The best music biographies written by women

Who am I?

I’m a music biographer, and whenever I’ve hinted that the world of rock biography is a bit of a boys’ club, someone will bark names of famous female musicians who’ve written autobiographies at me. All brilliant, but biography is a different animal. It demands sensitivity, trust, intuition, empathy: the writer is presenting the story of another, wooing a publisher, balancing multiple perspectives, being a detective, asking strange questions, penetrating the skin, probing often forgotten places. Female music writers frequently face assumptions ranging from the dismissive to the salacious before being neatly sidelined, but this is changing – slowly.  I wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate some rare queens of the art here.

I wrote...

Barbed Wire Kisses: The Jesus and Mary Chain Story

By Zoë Howe,

Book cover of Barbed Wire Kisses: The Jesus and Mary Chain Story

What is my book about?

Musically, culturally and even in terms of sheer attitude, the Jesus and Mary Chain stand alone. Their seminal debut album Psychocandy changed the course of popular music, and their iconic blend of psychotic white noise and darkly surreal lyrics that presaged the shoegaze movement continues to enchant and confound.

Zoë Howe's biography is the fierce, frank, and funny tale of the Jesus and Mary Chain, told by the band members and their associates for the very first time. The story begins in the faceless town of East Kilbride, near Glasgow, at the dawn of the 1980s with two intense, chronically shy brothers, Jim and William Reid, listening to music in their shared bedroom. What follows charts an unforgettable journey complete with incendiary live performances, their pivotal relationship with Alan McGee's Creation Records, and those famous fraternal tensions―with plenty of feedback, fighting, and crafting perfect pop music along the way. It is high time this vastly influential group and sometimes public enemy had their say.

The books I picked & why

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Johnny Thunders: In Cold Blood

By Nina Antonia,

Book cover of Johnny Thunders: In Cold Blood

Why this book?

The definitive, authorised Johnny Thunders biography, beautifully written by a beloved confidant of the late New York Doll. With a star like Thunders, lesser writers would give in to the temptation to mythologise, but Antonia is a balanced, clear-eyed biographer, presenting her friend’s complex story with style, compassion, grace, and honesty. Nina is the bohemian queen of decadence and rock ‘n’ roll’s darker side, and this book is one of many jewels in her crown.

Johnny Thunders: In Cold Blood

By Nina Antonia,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Johnny Thunders as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The official biography of the New York Dolls and Heartbreakers' guitarist. ‘Johnny Thunders: In Cold Blood’ is the cult bible of all things Thunders. It is the definitive portrait of the condemned man of rock'n'roll, from the baptism of fire and tragedy that was the New York Dolls, through the junkie punk years of the Heartbreakers and beyond. It is an unflinching account of a unique guitarist whose drug problems often overshadowed his considerable style and talent. Johnny was a hugely influential figure in both the glam-rock and punk eras and his music and style still resonates today.

Nina Antonia…


The Saga of Hawkwind

By Carol Clerk,

Book cover of The Saga of Hawkwind

Why this book?

Carol Clerk was something of a rock star in her own right: a major force in music writing, Clerk’s tough, witty voice continues to resound years after her untimely passing. Her biography of countercultural hippy icons Hawkwind is fascinating, and she weaves together the voices, memories, tales, and travails with effortless brio. Like Nina Antonia, she had a kinship with the musicians she wrote about, garnering stories with ease because they trusted her, and rightly so.

The Saga of Hawkwind

By Carol Clerk,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Saga of Hawkwind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hawkwind emerged in 1969 from Ladbroke Grove, the heartland of London's counterculture, to become a 'people's band' supported by bikers and hippies alike as they staged free gigs, benefits and protests and welcomed the involvement of any number of creative people - writers, poets, dancers - from within their community. They have had more line-up changes than their only remaining founder member Dave Brock, can remember. Motorhead's Lemmy and legendary Cream drummer Ginger Baker were just two of the musicians sacrificed along the way as the band went head to head with the police, customs, the taxman - and each…


My Rock 'n' Roll Friend

By Tracey Thorn,

Book cover of My Rock 'n' Roll Friend

Why this book?

