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The Best Music Books Ever

music books

Looking for a gift for a music fan or just something decent to get your teeth into? There's no shortage of books shining a spotlight on both the glamour and grit of the rock 'n' roll world. Here's some of the funniest, best-written and outrageous books ever written – your starter kit for the ultimate rock'n'roll library…

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.View Deal

The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones – Stanley Booth

Once called the greatest book ever written about the 60s, Stanley Booth's masterpiece is an inside view of life inside the Stones at their peak in 1969. Booth alternates chapters: one strand of the story follows the rise of the Stones and climaxes with the death of Brian Jones, the other is Booth's more personal tale as he falls in love, takes too many drugs, and struggles to keep up with Keith Richards as the band travels towards impending doom at Altamont. A total classic.View Deal

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.View Deal

Hammer of the Gods - Stephen Davis

This is the textbook for rock mystique, a breathless yet controlled ride through America as Zeppelin transformed rock through sheer force of musical will, and raised its expectations of decadence. Stephen Davis saw enough first-hand as a journalist travelling in Zep’s Starship in 1975 to seek out the full story he published 10 years later. For better and worse, his key source is Richard Cole, the chief roadie who protected and effectively pimped for Zeppelin. This roadie’s-eye view makes rock mythology profane, revealing the often crude reality of stars’ downtime. Only an English rock band in the 70s would be so determined to douse groupies in baked beans before sex. Cole frying bacon to entice a dog inside a woman further confuses Dionysian bacchanalia and motorway cafe.

What often gets missed in Hammer Of The Gods’ gaudiness is Davis’s strength as a music journalist. His account of the band in peacock clothes revelling in their prowess at a ‘steambath’ 1973 gig in Pittsburgh is one of a steady series of concert vignettes. Every album is also imaginatively explored. View Deal

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. View Deal

Lemmy: White Line Fever

First published in 2002 and re-printed several times since, Lemmy's autobiography takes some beating. From his childhood in Wales, through his discovery of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll (not quite in that order), and on to rock infamy, White Line Fever is never less than entertaining. Lemmy was a well-read and sharp-witted character and his book is a hilarious and warm reminder of the man we lost. Essential.View Deal

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.View Deal

Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol – Steve Jones

The influence of The Sex Pistols on modern music – and punk especially – is undeniable. This first-hand account from the band’s guitarist captures the significance of the band through his own eyes, but also delves deep into his difficult childhood. Jones is a one-off: hilarious, eccentric, painfully honest and 100% Lahndahn, all the more surprising, since he's lived in LA for decades.View Deal

Girl In A Band  – Kim Gordon

When Sonic Youth went on hiatus/broke up in 2011, it soon became clear that Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon’s marriage had also fallen apart. Moore has yet to officially comment on what happened, but Gordon wasn’t so silent, revealing her side of the story in this tell-all memoir that also contains a comprehensive history of the seminal New York band.View Deal

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.View Deal

Shots from the Hip - Charles Shaar Murray

A classic collection of rock writing from one of THE masters of the genre. Charles Shaar Murray started out on counter-culture bible Oz, and became the enfant terrible of the NME. Along the way he hung out with everyone from the Stones to the Ramones and helped invent the history of rock music as we know it. 

Currently available on Amazon for £1.20.View Deal

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.View Deal

Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung – Lester Bangs

The greatest rock writer of all time? Bangs is a more divisive character than ever before, but this posthumous collection by Greil Marcus backs up his reputation handsomely. Classic essays on Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, brutal (and brutally funny) interviews with Lou Reed, his epic on-the-road with The Clash story: this was The New Journalism at its most rock'n'roll.View Deal

D. Randall Blythe – Dark Days: A Memoir 

This is one book that couldn’t have a more appropriate title. A memoir detailing the Lamb Of God frontman’s arrest, trial and acquittal for the manslaughter of the fan who died after their gig in the Czech Republic in 2010. As we know, the verdict exonerated him, but that doesn’t make reading his account of all that happened any less harrowing.View Deal

I’m Not with the Band: A Writer’s Life Lost in Music – Sylvia Patterson

For over three decades, Sylvia Patterson has been writing about music and interviewing some of the biggest names and bands in the business. This book chronicles her experiences in doing so, as well as being a female on the front lines of the rock’n’roll dream. Encounters with Oasis, New Order, Page & Plant, the Happy Mondays and more are by turns hilarious and touching.View Deal

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.View Deal

1971 – Never A Dull Moment – David Hepworth

Whether you agree with him or not, veteran music writer David Hepworth nevertheless makes a compelling case for 1971 being the greatest year for music. It was after all, a year in which Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, The Who, Rod Stewart, Carole King and The Rolling Stones all released albums, and Hepworth relishes the role of the old fogey who knows better than you…View Deal

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.View Deal

Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me – Martin Millar

A novel, or maybe a memoir, about being young and in love – with a band as much as a girl – Suzy follows the narrator as he makes a complete tit of himself over the eponymous girl, and obsesses over Led Zeppelin in the build-up to the band's gig at Green's Playhouse in Glasgow. Full of period detail and timeless romance, it's a brilliantly rendered tale of obsession from one of the UK's best comic writers.View Deal

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.

Rare and ridiculously expensive, but it is a collectible...View Deal

Born To Run – Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen apparently received a $10 million advance for this autobiography. You get what you pay for: in this case,  a beautifully written memoir rich in detail and revery that gets deep into the heart and soul of who he is. An existential treatise on life and music from his teenage days to now that will delight fans and send you back to the records. View Deal

Diary Of A Rock'n'Roll Star – Ian Hunter

Since being published in 1974, Hunter’s day-to-day account of Mott The Hoople’s five week late 1972 US tour has been acclaimed for being the first time the drudgery, tomfoolery and relentless obstacles encountered while touring had been recounted in print along with the usual triumphs. Many of today’s top musicians cite Diary... as their adolescent Bible, Hunter turning his dry wit, down-to-earth attitude and sense of wonder at visiting then- mythical America and humorous details, such as flying for the first time or worrying about his waist-line, while giving priceless insights into the original Mott. Essential, especially for those not yet touched by its magic. View Deal

Thanks A Lot Mr Kibblewhite - Roger Daltrey

Conversational, witty, revelatory, Daltrey’s autobiography is possibly the most readable account yet of the band’s uniquely fracas-filled journey toward rock immortality. If you want forensic detail (the kind of inconsequential minutiae fans invariably pore over yet central protagonists barely register), then look elsewhere, but for an unvarnished first-person account from the eye of the storm, look no further.

View Deal

Slash: The Autobiography

In other hands, Slash's autobiography would probably be a laugh-riot. But there's something about the Guns N' Roses' man's laidback delivery that makes you realise: he's not telling these stories to keep you entertained – this actually happened.

From a Wolf Of Wall Street-style meltdown that sees him shooting at demons in his house (with a shotgun! While his girlfriend sleeps!) and fleeing naked across a golf course, to celebrity encounters with David Bowie, Keith Richards, Lemmy and many more, Slash's book is never boring. View Deal