10 It Gets Me Home, This Curving Track: Objects
Incapable of dumbing down, Penman had NME readers reaching for their dictionaries in the post-punk years. He retains the same daunting intelligence in this essay collection, which featured a fine take on mod, a gloomy assessment of James Brown and a sublime meditation on Frank Sinatra. Challenging, but worth it.
9 Year Of The Monkey
Another metaphysical ramble in the vein of her 2015 outing M Train, Year Of The Monkey was a walking tour through the proto-punk poet’s 70th year, punctuated by moody photographs, delicious breakfasts and foreboding visions. One way or another, those horses are still running wild.
8 Cruel To Be Kind:
The Life & Music Of Nick Lowe
A pub-rock powerhouse in his own right, ex-Kursaal Flyer Birch’s portrait of ‘Basher’ is not as cheery as the Stiff records superstar’s knockabout reputation might suggest. However, his enormous respect for his subject is evident as Birch carefully plots Lowe’s path from Kippington Lodge to third-age master craftsman.
7 Face It
Blondie made amazing records, but singer Debbie Harry remembered only heroin, exhaustion and bad business as she recalled the band’s peak years in this tell-all account. Her adventures in pre-gentrification New York are at times joyful and terrifying, though her intelligence and resilience shine through. Fair but hard.
6 I Put A Spell On
You: The Bizarre
Life of Screamin’
A smart sophisticate forced to live the life of a carnival sideshow, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins boiled with rage as Nina Simone and Creedence Clearwater Revival made more from his most famous song than he ever did. Bergsman’s study of the schlock icon was a thrilling portrait of an arch narcissist. Spoiler alert: it ends badly.
5 Afternoons With The Blinds Drawn
The sequel to Coal Black Mornings that Anderson said he would never write, this exorcism of his Suede years tracked the band’s swift ascent to the NME front cover and slow decline into back-biting and drugs as their Britpop crown fell to “bands who waved flags and dropped their aitches”. Bitter, twisted, but very classy.
4 Defying Gravity: Jordan’s Story
Jordan with Cathi Unsworth
The madame guillotine of the punk years, Jordan surveyed the movement’s triumphs and tragedies from behind the counter of Malcolm McLaren’s Sex boutique. The best punk book since England’s Dreaming, her story offered a unique perspective on the Sex Pistols and the PVC-clad nihilism of the time.
The former Reg Dwight’s garish, stack-heeled autobiography detailed his musical triumphs, suicide attempts and A-list adventures with a delightfully surly twinkle. An eyewitness account of deranged times starring Rod Stewart, John Lennon, Queen, the Queen, and one of the worst mothers in showbiz history.
2 Fried & Justified
“The legendary Mick Houghton”, according to Julian Cope, was the go-to PR man for generations of offbeat talent in the indie age. His illuminating memoir was a glorious K-Tel collection of anecdotes concerning the finest leftfield talent of his age: The Undertones, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Felt, the KLF and many more.
1 This Searing Light,
The Sun And Everything Else – Joy Division: The Oral History
Bandmates were in stitches when hotel staff admonished Ian Curtis for urinating into an ashtray; the laughter continued after William Burroughs told Joy Division’s troubled singer to “fuck off” when Curtis tried to shake the author down for a free book. Savage’s first-person patchwork honoured the ur-Manchester band’s dour power, but also presented Joy Division as excitable, gawky kids, too unworldly to understand how dark things were getting until Curtis killed himself in 1980. “To have done something for Ian would have taken someone with responsibility,” says guitarist Bernard Sumner. Here are the young men, then – but as this superb account shows, the weight on their shoulders remains.