Musician and author Thorn places Go-Betweens drummer Lindy Morrison in the spotlight in this warm, often fiery book which, as a sometime drummer, I loved and related to very keenly. It is a love letter, as so many biographies are, albeit as much to a friendship as it is to an artist. But it is also a reflection on how women interact, how women navigate the music industry, how creative, clever women (like female biographers!) are often dismissed, trivialised, undermined, even silenced. Women will get great strength from My Rock ‘n’ Roll Friend, and as for men, well, the world would probably be a better place if more chaps connected with this book.

My Rock 'n' Roll Friend

By Tracey Thorn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Rock 'n' Roll Friend as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Entertaining, affectionate and righteous' Guardian
'Says so much about being a woman' Cosey Fanni Tutti

A TIMES BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR

In 1983, backstage at the Lyceum in London, Tracey Thorn and Lindy Morrison first met. Tracey's music career was just beginning, while Lindy, drummer for The Go-Betweens, was ten years her senior. They became confidantes, comrades and best friends, a relationship cemented by gossip and feminism, books and gigs and rock 'n' roll love affairs.

Morrison - a headstrong heroine blazing her way through a male-dominated industry - came to be a kind of mentor to Thorn. They…


Sweating Tears with Fat White Family

By Adelle Stripe, Lisa Cradduck,

Book cover of Sweating Tears with Fat White Family

Why this book?

I love to see different takes on music biography: shifts away from conventional formats are a happy place for me. Stripe, inspired by the 90s series Star Test (which I was obsessed with too) takes on the notorious Fat White Family, presenting them in all of their demonic rock ‘n’ roll depravity through exclusive interview material. Cradduck’s folklorically inspired illustrations in the Rough Trade edition complement the text with grotesque perfection.

Sweating Tears with Fat White Family

By Adelle Stripe, Lisa Cradduck,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sweating Tears with Fat White Family as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A revealing examination of the dysfunctional songwriting partnership at the heart of one of Britain’s most unpredictable and controversial contemporary rock ’n’ roll bands, Sweating Tears with Fat White Family  features candid interviews by author Adelle Stripe with Fat White Family singer Lias Saoudi and guitarist Saul Adamczewski. From childhood traumas to adult squalor and critical success, it is a tale of bitterness, humour, excess, cruelty, and the vile affections that bind this exceptional pairing on their continued Orphean descent into the underworld.
This exclusive edition features demonic engravings by printmaker Lisa Cradduck, inspired by Berber folklore and the grotesque…


Dusty: The Classic Biography

By Lucy O’Brien,

Book cover of Dusty: The Classic Biography

Why this book?

This enduring LGBTQ icon might have been famously enigmatic, but O’Brien presents the story of the cool queen of blue-eyed soul with depth, precision, and humanity, qualities present in all of O’Brien’s books. Dusty’s tale is multi-faceted, often troubled, and tremendously relatable, but her profound strength comes through in this meticulously researched book, which also features an array of interviews with contemporaries and colleagues such as Tom Jones, Lulu, and Jerry Wexler. 

Dusty: The Classic Biography

By Lucy O’Brien,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dusty as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

FULLY REVISED AND UPDATED, THE STORY OF DUSTY SPRINGFIELD TWENTY YEARS ON.

'Provocative and deadly accurate' - Time Out

Dusty Springfield was one of our greatest pop singers. From 60s hits like 'I Only Want To Be With You', 'Son of a Preacher Man' and 'You Don't Have To Say You Love Me' to her 80s collaboration with the Pet Shop Boys and beyond, she was a musical pioneer and the very essence of authentic white soul. A member of the US Rock and Roll and UK Music Halls of Fame, international polls have named Dusty among the best female…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in rock music, singers, and female friendship?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about rock music, singers, and female friendship.

Rock Music Explore 152 books about rock music
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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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