Digital Reading Room: Rock 'n read

[As tablets get more powerful, with more memory and sharper-looking screens, their apps are getting a makeover. Increasingly, mobile apps employ multimedia—combining words, pictures, audio, and video—in new and interesting ways. In our Digital Reading Room series, we’ll look at some eye-catching multimedia apps and tell you which ones deserve a place on your mobile device.]

Musical memoirs line the shelves of Apple’s iBookstore, and it’s easy to understand why—liner notes, photographs, and other supplementary material are a great way to breathe new life into old favorites. Unfortunately, two of the musically-themed ebooks this old fan took a look at proved to be a letdown, though for different reasons. It wasn’t all sour notes, though: A third book by a rock-and-roll photographer shows how good an enhanced iBook can be when it’s not a teaser for another format or old content poorly repackaged in the wrong format.

Photograph

Ringo Starr’s personal photos are fun and sometimes slightly different from the fare already available from other sources, but his commentary is uninformative.

About a year ago, I went to see Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band in concert, and it was a great show—Ringo was Ringo, and the band backed him on a handful of his old hits and one song from his latest album. Mostly, though, the former Beatle drummer gave it up to the other band members—most notably, Edgar Winter. I left the show feeling energized and also with good vibes about what a bargain it had been. For about $50, we’d gotten decent seats in a 2000-seat theater—about what it costs to park at a Paul McCartney concert.

So it’s disappointing to feel ripped off by Photograph, an enhanced iBook of pics Ringo took during the Beatle years. The enhancements consist of brief, unrevealing audio and video comments by Ringo, many along the lines of “Don’t know where this was taken.” The photos themselves are great, and the iBook enables you to zoom in on them. Ringo captured, with talent, many informal “backstage” shots of John, Paul, George, Brian Epstein, George Martin, and super-roadies Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans, as well as a host of Beatle friends, girlfriends, and wives.

The threadbare commentary and captions are even less palatable when you consider that the Photograph iBook includes only a sampling of the images that will be in Photograph, the limited-edition, autographed hardcover version scheduled for release in December. That’s likely to cost about $500, and there’s no indication that there will be a more affordable version for non-collectors. Ringo was right: It don’t come easy.

Where to Get It: $12; iBookstore

The Verdict: Buy Photograph, Ringo’s superb greatest hits album, instead.

Cheap Trick - Budokan!

The recordings of Cheap Trick at Budokan were originally intended solely for a Japanese audience, but when tracks from the Japanese release reached U.S. disk jockeys and became huge hits, Epic finally figured out it would be a good idea to release the Cheap Trick at Budokan album worldwide.

In 1978, Cheap Trick played two nights at Tokyo’s legendary Budokan arena, and both nights were recorded, mainly because the band, an up-and-comer in the U.S., was already a huge hit in Japan. The resulting live album combined tracks from both nights into a single 11-song LP that eventually went triple-platinum in America. Since then, Cheap Trick has mined the great material from those nights, repackaging it in an array of combinations that can mainly be distinguished from one another by reading the customer comments on Amazon.

This iBook version is odd—it’s a video of a full concert with extensive, superb liner notes by Ken Scott. His commentary is illuminating and would make for a great Kindle Single, but the video is inexplicably chopped up so that you can only view one track at a time. A better experience is likely to be had with the DVD/CD combo package, which includes the full concert video and audio on separate discs, for just a few bucks more. Same exact content? It seems to be, except for some photos included in the iBook. In any case, it seems preferable to be able to watch the whole video at once, and to also own the audio tracks. Inexplicably, links in the Budokan iBook that enable you to purchase concert tracks from the iTunes Store are included at the ebook’s front, but if you purchase through these links, or if you already have the tracks in your iPad, you can’t play them back from within the iBook—you can only listen to samples.

Where to Get It: $10; iBookstore

The Verdict: Buy the DVD/CD combo instead.

Led Zeppelin: Sound and Fury

This photo, of John Paul Jones playing backgammon on Led Zeppelin’s private jet, is an example of how Neal Preston combines public and private moments to give readers of Led Zeppelin: Sound and Fury a real sense of what it was like to be part of the band's inner circle in the 1970s.

Neal Preston was the official photographer for Led Zeppelin (not to mention other huge bands), and this collection of his photos, which seems to be a version of the hard copy collection he released in 2009, is a real treat for Zep fans. The images, in both black-and-white and color, capture the band both at its most intense concert moments and at its most relaxed times, many on board the two opulent charter jets Zeppelin used for its 1975 and 1977 tours.

Preston includes excellent audio and video commentary, inside dope that doesn’t gloss over the bad times, but doesn’t exaggerate them either. Even better, he reveals the good times—the real, warm, funny, laid-back, good stuff that’s remarkable for its ordinariness in anything-but-ordinary settings. In contrast to the commentary in Ringo Starr’s iBook, Preston says what he does know and only discusses his ignorance when, in context, it has meaning in relation to the photos referred to.

Also included with the photos and commentary are a forward by Stevie Nicks, brief written comments by other Zep insiders, images of tour buttons, tickets, and memoranda, and some concert set lists.

Where to Get It: $10; iBookstore

The Verdict: A definite download for Led Zeppelin fans.

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