A completely arbitrary list as these sort of lists tend to be but it is always fun to look over as well.
There are some excellent picks.
For me, the Miles Davis autobiography and Bob Dylan’s Chronicles are at the top. The Marvin Gaye bio, When Reggae Was King, Jazz After 1958 and the Alternative History of American Popular Music are all books that I’ve read and highly recommend.
There is lots of insight on these brilliant artists and the rich history of these musical genres that is fascinating and a great joy to read.
I didn’t really care for most of the other books on the list but you may very well discover and like some of the other music books.
Reading about great music is the next best thing to listening to it.
Words and Music: Our 60 Favorite Music Books
There’s something especially daunting about preparing a feature on music books. There’s so much ground to cover in terms of time (a century-plus of popular experimental music), space (there’s writing on music from all over the world), sound (any genre is conceivably fair game), and format (biography, record guide, critical study, anthology, memoir).
So the idea of saying that any 25 or 50 or 100 music books are the “best” seems ridiculous. So this is not that sort of list. Instead, it’s a list of 60 music-related books that explore the depth and breadth of our collective obsessions. There’s no shortage of writing about music– or ways to write about it– and this is not a definitive be-all-end-all list as much as a starting point.
All of these works lead to other worthy titles, undiscovered albums, and new ways of thinking about the sounds flowing into our headphones on a daily basis.
There are chronicles of remarkable individual talents like Miles Davis, Neil Young, and Marvin Gaye, as well as histories of scenes and phenomena– the American 1980s indie rock underground, 90s rave culture– that had musicians and fans banding together toward a common goal or sound.
There are also more offbeat and untold stories, like Mountain Goats leader John Darnielle’s Black Sabbath-themed anti-coming-of-age novella Master of Reality or Dave Tompkins’ virtuosic recent history of the vocoder, How to Wreck a Nice Beach. And contextualizing criticism from originators Greil Marcus, Lester Bangs, Richard Meltzer, and Ellen Willis. (The great Robert Christgau is not included on this list because we feel his invaluable, 40-plus-year archive of album reviews and essays are best experienced through his highly searchable website.)
Read on and then go to your local bookstore or library and read some more.