How to read music books, how to compose music books, books on musicians, all the best music books to have you covered for your summer reading pleasure!
Turning in the new year is as anticipated as ever as 2021 certainly won’t be missed, but it has produced many great music books for musicians, audiophiles, and fans alike. We run you through some of the best of those as well as some classics if you’re needing that one last stocking stuffer or if your new years resolution leads you this way to read, or to improve your knowledge.
Whether you’re after a how to read music book, a how to compose music book, books on musicians or books on music, this last has you covered to let you sit back and relax this summer and get your music fix.
One Two Three Four: The Beatles In Time – Craig Brown (4th Estate, 2021)
While we wait for the next epic, definitive instalment in the history of The Beatles from Mark Lewisohn, this absolute gem of a book will help tide us over. Brown tells The Beatles’ story succinctly enough but surrounds it with digressions based on those whose lives interacted with them in some way.
His original approach to biography has won many literary awards and I can see why. Who was the subject of ‘She’s Leaving Home?’ What happened to the man who ran over and killed John Lennon’s mother? What shocked Ronnie Spector in the Beatles hotel suite? Even hardened Beatle buffs will love this book.
Last Chance Texaco: Chronicles of a Troubadour – Rickie Lee Jones (Grove Press, 2021)
Rickie Lee Jones rocketed to stardom on the back of swinging, street-wise songs written about the characters that populated her unstable, wild youth. Deeply entertaining despite a sometimes dark undercurrent. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I have a scar. Would you like to hear it…?”
The History of Bones: A Memoir – John Lurie (Random House, 2021)
Sax-toting founder of the jazz-punk Lounge Lizards in 1970s New York, Lurie is also a film scorer, actor, visual artist, and now writer. He was determined to put together an honest book that didn’t seek revenge. Hmm. Top marks for honesty though! Full of great characters – not least Lurie himself – this is a brilliant, compellingly sleazy music autobiography.
Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres – Kelefa Sanneh (Penguin, 2021)
The labelling of music into genres is often seen as a marketing tool loathed by some musicians as pigeon-holing. Sanneh argues a positive case and gives the seven genres thoughtful, accurate, and tightly-argued histories as a way of discussing popular music. Rock, R&B, country, punk, hip-hop, dance music and pop cover a lot of musical territory. As Sanneh says, “The persistence of genres… has shaped the way music is made and also the way we hear it.”
Miles on Miles: Interviews and Encounters with Miles Davis – Paul Maher Jr, Michael K. Dorr (Chicago Review Press paperback and revised electronic edition 2021)
“Davis, for all of his quirks and foibles, comes across as a genius of music – but not life,” say the editors.
These interviews and profiles from 1957 through to 1998 sees Davis sometimes struggling with interviewers, dubious about words, rude and unforgiving when he’d rather speak through his playing, but his views on music are extremely insightful, needless to say.
Beeswing: Fairport, Folk Rock and Finding My Voice 1967-75 – Richard Thompson with Scott Timberg (Faber & Faber, 2021)
For fans of Richard Thompson – master guitarist, songwriter and singer – this has just what you want in a memoir. Thompson concentrates on his ground-breaking years at the birth of British folk-rock with Fairport Convention and onwards through the Richard and Linda years. As with his songwriting, RT is an excellent storyteller.
Amplified: A Design History of the Electric Guitar – Paul Atkinson (Reaktion Books, 2021)
There are many, many competing claims and myths about original electric guitar designs. Atkinson set himself the task of picking carefully through the evidence. OK, this is not a book you’ll be buying your aunty for Christmas, but the stories behind your favourite axes and why some never became favourites is why this is an interesting read!
Ted Templeman: A Platinum Producer’s Life in Music – Ted Templeman as told to Greg Renoff (ECW Press, 2020)
After playing in minor sixties band Harpers Bizarre, Templeman moved into A&R and record production for Warner Bros., subsequently working with Van Morrison, Little Feat, Captain Beefheart, and the Doobie brothers, among others. At the heart of his story, though, is the late Eddie Van Halen. Templeman signed Van Halen and produced their first six albums, all platinum sellers. It’s a unique insight into Ed the man and musician and the making of those groundbreaking and highly influential records.
Looking To Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing – Peter Guralnick (Little Brown and Company, 2000)
Guralnick is one of the most important and astute American vernacular music chroniclers. His definitive bios of Elvis Presley and Sam Phillips alone would assure him of legend status. This book profiles a couple of dozen music people he has interviewed and written about over his long career: from Robert Johnson to Merle Haggard, Bill Monroe to Howlin’ Wolf, Skip James and Chuck Berry to Ray Charles and Lonnie Mack. The chapter on Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’s manager, is worth the price of admission alone!
The Storyteller – Dave Grohl (Harper Collins, 2021)
A really popular seller and it’s not surprising. Grohl does spin a good tale but he’s kept out the juicy bits, there’s not nearly enough about Nirvana and you may not be as excited as he is about being a caring father. That said, the life and musical path leading to his joining Nirvana is a great read, as is the story of the Foo Fighters.
How to Write One Song – Jeff Tweedy (Dutton, 2020)
Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy has written hundreds of songs and has a good handle on how he does it. His advice is in the book title: work on one song, maybe others will follow, but you just have to start somewhere. This is a book about creativity, how to nurture it, how to grow it. Tweedy is big on perspiration leading to inspiration and it’s a very astute, enjoyable and inspiring book.
Read our list on nine of the grittiest memoirs here.