Rock and Read 

Positively Yeah Yeah Yeah columnist's other annual hip holiday music feature

Didn't get what you wanted this year? As electronics and hot baths don't mix, think of something that does--a terrific stack of new rock 'n' roll books. Here are some recommended excuses to throw a thick towel on the radiator, stay in the water a little longer and balance a good read on your belly.

The Beatles add two terrific selections to their wing of the sophisticated rock library, and a long lost moment in time from the late 1960s is given a new life. Almost as large as the visual punch of a 12-inch LP jacket, Boxigami Books has just released the perfect coffee-table gift in Beatles Art: Fantastic New Artwork of the Fab Four. Featuring over 200 pages of visual interpretations both joyfully touching and quietly sad, the glossy pages turn like a mashed-up jukebox of perfect Beatles melodies--jumping and crosscutting the band's iconic imagery, both real and imagined. Looking through the prism of each painter, sculptor, and artist, the overflowing love is a delicious, giddy visual high. Highlights include the quartet portrayed as sloths, hip-hop homeboys, a Spanish Colonial retablo and wild keg-sized ceramic busts. Want to taste immediate jealousy? Check out the 250 sq. ft. murals in the home of a California musician.

More psychedelic visions are found in The Beatles: Illustrated Lyrics, originally published in 1969 and now issued in paperback by Black Dog & Leventhal. With over 200 songs given the pen and pallet treatment, a few noteworthy artists made the cut--Peter Max's kaleidoscopic peek through "Glass Onion," Ralph Steadman's take on "Oh Darling," and underground cartoonist Victor Moscoso's M.C. Escher-esque look at "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da." Obsessive-compulsive doctorates of Beatleology get plenty to knaw on in Backbeat Books' The Unreleased Beatles: Music & Film, dissecting every rare outtake session, home demo and live performance in nearly 400 pages. Year by year, and practically day by day, author Richie Unterberger places the reader as a fly on the wall with illuminating detail. If you've stumbled on the plethora of Beatle bootlegs on LP and CD, this history is a must-have companion to answer why each of these collectable recordings is so special. Also of note is a chapter dedicated to the "songs the Beatles gave away" to Badfinger, Peter & Gordon, The Applejacks, Mary Hopkin and more.

San Francisco's RE/Search Publications is back with another stunning prick at the masses with Pranks 2, a second volume of anti-corporate and anti-stupidity shenanigans meant to teach a little and laugh a lot between the lines of social protest. Two rockers find their way inside--entertaining malcontent and spoken word sage Jello Biafra hacks off about hacking scenarios, and Ministry's Al Jourgensen shares tales of subversive resistance within his major record label deal. Other political artists turning everything sideways include the Yes Men, John Waters, painter Ron English, comedian Margaret Cho, master satirist Paul Krassner and the brilliant modifiers of the advertising landscape, the Billboard Liberation Front. Highly recommended, this is smart stuff for those witty enough to throw ideas instead of bombs.

Cool cars and rock 'n' roll go together like peanut butter and jelly. With enough songs written over the past 50 years about cool cars and the need for speed, XM or Sirius could easily format a radio station on the subject. Author Paul Grushkin, whose Art of Rock ushered in the new age of rock posters, has done it again with the visually explosive Rockin' Down the Highway: The Cars and People That Made Rock Roll. With the beauty of vintage hubcaps alongside the beauty of vintage 45-rpm records, this massive 240-page thriller tells the intersecting tale of the hot rods and mack daddies who drove and designed them, and the rock 'n' roll (and later hip-hop) scene that fueled the engines in spirit and song. If you can dream it, it's in here--"Rocket 88," Rat Fink mania, 8-track tapes, rock-a-billy car culture, Detroit pride, eerie deaths behind the wheel, pimped whips, ZZ Top's CadZZilla and Ken Kesey's 1939 International Harvester cosmic school bus--all gorgeously electrified in rare archival photography, record sleeves, album jackets, magazine covers and concert posters. Most fun are the photos of touring musician's life on the road and in the van, and wealthy rockers proudly flanking their four-wheel obsessions. If you've got a gearhead on your gift list, this is pure, orgasmic, hemi-powered delight.

Looking to screw your thinking cap down and dive into the heady world of music and social anthropology at the grad school level? It might hurt a little, but the brainy diatribes found in The Resisting Muse: Popular Music and Social Protest from Ashgate Press are an insightful collection of essays written by college professors from around the country, each passionately offering a discourse on an array of anomalies in popular music. Topics range from the failure of straightedge, women in rap, reggae and the ideology of Rastafarianism, the undead of Gothicism and heavy metal as a community. Particularly engaging are Sean Kelly's essay on cassette culture and its influence on the Pacific Northwest grunge scene in the early 1980s, and Russell Potter's look at postmodernism in today's hip-hop.

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