2017 in Review: The Best Music Books of the Year

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In the first three parts of our 2017 holiday gift guide, we looked at the best of the reissues, boxed sets and historical collections, the best newly recorded albums by classic rockers and new Christmas recordings.

For the final part of our guide, we put on our reading glasses and dug in to the year’s best books for fans of classic rock and related music. The first segment of our survey is devoted to memoirs and biographies (arranged alphabetically by subject). The second part is a guide to new books on various music-related topics, arranged by title.

There are no rankings because they’re all worthy.

All of these titles are available as physical books (you know, with paper and ink); many are also downloadable digitally. All should be easily found in the United States (just click on the book covers to order); if you live in another country, check local sources.

Click on the book covers below to purchase.

Happy shopping! 

Biographies and Memoirs

David Bowie: A Life, by Dylan Jones: Drawn from over 180 interviews with friends, rivals, lovers and collaborators, some of whom have never before spoken about their relationship with Bowie, this oral history weaves a spell as it unfolds the story of a remarkable rise to stardom and an unparalleled artistic path.

What Does This Button Do?: An Autobiography, by Bruce Dickinson: The Iron Maiden frontman turns his creativity, passion and anarchic humor to reveal some fascinating stories from his life, including his 30 years with Maiden, his solo career, his childhood within the eccentric British school system, his early bands, fatherhood and family, and his recent battle with cancer.

I’m Just Dead, I’m Not Gone, by Jim Dickinson: The late, multifaceted artist’s memoir chronicles his life in the Memphis music scene, playing with and producing artists such as Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, Ry Cooder, Duane Allman, Arlo Guthrie and Albert King. 

Trouble In Mind: Bob Dylan’s Gospel Years—What Really Happened, by Clinton Heylin: Perfectly timed to coincide with the release of the same-titled boxed set, the book focuses on the life and works of Dylan as a born-again Christian from the perspective of both his artistic growth and the development of his worldview.

What Is It All But Luminous: Notes from an Underground Man, by Art Garfunkel: A memoir (of sorts)—lyrical impressions, interspersed throughout a narrative, punctuated by poetry, musings, lists of resonant books loved and admired, revealing a life and the making of a musician. It’s also a portrait of a life-long friendship and of a collaboration that became the most successful singing duo: Simon and Garfunkel.

Listen to a 10-minute except from the audiobook version of Art Garfunkel’s memoir

I Scare Myself: A Memoir, by Dan Hicks: The singer-songwriter passed away in early 2016, but his music, and the stories he tells here, take readers behind the music, and into the life and mind of the artist who created it. Includes a foreword by Elvis Costello.

Every Night Is Saturday Night: A Country Girl’s Journey to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, by Wanda Jackson with Scott B. Bomar: The rockabilly and country singer tells her own story of getting discovered; why she refused to return to the Grand Ole Opry for more than 50 years; the challenges she and her integrated band faced in the early 1960s; finding the love of her life; her recent work with rock luminaries Jack White and Joan Jett; and her friendship with a kid named Elvis.

Lucky Man: The Autobiography, by Greg Lake: The ELP bassist/singer died this year. Fortunately, he was able to complete his memoir, which details his rise through King Crimson and then his years with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer in one of the all-time supergroups.

Lightfoot, by Nicholas Jennings: The bio of Gordon Lightfoot takes us deep inside the artist’s world. Jennings explores the toll that success took on his personal life—including his troubled relationships, his battle with alcohol and his near-death experiences—and the drive and tenacity that pulled him through it all.

Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, The Early Years, 1926-1966, by Kenneth Womack: Maximum Volume offers a glimpse into the mind, the music and the man behind the sound of the Beatles. Martin’s working-class childhood and musical influences shaped his early career in the BBC’s Classical Music department and as head of the EMI Group’s Parlophone Records. Part two will fill in the rest of the story.

Watch author Kenneth Womack speak about his bio of Beatles producer George Martin

Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell, by David Yaffe: In this intimate biography, drawing on dozens of in-person interviews with Mitchell, her childhood friends and a cast of famous characters, Yaffe reveals the backstory behind the famous songs―from Mitchell’s youth in Canada, her bout with polio at age nine, and her early marriage and the child she gave up for adoption, through the love affairs that inspired masterpieces, and up to the present.

