The Top 50 Greatest Music Books…(1-25)

Rock Star Biography Best Music Books

When I first wanted to read up on the bands I liked, I didn’t really know where to start.

Although Rock biographies have had a necessarily short history – the music itself is little more than sixty years old – there is a plethora of books out there. Ever since Rolling Stone and Creem started to write about rock music as an art form, since Nick Cohn’s Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom gave a personal history of rock, there has been a great demand from the public to read about the inside story.

There are so many books on the market, it is difficult to separate the good from the bad, or to put it another way, the literary equivalent of Hunky Dory from Tin Machine…

There’s Amazon for book reviews of course, and there’s the odd magazine article or recommendation of the best Rock biographies. The best online resource I have found was a list in The Observer in 2006 which listed their 50 best music books, but which had the criteria that no book should cover more than one band. The main difference with my list and the more eclectic one of The Observer is that there are no rules or criteria: and there will therefore be more than one book on The Beatles in mine! I have probably devoured about a hundred or so rock biographies etc over the last four or five years so I promise that I have read and enjoyed every book on the list.

The Top 50 Music Books of all time…

  1. Diary of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star by Ian Hunter: “A brilliant rock journal capturing an English band’s US tour in the ’70s. Very entertaining and candid, Hunter comes across as very likeable. This is an an undoubted classic of its kind”
  2. A Journey Through America with the “Rolling Stones” by Robert Greenfield. “Jail time and the Playboy mansion – all in a day’s work for the ’72 Stones’ Exile tour. Very entertaining book that got close to its subjects”
  3. Billion dollar baby: A provocative young journalist chronicles his adventures on tour as a performing member of The Alice Cooper Rock-and-Roll Band by Bob Greene. “Very funny and revealing book about Alice Cooper’s 1973 Holiday Tour. A real back stage glimpse of a band falling apart at the seams…Fantastic book but out of print and hard to find.”
  4. Life: Keith Richards by Keith Richards. “Keith Richard’s recent autobiography. Very funny. It’s amazing he can remember it all…”
  5. The Longest Cocktail Party: An Insider’s Diary of the Beatles, Their Million-dollar Apple Empire and Its Wild Rise and Fall by Richard DiLello. “Quirky account of the Apple empire, written by the House Hippie. Says it all really…Liam Gallagher has bought the movie rights.”
  6. Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon by Tony Fletcher. “Very rich book that really gets underneath the skin of the controversial drummer. Highly recommended.”
  7. The Dirt – Motley Crue: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band by Neil Strauss. “Hilariously gross and lewd right from the first revolting paragraph”.
  8. Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota by Chuck Klosterman. “A great off-beat book that will appeal to fans of 80’s metal…and everyone else too. Just how much money would you accept to never be able to listen to Tesla’s second album ever again? And yes – it may just have been the inspiration for this blog…”
  9. The True Adventures of the “Rolling Stones” by Stanley Booth. “An amazing and up close account of the Stones during their ill-fated tour that ended at Altamont. Read my separate post on this book here.”
  10. Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business by Frederic Dannen. “Brilliant and revealing expose of the music industry – it’s been a dirty business for a looong time.”
  11. Black Vinyl White Powder by Simon Napier-Bell. “Highly entertaining look at the link between pop and drugs. Excellent.”
  12. Rod Stewart and the Changing “Faces” by John Pidgeon. “Hard to find book. An interesting story and worth a read.”
  13. The Beatles by Hunter Davies. “Fascinating first official “inside” view of The Beatles.”
  14. Bob Dylan by Anthony Scaduto. “The best Dylan bio I have read – written in the early 70’s. Not as scholarly as others (such as Shelton), so it’s a good read, but very thorough, with some co-operation from Dylan himself.”
  15. Chronicles: Volume One by Bob Dylan. “Well written book, as you might expect. Read alongside Scaduto’s book for a fuller picture – this covers just a few (random) years of a fascinating life…..”
  16. Lennon Remembers: The Rolling Stone Interviews: The “Rolling Stones” Interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono by Jann Wenner. “THE interview that Lennon gave after leaving the Beatles. Indispensable.”
  17. The Last Party: Britpop, Blair and the demise of English rock by John Harris. “Highly entertaining and revealing story of Brit-pop from Suede to Elastica to Blur, Oasis and Pulp…”
  18. Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties by Ian MacDonald. “Comprehensive song by song account of the Beatles canon. Great book.”
  19. Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story by Nick Tosches. “An amazing biography. Well written and a fascinating subject.”
  20. Hammer of the Gods: Led Zeppelin Unauthorised by Stephen Davis. “…and no list could be complete without this classic complete with mudshark tales and untold scandal…..”
  21. I Am Ozzy by Ozzy Osbourne. “Who knew the prince of darkness could be a great raconteur. Full of hilarious stories and a very good read.”
  22. Strange Fascination: David Bowie: The Definitive Story by David Buckley. “The definitive account of the thin white duke. Pips “Loving The Alien” by Christopher Sandford for its comprehensiveness although the latter is an easy read.
  23. Bit Of A Blur by Alex James. “Very enjoyable Brit-pop memoir. Fortunately pre-dates his McDonalds and Cheese exploits. Recommended.”
  24. Great Pop Things: The Real History of Rock and Roll from Elvis to “Oasis” by Colin B. Morton. “Collection of comic strips that are consistently amusing and cover a history of rock.”
  25. Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd by Nick Mason. “Mason is a good writer – witty and interesting, and so is this book.”
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Rock Star biography Best Music Books

