The public's general lack of interest in reading about pop music hasn't seemed to affect the flow of books about it, as a look at the Publishers Weekly spring preview proves. Along with the usual pile of biographies -- both the thoughtful variety and the quick-hit "image" bios -- are some potentially valuable histories and some fun reads you don't even need a beach to enjoy. Most of these books are scheduled for publication between now and July.
Most entertaining titles: "David Lee Roth: What a Guy!" by Mimi Kasbah and "I, Tina: In Her Own Words." Since the latter is being written with Rolling Stone Senior Editor Kurt Loder, shouldn't it be "We, Tina?" And for those who have waited breathlessly for more than a decade to read the "real story," there are hers-and-his/tories about the Mamas and the Papas, Michelle Phillips' "California Dreamin': The Music, the Madness, the Magic That Was" and her ex-hubby's "Papa John: The Autobiography of John Phillips."
Already out: "Rock Wives -- The Hard Lives and Good Times of the Wives, Girlfriends and Groupies of Rock and Roll" by Victoria Balfour. Balfour talked to some two dozen "wives in the fast lane," including a number of Rolling Stones women, Lee Angel (Little Richard's long-ago wife), Susan Rotolo (Bob Dylan's first love and cover subject on his early albums) and Bebe Buell (who had liaisons with Todd Rundgren, Rod Stewart, Elvis Costello and Stiv Bators).
The most heartening trend is the serious histories and analyses of black pop music, which kicked off last month with Nelson George's provocative "Where Did Our Love Go -- The Rise & Fall of the Motown Sound." Berry Gordy and the sound of young America are also the subject of a paperback reissue of J. Randy Taraborrelli's "Motown: Hot Wax, City Cool and Solid Gold." Even more promising are "Black Popular Music in America," by longtime black music historian Arnold Shaw, and "Sweet Soul Music," a study of that music's growth and development in the rural South by the best writer of the genre, Peter Guralnick. Ironically, there has usually been more writing done about the blues idiom than black pop, and that literature continues to expand with Bruce Bastin's "Red River Blues: The Blues Tradition in the Southeast."
There are literally dozens of instant bios (though the genre is more widespread in England than America), and some of the bands to receive such treatment include Dire Straits, Z.Z. Top and Led Zeppelin. Most of the books in this genre are "pictorial biographies," which means simplistic, often superficial writing and lots of mediocre pictures. The kings of the genre are Canadians Phillip Kamin and Peter Goddard, and they've now added to their stable with "The Cars: In the Fast Lane."
Also on tap: "Bruce Springsteen: Blinded by the Light," a reactionary appraisal of the biggest star in America by two Brits, Patrick Humphries and Chris Hunt; "U2: In the Name of Love," a collective work drawn from Ireland's fine rock journal, Hot Press; and Dave Rimmer's "Like Punk Never Happened," a serious study of Boy George and Culture Club. "Ask" by Paul Morley collects the Melody Maker writer's interviews with the likes of Mick Jagger, Wham!, Duran Duran and Phil Collins, while "More Dark Than Shark" teams Brian Eno and Russell Mills.
Also coming: "Clapton!" by Ray Coleman and "Taxi: The Harry Chapin Story" by Peter Coan. With Mick Jagger's own autobiography still in the shaping stage, we'll have to do with John Blake's "His Satanic Majesty," and with John Lennon bios apparently run into the ground, we can now look forward to "McCartney: The Definitive Biography" by Cris Salewicz. And Edward Kiersh's "Where Are You Now, Bo Diddley?" provides updates on such folks as Fabian, Richie Havens, Tommy James, Petula Clark, Donovan and Chubby Checker.
The straight pictorial books continue to thrive: Danny Quatrochi's "Police Confidential" follows that apparently disbanded trio at work and at play, while "Led Zeppelin: A Visual Documentary" by Paul Kendall proves that it's not just the song that remains the same, but the visual, too. Probably the most intriguing picture book will be "Elvis Presley's Graceland," featuring the astounding color photos by William Eggleston (they were on exhibition here a few years back) and a text by Stanley Booth ("Dance With the Devil").
While Robert Stephen Spitz works on what many expect to be the definitive Dylan biography (it will be published next year), we can prepare with another major Dylan tome, "No Direction Home -- The Life and Music of Bob Dylan" by Robert Shelton, The New York Times critic who is credited with being the first to write about the Minnesota folk maverick.
And bringing up the rear:
"A Dictionary of Musical Quotations" by Ian Crofton and Donald Fraser (mostly classical, but some modernist pop); "The Rolling Stone Book of Global Pop," edited by Ken Braun (this one's a surprise since that magazine has hardly covered the subject at hand); "The Inner Game of Music" by Barry Green with Timothy Gallowey (from the folks who brought you "The Inner Game of Tennis"); and what may be the ultimate yuppie book, "The Doo-Wop Sing-Along Songbook: The Classic Rock and Roll Songs You Always Wanted to Sing," by John Javna (a sure bet if you've grown tired of singing along to all the television theme songs).