You’re heading off on holiday and you want something to read that will absorb and entertain you. You love your rock, but don’t want to read some shit that a pissed idiot in an AC/DC T-shirt (who was mates with one of the band’s ex-girlfriend’s uncles) could’ve written.
So what do you turn to? Here’s the thing: a lot of good books about rock have been written, from autobiographies to era studies, lyrics compendiums and beyond. We’ve crunched the best of them into this prize selection, including popular classics and newer and/or lesser-known gems.
The big one. The (really filthy) Godfather of rock books. If you only ever read one rockstar biography in your life, make it this one. Recently immortalised in a long-awaited Netflix feature film, The Dirt is so gob-smackingly scandalous you’ll frequently question whether it actually happened as you read.
Read in shock and awe as Nikki Sixx and co. rise from smalltime LA to the Sunset Strip and the biggest stages in the world – smoking, shagging and shooting up all things, both thinkable and unthinkable. View Deal
From surfboards to singer-songwriters, from Svengalis to satanic cults, this multigenerational round-up of the LA Music scene reads like a well-written novel.
All the legendary characters are represented – Jim Morrison, Frank Zappa, Gram Parsons – but it’s often the lesser-known names such as Van Dyke Parks and Lou Adler who offer the most interesting insights. A story of excess, eccentricity and enduring musical splendour.View Deal
Another justifiably popular big fish that’s been by turns revered, criticised and reissued since its first publication in 1985. Journalist Stephen Davis travelled through America with Led Zeppelin for two weeks in 1975, as their tour there was kicking off.
For better or worse, his chief source for this unauthorised biography was Richard Cole, Zeppelin’s sometime tour manager/roadie. On the one hand, the band have publicly refuted its accuracy. On the other hand, its juicy, funny, shocking stories have been poured over greedily by thousands.View Deal
One of the most enlightening pictures of the rock revolution of the 60s that you’re ever likely to read, The True Adventures Of The Rolling Stones is also a no-holds-barred insider view of the rise of the Rolling Stones.
A huge part of its appeal lies in its writer. By the time Booth met Mick and Keef and co. he’d already drunk “Scotch with BB King for breakfast” and watched “Otis Redding teach Steve Cropper The Dock Of The Bay”. That same zeal is captured here, one hugely engaging triumph, pitfall and brush with the law after anotherView Deal
Veteran PR Mick Houghton’s disarmingly honest and ego-free memoir of his time working with some of the more challenging and off-piste acts of the 80s and 90s – Echo & The Bunnymen, Julian Cope, KLF – thrills in its insight and pragmatism.
On the KLF’s notorious burning of £1million: "I was never that shocked… in music-business terms £1million is nothing… The House Of Love blew £800,000 in less than a year."View Deal
In death as in life, Warren Zevon remains a cult figure. Fortunately his ex-wife Crystal ensured that his legacy hasn’t been totally forgotten. I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is no fawning hagiography; this is a blackly comic oral history that depicts Zevon as equal parts genius and asshole.
Family, collaborators and superstar friends (Stephen King, Bruce Springsteen) praise and crucify a man who lived life with a mix of relish and spite. That a dying Zevon gave it his blessing says much about the man.View Deal
Never one for group-think, Hepworth’s persuasive defence of his proposition that 1971 was rock’s greatest year casts a broad cultural net woven with acute and original thinking.
With monumental releases by Zeppelin, David Bowie, the Stones, Pink Floyd and more that year, it’s less the postulation that matters, rather his exhilarating analysis bolstered by impeccable research and flair. The appendix listing 100 albums from 1971 is an expert witness in itself.View Deal
How the fuck Keith Richards is still alive is one of science’s more unfathomable mysteries.
After you’ve read this engaging autobiography (assisted by journalist James Fox) you won’t be any the wiser, but you will have an incisive view of Keef’s world of riffs, rock, drugs, women, arrests and more, from his childhood in Kent to the 21st century.View Deal
Late Scottish novelist Iain Banks’s fictional love letter to classic rock, Espedair Street is a thinly veiled retelling of the Fleetwood Mac myth, from the perspective of hulking bassist Daniel ‘Weird’ Weir, a character inspired by ex-Marillion singer Fish.
Romantic rivalries, tragic mid-air deaths, suicide attempts, triumphant comebacks… every rock’n’roll cliché is gleefully ramped up to fever pitch, and it’s all the better for it. It’s amazing that they haven’t made it into a movie.View Deal
“The writer has made one promise, to show the reader his mind,” Bruce Springsteen writes in his autobiography. And in his trademark plain-spoken but poetic way, he does just that.
