Finding that record for which you've been searching to complete your Frank Zappa collection -- the one you've been looking for since you owned it as a teenager but then lost it, or gave it away -- brings palpable joy almost as intense as hearing your favorite guitarist or singer hit that sweet note in your favorite song. In addition to the numerous memoirs and biographies of musicians out this fall, at least one book on record collecting and several books of lyrics remind us that it's not the lives of musicians that make a song memorable, or that make a record valuable to us.
Last year, in Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78rpm Records (S&S, 2014; Scribner paperback June 2015), Pitchfork music critic Amanda Petrusich explored the intense and insular subculture of 78 rpm record collecting. While she sometimes points out that the collectors become obsessed with possessing an object (the 78) and neglecting the pleasure of the songs, one reviewer called her book an "inviting volume that will welcome many to an unfairly ridiculed sphere and send newbies looking up artists they've likely never heard of." Petrusich's book joins a number of other earlier titles on record collecting, such as Brett Milano's Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record Collecting (St. Martin's, 2003) and Gary Calamar and Phil Gallo's Record Store Days: From Vinyl to Digital and Back Again (Sterling, 2012), that bring to life music fans' passion for collecting records by favorite artists or valuable vinyl by obscure bands.
This fall, professional photographer and amateur record collector Eilon Paz shares his six-year journey around the world, when he interviewed and photographed record dealers and enthusiasts. Among them: German DJ Frank Rossner, a major collector of LPs from Africa, and musician and producer Questlove. The resulting volume, Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting (Ten Speed Press), is a lavishly illustrated coffee table tribute to the love of vinyl and the thrill of collecting records, and finding just the one you've been looking for.
Song lyrics can be memorable or forgettable, but fans of particular bands and singers know every word to every song. Books of collected lyrics give fans the opportunity to pore over every song by a specific artist, sometimes in a search to find deeper meaning in a song, and sometimes just to refresh their memories about words they might have forgotten. A number of collections of lyrics this fall give fans a chance to revisit their favorite songs.
Here are a few to look for:
Collected Lyrics, 1970-2015 by Patti Smith (Ecco)
Smith, author of 2010’s Just Kids and this year's M Train, here revises and updates the collection originally published in 1998 and updated in 2006, with 35 new songs, new artwork, and an introduction by Smith.
Bob Dylan: All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track, by Philippe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon (Black Dog & Leventhal)
The authors of 2013’s All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release, which has sold more than 40,000 copies in hardcover, dig into every recording session, every album, and every song — all 525 of them — that Bob Dylan has released over the course of his 56-year career.
The Complete Beatles Songs by Steve Turner (Morrow/Dey Street)
This collection offers Beatles fans every detail they've ever wanted to know about the Fab Four's songs. Arranged chronologically by album, the book includes over 100 black and white photographs of moments in the group's life, plus detailed introductions to each album. Turner provides a short introduction to the history of each song, details about its length, its release dates in the U.S. and the U.K., and which Beatle penned it, as well as the song's lyrics. For example, Turner points out, the lyrics of "Can't Buy Me Love" suggest that Lennon and McCartney wrote the song in 1964, in part as an answer song to Berry Gordy's "Money," which the group had been performing in 1960. Lennon and McCartney's "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" (written in 1968) was recorded the day that Linda Eastman arrived in London to begin her life with Paul.
Jean Ritchie's Kentucky Mother Goose: Songs and Stories from My Childhood, by Jean Ritchie with Susan Brumfield (Hal Leonard)
Here, the "Mother of Folk Music," who died earlier this year, shares family stories, memories, and her favorite songs from when she was growing up.
Auld Lang Syne: Words to Songs You Used to Know, by Karen Dolby (Michael O'Mara Books)
The tunes of some songs are very familiar, and we can recall the choruses, but sometimes the first lines are difficult to recall. This book contains songs from across the English-speaking world, including "Waltzing Matilda," "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," and "London Bridge is Falling Down," among others.
Long after we've digested the stories of excesses and egos of the musicians themselves, it's the performance enshrined in vinyl, on a 45 or a 78 or a live album, and it's the song's lyrics we keep singing over and over to ourselves that stay with us.