Music Books | Best of 2017

Jan 18, 2018

'Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World'

Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World

Billy Bragg, Faber & Faber Social

Skiffle remains a phenomenon largely foreign to American listeners. Here, musician and activist Billy Bragg describes the music that inspired the likes of Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and countless others across England in the years after World War II. You can trace a direct line from this music to the early, amphetamine-fueled work of The Beatles straight down to the Sex Pistols.

'Liner Notes: On Parents & Children, Exes & Excess, Death & Decay, & a Few of My Other Favorite Things'

Liner Notes: On Parents & Children, Exes & Excess, Death & Decay, & a Few of My Other Favorite Things

Loudon Wainwright III, Blue Rider

If you know Loudon Wainwright III’s songs you know large swaths of his biography. That doesn’t make this collection any less entertaining. Proving himself a masterful prose writer, he recalls life as the son of a magazine man (his father wrote and edited for Life), his theatrical ambitions and matters of the heart. He’s funny, brutally honest and capable of making you feel that his family and yours are one and the same.

'Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell'

Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell

David Yaffe, Sarah Crichton Books If you’ve been waiting for an in-depth, thoughtful and frequently surprising glimpse into the life of Joni Mitchell, wait no longer. Yaffe follows the storied singer-songwriter from her early life in Canada up to the present with stories behind some of her most beloved songs and a cast of characters that speaks to her ability to cultivate impeccable company and inspire music-hungry minds.

'What Does This Button Do?: An Autobiography'

What Does This Button Do?: An Autobiography

Bruce Dickinson, Dey Street More than the voice of Iron Maiden, Dickinson is a cancer survivor, world-class fencer, pilot, novelist and a remarkably funny man. Maiden fandom is not required (though it helps) in this fast-paced, quick-witted tale. Expect the unexpected from the man once referred to as his band’s air raid siren.

'Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music'

Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music

Ann Powers, Dey Street

Sweeping may be the most overused term in book reviews but it’s certainly appropriate for a book that moves from the deep south to cyberspace and beyond in less than 500 pages. Powers remains a mighty voice in music writing as she demonstrates here. It takes remarkable energy to tell the exhaustive story of rock and sexuality but powers does it sans fatigue.

'Access All Areas: Stories from a Hard Rock Life'

Access All Areas: Stories from a Hard Rock Life

Scott Ian, Da Capo

In his second book, Ian, rhythm guitarist, co-founder and lyricist with Anthrax, weaves raucous stories from his 35-plus years in the industry. Always a powerful storyteller, there’s a natural, confident tone throughout and a true sense of Ian’s considerable gifts as raconteur. An excellent companion to his I’m The Man.

'Damn The Machine: The Story of Noise Records'

Damn The Machine: The Story of Noise Records

David E. Gehlke, Deliberation If you were a fan of underground heavy metal in the 1980s, the Noise Records logo was more than familiar. As the music became darker, more extreme and eclectic, Noise was one of the labels at the forefront of the genre, bringing the likes of Coroner, Celtic Frost and Running Wild onto the world’s stage from a still-divided Germany. The imprint experienced enough drama to fill a PBS miniseries and it’s all told here. Gehlke tempers his inner fan with a historian’s steady hand. And, hey, what ever happened to Sabbat?

'Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements'

Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements

Bob Mehr, Da Capo A bit of a cheat because the book first emerged in 2016 but with a new paperback edition out, it seems appropriate to add more praise for Mehr and this remarkably in-depth work. Mehr gives us an unprecedented view into the life of original Replacements’ guitarist Bob Stinson and the deep psychological scars he bore from childhood as well as the band dynamics that were probably destined to derail the group’s success. Mehr immerses us in the world of The Replacements, including a short-lived reunion that may or may not have been the group’s last gasp. The band’s lead vocalist, Paul Westerberg, was apparently enamored with the book as well as he later sent one of his teeth to the author.

'Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011'

Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011

Lizzy Goodman, Dey Street

Goodman captures all the gossip and guts at the core of any music scene and particularly important to what may have been the last great one in American music. The Strokes, Vampire Weekend and others are all presented and accounted for the only rock oral history likely to rival Please Kill Me.

'Lou Reed: A Life'

Lou Reed: A Life

Anthony DeCurtis, Little, Brown

Lou Reed may have been one of the most difficult characters in rock music. Known to challenge collaborators to out-and-out fights, to show his irritation with journalists and, really, anyone, Reed was also, by many accounts, funny, loyal and a person whose tough veneer was worth getting beyond. The only other writer truly worthy of telling this story—Reed’s nemesis/foil, Lester Bangs—preceded the musician in death, leaving DeCurtis to take up the charge and deliver a deeply worthwhile read.