Whether detailing his uneasy relationship with his father, the sexual perks of superstardom or his struggles with depression, Bruce is frank and funny. Ultimately, you sense that he’s writing not only to share his experiences but also to better understand them. View Deal
As guitarist with 70s punks The Slits – an all-female band in an overwhelmingly male-dominated scene – Viv Albertine has had a compelling perspective of rock’n’roll.
Since then, as this book thoughtfully documents, she’s moved into film, been through divorce, IVF, illness and got back into making music, all which she discusses with evocative attention to detail.View Deal
Jim Morrison was being deified before his body was even cold, but No One Here Gets Out Alive elevated him to Immortal Godhead.
It helped that former Doors manager and Morrison confidante Sugarman had a ringside seat for the iconic singer’s rise, fall and posthumous resurrection – as a portrait of a doomed talent this book is fantastic, but it’s as an exercise in myth-making where it truly excels.View Deal
You can’t really talk about the rise of rock journalism without mentioning Lester Bangs. Tragically, although perhaps unsurprisingly, he was not long for this world – he died at 33 of an accidental overdose.
Philip Seymour Hoffman played him in the film Almost Famous, and this posthumous collection by Greil Marcus (Bangs’s first editor at Rolling Stone, in 1969) reminds us of his enduring position as one of the most distinctive, thrillingly unpredictable voices in American writing.View Deal
Something of a revelation on its publication, with few expecting the enigmatic Bob Dylan to sidestep his usual obfuscation and ellipsis and cut straight to the quick.
While not wholly innocent of the former, Chronicle examines three points in his career (1961, ’70, ’89) with piercing clarity and an insightful artistic remove. Full of taut one-liners, folksy idioms and no little humour, at its best the book is on a par with his greatest songs.View Deal
Just when it seemed like there was nothing left to say about The Beatles, ex-NME writer MacDonald drilled down into the one aspect of their career that hadn’t been strip-mined: the songs.
Revolution In The Head set out to analyse every track the band recorded. It sidesteps dull trainspottery, thanks to MacDonald’s insight and cantankerous outbursts: he loved The Beatles but, by God, he wasn’t afraid to put the boot in when needed. Often imitated but never bettered – just like its subject.View Deal
An hilarious trawl through the byways of the 80s hair metal milieu, through the dispossessed rural hick-filter of Klosterman’s North Dakota childhood.
By turns sociologically astute, self-deprecatingly knowing and piercingly on-point musically, Klosterman argues that the bouffant bad boys of the day – Poison, Ratt, Warrant et al – merit equal cultural weighting as The Beatles and their peers. Nonsense, obviously, but you suspect he knows that.View Deal
Aside from making progressive noises with Welsh rockers Man, Deke Leonard (who passed away in 2017) had a zingy, infectious way with words.
He wrote several books, all of which are worth checking out, but if you pick one it should be this one, which mixes standard rock’n’roll excess with all the weirder tales of the Man world. A riotous read, whether you’re a Man fan or not.View Deal
Written during Mott The Hoople’s American tour in 1972, this book details the buzz (playing a sold-out show in Memphis) and the boredom (endless Holiday Inns) of a journeyman musician. Amid musings and travelogue observations are walk-ons by artists including Chuck Berry and Bryan Ferry.
Like his songwriting, Hunter’s prose exhibits an eye for the truth: “The rock business is a dirty business, full stop.”View Deal
A book about a legendary groupie may sound terribly un-PC in the post-MeToo age, but Des Barres’s salacious, sharp, witty account of life with the classic rock glitterati of the 60s and 70s (including affairs with Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Keith Moon, Jim Morrison and many more) feels warm and celebratory – and certainly not like the words of a victim.View Deal
This definitive history of grunge, published 20 years to the month after Nirvana released Nevermind, is the story of a place as much as it is of a scene – a scrappy underdog of a city that never really wanted the attention and couldn’t really handle it when it got it.
All the key surviving participants look back with a mixture of pride and bafflement at what they lived through, although there’s a tang of sadness for all those who didn’t make it.View Deal
Memorably described by music writer Charles Shaar Murray as coming on like a cross between Abbie Hoffman and Charles Manson, Farren’s full immersion in 60s/70s UK counterculture bridges beatniks to bollocks with a gleeful jaundice.
Full of anecdote and wit, it reads like both social document and autobiography, told by a possibly unreliable narrator who’s no stranger to the excesses of the day himself.View Deal