2020 in Review: The Best Music Books of the Year

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In the first part of our 2020 holiday gift guide, we looked at the best of the year’s reissues, boxed sets and historical collections.

For the second part, 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), including important new books on Peter Frampton, Jimi Hendrix, Lenny Kravitz, Tom Petty and others. The second part is a guide to new books on various music-related topics, arranged by title.

There are no rankings for these titles because they’re all worthy.

All of these are available as physical books (you know, with paper and ink); many are also downloadable digitally.

Part three of our annual holiday gift guide will cover the best newly recorded albums by classic rockers.

Artist-Related

Along Comes The Association: Beyond Folk Rock and Three-Piece Suits, by Russ Giguere and Ashley Wren Collins
The co-founder of the West Coast band traces the story of how the Association came together to create such chart-toppers as “Cherish,” “Windy,” “Never My Love” and “Along Comes Mary.”

And in the End: The Last Days of The Beatles, by Ken McNab
The book is an account of their acrimonious final year, featuring the perspectives of all four band members and their roles.

David Bowie: Icon
The photo collection includes images from 25 of the most important photographers who worked with Bowie over his five-decade career, beginning with his self-titled debut album in 1967.

Related: Get the details about David Bowie: Icon here

Jennifer Juniper: A journey beyond the muse, by Jenny Boyd
The former wife of Mick Fleetwood, and sister of George Harrison/Eric Clapton’s wife Pattie Boyd, writes of finding her own sense of self and creative ability.

Tribute: Cocker Power, by Linda Wolf
The photographer’s hardcover tome features exclusive, never-before-seen documentary photos, stories and vignettes from both the Joe Cocker Mad Dogs & Englishmen Tour and the 2015 tribute concert at the Lockn’ Festival with Tedeschi Trucks Band and the original tour alumni.

The Seekers: Meetings With Remarkable Musicians (and Other Artists), by John Densmore
The Doors’ drummer “digs deep into his own process and draws upon his privileged access to his fellow artists and performers in order to explore the origins of creativity itself,” says the book’s promo copy.

Knock! Knock! Knock! On Wood: My Life in Soul, by Eddie Floyd
The memoir recalls the “Knock on Wood” singer’s tireless work ethic as a solo artist and songwriter for Memphis’ famed Stax Records from 1966 until 1975, and beyond.

The Ox: The Authorized Biography of The Who’s John Entwistle, by Paul Rees
For the first time, and with the full cooperation of the Entwistle family, The Ox “shines a long overdue light on one of the most important figures in rock history,” says the official blurb for the bio.

Do You Feel Like I Do: A Memoir, by Peter Frampton and Alan Light
The singer-songwriter-guitarist tells of his path from the blues-rocking Humble Pie to the mega-selling Frampton Comes Alive and beyond, with a parallel story of his favorite guitar, the Phenix.

Remain in Love: Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, Tina, by Chris Frantz
A musician, producer and the drummer for the Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, which he co-founded with wife and Talking Heads bassist Tina Weymouth, Frantz is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member. This is his story.

A Genesis In My Bed: The Autobiography, by Steve Hackett
The former member of the prog-rock stalwart band talks candidly about his early life, his time with Genesis, and in particular his personal relationships with the other band members.

Confess: The Autobiography, by Rob Halford
The Judas Priest frontman’s memoir is described as “an unforgettable rock ’n’ roll story: from council estate to musical fame via alcoholism, addiction, police cells, ill-fated sexual trysts and bleak personal tragedy, through to rehab, coming out, redemption . . . and finding love.”

Wild Thing: The Short, Spellbinding Life of Jimi Hendrix, by Philip Norman
The bio traces Hendrix’s’s life from playing in clubs on the segregated chitlin’ circuit, where he encountered daily racism, to barely surviving in New York’s Greenwich Village, where was taken up by the Animals’ bass player Chas Chandler in 1966 and exported to Swinging London and international stardom.

Time Between: My Life as a Byrd, Burrito Brother, and Beyond, by Chris Hillman
The veteran singer-songwriter “reveals the details of his personal life with candor and vulnerability, writing honestly about the shocking tragedy that struck his family when he was a teenager, his subsequent struggles with anger, and how his spiritual journey led him to a place of deep faith,” says the advertising copy.

All My Yesterdays: The Autobiography of Steve Howe
The guitarist recounts times of triumph and torment amidst the cream of the U.K.’s prog-rock bands: Yes, Asia and others.

Brother Robert: Growing Up with Robert Johnson, by Annye C. Anderson with Preston Lauterbach
The author’s recollection sheds new light on a real-life figure largely obscured by his own legend: her kind and incredibly talented stepbrother, blues pioneer Robert Johnson. This book chronicles Johnson’s unconventional path to stardom.

Let Love Rule, by Lenny Kravitz with David Ritz
Says the author, “I see my story as a suite of songs that have a magical connection. I never understood that connection until I sat down to write. It was then that the magic started to flow.”