Catch up on the latest Joni Mitchell news here.

Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff, by Michael Nesmith: This funny, thoughtful, self-aware book by the former Monkee is a window onto an unexpected life, inflected at every turn by the surprising candor and absurdist humor of an American original. Nesmith riffs on everything from bands to dogs to the nature of reality.

Gold Dust Woman: The Biography of Stevie Nicks, by Stephen Davis: The Fleetwood Mac singer’s work and life are equally sexy and interesting, and Davis delves deeply into each, unearthing fresh details from new, intimate interviews and interpreting them to present a new portrait of the star.

In the Midnight Hour: The Life & Soul of Wilson Pickett, by Tony Fletcher: For this first-ever accounting of the soul legend’s life, Fletcher interviewed members of the late singer’s family, friends and partners, along with dozens of his studio and touring musicians. The book pays equal attention to Pickett’s personal and professional life, with detailed insight into his studio sessions and his combative road style.

Otis Redding—An Unfinished Life, by Jonathan Gould: The author does justice to Redding’s musical artistry, drawing on exhaustive research, the cooperation of the Redding family and previously unavailable sources of information to present the first comprehensive portrait of the singer’s background, his upbringing, and his professional career.

Lou Reed—A Life, by Anthony DeCurtis: The author, who knew Reed and interviewed him extensively, tells the story of his complex and chameleonic life. With unparalleled access to dozens of Reed’s friends, family, and collaborators, DeCurtis tracks Reed’s five-decade career through the accounts of those who knew him and through Reed’s most revealing testimony, his music.

Watch author Anthony DeCurtis interview Lou Reed in 2006

Rolling Stones on Air in the Sixties: TV and Radio History As It Happened, by Richard Havers: The first official, in-depth history of the Rolling Stones told through the band’s television and radio broadcasts—appearance by appearance—published to tie in with the global release of a DVD containing recently discovered, never-before-released footage of the Stones on TV, in front of and behind the cameras.

Runnin’ with the Devil: A Backstage Pass to the Wild Times, Loud Rock, and the Down and Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen, by Noel E. Monk with Joe Layden: Monk was the manager who shepherded Van Halen from obscurity to rock stardom. Here he goes behind the scenes to tell the complete, unadulterated story of David Lee Roth, Eddie Van Halen and the rest of the band.

Liner Notes: On Parents & Children, Exes & Excess, Death & Decay, & a Few of My Other Favorite Things, by Loudon Wainwright III: The singer-songwriter writes about being a son and also about being a parent, a brother and a grandfather. His lyrics are featured throughout the book, amplifying his prose and showing the connections between the songs and real life.

Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine, by Joe Hagan: The story of Wenner, Rolling Stone’s founder, editor and publisher, and the era he helped curate, is told here for the first time in detail. Hagan provides readers with a backstage pass, telling never-before-heard stories about the lives of rock stars and their handlers and detailing the journalism and internecine office politics that accompanied the start-up.

Watch author Joe Hagan talk about his book about Jann Wenner

Non-Biographical

1967: A Complete Rock Music History of the Summer of Love, by Harvey Kubernik: The book takes an insider’s look at the happenings in San Francisco, Los Angeles and beyond—in the months leading up to, during, and after that seminal summer—through the lens of rock music. Includes previously unpublished interviews with scenemakers and musicians of the time and the people who knew them. 

Dreaming the Beatles: The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World, by Rob Sheffield: A collection of essays, the book tells the story of what the Beatles mean to a generation who grew up with their music on their parents’ stereos and their faces on t-shirts. What do the Beatles mean today? Why are they more famous and beloved now than ever? And why do they still matter so much to us, nearly 50 years after they broke up?

Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011, by Lizzy Goodman: An intriguing oral history of the post-9/11 decline of the old-guard music industry and rebirth of the New York rock scene, led by a group of iconoclastic rock bands.

Smithsonian Rock and Roll: Live and Unseen, by Bill Bentley: The Smithsonian called on rock ’n’ roll lovers around the world to collect photos and stories of their favorite moments in music. Fans dug through attics, basements, closets, shoeboxes, digital cameras, and photo albums to post great rock shots to the Smithsonian’s website. The photos are accompanied by essays from author Bentley.

Read the story behind Smithsonian Rock and Roll

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