The Top 50 Greatest Music Books…(26-50)

Rock Star Biography Best Music Books
Part Two of the Greatest Rock books and biographies of all time… Part One is here
The second list of twenty-five books are as follows:
  1. Shout! by Philip Norman. “A definitive Beatles book in a world full of definitive Beatles books…”
  2. England’s Dreaming by Jon Savage. “Comprehensive story of punk, starting with Malcolm McLaren…”
  3. You Never Give Me Your Money: The Battle For The Soul Of The Beatles by Peter Doggett. “The last days of the Beatles. A recent book looking at the break up and subsequent solo careers of the Fabs. Not a wholly flattering picture, and is all the more interesting for it.”
  4. Moon the Loon: The Amazing Rock and Roll Life of Keith Moon by Dougal Butler. “A companion piece to “Dear Boy”, describing the dafter antics of Keith Moon by his personal assistant.”
  5. Apathy for the Devil by Nick Kent. “One of those great collections of rock writing that gets you flicking through your ipod to listen to whatever he happens to be writing about.”
  6. Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America by Jonathan Gould. “…and another definitive Beatles book…”
  7. Heroes and Villains: the True Story of the “Beach Boys” by Steven Gaines. “The real story (or at least a more dodgy version) of the Beach Boys. Reads like a novel – such a bizarre tale…”
  8. Rock Dreams by Guy Peellaert and Nick Cohn. “A slightly bizarre mix of paintings of pop and rock icons in unlikely situations. Good in a weird way.”
  9. The Dark Stuff: Selected Writings on Rock Music 1972-1993 by Nick Kent. “A good and diverse collection of rock articles – always interesting.”
  10. Wilko Johnson: Looking Back At Me” by Zoe Howe. “This book is a compendium, scrapbook and journey into the mind of one of rock’s greatest characters, Dr Feelgood’s Wilko Johnson. It is charming, funny and captures Wilko’s own voice. Very different and very special – like the man himself.”
  11. Tearing Down The Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector by Mick Brown. “…preceded by 1972’s Phil Spector: Out of His Head by Richard Williams, which covers the rise of Spector, this book covers the fall, in spectacular detail.”
  12. Deep Blues by Robert Palmer. “Comprehensive book on the evolution of Delta Blues. Scholarly but readable and will get you digging out your old blues records…”
  13. Stoned by Andrew Loog Oldham. “Some great stories in this memoir by the former manager of the Rolling Stones (see also 2Stoned – the sequel)”.
  14. Nowhere To Run by Gerri Hirshey. “The story of Soul – this book did a great job of putting the rise of RnB into context for me.”
  15. Shots from the Hip  by Charles Shaar Murray. “Entertaining compilation of CSM’s magazine articles. I like that he kept in his 1975 comment that Blondie “would never be a star, because she’s not good enough”. A varied and comprehensive collection”
  16. Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs. “Good fun, diverse, although less established names are often the subject matter (a collection of best writings rather than best bands).”
  17. Nankering with the “Rolling Stones”: The Untold Story of the Early Days by James Phelge. “A very funny look at the early years of the Stones, written by their ex-flatmate.”
  18. Eric Clapton: The Autobiography by Eric Clapton. “A revealing account of how alcoholism can really screw you up.”
  19. Exile by Dominique Tarle (Genesis Publications). “The most iconic book of rock photos ever, but impossible to get hold of without a couple of grand. For the rest of us you can do what I did and take three books (Rolling Stone’s interview with Keith Richards, Dominique Tarle’s signed book that accompanied his recent exhibition in France plus the photo book that came with the Exile on Main St box set) and get a rough idea…” Also by Genesis publications, but which has a wider availability in a lower priced edition is Moonage Daydream by David Bowie and Mick Rock. The recent Jimmy Page photo biography is also beautiful…
  20. Boogie Man: The Adventures of John Lee Hooker in the American Twentieth Century by Charles Shaar Murray. “Not just a book about John Lee Hooker, but also a history of the Blues. Just as good is CSM’s book about Jimi Hendrix, Crosstown Traffic
  21. All These Years by Mark Lewisohn. I read the expanded edition which is a remarkable book and despite being 1,800 pages only tells of The Beatles’ early  years. Superb stuff – and replaces The Complete Beatles Chronicle also by Mark Lewisohn in my list. The latter is a definitive account of The Beatles entire career day by day by the leading Beatles scholar.” See also Beatles Forever by Nicholas Schaffner for great photos and pictures….
  22. Blues All Around Me: The Autobiography of B. B. King by B. B. King. “A rich life story of the great man. There is so much about his life I didn’t know…”
  23. Hail! Hail! Rock’n’Roll: The Ultimate Guide to the Music, the Myths and the Madness by John Harris. “A sort of Schott’s Miscellany of music – only much more fun.”
  24. Yeah Yeah Yeah by Bob Stanley. “To track the history of pop music you could buy “1001 Albums Before You Die”. It’s a pretty good album guide (as is The Rolling Stone Album Guide). Alternatively, you could keep those two as a door stop to leaf through from time to time and instead let Bob Stanley tell you the whole fascinating story in a far more engaging way – from the beginning of the charts to the end of the last century”. There’s a chapter by chapter Spotify playlist of Yeah Yeah Yeah through this link….
  25. Wonderland Avenue: Tales of Glamour and Excess by Danny Sugerman.  ”The story of Sugerman and how he came to manage Iggy and The Doors. See also No-one Here Gets Out Alive…”
I hope you have enjoyed reading the list. So did I miss any? What is your favourite? If there’s a great music biography or book I haven’t read that you want to tell me about please do leave a comment below…
Update September 2012: I have just finished Peter Guralnik’s Elvis bio Last Train To Memphis, which deserves a place on this list…