John Lennon 1980: The Last Days in the Life, by Kenneth Womack
Lennon’s comeback after five years of self-imposed retirement would climax in several moments of creative triumph as he rediscovered his artistic self in dramatic fashion. The book details the release of the Double Fantasy album with wife Yoko Ono and the horrifying aftermath.

John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band, by John Lennon and Yoko Ono
With first-hand commentary by Lennon, Ono and other members of the band, and packed with previously unseen photographs, this volume offers new insights into the Lennons’ marriage, the breakup of the Beatles and the making of the Plastic Ono Band albums.

Related: The best music books of 2019 included titles on Janis Joplin, Elton John, CSN&Y and others.

The Ballad of Tommy LiPuma, by Ben Sidran
The producer’s life story is described as a “real-life Horatio Alger adventure storied with bootleggers, gangsters, artists, hipsters, set in a revolutionary time in music history.”

She’s a Rainbow: The Extraordinary Life of Anita Pallenberg: The Black Queen, by Simon Wells
Says the publicity blurb: She “epitomized the hedonistic counter-culture world of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll during the sixties and seventies; muse to the Rolling Stones and star of enduring cult movies like Barbarella and Performance.”

Not for You: Pearl Jam and the Present Tense, by Ronen Givony
The band’s first full-length biography is a study of their role in history from the ’90s to the present, and doubles as a tribute to their famously obsessive fan base,

Somewhere You Feel Free: Tom Petty and Los Angeles, by Christopher McKittrick
The bio explores the artistic life of Petty through his career-long relationship with Los Angeles and the many colorful characters and venues that inspired him and his music.

Related: Read our interview with the author of Somewhere You Feel Free

Indian Sun: The Life and Music of Ravi Shankar, by Oliver Craske
The biography is described as “the first full portrait of this legendary figure, revealing the personal and professional story of a musician who influenced–and continues to influence–countless artists.”

Ted Templeman: A Platinum Producer’s Life in Music, by Ted Templeman and Greg Renoff
The biography takes us into the studio sessions of #1 hits like “Black Water” by the Doobie Brothers and “Jump” by Van Halen, as the famed producer recounts memories and the behind-the-scenes dramas that engulfed both massively successful acts.

All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ’n’ Roll Memoir, by Kathy Valentine
The book traces the path that took her from her childhood in Texas―where she all but raised herself―to the height of rock ’n’ roll stardom with The Go-Go’s, devastation after the collapse of the band that had come to define her, and the quest to regain her sense of self after its end.

Non-Artist- Related

The Decade That Rocked: The Photography Of Mark “Weissguy” Weiss, by Mark Weiss
The book showcases never-before or rarely seen photos of legends like Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne, Aerosmith and Mötley Crüe to Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Bon Jovi and KISS, as well as many others.

Docs That Rock, Music That Matters, by Harvey Kubernik
Here is the “real-to-reel backstory” behind many of the music DVDs and documentary films you have on your shelves and in rotation in your home library. This book includes dialogues with acclaimed Oscar winners including D. A. Pennebaker, Murray Lerner and Albert Maysles.

Related: Read more about Docs That Rock, Music That Matters

Right Place, Right Time: The Life of a Rock & Roll Photographer, by Bob Gruen
The lensman’s first written account takes us on visits to John and Yoko’s apartment, on a cross-country road trip with the Ike and Tina Turner band, to Glasgow with Debbie Harry, backstage with KISS, inside CBGB, and on the bus with Sid Vicious.

Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music & Writing, by Peter Guralnick
The collection of essays by the respected music author covers old ground from new perspectives, “offering deeply felt, masterful, and strikingly personal portraits of creative artists, both musicians and writers, at the height of their powers.”

Ready Steady Go! The Weekend Starts Here: The Definitive Story of the Show That Changed Pop TV, by Andy Neill
This is the backstory of the trendsetting British variety program that hosted the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks, the Animals, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, Otis Redding and many others.

Related: Our review of Ready Steady Go!

Rock Covers, by Robbie Busch, Jonathan Kirby, et al.
The 40th anniversary edition of the popular book offers a compilation of more than 750 remarkable album covers, from legendary to rare record releases. Artists as varied as Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Sex Pistols, Pink Floyd, the Cure, Iron Maiden and Sonic Youth are included.

Run-Out Groove: Inside Capitol’s 1980s Hits & Stiffs: The Morrell Archives, Vol. 4, by Dave Morrell
The music executive worked with everyone from ex-Beatles to the Plasmatics, from Michael Jackson to Iron Maiden. His stories continue in this latest account.

They Just Seem a Little Weird: How KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, and Starz Remade Rock and Roll, by Doug Brod
The book takes a look at how four American classic rock bands from the ’70s laid the foundation for two seemingly opposed rock genres: hair metal and grunge.

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  1. Peter the Leader
    #1 Peter the Leader 22 November, 2020, 10:29

    What no ‘Tom Petty and Me’, Jon Scott’s wonderful book about Tom Petty’s career through Jon’s eyes? The west coast promotion man responsible for breaking Tom’s career. It’s a great read and deserves to be on this list.

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