Read & Listen: White Bicycles

The first in an occasional series in which we pair reviews of music criticism/history books with a list of accompanying albums for your reading and listening pleasure.

READ: Walking off the baseball field of his Connecticut prep school one evening in the late 1950s, Joe Boyd heard the strains of the most recent Fats Domino single and was struck by the sudden realization that he wanted to be a record producer. This epiphany led Boyd down a long and twisting career path in which he discovered some of the most gifted musicians of the 1960s and helped create ground-breaking music that still enthralls listeners today. In White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s, Boyd gives a clear-eyed and captivating account of his experiences making music in this tumultuous decade on both sides of the Atlantic. Want to know what really happened when Dylan went electric at Newport in 1965? Or experience the sounds, smells & sights of swinging psychedelic London at its peak in 1967? Perhaps you’re curious about what it was like that day in the studio when Richard Thompson met Nick Drake. Read this book and find the answers to these questions, plus the story of the Blues & Gospel Caravan’s triumphant tour of Europe in 1964, the Incredible String Band’s adventures in Scientology, Pink Floyd’s rapid ascent from the London underground to the pop charts, and a whole lot more. Fans of great ‘60s music, especially the American and British folk-rock scenes, will be unable to put this down.

LISTEN

  • Newport Folk Festival: Best of the Blues, 1959-1968 – Various Artists. This sampler of great blues performances from the festival includes many artists mentioned by Boyd in White Bicycles, including several who participated in the Blues & Gospel Caravan tour. Check out tracks by Reverend Gary Davis, Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry, Muddy Waters, Son House, and Paul Butterfield Blues Band as you read Chapters 2-7, 11 & 12.
  • Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts from the British Empire and Beyond, 1964-1969 – Various Artists. This wonderful compilation of 1960s British psychedelic and garage rock singles includes Tomorrow’s “My White Bicycle” (from which Boyd’s memoir takes its title) and hits by other regulars at Boyd’s underground London club, UFO, such as The Move, The Smoke, and The Pretty Things. Listen to these strange and marvelous tunes while reading Chapters 17 to 19 on the UFO era.
  • Bryter Layter – Nick Drake. Boyd says of this album, Drake’s second, that it is one of his favorites, “a record I can sit back and listen to without wishing to redo this or that.” Yet it is not nearly as popular today as Pink Moon (which Boyd did not produce) nor Five Leaves Left, despite such stand-out songs as “Northern Sky,” “Fly,” and “One Of These Things First.” One of Drake’s defining musical traits was his unusual admixture of jazz and folk sounds, and that innovative combination is perhaps more evident on this album than any of his others. See Chapters 23 & 24 for more on Boyd’s relationship with Drake.
  • The Hangman’s Daughter– The Incredible String Band. When Boyd finished this album in 1968, he thought it was “the best thing [he] had produced.” Check it out and judge for yourself whether Boyd was right as you soak up ISB’s original blend of American and Scottish folk styles ornamented by Asian and Middle Eastern instrumentations. Boyd details the group’s rise and fall in the 1960s pop scene with wry humor in Chapters 15, 22, and 27.
  • Unhalfbricking – Fairport Convention. Fairport Convention was the first British rock band to thoroughly plumb the depths of their country’s 1000-year-old folk traditions for musical inspiration. Unhalfbricking was the beginning of this journey into the past with Sandy Denny’s masterful rendition of the traditional ballad, “A Sailor’s Life.” Other memorable tracks include “Genesis Hall,” “Autopsy” and “Si Tu Dois Partir,” a catchy Cajun-style cover of a Dylan tune sung entirely in French. Boyd’s recollections of Fairport’s early history can be found primarily in chapters 20 & 28.

WATCH (bonus!):

  • Festival– This documentary captures a key moment in the history of Newport Folk Festival, from 1963 to 1966, in which the old guard of the American folk scene (represented by Pete Seeger and Alan Lomax) were forced to confront radical new elements reshaping the genre (a.k.a. Bob Dylan and the Butterfield Blues Band). A perfect accompaniment to Boyd’s writing on the same subject.
  • Jimi Hendrix – Boyd co-directed this documentary on the life of the tragic star (and Seattle native) a few short years after his death in 1970. Switching between scorching concert footage and the reminiscences of family members, friends and contemporaries (Pete Townsend, Mike Jagger, and Little Richard are among the talking heads featured), the film set a new standard in “rockumentaries” when it was first released in 1973. Boyd describes the complex politics shaping the film’s production and its legacy in Chapter 32.

3 thoughts on “Read & Listen: White Bicycles”

  1. Wow! Thanks for the great review of what looks like a fascinating book. I love the music recommendations, too…

  2. Also not to be missed — the Monterey Pop Festival DVD – the library has the special collectors set which includes special extra performance footage of Hendrix and Otis Redding. This was also the first big gig for Janis Joplin/Big Brother and the Holding Company. Watching the crowd’s faces during their set is pretty entertaining.

  3. What a great book! Glad to see a review online. Good to see Incredible String Band and Fairport Convention CDs being promoted by libraries!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s