25 replies

  1. Hi, love the blog and this a great book list. I love Ian Hunter’s Diary.. and I’ve never heard of Billion Dollar Baby, that sounds well worth a look. I still think Alice Cooper hasn’t been given the book he deserves. Quite a few here I haven’t read so I’ve definitely got some catching up to do.

  2. Ian Hunter is Rock n Roll! -Rolling Stone puts “All the young dudes” @ #253 in the top 500 of all time. I would go much higher than that.

  3. Great list! Must be really tough to narrow it down to 50, but a couple that I was surprised didn’t make it:
    -I Need More, by Iggy Pop – random recollections by Iggy, mostly funny, some horrifying (he witnessed an infant get run over by a car?!)
    -Old Gods, Almost Dead, by Stephen Davis – although Davis is most well known for Hammer of the Gods (see #20 on the above list), this book, a biography of the Rolling Stones, feels like his late career masterpiece
    -The Rock Snob’s Dictionary – hilarious

    Also, if you read HIt Men (#10 on the above list), and want to fill in the rest of the story (from the 90’s until present day), I recommend ‘Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age’ by Steve Knopper

    Finally, if you’ve read all of the above, and are just dying for another book about rock, there’s always my novel (U.S. Blues by Ed Watts), a murder mystery set in the 1985 Grateful Dead parking lot scene…

  4. This is a great list. A few I’ve read, lots I haven’t. As I can’t see it on here can I suggest David Cavanagh’s “The Creation Records Story: My Magpie Eyes are Hungry for the Prize”. A weighty tome and all the better for it. Probably my second favourite music book behind Pete Doggett’s “You Never Give Me Your Money”.

  5. Great blog. I notice Greil Marcus in the pile of books but not in the list. No Simon Reynolds, I loved Rip It Up. In their different ways both writers describe how I hear music. Having said that I will be looking for the Alice book. Partly because I think his early career is so underrated, whereas the overrated and average Doors get reams written about them.

  6. Have you had the chance to pick up Dream Brother, about Jeff and Tim Buckley? It’s a great book for any Buckley fan to read, and David Browne did an excellent job telling their stories.

  7. Some more books I would recommend are:

    Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page by Brad Tolinski (all Led Zep fans need to have this)

    Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan by Howard Sounes (a very easy, engrossing read)

    Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd by Mark Blake (possibly the best Pink Floyd bio)

    Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta (a classic text)

    Making Rumours: The Inside Story of the Classic Fleetwood Mac Album (a lovely book about the making of the classic album) another book in a similar vein is Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles by Geoff Emerick

    Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970
    by David Browne (wonderfully written)

    When Giants Walked the Earth: A Biography of Led Zeppelin by Mick Wall (the best Led Zep bio)

    • Hi – thanks for these. I have read the Deep Blues (excellent), the Mick Wall Zep bio (prefer Hammer, but Mick’s book is very entertaining nonetheless), and I have Geoff Emerick’s book on my pile of books that I have yet to read. The Blake and Browne books I haven’t come across, so thanks for recommending.

  8. The recent Pete Townshen bio – “Who I Am: A Memoir” is also a well written and a very candid book.

  9. Hello everyone,

    I am a starting musician and I would like to read some inspiring autobiographies, mainly in dealing with difficulties and winning the obstacles which come along the music career. Overcoming certain patterns which are involved with almost every music career.

    It would be much appreciated if u could advise a book of that matter.

    Regards,
    Awaaz

  10. An unlisted book to consider is “Buried Alive: The Biography of Janis Joplin” by Myra Friedman. I lost my copy about 30 years ago. A very good read.

  11. A great list, but I’m genuinely shocked that you left out what I regard as the best music book of all time – by an absolute country mile – the sadly departed Iain MacDonald’s astonishing REVOLUTION IN THE HEAD. It’s not just the best book on The Beatles, it’s the finest piece of writing about music I’ve ever read. It’s so beautifully written, so rigorous and so brilliant, it’s almost as good as the music it describes.

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  1. The True Adventures of The Rolling Stones…and The Best Music Books of All Time « Every record tells a story
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