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.”