The best books on music

This Fathers Day I received two of the best music related presents a Dad could get. My wife bought me an updated copy of "Reelin' In The Years" by Brain Sweet and my daughter gave me "Shakey" by Jimmy McDonough.

"Reelin' In The Years" is a must read for any Steely Dan fan. The mysterious duo and their wonderful tunes are covered in depth by a writing style that peels away layer upon layer of myth to finally expose the reader to the essence of The Dan. It's doubtful that any other artists have taken a similar route to fame.

The numerous examples regarding studio time is worth the price of this book. Reading about the reactions of studio musicians being invited to participate on a project is a hoot. Their attention to detail, once fully explained, makes listening to their old recordings a new experience. I respected the music before reading this book but now respect the men.

"Shakey" has a number of surprises for the reader even if you have been a Neil Young fanatic as I have since my teen years in the 60's. The man with almost 50 albums to his credit has more unreleased music than what has previously been made available. He promises to release one, huge complete set of his work someday.

The author enjoyed access to Young and the subject is quoted thoroughly throughout the book. If you think you know what Neil Young is all about, think again.

Okay, share with us the books on music that have enriched your lives. We want to know what books you liked and why.
"Mansion On The Hill" is an interesting book about rock becoming a business. It focuses on the careers of Jon Landau / Bruce Springsteen and David Geffen / Neil Young. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in rock music (especially rock from the late 60's thru the early 80's). I also highly recommend it for people that think Springsteen's last good album was "The Wild, The Innocent, and THe E Street Shufffle".
Oh yeah...I also recommend the autobiographies of Duke Ellington (Music Is MY Mistress) and Charles Mingus (Beneath The Underdog) for all you jazz fans out there. Duke never forgot a face or a meal, and Charles never forgot a hooker or a BJ. The two make for an interesting look at the lives of two extrememly different musicians from two very different generations.
This has actually got me thinking,for the last few years my reading matter has been exclusively books about music and indeed have spent 21 years reading the damn things and I'm not really too sure there's too many I can recommend.
Music biographies by nature are patchy,the writers are usually too far removed from their subjects or indeed too close as fans to write a whole book that holds the interest totally.
As such I tend to find music writing is at it's best when it is in essay form.
The best music writer I think is Greil Marcus,with Mystery Train being his best or most complete work/collection however it is at a level that could be considered pretentious,as Garfish once remarked on this forum he doesn't like too much analysis or depth when it comes to music writing.
As a Dylan nut it's hard to say what the definitive book/biography is- probably Shelton's No Direction Home is still far and away the best when considering his formative years,'61-66.
Paul Williams has some fantastic insight on several Dylan books but his overall style can be wearing.
Autobiographies too ain't much fun,Miles Davis is fun and astonishingly honest at times but strangely seems to skip over the music.
One I really did enjoy was Julian Cope's autiobiography-a very funny honest tale.
Also recently enjoyed Craig Werner's book on black music in America-A Change Is Gonna Come.
Another good one is Paul Zolllo's Songwriters On Songwriting a collection of interviews from Song Talk magazine.
The best in depth study of The Beatles which tackles them Marcus style (i.e in depth,social and historical context)and has a detailed analysis of every song they wrote is Revolution In The Head by Britain's best music writer Ian MacDonald.
Finally Joe Klein's biography of Woody Guthrie is supposed to be great-some fifteen years after borrowing it from a friend I must get round to reading it.............
wolfgang flur--I was a robot. Excellent book by kraftwerk drummer and he goes into some detail about the kling klang studio and their equipment, which they built from the transformers forward for better sound than commercial equipment. The group actually had a sharp electical engineer on payroll to design all their equipment. Flur also talks about the drum cube they used briefly in concert which was based upon the theremin idea and utilized by kraftwerk for a guy standing upright in a cube and using hand and foot movements to trigger drum sounds. Also, some details about the famous drum pad he designed and used starting with autobahn & some of their other analog inventions.

