Books about music are truly a world of wonder: a backdrop of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, after all, is the perfect backdrop for an entertaining read. And to me, the best part is that it so often doesn’t even require fictionalization—so many “true stories” with so much mystique and magic.These are perfect summer reads as well, great to take to the beach and get lost in. Whether you’re interested in a history of pop music or a first person account of 70s rock n roll, here are 6 must-read music books.
These are perfect summer reads as well, great to take to the beach and get lost in. Whether you’re interested in a history of pop music or a first person account of ’70s rock n roll, here are six must-read music books.
1. Life, Keith Richards & James Fox
Synopsis: With the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards created the riffs, the lyrics and the songs that roused the world, and over four decades he lived the original rock and roll life. Now, at last, the man himself tells us the story of life in the crossfire hurricane.
Music lover in mind: This is practically a bible for anyone who loves rock ‘n’ roll (and it’s about as thick as the bible, I might add). As you’d expect from a member of the original group of chic anti-hero boys, it’s highly entertaining, but it’s also written with a real charm—you’ll feel like Richards is talking to you.
I was also surprised by some really great moments when he goes into depth about the intricacies of his guitar playing. I didn’t understand all of it because admittedly I know very little about actual guitars, but he found a way to make it fun to read anyways; his genuine love of music so clearly seeps through his writing, so it’d serve as a real treat for any guitar player.
2. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyonce, Bob Stanley
Synopsis: Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! is a monumental work of musical history, tracing the story of pop music through individual songs, bands, musical scenes, and styles from Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock around the Clock” (1954) to Beyoncé’s first megahit, “Crazy in Love” (2003). It covers the birth of rock, soul, R&B, punk, hip hop, indie, house, techno, and more, and it will remind you why you fell in love with pop music in the first place. Bob Stanley—musician, music critic, and unabashed fan—recounts the progression from the Beach Boys to the Pet Shop Boys to the Beastie Boys; explores what connects doo wop to the sock hop; and reveals how technological changes have affected pop production.
Music lover in mind: I love pop music. Like, really love it—I’ve spent a lot of time feeling like it’s my life mission to convince people that pop music is actually something with a lot of cultural weight, value, and importance, so this book felt like gold to me. If that sounds like a relatable struggle to you, you’ll love this—it provides a really comprehensive (and interesting!) history of the genre, and proves that musicians you might not think of can be considered pop, calling into question what that genre title even means. It perfectly balances entertainment with information. You’ll learn a lot.
3. I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie, Pamela Des Barres
Synopsis: The stylish, exuberant, and remarkably sweet confession of one of the most famous groupies of the 1960s and 70s; as soon as she graduated from high school, Pamela Des Barres headed for the Sunset Strip, where she knocked on rock stars’ backstage doors and immersed herself in the drugs, danger, and ecstasy of the freewheeling 1960s. Over the next 10 years she had affairs with Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Keith Moon, Waylon Jennings, Chris Hillman, Noel Redding, and Jim Morrison, among others. She traveled with Led Zeppelin; lived in sin with Don Johnson; turned down a date with Elvis Presley; and was close friends with Robert Plant, Gram Parsons, Ray Davies, and Frank Zappa. As a member of the GTO’s, a girl group masterminded by Frank Zappa, she was in the thick of the most revolutionary renaissance in the history of modern popular music.
Music lover in mind: Think: Almost Famous. This is like that movie, but in book form, and written from Penny Lane’s perspective. It’s really fun, charming, and exciting. Des Barres was so cool, and if you’re excited by any of the legendary names featured in the synopsis, you should run – not walk – to buy this book. It also serves as a really great summer read, because it’s quite light. Having a music-related book from a female point of view is a treat, as well.
4. Book of Longing, Leonard Cohen
Synopsis: Leonard Cohen is one of the great writers, performers, and most consistently daring artists of our time. Book of Longing is Cohen’s eagerly awaited collection of poems, and contains erotic, playful, and provocative line drawings and artwork on every page, by the author, which interact in exciting and unexpected ways on the page with poetry that is timeless, meditative, and at times darkly humorous.
Music lover in mind: In my opinion, Cohen was one of the greatest users of language of our time. His lyrics were poetry, in a way that really sets him apart from other musicians and songwriters. The poems in this collection are quite smart and emotionally-driven, in a style that feels really similar to his songs. Quite obviously anyone who loves his music will like this, but the poems are also just interesting and well-written, and along with the drawings, it’s a super enjoyable read.
5. Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys: A Memoir, Viv Albertine
Synopsis: The guitarist for seminal female punk group The Slits recounts playing with Sid Vicious, touring with the Clash, dating Mick Jones, inspiring “Train in Vain,” and releasing her solo debut in 2012. Viv Albertine is one of a handful of original punks who changed music, and the discourse around it, forever. Her memoir tells the story of how, through sheer will, talent, and fearlessness, she forced herself into a male-dominated industry, became part of a movement that changed music, and inspired a generation of female rockers.
Music lover in mind: Viv Albertine. What a badass. Again, a female perspective in this world is so welcomed and needed (in my opinion), and this book provides that. Even if punk music isn’t the most exciting to you, the stories are just purely entertaining, and she’s a really important figure. Plus, what a great title.
6. The Last Interview & Other Conversations, David Bowie
In this remarkable collection, David Bowie reveals the fierce intellectualism, artistry, and humor behind it all. From his very first interview—as a teenager on the BBC, before he was even a musician—to his last, Bowie takes on the most probing questions, candidly discussing his sexuality, his drug usage, his sense of fashion, how he composed, and more.
Music lover in mind: This is basically a curated collection of Bowie’s brilliance. His charm and humor are not lessened in the slightest when put on a page. The interviews aren’t too long, aren’t too short, and are filled with typical Bowie-inspired moments of fascination. There’s also a really great marriage of the worlds of literature and music in it: an entire interview (or, conversation, really) between Bowie and William Burroughs. What more could one ask for?