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November 27, 2009

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“Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Story Behind the Song,’’ Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen & Jo-Ann Geffen Funny, poignant, and insightful essays written by the songwriters of some of pop music’s biggest hits. The best - like the adulterous backstory to “Stop! In the Name of Love,’’ involving a disgruntled girlfriend and a baseball bat - deepen, entertain, and illuminate.

“The Tao of Wu,’’ The RZA The brains behind the Wu-Tang Clan comes raw and smart in a tale that combines fascinating biography - from rough times as a child to high ones as a rap star - with wisdom culled from Eastern philosophy, Islam, hip-hop, and a Staten Island street education.

“Strange Things Happen: A Life With the Police, Polo, and Pygmies,’’ Stewart Copeland Copeland is hilarious and hilariously self-aware in this memoir recounting his son-of-a-CIA-agent childhood to drumming for the Police in the biggest stadiums in the world - and fighting with them backstage - to his more recent work as a film composer.

“Paul McCartney: A Life,’’ Peter Ames Carlin One more gust to fan the flames of this year’s renewed Beatlemania. Carlin didn’t interview McCartney but did talk to bandmates, friends, colleagues, and collaborators and conducted extensive research to cast the “cute one’’ in a more complete light from Beatles to legend.

“Queen: The Ultimate Illustrated History of the Crown Kings of Rock,’’ Phil Sutcliffe Few bands are better suited to the spiffy coffee-table tribute. Leafing through the colorful photos and reading the album breakdowns, you’re reminded why the royal rockers were able to inspire so many different kinds of musicians.

“Travelin’ Man: On the Road and Behind the Scenes With Bob Seger,’’ Tom Wechsler and Gary Graff “Travelin’ ’’ captures the Detroit rocker in his early days. Watch as Seger transforms from a clean-cut kid with a Beatles haircut to a long-haired spinner of timeless classic rock yarns.

“Neil Diamond Is Forever: The Illustrated Story of the Man and His Music,’’ Jon Bream An extraordinary life told in interviews, ticket stubs, photos, and the words of admirers both famous and not. Quoth Paul McCartney: “I think he’s fantastic. I nearly got his autograph.’’

“Always Been There: Rosanne Cash, the List, and the Spirit of Southern Music,’’ Michael Streissguth When Rosanne Cash was just 18, her father Johnny gave her a list of 100 important recordings, from old country to pop standards. Those songs became the basis of “The List,’’ Cash’s new album, and this is the behind-the-scenes account of how it came together.

“Grunge,’’ Michael Lavine and Thurston Moore As one of the Seattle label Sub Pop’s main photographers, Michael Lavine had a bird’s-eye view of the grunge movement. His striking black-and-white pictures capture the scene’s pivotal players (Mudhoney, Nirvana, Soundgarden) and the fans who embodied the music’s defiant spirit. With commentary by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore.

“The Velvet Underground: An Illustrated History of a Walk on the Wild Side,’’ Jim DeRogatis From the band’s rise out of New York City’s seedy underbelly to its unlikely 1993 reunion tour, music critic Jim DeRogatis lovingly traces the Velvet Underground’s evolution through a feast of photos, concert posters, critical essays, and Andy Warhol’s pop art.

“Canyon of Dreams: The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon,’’ Harvey Kubernik With his gorgeous new coffee-table tome, longtime LA resident Kubernik presents an insider’s look at 80 years of Laurel Canyon as both muse and mecca to artists such as Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and even Guns ’N Roses guitar god Slash.

“Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records,’’ John Cook with Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance Living up to the book’s apt subtitle - “The Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small’’ - Cook chronicles Merge’s humble beginnings as home to Superchunk and Neutral Milk Hotel to its more recent commercially viable roster that includes Arcade Fire, Spoon, and M. Ward.

“Bob Dylan Revisited’’ With Dylan’s approval, 13 artists have interpreted some of his most iconic songs as graphic illustrations. (For the more academic-minded, Seth Rogovoy’s new “Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet’’ explores the role Judaism has played in Dylan’s career and personal life.)

“Man of Constant Sorrow: My Life and Times,’’ Dr. Ralph Stanley If you’ve ever seen 82-year-old bluegrass patriarch Ralph Stanley in concert, you know he’s a man of few words. Maybe he was just saving them for his first memoir, which includes Stanley’s heartrending account of how he dealt with the early death of his brother and harmony partner Carter Stanley in 1966.

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