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A Spy In The House Of Loud: Chris Stamey tells us nothing about sex and drugs, plenty about rock’n’roll

April 26, 2018

A Spy In The House Of Loud – New York Songs and Stories

Chris Stamey

University Of Texas Press (2018)

This may be a first: a modest autobiography. But then as Stamey himself notes, this book is more about his songs than his life, the diametric opposite of the rock’n’roll tell all. So we learn a lot about how some wonderful records were made, many released on Stamey’s Car Records. Stamey is responsible for so many of my favourite singles including (I Thought You) Wanted To Know, Big Black Truck, I Am The Cosmos, Bangkok, Angels, Cara Lee, My Baby Wears Her Hairdo Long, Big Brown Eyes and Bad Reputation. Wandering in and out of the narrative are Television, R.E.M., Big Star Third, Ray Davies (that memorable Barbican show from 2012), Jack Bruce, Alex Chilton and a cast of New York luminaries from 1977 – 1992.

Stamey comes across as thoughtful and articulate and his insights into songwriting and recording are fascinating. Only once does the book topple into muso speak: non-musicians can skip the Appendix completely.

Stamey’s longest musical relationship is with Peter Holsapple, his co-writer in the dB’s. Strangely the book is named after a Holsapple song, recorded after Stamey (amicably) left the band. Holsapple and names such as Mitch Easter and Richard Lloyd do recur, indicating loyalty as another one of Stamey’s virtues.

I loved this book. You might love it too if you were active in popular music between punk and The Spice Girls. I suspect this is a book with selective appeal (to parapharase Ian The Manager from Spinal Tap). Plus as a hardback it costs $27. Despite this I would recommend it to anyone who ever wondered how bands form, how songs are written and how records are made. And go here for the soundtrack.

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