The Best Books About Music

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There's no shortage of books shining a spotlight on both the glamour and grit of the rock 'n' roll world. Here's ten that every rock fan should read...

Motley Crue The Dirt

The Dirt - Motley Crue with Neil Strauss 

If you only ever read one rock biography in your life, this is the one to go for. The most excessive, outrageous, scarcely believable rock n’ roll fable ever, The Dirt’s chronicles Motley Crue’s rise from the gutters of West Hollywood to the stages of the world’s biggest stadiums, throwing in enough tales of sex, drugs, violence, abuse and immorality to make Led Zeppelin look like a bunch of blushing virgins. There’s been talk of a film adaptation for years: good luck getting even a tenth of this mayhem past the censors.

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The Dirt - Motley Crue with Neil Strauss 

If you only ever read one rock biography in your life, this is the one to go for. The most excessive, outrageous, scarcely believable rock n’ roll fable ever, The Dirt chronicles Motley Crue’s rise from the gutters of West Hollywood to the stages of the world’s biggest stadiums, throwing in enough tales of sex, drugs, violence, abuse and immorality to make Led Zeppelin look like a bunch of blushing virgins. There’s been talk of a film adaptation for years: good luck getting even a tenth of this mayhem past the censors.View Deal

Please Kill Me - Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain 

The debate over whether the UK or US can lay claim to have ‘invented’ punk rock has raged on for years. We’ll keep this simple: it was the US. Please Kill Me brilliantly documents the genre’s messy birth and wildly creative early years, by letting all the key players – Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, the Ramones, Johnny Thunders, Rob Tyner, Patti Smith, Richard Hell, Debbie Harry, etc,. etc,. - tell their stories in their own words. If punk means more to you than just a slogan on an artfully ripped T-shirt, you need this book.

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Our Band Could Be Your Life - Michael Azerrad 

The Bible for anyone interested in DIY punk rock culture, Our Band Could Be Your Life details the birth and development of the US underground rock scene in the 1980s, focussing upon biographies of 13 trail-blazing bands – Black Flag, Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers, Mudhoney and Fugazi among them – who together mapped out a new terrain for rock music, pre-Nirvana. Without these bands, and their stubbornly independent, take-no-shit-from-anyone bullishness, Nirvana would have been just another local bar band.

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Viv Albertine: Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Bo

Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys – Viv Albertine

Punk is now the subject of countless books, films and expansive press articles, but usually from those born too late to have experiencedit first hand.

Viv Albertine was in the front line, falling in love with Mick Jones as he formed The Clash, hanging at the earliest Pistols gigs, then playing guitar with the Slits, one of punk’s most importantly taboo-shattering bands. She then had to face life’s harsher obstacles, including divorce and cancer.

Her vibrant tale (illustrated with eye-opening photos) is soaked in enough intimate detail to vividly bring to life the whole punk era, while her self-effacing flair and defiant attitude enliven her own personal roller-coaster. 

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Choosing Death - Albert Mudrian

Choosing Death - Albert Mudrian

Subtitled ‘The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore’, Decibel magazine Editor Mudrian’s text offers an incisive, in-depth analysis of the rise of the extreme metal underground, tracing a path from the back rooms of Birmingham pubs to the US arena circuit. Input from the likes of Napalm Death, Cannibal Corpse, Entombed, Death, At The Gates and more lends authenticity, while much unintentional humour comes from the sheer joyful naivety of those involved. Lords Of Chaos is more sensationalist, but this is the smartest book yet written on underground metal.

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Murder In The Front Row - Brian Lew and Harald Oimoen

Murder In The Front Row - Brian Lew and Harald Oimoen 

San Francisco natives Lew and Oimoen were two metal-obsessed geeks who found themselves at the epicentre of a world-changing musical revolution when a little band from Los Angeles called Metallica moved to the Bay Area on February 12, 1983. Largely a photo book, MITFR brilliantly captures the camaraderie, raw enthusiasm and reckless, violent energy of the nascent Thrash metal, from Metallica’s very first rehearsal with bassist Cliff Burton through to the release of Slayer’s peerless Reign In Blood.

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Hammer Of The Gods - Stephen Davis

Hammer Of The Gods - Stephen Davis

The ‘Daddy’ of OTT rock biographies, Davis’ book lays bare the music, magic and misadventures of Led Zeppelin, balancing thoughtful critiques of the four personalities involved with lip-smacking, salacious tales of their most debauched misdemeanours. Both Jimmy Page and Robert Plant have laughed off the idea that Hammer Of The Gods is in any way the truth about Zeppelin, but as an exercise in myth-spinning, it remains the benchmark.

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Everybody Loves Our Town - Mark Yarm

Everybody Loves Our Town - Mark Yarm 

Doing for the Seattle rock scene what Please Kill Me did for New York punk, Everybody Loves Our Town is a riotous dissection of the grunge movement as viewed through the eyes of the smart, snarky and largely bemused musicians, fanzine writers, DJs, promoters and bar owners who suddenly found themselves at the centre of the rock universe when Nirvana’s Nevermind album and Pearl Jam’s Ten exploded globally. Part of the book’s charm is author Yarm’s inspired idea of allowing conflicting memories to stay in the text, neatly encapsulating the hazy, drunken climate in which the music was made. Forget the biographies which seek to enshrine Kurt Cobain as a tragic punk rock martyr, this is the only genuinely indispensable book on grunge.

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Louder Than Hell - Jon Weiderhorn and Katherine Turman

Louder Than Hell - Jon Weiderhorn and Katherine Turman

A beast of a book, some 700 pages in length, Louder Than Hell grandly bills itself as ‘The definitive oral history of metal’, and very nearly lives up to this lofty claim. Spanning five decades, with chapters focussing on ‘Proto-Metal’, the NWOBHM, Thrash, Nu-Metal, Black Metal, etc,. Louder Than Hell largely dispenses with chin-stroking analysis of the culture, focussing heavily instead on gross-out tales of hedonistic excess and gloriously entertaining bitching and back-stabbing. The Appetite For Destruction of rock books.

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Lexicon Devil - Brendan Mullen

Lexicon Devil - Brendan Mullen 

The story of doomed punk rock anti-hero Darby Crash and his heroically inept band The Germs (who featured future Foo Fighter Pat Smear), Lexicon Devil is a brilliantly sketched portrait of idealism, energy, confusion and self-destruction in the LA punk scene of the late 1970s. By turns hilarious, terrifying and heart-breakingly sad, it’s a vivid, visceral read, pulsing with the energy and colour of a lost Los Angeles. Remarkably, it features in not one, but two, Red Hot Chili Peppers videos (By The Way and Universally Speaking) as Anthony Kiedis’ book of choice.

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Get In The Van - Henry Rollins

Get In The Van - Henry Rollins

The polar opposite of The Dirt, Get In The Van is a blunt, no-nonsense diary of life on the road in a punk rock band, specifically Black Flag, the uncompromising LA hardcore unit Rollins fronted from 1981 to 1986. There is precious little glamour here, from roadies eating dog food to band members indulging in five minute knee tremblers in piss-drenched alleyways, with violent confrontations with fans, sketchy promoters and power-crazed cops only ever a few days away. As grim as it sounds though, Get In The Van is an undeniably inspirational chronicle, illustrating the power of music to blow minds and change lives. But if you ever dream of becoming a rock n’ roll star, read this first.

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