I am a big fan of Robert Christgau's books, especially his three Consumer Guide compilations of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. In these books, there are capsule reviews and grades of literally thousands of records--mostly rock and pop, some jazz (fusion) and country (crossover), no classical. I have found all three to be invaluable resources for finding new music and have purchased dozens, perhaps hundreds, of records over the years based on Christgau's recommendations with very few disappointments. Moreover, the reviews are so witty, incisive, and well-written that I simply enjoy them for their own sake. I second the Greil Marcus as well.

I'm looking forward to plunging into that Neil Young opus.

Insightful music books?

Hard to beat the Beatles coffeetable book for reflections and rare photographs

Both Sides Now on Joni Mitchell was nice, as was Talking Heads "THis Must Be The Place".

I also like the MusicHound albums review books by genre
Pop, Jazz, R&B, Folk
Thanks for the input guys. Looks like I'll be browsing the used book store.

Happy reading,
A thread like this deserves to be resuscitated. And books count, so I'll bite. Charles Rosen is probably best known for 'The Classical Style' (1971) and/or 'The Romantic Generation' (1995), but I found his little (114pp) book 'Arnold Schoenberg' (1975, 1981, 1996) to be a highly accessible and masterly introduction to Schoenberg himself as well as his pupils Berg and Webern -- full of insights unravelling the elusive role of this crux of composers in the development of modernism touching on topics ranging from the austrian culture of the day, to expressionism, romantic literature, through to the seminal influence of Wagner and Bach. A nice entrée to new music and much much more.
If you like Alt-Country(Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, Gram Parsons),
"Are You Ready For The County" by Peter Doggett is a good read. It tell the story of where atl-country starts, going through the the history of the early bands like the Eagles, Poco, The Byrds, and others.
Off the top of my head: Joe Jackson's autobiography "A Cure For Gravity" is a good read. Also, very good are both Kinks' autobiographies, Ray's "X-Ray" and Dave's "Kink".

At the opposite end of the spectrum is "Hardcore Troubadour", the new unauthorized bio of Steve Earle. To be fair I read an advanced "proof" copy, but I can't believe any amount of additional editing could save this mess.
The Miles Davis biography is a killer, he was a wild and crazy guy,and the most interesting bio. of an music figure that I have read.. "This Wheel's On Fire", the Levon Helm and The Band story is a fun book. Also "Written In My Soul" conversations with rock's great songwriters by Bill Flanagan is excellent as well. Happy reading!!!
Some of my favorites are The Sinatra Reader; Friedlander's The Song is You; Hajdu's book on Baezes, Dylan, Farina; and E. Von Schmidt's Baby Let Me Carry You Down.
There is no music writer in the same league as the (barely) still-alive Nick Tosches. His thorough research & disdain for conventional wisdom are sufficient to make his books essential. The fact that he is now our nation's greatest writer, in any genre, will probably not be widely acknowledged until long after booze (or diabetes) finally takes him from the world of the living. Check out "The Unsung Heroes of Rock and Roll", "Country", "Where Dead Voices Gather", "Hellfire" (his bio of Jerry Lee Lewis) or his spectacular biography of Dean Martin.

So there you have it. There's my list of the five best books on popular music.
 I must throw"Life" by Keith Richards into the mix. Interesting, wild and really funny in parts. Richards, the riff master,  is smart, articulate and well read man with a Rock N' Roll resume like no other. A DVD  called "Under The Influence" which is a very deceiving title. Both the DVD and the book are very, very worth the look.


I too highly recommend anything by Nick Tosches, but Greil Marcus is a little too academic and intentionally intellectualizing for me. Ben Campbell mentioned Paul Williams, who was the editor at the great Crawdaddy magazine, the first "adult" Rock ’n’ Roll periodical (preceding Rolling Stone). I too have reservations about him, but his reporting on the Smile album recording sessions, written at the time of their occurrence, is the best thing ever written on that legendary album. Two chapters in his book "Outlaw Blues" is a reprint of that reporting. Fantastic!

Rodney Crowell wrote a book entitled "Chinaberry Sidewalks" that I very much enjoyed. Now I have to get "Are You Ready For The Country", as I am a fan of both Alt-Country and Peter Doggett.

