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40 of the best books about music ever written

Rock books
(Image credit: Louder)

If you’ve got some time on your hands and you're determined to do something productive with it, we've got one suggestion: make it music related. You could learn to play guitar. You could watch music documentaries on Netflix. Or you could read. 

Music book publishing has experienced a growth spurt over the last few years, with biographies, compendiums, warts'n'all exposes and stunningly detailed histories filling the shelves of retailers the world over. 

Here are 40 of the very best.

The Dirt - Mötley Crüe with Neil Strauss

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

Waiting For The Sun - Barney Hoskyns 

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

Hammer Of The Gods - Stephen Davis

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

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 

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

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. 

Steve Jones is a one-off: hilarious, eccentric, painfully honest and 100% Lahndahn, all the more surprising, since he's lived in LAView Deal

The Beatles - All These Years: Volume One: Tune In - Mark Lewisohn 

Possibly the most gargantuan undertaking in the history of music literature, Volume One of Mark Lewisohn's history of The Beatles is merely the first part of a trilogy, and ends before Beatlemania. 

Stunningly researched and mind-bogglingly detailed, its 960 pages teach us so much about a band we think we already know everything about. And for the terminally curious, there's an expanded version that tells the story over more than 1700 pages. Staggering.  


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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

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

White Line Fever - Lemmy

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

Fried And Justified - Mick Houghton

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

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life And Times Of Warren Zevon - Crystal Zevon

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

1971: Never A Dull Moment - David Hepworth

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

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

Life - Keith Richards

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

Espedair Street - Iain Banks 

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

Born To Run - Bruce Springsteen 

“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

Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys - Viv Albertine 

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

Burning Down the Haus: Punk Rock, Revolution, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall - Tim Mohr

This secret history of East German punk rock is not just about the music; it is a story of extraordinary bravery in the face of one of the most oppressive regimes in history. 

Rollicking, cinematic, deeply researched, highly readable, and thrillingly topical, Burning Down the Haus brings to life the young men and women who successfully fought authoritarianism three chords at a time--and is a fiery testament to the irrepressible spirit of revolution.View Deal

No One Here Gets Out Alive - Jerry Hopkins & Danny Sugarman

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

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 DirtGet 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

Beneath The Underdog - Charles Mingus

Charles Mingus might be a jazzer, but his life was more rock'n'roll than most, and Beneath The Underdog is a helluva story: part memoir, part erotic fantasy, part stream of consciousness tirade.

Mingus writes of growing up in Poverty in Watts, and trying to succeed as a musician in a society that didn't want him to. It's not always an easy read, and Mingus isn't an entirely sympathetic character, but it's utterly unique: very few musicians have carried off a successful parallel career as a pimp.View Deal

Psychotic Reactions And Carburetor Dung - Lester Bangs 

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

Chronicles: Volume One - Bob Dylan 

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

Revolution In The Head - Ian MacDonald  

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

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. 

Gordon revealed her side of the story in this tell-all memoir that also contains a comprehensive history of the seminal New York band, but this is so much more than break-up literature. It's heartbreaking, smart, dignified and completely inspiring.View Deal

Fargo Rock City - Chuck Klosterman 

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

Rhinos, Winos & Lunatics: The Legend Of Man, A Rock’n’roll Band - Deke Leonard 

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

Diary Of A Rock ’N’ Roll Star - Ian Hunter

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

Thanks A Lot Mr Kibblewhite - Roger Daltrey

Conversational, witty, revelatory, Roger 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

I'm With The Band - Pamela Des Barres

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

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. View Deal

Everyone Loves Our Town: A History Of Grunge - Mark Yarm 

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

Give The Anarchist A Cigarette - Mick Farren

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

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

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