Black Sabbath, Creation Records, hip-hop, love songs, B-52s and women linked to the Stones – The Irish Times

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Following autobiographies from Black Sabbath singer Ozzy Osbourne and lead guitarist Tony Iommi, it’s the turn of second-generation Irishman Terence “Geezer” Butler (the band’s bass guitarist) to pull back the purple curtains and tell us his view of what went behind them. Into the Void: From Birth to Black Sabbath – and Beyond (Harper Collins, £20.99) doesn’t disappoint when it comes to insights into the band that has been nicknamed The Beatles of Heavy Metal.

Butler digs into his working-class background as the youngest of seven children, his rise as a postwar Birmingham lad inspired by art, literature and music, and his gradual status as a member of hard rock’s elite with a dehydrated wit that reaps dividends for the reader. Head-shaking stories about internal disputes, hard-case music managers, tax problems, dodgy music biz contracts, alcohol and drugs abound. But the killer scenario is Butler’s tale about having so much money to spare that on leaving his Rolls-Royce into a garage for a problem that would take a few days to fix, he promptly purchased a Mercedes to drive home in.

The book concludes with not so much a salutary story as a satisfying one: the man who wrote lyrics to songs such as Children of the Grave, Hand of Doom, Fairies Wear Boots and Killing Yourself to Live is now a vegetarian and a home-loving gentleman of leisure.

There is an equal measure of music industry machinations and intra-band upheaval in the reissue of one of the best music books of the past 25 years: David Cavanagh’s My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry for the Prize: The Creation Records Story (Faber & Faber, £20), first published in 2000. Written by an Irish journalist who moved to London to work for Select, Q and Mojo magazines, the book focuses (painstakingly across 700-plus pages) on the emergence of Creation Records, a label (founded in 1983) run with little business acumen and a lot of self-indulgence.

Fully detailed mishaps and music industry transgressions include the classic story of Irish band My Bloody Valentine’s 1991 album Loveless; the infamous rise of The Jesus and Mary Chain (“the aural equivalent of a stroboscope,” writes Cavanagh); Baby Amphetamine (the long-forgotten manufactured trio of Virgin Megastore shop assistants); Primal Scream (says producer Stephen Street of the band’s singer, Bobby Gillespie, “you haven’t got it, pal”); and then Oasis, which like cavalry leading the charge, brought Creation Records into the industry Premier League.

It didn’t last, and the label folded in 1999. What took place from maverick start to moribund finish, however, is minutely, brilliantly outlined.

Equally well-detailed but presented in coffee-table style is Ode to Hip-Hop: 50 Albums That Define 50 Years of Trailblazing Music (Running Press, £25) by Kiana Fitzgerald, a Texas-based cultural critic and DJ. As per the title, Fitzgerald doesn’t set out to deliver a definitive list but rather one that blends classic status with work that changed the course of the genre, and some that hold deep, personal significance. As she writes in the introduction, “mental illness aside, hip-hop has been a healing salve for me my entire life”.

There follows a decade-by-decade (from the 1980s) breakdown of albums that altered the culture “in real time and cross time” and albums that influenced peer musicians and younger artists. Fitzgerald hits the high points (from NWA’s Straight Outta Compton and Nas’s Illmatic to Jay-Z’s Blueprint and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly). Narrative interludes include Hip-Hop Soul, The Art of the Mixtape, and Political and Conscious Hip-Hop, as well as Moments in History (such as Lamar’s Damn album winning the Pulitzer Prize for Music) and topics such as Misogyny in Hip-Hop.

The book might not tell any embedded, historically aware hip-hop fan what they don’t already know, but as a smartly designed, well-informed primer you can’t go wrong.

Perhaps less well-designed but just as fascinating is Tainted Love: From Nina Simone to Kendrick Lamar (Sternberg Press, £16), which explores the theme of warped romantic ballads as presented by a broad range of artists. Author Alex Coles, a professor of transdisciplinary studies at the University of Huddersfield, selects 11 songs that go far beyond the archetypal “moon in June” material – from Roxy Music’s In Every Dream Home a Heartache and Velvet Underground’s The Gift to Charlotte & Serge Gainsbourg’s Lemon Incest, PJ Harvey and Nick Cave’s Henry Lee, and Little Simz’s I Love You, I Hate You.

The concept is deftly considered – “A taint can be overt, as per Soft Cell’s queering of Tainted Love or the fetishism explored by Roxy Music’s ode to a blow-up doll” – while the song choices are often inspired.

Did we say inspired? Cue The Story of the B-52s: Neon Side of Town (Palgrave Macmillan, £27.99) by Scott Creney and Brigette Adair Herron. Both are fully attuned to the cultural importance of the US band, removing the novelty tag from around their neck and placing them in a context that looks at their influence in sociopolitical and LGBTQ circles.

Published to coincide with The B-52’s recent farewell tour (dubbed the Final Tour Ever of Planet Earth), the book traces the band’s career from a party-oriented, thrift-shop surf/punk/pop combo from Athens, Georgia, to an occasional crossover/mainstream act with vibrant hits such as Rock Lobster, Planet Claire, Love Shack and Roam. The authors also explore the band’s activism (animal rights, environmental, Aids – original member Ricky Wilson died of Aids-related illness in 1985), and their singular approach to success. While the book hits the marks smartly enough, the lack of direct access to the band members reduces the impact of the overall story.

“Marsha Hunt, Bianca Jagger, Marianne Faithfull and Anita Pallenberg – these women put the glimmer in the Glimmer Twins and taught a band of middle-class boys to be bad. They opened the doors to subterranean art and alternative lifestyles, turned them on to Russian literature, occult practices, LSD and high society…” So writes Elizabeth Winder in the introduction to her fascinating account of how a quartet of women ruptured the “systemic misogyny of rock culture”.

Parachute Women: Marianne Faithfull, Marsha Hunt, Bianca Jagger, Anita Pallenberg, and the Women Behind the Rolling Stones (Hachette, £25) also subverts that same fragmentation by exploring how “the very culture they helped to create turned against them… Women don’t roll like stones, they sink like them.” Profiling each woman’s entry into the Stones’ expanding universe, the unvarnished narrative weight leans far more toward Pallenberg and Faithfull, perhaps the pair most associated with the band in the 1960s at least.

Inevitably, and rightly so, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards don’t win any plaudits for their behaviour (Jagger, especially, in his relationship with Hunt), while the many tales (well-documented and written) of disloyalty, mental cruelty and copious drug taking are unforgiving and cheerless.

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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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