Thanks! for reviving this thread.
of the books mentioned -all excellent reads. There has been quite a gap created between 2003 and 2017. Over the weekend, I will pitch in a few of my reads as well.
Circling back around-
A Prince Among Stones- The Rolling Stones (related)
Lost Highway- Peter Guralnick
Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust- Ken Scott
Straight Life- Art Pepper
Under A HooDoo Moon- Dr. John
One for the classical lovers "Schubert's Winter Journey" by Ian Bostridge. An artists musings on "Winterreise", both an excellent introduction to the music and a great piece of writing in and of itself
One of the finest books ever written about music.

"Music In The Castle of Heaven"

 John Eliot Gardiner 

One of the finest books ever written about music.

"Music In The Castle of Heaven"

John Eliot Gardiner
Agreed, which is sitting on my shelf behind me next to

"Johan Sebastian Bach: Life & Work" by Martin Geck, and
"Johan Sebastian Bach" by Christoph Wolff

And on the same topic as well

"The Cello Suites: In Search of a Baroque Masterpiece" by Eric Siblin

Seems one cannot have too many books on Bach (sic)
Thanks for the tip Schubert. I like the conducting of Gardiner very much, so it’s a must-read for two reasons. If my library doesn’t have it I’ll even buy a copy! When I finish it, I’ll move on to your recommendations folkfreak. One can’t have too many J.S. Bach recordings as well---his take up more space in my racks than those of any other composer.
Conversations In Jazz, Ralph J. Gleason. 

I wish I had more of his stuff. Amazing that I was reading this cat when I was 12-ish. 
I believe there are a couple of very good biographies on Chet Baker, though I have never read them.


My local public library actually had "Music In The Castle Of Heaven"! It's on my pile now.
the late scott miller (game theory) wrote a book of music criticism called music: what happened, basically his favorite songs of the past several decades. very intelligently written and the best of its type i've read.
"The Lives of the Great Composers" by Harold C. Schonberg. I wore out my copy over the years and still refer to it. Well written, fascinating, and inspirational.


both Chet Baker and Art Pepper do have very good biographies out there.

  • I also liked Charles Rosen's book 'The Classical Style' (1971); 
  • "Shakey" (Neil Young, he has epilepsy); 
  • Currently I am reading "Sound Reproduction (3rd Edition) by Floyd E. Toole - a great book on "loudspeakers and rooms";
  • I am not going to list books on jazz theory, ear training and sight siinging, etcetera from my stint at Berklee.
I recommend your local library may be your best resource. Mine will bring in titles from cooperating libraries or buy new for their shelves. Online lookup is easy. Cheers!
"This is your brain on Music"- it gets technical and anyone in the music industry or who plays an instrument will definitely find it interesting!
Tune In, by Mark Lewisohn. Excellent book about the lads early days. Very well researched and written. (First time they played in Germany was the exact day, 20 years prior, that Germany bombed England. Liverpool)
Thelonious Monk, by Kelly. A must read if, like me, you love Monk and Jazz. (Monk played with anybody, anytime and anyplace in NY as a young man because he was the baddest of them all. His nephew came down from Chicago one weekend on a promise from uncle Thelonious that he’d sit in with some of the best musicians in NY. As they arrived in a certain club late at night, the band was hopping. Monk sat at the piano for a couple tunes, but someone in the crowd started a fight and the bar owner closed it down. On the walk back to Monks tenement, in the cold, windy NY night, Monk knew his nephew was upset so he apologized about not getting him a seat at the piano. The nephew, who was a young, effeminate, aspiring musician, ranted to Monk that he’d come all the way by train on a promise that Monk would let him play... Monk listened quietly. Then he said he was sorry. But, in order to make it up to him he’d write a tune for him. The young man was not pleased. His response was a loud, “well, you needn’t”!
for my money the best music book, at least of its type, is "music: what happened", by the late scott miller (ex game theory, loud family)--really, really incisive= analysis of his favorite songs each year since the 50s. he writes very well about not just rock but pop, jazz, rap etc.; very literate and nonjudgmental--highly recommended.