Rock Star biography Music Books

27 replies

  1. Nice to see ‘Wonderland Avenue’ on your list – made quite an impression on me when I first read it!

    Michael

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  2. Great blog and I love your site. I would recommend reading Patti Smith’s autobiography “Just Kids”. Well written and great insight into her creative process and life with Robert Mapplethorpe.

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  3. Miles’ biography of/with McCartney, ‘Many Years From Now’ is deserving of a place among this lot. The only Beatles-related item (other than perhaps their own ‘Anthology’ book) whose ‘authenticity’ and ‘insider’ detail is not the work of a pretender writing clever prose opinion and analysis but actually from one of those at the heart of it. ‘It could have been longer’ is a phrase you won’t often come up with after reading a big Beatles biog but, in this case, any amount of McCartney’s inside story would be welcome.

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  4. Great lists – my personal favourite is ‘the songs that saved your life’ – the recording history of The Smiths. Even for non-fans, they had a prolific few years and it’s well worth exploring.
    I tried reading You Never Give Me Your Money last year – you’re right on about how the fab 4 were portrayed, they were starting to become pretty unlikeable, I had to put it down!

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  5. Good to see you read the Guralnick bio of Elvis. Part 2 is excellent, as well–even if you aren’t a big Elvis fan. I recommend any Peter Guralnick, from Sweet Soul Music to Dream Boogie (about Sam Cooke). I see several on your list I need to get hold of.

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  6. A good collection there, but I have to stick to Rock And Roll Children

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  7. No problems, have you read it?

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  8. I’m a big fan of Paul Morley’s Words & Music. Not the typical rock’n’roll book, not much rock’n’roll even, but it made sense to me. My tastes have journeyed to weirder end of the spectrum, I’m the guy that liked side 2 of Low.

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  9. Any books about female musicians?

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    • Yes – I can wholeheartedly recommend We Gotta Get Out of this Place by Gerri Hirshey which is an excellent read.

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      • Hi. Great blog. The name drew me in. 🙂

        I also recommend Viv Albertine’s ‘Clothes Clothes Clothes. Music Music Music. Boys Boys Boys’. There’s also this: http://books.google.co.in/books?id=l5l4PiOfYTcC&pg=PA15&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false
        and Patti Smith’s Just Kids. Makes her seem so much vulnerable and human than the force of nature that we idolize.

        Among the other music books I’ve read and enjoyed (going to do my list here)
        Our Band Could Be Your Life – Michael Azzerard (pre Nirvana Indie Rock of the 80s)
        All Over But The Shouting – Jim Walsh (about the Replacements. It covers a lot of what Colour Me Obsessed the documentary does, again an oral history)
        A Man Called Destruction – Holly George Warren (About Alex Chilton. Warts and all.)
        How Music Works – David Byrne (very interesting and informative + he puts in some bits about Talking Heads and his own experience)
        England’s Dreaming – Jon Savage (I love his writing, he’s like a historian. There’s a part about Sid Vicious in hospital that made me feel really sad, though I was never into the cult of Sid)
        The Dark Stuff – Nick Kent (reading now, I was a bit wary of him at first but he writes very well, you forget you’re reading a journalistic account)
        Please Kill Me – Legs McNeil (I love that it’s all from the sources themselves and has all the contradictions thrown in)
        Rip It Up and Start Again – Simon Reynolds (takes off where Jon Savage’s book ends almost)
        Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung – Lester Bangs (He makes me feel about his writing like my favourite songs make me feel. He’s never underrated)
        Margrave of the Marshes – John Peel (really funny and warm, like he’s sitting right next to you)

