* Barry Miles: ZAPPA: A BIOGRAPHY (2005) -- I'm not much of a Frank Zappa fan, but if you are, there is a ton of history and information in here, and some of it is smoothly and involvingly written. Just not sure how much of a perspective and overview you get. Miles has SO MUCH history and info to fit in that the book sometimes feels crammed. It wasn't very well edited or proofread, either. It reads like a rush job, in places.
The best part of the writing comes right up front, where Miles describes how Zappa was convicted in his early 20s on a totally bogus pornography charge and spent 30 days in a crammed, hellish cell in the San Bernardino County Jail. The experience scarred Zappa for life. From then on, he doubted anything anyone in a position of authority told him -- and spent his 30 days imagining guitar chords so loud they could knock down the jail walls.
This is such a great story, and Miles tells it so well ... that he repeats the whole thing a few chapters later.
Zappa was so productive as a recording artist that later chapters start to seem like laundry lists of tours and albums and lawsuits and other happenings. Miles seldom pauses to provide much perspective until after Zappa dies. But the details are definitely here.
I would have liked a more detailed discography -- it takes up a score of pages anyway, with the contents of more than 60 albums listed. Everybody who ever played in Zappa's bands is mentioned in the text, but they aren't credited in the discography. Maybe that would have taken too much space.
Still, worth a look if you're a fan.
* Kent Hartman: THE WRECKING CREW (2012) -- If you're shocked to learn that The Beach Boys, Byrds, Monkees, Grass Roots and Gary Puckett and The Union Gap didn't always play on their hits, you might find some surprises in this look at the wildly talented but mostly anonymous Hollywood studio musicians who played on scores of hits back in the '60s and '70s.
This is the bunch that played on Phil Spector's hits and kept on backing star solo artists and bands into the mid-'70s. Hartman uses the life stories of guitarist/singer Glen Campbell, drummer Hal Blaine and bassist Carol Kaye to show how the Wrecking Crew began and evolved, from "Be My Baby" to "Love Will Keep Us Together."
Other members of the Crew included keyboardists Larry Knechtel, Al DeLory and Mike Melvoin, bassists Ray Pohlman and Joe Osborn, guitarists Tommy Tedesco and Louie Shelton, drummer Jim Gordon, and many more. Many of the Crew went on to performing or producing careers on their own -- like Campbell, Knechtel (with Bread), producer DeLory, producer Shelton, Gordon (with Eric Clapton), and others. Sonny Bono's even in there. If you've heard '60s and '70s pop, you know these folks' work. But most of them didn't get album-cover credits until the '70s.
And all along the way there were musicians who resented being replaced in the studio by the Crew -- but other than Michael Nesmith, most of them faded away....
There are some neat stories here if you don't already know the territory, but if you've read about Phil Spector in any depth, you may not find many surprises.
What, you mean The Partridge Family DIDN'T play on their own albums...?!
* Robert Christgau: GOING INTO THE CITY (2015) -- Consider this a rave. Christgau, the rock critic who's been rating records in monthly columns and once-a-decade books since the late 1960's, has written a memoir about his life and career that is absolutely gripping once he actually starts recapping his career as a critic. I laughed all through it, and I like very much the way Bob mixes together memories of his writing, music, and his love life. I like very much the way he tells TOO MUCH, more than you probably want to know. And at the end, Bob comes across as a normal guy with a neat job -- dedicated, workmanlike, modest. Yeah, sure.