that are still very much in motion.

Kofsky, Frank. Black Nationalism and the Revolution In Music

Brian Cross’ favorite book. Written in 1970 in the flush of liberation movements, this is a scathing critique of jazz critics and a revisioning of jazz from a unabashedly post-Third World Strike, pro-Black, pro-Marxist point of view. Pretty fly for a white guy.

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