Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

Access All Areas: Barbara Charone’s Baker’s Dozen

The legendary music PR talks to Lucy O’Brien about the albums and the people who have most inspired her, from the Rolling Stones to Madonna, and why artists aren’t necessarily your friends

Photo by Richard Young

One of the funniest stories in Barbara Charone’s new book Access All Areas is the day as a student she took a tab of acid, walked into a record shop, and the records were saying “Buy me, buy me!” as they fell off the walls. “I was such a good consumer,” she quips.

Ever since then she has been enthusing about the records that light up her world. In 1981 ex-Sounds journalist Charone (BC to her friends) went into music PR “driven by a desire to win, to convince, to persuade”, and that, along with a loud exuberance, and a track record in breaking acts as varied as Madonna, REM and Rufus Wainwright, has ensured her status as music industry legend. “I’m outgoing, maybe a little bit brash, with a real zest for life. I always say about Americans, they tell people too much. And British people don’t tell people enough. And so I think I’m a perfect combination.”

Born in Chicago, BC began writing music reviews for the Chicago Sun-Times whilst she was a journalism major at Northwestern University. She went to London for a year on a student exchange programme and fell in love with an England that was immortalised in records by The Kinks, The Beatles and The Who. After graduating in 1974, BC moved to London as soon as she could, where she became a staff writer at Sounds, filing copy in her spare time to big US titles like Rolling Stone , Crawdaddy and Creem . Like another Midwesterner, Chrissie Hynde, BC left America to carve out a place for herself on the UK music scene. “England has a lot of tradition and history, which America doesn’t. America is such a new country,” she says. “I just loved it. I think I like the fact that you can make a real impact, because the country is smaller.”

In the late 1970s BC went on tour with The Rolling Stones, writing vivid reportage of their backstage lives. She was there in 1977 when Keith Richards was arrested in Toronto and charged with intent to traffic heroin, and after befriending Keith and his common law wife Anita Pallenberg, BC spent the next two years writing his authorised biography, holed up in the Toronto hotel room, and then at the couple’s home on the Redlands estate in West Sussex. After she published the biography (called simply Keith Richards) in 1979, BC felt she had reached the zenith of her music journalism career. She stepped sideways into PR, starting at Warner Records before branching out in 2000 to co-found her own agency with former Warner MD Moira Bellas.

BC has been meaning to write her memoirs for years. “I’d be with friends, and after a few glasses of wine, I would say, ‘I’m going to do a book’ and then never do it.” But during the second lockdown Bobby Gillespie texted her saying he was reading a Rolling Stones interview she had done, and that she should put her Keith Richards book out again. “I said that I want to do my own story. And he kindly offered to introduce me to his publisher,” recalls BC. Lee Brackstone, head of White Rabbit, which last year published Gillespie’s acclaimed Tenement Kid, and folk-pop icon Vashti Bunyan’s moving odyssey Just Another Life To Live, leaped at the chance to work with BC. A contract was signed within months. “It was really organic. I wrote it mostly during January, February, March 2021, when it was dark at four o’clock. Like everyone I spent lots of lockdown rediscovering the joys of my record collection, which is really your life? I got a bunch of my old Sounds articles and a bag of Polaroids down from my loft, and dusted them off,” says BC. “The book just kind of wrote itself.”

BC’s book Access All Areas is out on June 23. To begin reading her Baker’s Dozen, click the portrait below

First Record

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