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June 2004

Melody Makers

This month it's music-related literature

By David Katz
Bloomsbury, 2003

This book documents the rise of reggae, from its origins as one of the underdogs of musical styles, to its current position as an important influence on contemporary popular culture. Solid Foundation concentrates specifically on the first 30 years of Jamaican reggae, from the pre-ska era to the dawn of dancehall. Katz’s aim is to let the pioneers of Jamaican music tell its tale in their own words, rather than provide an outsider’s view. This concept is all very well in theory and although, of course, it adds authenticity, it makes for very uneven reading. The constant disputes between the musicians and their differing recollections of events are at first jarring and then simply boring, particularly as in most cases the author makes no attempt at analysis. Katz has included far too much information for the average reader; this would be an excellent book after a session of heavy editing. However, on the plus side,Solid Foundation contains a wealth of excellent—in some cases previously unpublished—picture material. Katz went the extra mile to compile a comprehensive text by interviewing virtually every survivor from the island’s 1960s and 1970s music scene—in total he interviewed more than 250 artists. Although this book is recommended reading for the reggae enthusiast, it may be too much like hard work for a lay reader.

By Ozzy & Sharon Osbourne with Todd Gold
Simon & Schuster, 2003

It was inevitable that after the incredible success of the MTV show The Osbournes, which launched Ozzy Osbourne and his quirky family (wife Sharon and children Aimee, Kelly and Jack) to A-list celebrity status, there would have to be a book. Ordinary People is told from each individual’s point of view. Even their eldest child, Aimee, who chose not to be a part of the television series, finally has her say. If you are not averse to a lot of very bad language, you will certainly enjoy the Osbournes’ story—starting from the time that Ozzy bit the head off a live dove during an important business meeting (which preceded the more famous occasion when he bit the head off a live bat whilst onstage, thinking it was made from rubber) to Sharon’s recent battle with cancer. Amazingly, for all their troubles the Osbournes are a close and, apparently, functional family. That old adage about fact being stranger than fiction was surely thought up to describe Osbourne Sr.’s life. Still alive and kicking after a lifetime of extreme drug and alcohol abuse and more than 14 stints in rehab, he himself acknowledges: “I think I am a biological miracle. Obviously my time isn’t up yet.” The working-class boy from Birmingham who began his musical career with Black Sabbath in 1968 has achieved such iconic status that he was asked to perform at Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace in 2002. The book also highlights Sharon’s business skills as Ozzy’s manager and as the person who is largely responsible for the family’s success. While this book will not win any literary prizes, it is an easy, light read. And, if nothing else, it will serve to make the reader feel, perhaps a little enviously, that their own family, however crazy, is pretty sane compared to Ozzy, Sharon et al.

31 SONGS***
By Nick Hornby
Penguin, 2003

This book about 31 songs that the author loves, or has loved, indicates that Hornby has earned enough critical acclaim to allow himself the ultimate self-indulgence, so seems at first glance to be something that only his fans would find of interest. 31 Songs defies expectations and proves to be a treat for anyone with a passion for music. His desert island discs are certainly diverse—from his all-time favorite Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen (which he reckons he has played around 1,500 times) to Röyksopp’s Night Out by Röyksopp, Puff the Magic Dragon by Gregory Isaacs to Needle in a Haystack by The Velvelettes. Whether you can identify with Hornby’s choice of songs or not, you have to admire his honesty and utter lack of pretension. It would have been easy for him to slip in a few cool songs here and there, or to write about those already considered to be classics, but instead he admits that I’m Like a Bird by Nelly Furtado is the song that has been driving him pleasurably potty! Hornby’s ability to convey his enthusiasm for a great pop song, simple and superficial as it may be, lifts this book above most music-related literature. The prose is perceptive, funny and touching. 31 Songs also contains additional music writings from Hornby’s column in The New Yorker.

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