From Leonard Cohen to The Beatles: Jarvis Cocker’s 10 favourite music books
Jarvis Cocker is one of the most important figures in the history of alternative British music, a figure who created magic with his band Pulp before going on to have a much-revered solo career. As well as being an iconic musician, Cocker is unsurprisingly a huge music enthusiast who has devoted his whole life to absorbing himself in the art.
When he’s not creating music himself or playing live, Cocker has spent years as a DJ on BBC Radio 6 Music when he hosted his much loved Sunday Service programme which offered his fans a weekly glimpse into his incredible record collection.
As well as being a devout music nerd, he is also an avid reader and even guested as editor-at-large for Faber and Faber so the topic of music literary is one that Cocker is an expert in. In 2014, when speaking to The Guardian, he listed the books on this topic which he considers his favourite from the many that he has accumulated over the years.
Take a look at the list, below.
Jarvis Cocker’s 10 favourite music books:
Nik Cohn – Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom
The first book on Cocker’s reading list is Nik Cohn’s 1969 classic Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom which looks at rock ‘n’ roll music replacing pop music as the defining genre of music and examines how rock had taken over the world.
“The original title for this book was ‘Pop from the Beginning’ and that pretty much sums it up,” Cocker explained. “Nik Cohn was only just out of his teens when he wrote it and it’s the book to read if you want to get some idea of the original primal energy of pop music. Loads of unfounded, biased assertions that almost always turn out to be right.
“He went on to provide the inspiration for Saturday Night Fever (Hurrah!) and Tommy (Boo!), but this is still his best book. Absolutely essential.”
Tove Jansson – Tales from Moominvalley
Tales from Moominvalley is the sixth book in the Moomins series by esteemed Finnish author Tove Jansson. Unlike all the other books, which were all novels this book is a collection of short stories and also acts as the longest book in the series.
Cocker: “Specifically the story called The Spring Tune – the best description I’ve read about the elusive nature of the tunes that we carry around in our heads and how we must be careful as to how and when we try to ‘harvest’ them. All songwriters need to read this story.”
Carson McCullers – The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
This is the debut novel by the American author Carson McCullers which was released in 1940 when she was just 23 years of age. It tells the story of a deaf man named John Singer and the people he encounters in a 1930s mill town in the US state of Georgia.
“I ripped this off royally for the song ‘Big Julie’ from my first solo album,” Cocker explained. “The description of Mick Kelly hearing Beethoven’s Third Symphony for the first time, while hiding beneath a neighbour’s window and eavesdropping on their radio, is still the only piece of writing I’ve found that comes close to describing the effect that a great piece of music has on the human organism. The rest of the book isn’t bad either…”
Mark Cooper – Liverpool Explodes!
Released in 1982, this book focusses on Liverpool’s legendary knack for creating iconic bands, the book features Echo & The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes on the cover who are two of the finest acts that Merseyside has ever produced.
Cocker: “Before he became responsible for Later … and the bulk of the BBC’s music output, Mark Cooper wrote this affectionate and hilarious account of the early-1980s music scene in Liverpool and specifically the careers of the Teardrop Explodes and Echo & the Bunnymen.
“Unfortunately, it’s out of print at the moment. You could console yourself by reading 45 by Bill Drummond, which features some of the same characters (and is an immense book in its own right).”
Alan Aldridge – The Beatles: Illustrated Lyrics
The Beatles: Illustrated Lyrics is a set of two books which combines the lyrics of songs by The Beatles that are then accompanied by illustrations and photographs, many by leading artists of the period as well as comments from the band on the origins of the songs.
“This is the first music book I was ever aware of – I spent hours of my childhood poring over the illustrations: some turned me on, some scared me,” Cocker explained. “I was convinced that the photo that accompanies ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ was of me and my sister. I still get lost in it sometimes.”
Ken Kesey – Sometimes a Great Notion
Sometimes a Great Notion is the second novel by American author Ken Kesey, published in 1964. The story involves an Oregon family of gyppo loggers who cut and procure trees for a local mill in opposition to unionized workers who are on strike.
Cocker: “There’s a section when Hank and Leland Stamper have an argument about jazz and Leland tells Hank that the reason he can’t handle John Coltrane is cos it’s too ‘black’ for him – then he goes and smokes a joint. It’s good to read Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in tandem with this. Kesey is king.”
Leonard Cohen – The Favourite Game
The Favourite Game is the first novel by Leonard Cohen. It was first published by Secker and Warburg in the fall of 1963 but was written in 1959 after he was awarded a $2,000 Canada Council grant, which he used to live cheaply in London and on the Greek island of Hydra while he wrote the novel, then titled Beauty at Close Quarters and it eventually got released three years later.
Cocker: “We all know Leonard Cohen is The Don: perhaps the ONLY true musician/poet/novelist ever. This is his first novel and there is a great section where he describes driving through the Canadian night listening to Pat Boone singing ‘I Almost Lost My Mind’, which totally captures the essence of teenage years and their infatuation with all things Rock.”
Dori Hadar – Mingering Mike
Mingering Mike is a fictitious funk and soul recording and visual artist created in the late 1960s as the subject of works of album art by a young Mike Stevens. More recently, Mingering Mike was rediscovered by law firm investigator Dori Hadar and his friend Frank Beylotte, who came across the artwork at a flea market and wrote this book on the fictitious character.
“This is the place where outsider art and record collecting meet,” Cocker explained. “One day a DJ was ‘crate-digging’ – searching through piles of old vinyl in search of hidden treasures – when he discovered a cache of handmade covers with cardboard ‘records’ inside.
“Mingering Mike had finally been discovered! He was the alter-ego of Mike Stevens, and this book tells his story and reproduces the handmade artwork of the albums that comprised his imaginary career as a soul superstar.”
Johan Kugelberg – Enjoy the Experience
Published in 2013, this book focuses on the music of the late 1950s to the early 1990s and presents the annals of the homemade records mini-industry of that era as well as looking into the subculture of homemade records.
Cocker: “Another outsider experience: a collection of sleeves from ‘private-press’ albums dating from the ’50s to the ’90s. For a price, anyone could have their album pressed on vinyl and housed in a sleeve of their own design. The results are often hilarious – but, in conjunction with the download links to some of the music featured on the records, you will be introduced to a raw, unfiltered mode of expression often missing from commercial releases. Enjoy, indeed.”
Bob Stanley – Yeah, Yeah, Yeah
Bob Stanley’s 2014 book tells the chronological story of the modern pop era. It examines its humble beginnings in the fifties with the dawn of the charts and the music press, to pop’s digital switchover in the year 2000.
“If Nik Cohn’s book is Pop from the Beginning then maybe Bob Stanley’s work should be retitled Pop at the End. He valiantly attempts to encompass all developments and movements in pop as captured during the age of the 7″ 45rpm single,” Cocker said.
“With the death of the singles chart as a national pastime, Stanley seems to imply that some kind of golden age has come to an end. Reluctantly, I guess I kind of have to agree with him. You can prove me wrong if you like, though.”