Personal friends and Internet friends alike will know I'm heavily steeped in the 60's and quite often I can be found with my nose in a book and it's a 75% chance that it's about the 60's (and more often than not, Britain in the 60's). Over the years I've come upon quite a few good reads on the decade of my birth (and favorite music) that don't actually deal with music but the styles, philosophies, arts, trends and characters that went hand in hand with the music. Granted there is a lot of overlap on some of the material in these but I've decided that I'd pick ten and tell you why.
1. "Revolt Into Style" by George Melly
Melly was/is sort of an "outsider" of sorts coming from the jazz scene but his grasp of the big picture and excellent style of writing make this read a real treat. Melly has the street smarts of a hipster but also possesses the savvy to suss out b.s. (ie stating that Swinging London was " a caricature of traditional capitalism"), this gives him an edge to discuss what he saw with an open mind, firsthand in the 60's.
2. "Days In The Life: Voices From The English Underground 1961-1971" by Jonathon Green
Green tells the tale of mods, beats, hippies, freaks, revolutionaries etc, often through quotes of those who were involved from the big names to the everyman it's all here. Green gives us just enough information without becoming so involved that it becomes a boring read.
3. "London Calling: A Countercultural History of London Since 1945" by Barry Miles
"London Calling" trods the same ground as both of Jonathon Green's books but since Barry Miles (known by his shorted sobriquet "Miles") is a central figure in both books and was "there" when it all "happened" it's good to hear things from his perspective. What is interesting about "London Calling" is Miles devotes more time to artists and playwrights than Green does in either of his books and manages to keep me interested even when it's on fairly mundane subjects. And its a perfect companion to both of the Green books!
4. "Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius" by Gary Lachman
Lachman is also known in the rock n' roll world as Gary Valentine of Blondie. I read this right after I finished "Days in The Life" and Lachman covers some of the way out, weird and scary stuff Green briefly touched upon in "Days in The Life". The 60's were of course not all peace and love and marches on the U.S. Embassy in Grosvenor Square. Lachman lifts up the rock that was the decade and shines at light on all the things crawling away, previously hidden from the sun: cults, sex, drugs, trepanning, and yes murder.
5. "All Dressed Up:The Sixties and Counterculture" by Jonathon Green
A bookend to Green's previous book "Days in the Life" that pretty much covers the same ground though in far greater detail on more specific subjects as opposed to more abstract things, which can be both it's strong point and it's downfall. At times it becomes a tedious at times (especially on the subject of "Anti-Psychiatry", B-O-R-I-N-G) but still a good read.
6. "Ready, Steady Go! Swinging London and the Invention of Cool" by Shawn Levy
A fascinating mish mash of all the big names in "Swinging London" (David Bailey, Terrence Stamp, Michael Caine, Mick Jagger etc), their women, their friends, where they ate, who dressed them, how they became famous and what became of their hanger on's and disgraced associates at the end of the decade etc.
7. "The Sharper Word: A Mod Anthology" by Paolo Hewitt
Former Weller acolyte and sometime modernist literary dogsbody Paolo Hewitt collects bits and blobs from many a read on the cult that is mod. You've read a lot of it before in it's original form but some was new to my eyes and very neat to have it all in one place. To me this book should do for new/young mods what "Mods" by Richard Barnes did for me in 1981.
8. "Mods " by Richard Barnes
Okay so maybe this one is more of a pictorial essay than a textual one, but you cannot deny the fact that the amount of information Barnes puts out there was a first birds eye view into the whole 60's mod scene and a jumping off point for many, if not all of us. Personally, this was, and in many ways still is, my bible!
9. "Stoned" by Andrew Loog Oldham
Stones Svengali/early manager/producer Oldham offers a fascinating view on the British music and fashion scene in the early to mid 1960's Britain. "Stoned" is not necessarily a book about The Rolling Stones or even A.L.O. but more of a hawk's eye view of 1960's Britain before Swinging London and Flower Power (with an especially acute view of the mod scene) ending just as The Stones are recording their debut long player. I'm just bummed that it's sequel "Too Stoned" glossed over everything afterwards (especially Immediate Records!) spending more time on his cocaine exile in Connecticut in the early 70's and his life in South America in the 90's!!
10. "Subculture: The Meaning of Style" by Dick Hebdige
More clinical and textbook worthy than all the others I've listed, "S.A.T.M.O.S" still has it's place because its still a fairly comprehensive overview of teds,mods, rockers, skinheads and punks. Stiff and sociological at times it nonetheless provides some witty views that you'd fail to see if you were "in" and does so in a manner that's even handed and compassionate.