The Best Music Books Of All Time by Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan and Munster Times
Matt Ryan and Munster Times. Image by Fiona Leonard

Regarding alternative music history, few people know more about this subject than St Kilda local Matt Ryan, who has been quietly scandalising the world since the day dot with questionable grammar in his garage-punk street music zine, The Munster Times. He’s interviewed small and large names in the music biz, always asking intelligent and informed questions to get guests to spill the beans. So who would be better to get the lowdown on the best music books of all time? My good friend Matt takes over below to guide you through the relevant literature… (Gemma White)

On the Road with the Ramones – Monte A. Melnick & Frank Meyer

Anyone who knows anything about the Ramones will tell you that while they sang we’re a happy family, they were anything but. That said, the Ramones slugged it out for 22 years to produce 14 cracking LPs. The Ramones never had a hit record, toured the states with the same van the whole time, playing mostly clubs to a small but dedicated audience. So how did a bunch of guys who had nothing in common except for a stage name stay together for so long? Ramones tour manager Monty A Melnick, who was there from start to finish, and stayed on good terms with all band members after the breakup, sits down with the band, family, associates and contemporaries for the most honest, raw and heartfelt telling of Manhattan’s finest.

The Fallen: Life In and Out of Britain’s Most Insane Group – Dave Simpson

Putting out 31 LPs and many more comps and live recordings, the Fall produced some of the most groundbreaking, genre-bending music ever put to tape. It also featured many musicians who were game enough to work with the mad genius that was Mark E Smith. After interviewing MES and getting nowhere when the subject of ex-members is brought up, Dave Simpson attempts to track down and interview all the ex-members of the group, all 50 of em.  Some stayed for years, some stayed for days, but all have a story. From the poor bloke asked to play drums at Reading festival with 30 minutes’ notice to Steve Hadley, MESs long-suffering right-hand man for nearly two decades. Smith’s portrayal is all over the shop. Sometimes he’s portrayed as a cruel taskmaster, other times a lovely father figure. Despite it all, everyone says the same thing, if given the chance to return, they all would in a second.

Please Kill Me – Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain

The definitive punk oral history. Starting with the birth of the Velvet Underground to the death of Johnny Thunders. Part history lesson, part school lunchtime gossip. Focusing mostly on the scene from CBGBs and UK. All the key plays are here, no text in between. Just the year and nothing but the stars telling the story.

Stranded – Clinton Walker

There ave been many great docos and books on the alternative music scene in Australia, but this one stands out, simply for the bands/genres covered and time frame. Covering everything from the mid-70s birth of Oz punk in the Saints and Birdman to the mid-90s JJJ pop such as Custard. Walker was there and documented the scene from the 70s to now. While a hard task he did a great job covering so many bands over such a big period, covering such big land.

We Never Learn – Eric Davidson

Please Kill Me for the garage gene. It feels like Eric Davidson, lead singer of New Bomb Turks, took all my favourite bands and decided to write a book about them. Spanning the era from 1988-2001, the book focuses on the gunk rock revolution. The bands are all over the place, from the states, the UK, Oz and Japan. Bands covered included the Dwarves, New Bomb Turks, Supersuckers, Oblivions, The Lazy Cowgirls and the Cosmic Psychos. These guys never sold a truckload, never played stadiums, some got a run on a major but didn’t get the world on fire. As Eric Davidson mentions, the Turks did a tour across The States, night after night basically made gas/food money, crashed on people’s floors the whole time, then gets back home to sees the gas cut off. But when you’re touring the country, playing music and meeting likeminded souls, it’s worth it.

Do It Yourself: A History of Music in Medway – Stephen H Morris

The essential guide to the Medway music scene, the place that gave us the great Billy Childish. Covering the period from the mid-90s to mid-2010s, a place where the scene is built on DIY. A mix of oral history and a discogs list of the 1000s of records that came from Medway, bands covered include The Dentists, Uncle Groovy and the many outfits featuring Billy Childish. One major criticism is the book seems to focus too much on the blokes and not enough on the ladies. But there is a counter……..

Girlsville: The Story of the Delmonas and the Headcoatees – Saskia Holling

Saskia, of Lord Rochester and the Nettelles fame, wrote this book as a counter to Do it Yourself where the women get equal time. The Delmonas and Headcoatees were both seminal to the Medway scene and just as popular as their male counterparts the Milkshakes and the Headcoats. The ladies in the band all get to write their own intros and get equal airtime to tell their story, as well as their own pre and epilogue.

Creation Stories – Alan McGee

Also a great film, Creation Stories is tales of the label told by the man that ran it. Inspired by punks DIY ethics, McGee started a label in his bedroom as a teenager that signed indie darlings The Jesus and the Mary Chain in the mid-80s, then in the 90s signed big selling acts like Oasis, Teenage Fanclub and Primal Scream. From small beginnings, signing his mates’ bands, to then becoming a big-time player in the industry, that included having a few encounters with Michael Jackson to meeting Tony Blair at number 10 after winning office. Despite having more money than any person needs, McGee never loses sense of it’s all about the music, man.

There you have it, the best music books of all time, according to Matt Ryan. I knew you’d like it. Now go and read The Munster Times. Free from various music outlets around Melbourne or $5 sent worldwide in my Etsy shop.

Writer Bio:

Matt Ryan, Image By Amy Sadovsky
Matt Ryan, Image By Amy Sadovsky

Matt Ryan has been writing Munster Times fanzine since 2008. a DIY publication, where Matt writes about whatever he wants but mostly focuses on music, local and afar. He has also contributed to the Age and I-94 Bar.

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