There was a time when the ’70s was largely remembered as the decade that brought us music by the likes of Boston and Bread. People thought that the Sex Pistols started punk, the Bee Gees spawned disco, and hip-hop was a passing fad. Thankfully, times have changed. Works like Nelson Georgeâ€™s Hip-Hop America and Jeff Changâ€™s Canâ€™t Stop Wonâ€™t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, documented hip-hopâ€™s roots and launched serious consideration of the form. Books like Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk helped set the record straight that punk hailed from New York and Detroit, not London. Disco, probably the most maligned music of the time, is the latest to receive revisionist treatments with groundbreaking books like Alice Echolsâ€™ Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture and Tim Lawrenceâ€™s Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970â€“1979.
These are just a few books from a shelfâ€™s worth that are essential for anyone seeking to understand ’70s music; but for those who have less time for this noble intellectual pursuit, there is Will Hermesâ€™ Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York that Changed Music Forever (November, Faber and Faber), the best book to give a broad overview of this formative time in American culture. Hermes is a senior critic at Rolling Stone who has covered music for publications like the New York Times, Spin, the Village Voice and Entertainment Weekly. Starting with 1973, Hermes works his way through five years of musical excess and glory as it played out in New Yorkâ€™s burgeoning disco, punk, hip-hop, salsa, loft jazz, rock and minimalist classical music scenes.
Hermes’ knowledge is encyclopedicâ€”his bibliography alone stretches to seven tightly packed pages. The strength, and weakness, of the book is his journalistic, chronological approach. At times the marching narrative feels a little clunky, but mostly it works, as he shows the stunning array of artists steadily breaking new ground in close proximity, one after another. Philip Glass premieres Music in Twelve Parts one week after DJ Kool Herc throws a new kind of party further uptown. Two up-and-comers from Jersey, Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen, release Horses and Born to Run months apart.
Hermes shows that these artists were often influenced by what was going on around them. Connections between disparate genres have been traced before with more focus. Echolsâ€™ Hot Stuff considers discoâ€™s relationship to punk, rock and R&B, for example, and itâ€™s tough to beat her near-perfect mix of personally informed writing combined with a scholarâ€™s handle on gender, sexuality, race and culture. But few writers have tackled as many genres in one book, and Hermes does an especially good job at tracing New York salsa and other Latin artists’ influences on disco and rock, something given more cursory treatment in most other books.
Hermes and others have gone a long way toward correcting the record about ’70s music, making the case that it was arguably an era as rich and important as the ’60s. If youâ€™re not convinced, get a taste at Hermesâ€™ companion blog (www.willhermes.com) that at last check featured video clips from the likes of Television, Grandmaster Flash & the 4 MCs, Celia Cruz and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
Published in 1998, Michael Stipeâ€™s book of photographs Two Times Intro: On the Road with Patti Smith (September, Akashic) has been reissued with a new introduction. In ’70s New York, Smith was an ascendant force of nature. Stipeâ€™s photo diary finds her decades later in 1995, after the death of her husband, MC5 guitarist Fred Smith, returning to performance after quiet family life in northern Detroit. Many of Stipeâ€™s black-and-white photos capture Smith and her friends and bandmates in transit, passing time backstage, or preparing to play. Smith is one of the great muses of our time, inspiring the likes of Thurston Moore, PJ Harvey and an untold number of other younger musicians, including Stipe.
Other notable summer and fall music releases for your enjoyment… Rapper, entrepreneur, actor, suicide interventionist and now novelistâ€”T.I. officially achieves Renaissance-man status with Power & Beauty: A Love Story of Life on the Streets (October, William Morrow). Filmmaker, producer and author Nelson George also has a novel out, The Plot Against Hip-Hop (November, Akashic). Butch Walker, pop production wonder boy from Floyd County, GA, tells all in his memoir, Drinking with Strangers: Music Lessons from a Teenage Bullet Belt (November, William Morrow). Chic founder and production guru Niles Rogersâ€™ new memoir is Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny (October, Random House). Mark Amerikaâ€™s ambitious remixthebook pushes past traditional print, presenting a book on art theory as a hybrid print/digital/web performance work (September, University of Minnesota Press). Metal guitar god Tony Iommi dishes on Ozzy and more in Iron Man: My Journey through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath (November, Da Capo). Greil Marcus attempts to break on through the myths and clichÃ©s in The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Wild Years (November, PublicAffairs). Chantal Regnaultâ€™s photos capture the mid-’80s gay ballroom scene in Voguing and the Gay Balls of New York City (November, Soul Jazz Books). Even when you disagree with him, youâ€™ll be entertained by contrarian Chuck Eddyâ€™s writing, collected in Rock and Roll Always Forgets: A Quarter Century of Music Criticism (October, Duke University Press). Lester K. Spence explores the complicated intersection of hip-hop and politics in Stare in the Darkness: The Limits of Hip-hop and Black Politics (July, University of Minnesota Press). The Best of Punk Magazine includes commentary from publisher John Holmstrom, unpublished material and better reproductions of the art and photos than the original magazines (November, HarperCollins/It Books). New in the 33 â…“ series: Portisheadâ€™s Dummy by RJ Wheaton (September, Continuum) and Dinosaur Jr.â€™s Youâ€™re Living All Over Me by Nick Attfield (June, Continuum). Sujatha Fernandes asks if hip-hop can change the world in Close to the Edge: In Search of the Global Hip-Hop Generation (September, Verso). Jack Isenhour looks at No Show Jones’ masterpiece in He Stopped Loving Her Today: George Jones, Billy Sherrill, and the Pretty-Much Totally True Story of the Making of the Greatest Country Record of All Time (September, University Press of Mississippi).
Like what you just read? Support Flagpole by making a donation today. Every dollar you give helps fund our ongoing mission to provide Athens with quality, independent journalism.