Help Me Dance Better About Architecture
December 6, 2016 10:22 PM   Subscribe

What are your favourite examples of music writing? I'm looking specifically for pieces and articles that introduced you to someone new, that made you want to either buy their records or go see them live. My own favourite example is the artist biographies from the Golden Plains Music Festival.

A part of my day job, which I love, involves writing about music and artists that we're bringing over to China. Many of these artists are small, independent, underground names - and we frequently have to introduce them to an audience unfamiliar with the band/musician in question.

It's an uphill struggle, and I want to go beyond the usual cliches of music writing (how many times can I say that a band is 'eclectic'?) to try and convince people to take a chance on an artist they have not heard of.

The title for this question comes from (probably apocryphal) Elvis Costello quote that "writing about music is like dancing about architecture."
posted by beijingbrown to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It may be absurd to suggest this, because it's not at all the sort of writing you are referring to or have to do yourself, but: Theodor Adorno wrote about music with an acuity no one else has. If you can get past his sometimes bizarre vocabulary and angular prose, his writing will make you think about music -- and the reasons people listen to music -- from an unexpected and revelatory angle. So it might shake up your mind -- in a good way -- about music writing, without likely offering a model of how to write yourself. Try On the Fetish Character in Music, or On Jazz.

Considerably closer to the sort of writing you have in mind is the Jazz writing of Philip Larkin, who was a poet, but wrote about music in a literate, journalistic vein. I couldn't find any examples online, but it's worth seeking out, especially for the honesty and vivacity with which he describes his own reactions to various kinds of Jazz.
posted by bertran at 12:30 AM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you want to read about music, you could do worse than read a compilation of Lester Bangs's reviews. I greatly enjoyed Psychotic Reactions and Carburettor Dung.
posted by kandinski at 2:24 AM on December 7, 2016

Best answer: Sheila Whitely.
Wilfrid Mellers.

George Melly.
Philip Tagg.
posted by Coda Tronca at 4:05 AM on December 7, 2016

Best answer: Geoff Dyer - But Beautiful

(about jazz)
posted by dadaclonefly at 8:07 AM on December 7, 2016

Best answer: Alex Ross!

Also Nick Hornby, for more popular music--his essay about Aimee Mann's Bachelor No. 2 made me go out and buy the CD pretty much right away.
posted by ferret branca at 8:09 AM on December 7, 2016

Best answer: Greil Marcus is an amazing writer who takes popular forms of music very seriously - with a focus on various forms of rock music and folk music - mostly, though not exclusively, American. Lipstick Traces is his magnum opus, and I can't recommend it enough - it's a sprawling discussion of Punk music with the intention of putting it in the context of modern rebelliousness, reaching as far back as early 20th century murder ballads and the Paris commune. Mystery Train is a little more approachable, with a set of long chapters on different discrete subjects (like Bob Dylan, The Band, Sly Stone, etc.).
posted by lousywiththespirit at 8:27 AM on December 7, 2016

Best answer: The 33 1/3 series has a lot of great writing about music that isn't in the normal vein or by the usual suspects. This book has quite good excerpts.
posted by jessamyn at 8:52 AM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are all amazing, thanks everyone!

Are there other examples out there of music writing written specifically for *promotion* - i.e. convincing people to go out to a show, a festival, or catch a band on tour - that you thought was excellent?

I remember particularly liking this announcement that LCD Soundsystem were headlining London's Lovebox Festival.
posted by beijingbrown at 11:33 PM on December 7, 2016

Chris O'Leary's blog Pushing Ahead of the Dame goes through Bowie's entire catalog song by song and is the best music writing I've ever come across (songs through Station to Station have also been collected in a book, Rebel Rebel). I was a casual Bowie fan until I started reading O'Leary, and then the insight that I gained kicked off a multi-year Bowie bender that still flares up from time to time.

The other top-of-pantheon piece of music writing for me is Marcus Gray's Route 19 Revisited, an in-depth look at London Calling, including both musical analysis and recording history. Again, this book kicked me from casual Clash fan to intense superfan.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 7:11 AM on December 8, 2016

Sorry this isn't specifically about promotion, but I did want to suggest the Da Capo Best Music Writing series, especially Da Capo best music writing 2003, which has "In the secret country : Walter Mosely, doo-wop, and '50s L.A." by Greil Marcus, which is wonderful. The whole series has lots of gems, and a wide variety of authors and writing styles.
posted by kristi at 9:43 AM on December 9, 2016

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