        Can anyone link me to some ebooks versions of the ones you’re talking about? Pirated would be best since I’m an underemployed girl from India and I’ve spent all my money on expensive imported books *bats lashes*

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      • Great list – thank you! I enjoyed Patti Smith’s book also. ‘Fraid I don’t know much about pirated books however.

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  10. I recommend “Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music” and “Making Rumours: “The Inside Story of the Classic Fleetwood Mac Album”

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  11. Late to the after-party with this reply, but just stumbled upon your excellent, and well thought out, list of books. I would have to add “Our Band Could Be Your Life,” by Michael Azerad, and “Beneath The Underdog,” by Charles Mingus.

    The Azerad book is the best I’ve read about the scant few years of indie/underground bands it covers, especially the chapters on The Replacements and Husker Du. I’m from MN, listened to any and all music from that era, and Azerad was still able to amaze and enlighten me with his casual, yet penetrating, style.

    The Mingus book. Well, it’s just as weird and unpredictable as Mingus himself was, especially in his final years. A lot of people dismiss it as thinly veiled erotica, but I protest. Think of it as a conversation with the man himself (except, maybe, without the random shotgun blasts). It offers glimpses into Mingus’ world, and the world of jazz during his time, that books like Hentoff’s “Jazz” simply cannot.

    Thanks again for the great list; found a number which are now on my Amazon wishlist! Cheers!

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  12. SAVAGE ” ENGLANDS DREAMING”
    DEFINITIVE UK PUNK WORK
    SHAAR MURRAY”CROSSTOWN TRAFFIC”
    HENDRIX-JAZZ-BLUES CONNECTION.GEM
    FARREN.”GIVE THE ANARCHIST A CIG ”
    60’S UNDERGROUND..REALLY GOOD.
    NILE ROGERS. “LE FREAK ”
    LUCID FUNNY NEW YORK LIFE ODE.GEM
    MORRISEY.AUTOBIOG.
    SCHORCHING WHIT AND MCR LIFE.ACE.
    LYDON.”ROTTEN” AUTOBIOG.
    INSIGHTFUL HONEST FUNNY..V.GOOD
    BELL. “BLACK PLASTIC WHITE POWDER”
    MUSIC BIZ INSIGHTS+ DEBAUCHERY.
    MCNEIL. “PLEASE KILL ME”
    DEFINITIVE NY PUNK ORAL SNAPSHOT.
    WAITS. “INNOCENT WHEN U DREAM.
    INTERVIEWS.WHIT,WISDOM+HEART.
    LEISTER BANGS AND NICK KENT STUFF.
    SCABROUS,HONEST ICONACLAST GEMS
    BRADLEY. “BASS CULTURE”
    DEFINITIVE WORK ON REGGAE +DUB
    KEITH RICHARD.AUTOBIOGRAPHY.
    A PLEASURE RIDE. ENJOYED IT LOADS.
    BOB DYLAN. “CHRONICALES VOL ONE”
    SUPERB.WISH HE’D HURRY’N DO VOL2!
    PATTI SMITH”.JUST KIDS”
    A GEM.AWAIT HER NEW AUTOBIOG
    DAVIS.”HAMMER OF THE GODS”
    BIBLE OF EXCESS+DEBAUCHERY.FUN.
    MORLEY.WORDS AND MUSIC”
    VITAL CURVEBALL LINKS+INSIGHTS.
    BERGER.”THE STORY OF CRASS”
    PURE D.I.Y.RARE REAL DEAL ANARCHY.

    PATT

    DEFINITIVE REGGAE WORK.
    BERGER.THE STORY OF CRASS.”

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  13. Hi! I recommend you check “Krautrocksampler” by Julian Cope.
    I also hear “Love is a Mix Tape” is a great book

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  14. Adventures Of A Waterboy is a good read too. Great list btw.

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