Rock Reads: Holiday Gift Guide Edition by various

Reviewed by Kevin Wierzbicki

Does the music lover on your gift list already have all the new music he or she wants? Then get them a book! Our picks for some of the best new music-related books are below.

"Rockin' the City of Angels: Celebrating the Great Rock Shows of the 1970s In Concert, On Record and On Film"
By Douglas Harr
Diego Spade Productions

Fantastic! Spectacular! Mind blowing! Think of all the superlatives that fans might have used to describe concerts they saw back in the '70s by groups like Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and the Who, and know that those same adjectives apply to "Rockin' the City of Angels." What author Harr has done is seek out photos taken by some of the era's hottest rock photographers, folks like Fin Costello, Lisa Tanner, Armando Gallo, Richard E. Aaron and about a dozen others, and present them along with his own commentary about what was happening for the band at the time, mostly regarding the performer's current album and tour. As the book's title indicates, all of the in-concert shots, more than 600 in all with many previously unseen, were taken at shows in the Los Angeles area. So there are chapters focusing on events like Alice Cooper's 1975 three-day run at the L.A. Forum, Styx caught on film at the Long Beach Arena during their Pieces of Eight tour in 1978, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer from their appearance at the California Jam in Ontario in 1974. And so on with a who's who of acts including Queen, Jethro Tull, Elton John, David Bowie, AC/DC, Paul McCartney and Wings, Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, Yes, Heart, Kansas, Genesis and many others. About the size of an album cover and clocking in at over 300 pages, "Rockin' the City of Angels" is the ultimate coffee table book and many classic rock fans will no doubt describe it with an oft-heard phrase from back in the day, "Heavy, man!"

"The Roxy Our Story London 1976-77: The Club That Forged Punk in 100 Nights of Madness, Mayhem and Misfortune"
By Andrew Czezowski & Susan Carrington
Carrczez Publishing

You wouldn't think that a club that lasted barely more than three months could possibly have a significant effect on a music scene, but London's the Roxy Club did. At a time when every other music venue in London (and beyond) was refusing to present punk music, the Roxy became a haven for groups like the Damned, the Clash, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Generation X, the Slits, the Jam, Buzzcocks, Wire and many others. Authors Czezowski and Carrington were two of the club's three principals and they're not telling the Roxy story here just by memory; they kept journals and still have an archive of photos, flyers, newspaper clippings and the like. So you have musings from Carrington's diary, like after a sub-par show from Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, that "They seemed quite out of it. Too much dope, perhaps?" and amusing entries like her commentary after a show by the Damned, "Rat Scabies was in a pig mood; Captain Sensible hurt his hands on broken cans." There are of course plenty of upbeat entries as well, but the most entertaining writing here seems to come from when something went wrong. Commentary also comes from others who were on the scene at the Roxy, including Pete Shelley, Glen Matlock, Jayne County, Leee Black Childers, Poly Styrene, Shane MacGowan, Cherry Vanilla and even Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, who visited the club to see the Damned. The book is an oversized paperback that uses a fanzine format that's loaded with illustrations including previously unseen photos, reproductions of flyers and copies of band contracts that show how much they got paid to perform. This very fun historical record will make many readers wish they had of been there.

"The Man Who Carried Cash"
By Julie Chadwick

Here's another take on the Johnny Cash story as seen through the eyes of Saul Holiff, Cash's longtime (17 years) manager. Author Chadwick was able to tell the story even though Holiff passed away in 2005; she had access to a treasure trove of information discovered in a storage locker and including Holiff's taped audio diaries and phone calls with Cash, along with hundreds of letters, photos and magazine and newspaper clippings. Cash's roller coaster ride to fame is well documented, but even the biggest Cash fan will find plenty of surprises here, not the least of which is how Holiff's and Cash's lives were interminably linked. Thus some of the stories are amusing despite their seriousness; in one Holiff returns from having to deal with a Cash performance where the singer was so high on amphetamines that he could barely stand to find his own home in a mess after a septic tank overflow. Drugs and drink play their parts throughout, but so do joy, creativity and genius. A detailed yet fast read, Chadwick has done an excellent job with this look at one of America's greatest music legends.

"Counting Down the Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs"
By Jim Beviglia
Rowman & Littlefield

Beviglia ranks "Your Mother Should Know" from 1967's Magical Mystery Tour album at #100 in his list of the 100 finest songs by the Beatles, and it should be noted that his rankings are based on his definition of "finest" and not according to sales figures or anything else. To an extent, the rankings don't really matter, unless you're playing guessing games with fellow fans as you go along. What does resonate fully though is Beviglia's commentary, the reasoning behind his rankings, which play out in segments anywhere from half a page to a couple of pages in length. These are filled with all kinds of observations including the sounds of the instruments and an occasional dissection of lyrics; for his commentary on "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" (#49) Beviglia offers an alternative interpretation of the lyrics, positing that perhaps the man in the song who "lit a fire" was actually burning the place down. Tons of Beatles history is woven into the countdown, and each segment is a mini voyage of discovery. And the song at #1? We're not going to tell you.

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