by / December 13th, 2013 /

Special: State’s Top 50 Music Books

First published in 2009, our writers’ recommendations of the best music based reads has proved a perennial favourite and so, given the season that’s in it, it feels like a good time to revisit their choices – with a couple of recent titles thrown in.

31 Songs [Nick Hornby]
Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel High Fidelity marked him down as the archetypal music fan – the bloke who dreams of owning a record shop but never actually gets around to it. 2003’s 31 Songs casts him in the role of a music journalist, speaking about the music that means the most to him (mostly 1980s British pop and modern singer-songwriters) with as much eloquence as any critic on the scene today. (Dave Donnelly)

45 [Bill Drummond]
Burning a million quid, glum times with the Bunnymen, cajoling country dame Tammy Wynette into an ice-cream van on primetime telly, a treatise on the Spice Girls and the scalding glory of tea, Drummond’s world is a varied glorious thing. Take a peep into his vast musical mind and leave dazzled. (Jennifer Gannon)

Apathy For the Devil [Nick Kent]
Kent charts his rise and demise as the chemical scribe of UK rock journalism during the ‘spiritually bankrupt’ 1970s. His talent lay not only in his rhythmic style but also in his ability to position himself where myth and history collided – on a diabolic bender with Keith Richards, in an early line-up of the Sex Pistols and even introducing the word ‘punk’ to Malcolm McLaren. (Hilary White)

Autobiography [Morrissey]
After many a broken deadline and contractual disagreement with publishers Moz’s memoir finally arrived on the Penguin Classics imprint. A fitting home for a tale told about one of Pop’s last great icons by one of the last great commentators of his time. Like a Dickensian novella, Autobiography charts the rise of its protagonist from back street urchin to internationally acclaimed recording artist and performer. Along the way Morrissey dutifully recounts his never ending struggles against narrow minded record company executives, the mealy mouthed gutter press and dastardly high court judges that conspired to keep this unruly boy from reaching the heights of adulation, global success and artistic recognition that he aspired to as his birth rite. And there’s even a Moors bound ghostly spectre thrown in for some old fashioned Victorian melodrama. We’re treated to his obsession with mid-week number ones, axes are ground and buried into backs of those who have crossed him and even a few for good measure into the unguarded derrieres of those who haven’t. The book has its flaws, the section on that trial lasts longer than is necessary and some of the anecdotes come across as petty and vindictive but it’s Morrissey’s lyrical flair and his off the cuff Wildean remarks that make this book an informative, animated and rewarding read for the fan and non-fan alike. (Philip Dunne)

Bass Culture: When Reggae Was King [Lloyd Bradley]
As the iconic ska man Prince Buster writes in the intro: “Jamaican music at last has the book it deserves”. Bass Culture traces reggae from the 1950s ghetto soundclashes in Kingston to the hallowed studios of Clement Dodd, King Tubby, Lee Perry and hundreds of other greats. It’s a scholarly work but told with a fan’s reverence, peppered with first-person patois accounts from the main innovators and a social and political history of Jamaica. It’ll take a while to get through – 500 pages and you’ll be multitasking on YouTube at the same time, searching for all the killer tracks you mightn’t have heard yet. (Conor McCaffrey)

But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz [Geoff Dyer]
Part biography, part fiction, part philosophy, Dyer’s book explores the lives of jazz legends such as Ben Webster, Charles Mingus and Chet Baker with the profound sensitivity and eloquent technique of a seasoned player. A brave, startlingly original book that is about music in a way ordinary biographies simply are not. (Dara Higgins)

Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History Of the Hip-Hop Generation [Jeff Chang]
Much more than a history of hip-hop culture, Jeff Chang tells the history of a movement through social, political and economical filters, taking in Jamaica’s early influence on rappers and DJs, The Bronx’s birthing of rap history and LA’s gang wars. Focusing on cornerstones such as NWA, Public Enemy, DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, the Graffiti artists of New York and influential rap magazine The Source, this is the history of the last 50 years of black North American culture told with an eye on a greater world view. (Niall Byrne)

Chronicles [Bob Dylan]
Through chapters that cover his arrival to Greenwich Village to his 1997 comeback ‘Time Out of Mind’, Chronicles is, essentially, an insight into how a gifted artist nurtured his genius and how he lost it, only to win it back again. Occasionally, the mask comes off, but by the end, the reader is still not sure of who- or what- Bob Dylan really is. An extraordinary account of an extraordinary life. (Philip Cummins)

Cider with Roadies [Stuart Maconie]
As warm and engaging in print as he is on the radio, Stuart Maconie’s memoir takes us from his school days to his departure from the NME. Along the way he encountered several golden ages of British music. Never less than hilarious. (Phil Udell)

Dream Brother: The Lives Of Jeff and Tim Buckley [David Browne]
Jeff Buckley’s time on earth is examined with sensitivity and detail by David Browne, who wisely steps back to incorporate Jeff’s estranged and equally tragic father, the cosmic folkster Tim Buckley. Both had acrobatic voices. Both were visionary songwriters. Both died young and unnecessarily. A must for fans of either Buckley. (Hilary White)

Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture [Simon Reynolds]
Simon Reynolds’ ambitious history of contemporary dance music – from its roots in Detroit and Chicago through to UK garage and Berlin minimal – was never going to be the last word on a musical culture that has fractured into as many sub-genres as Simon has elaborate metaphors at his disposal (i.e. probably too many). Where it succeeds, however, is through Reynolds’ approach as an outsider who came to the culture late. A post-punk boy at heart, he can see through some of the more self-important insider aspects of dance, yet he still manages to communicate the excitement and rush at the music’s core. (Darragh McCausland)

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5

  • JamesM

    You’re missing the best Hip-Hop books –

    Kool Moe Dee’s “There’s a God on the Mic”

    “How to Rap: The Art & Science of the Hip-Hop MC” – foreword by Kool G Rap and interviews with over 100 of the best MCs

    “Check the Technique” – 36 classic Hip-Hop albums covered by the artists who made them

    Can’t Stop Won’t Stop is ok, but it doesn’t really cover the music hardly at all

  • Conor McCaffrey

    Cheers, must hunt down Check the Technique. Considering the ’36’, I hope there’s some input from the slums of Shaolin…

  • Hil

    Also wanted to mention there’s some great books about Tom Waits out recently. ‘Innocent When You Dream’ by Mac Montandon is a collection of all articles and interviews and embraces the fact that the guy is a notorious spoofer. More concise is ‘Low Side of the Road’ by Barney Hoskyns, if you want a straighter, detailed look at the man’s life. I’ve heard good things about ‘The Many Lives of Tom Waits’ by Patrick Humphries – he’s an excellent writer (see my write up of ‘Nick Drake: The Biography’ above) so worth a look for Waits disciples.

  • JamesM

    Yeah, Check the Technique has a chapter on 36 Chambers – dope stuff

    How to Rap, despite what you might gauge from the name, actually is the most in depth look at the art form, and has the most detailed amount of rapper input, well worth checking out

  • ConorO’

    Thought that Shakey should be there, it’s a fascinating insight into Neil Young.

  • Ciarán Gaynor

    If I were to add some more recent books: Bob Stanley “Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop”, John Higgs “The KLF: Chaos, Magic and The Band Who Burned A Million Pounds” and Stephen Sondheim “Finishing The Hat”…

  • Phil Udell

    Hey Ciaran, please feel free to write a few words on those here.

  • Emmett Mullaney

    Bass Culture is quality surely