The best music books to build a record collection

Daniel de Visé Author Of King of the Blues: The Rise and Reign of B.B. King
By Daniel de Visé

Who am I?

Music has obsessed me since I got my first record player, around age five, and learned how to play the stack of used Beatles records that seeded my collection. I could probably pick a favorite music book from every decade of my life, and this list isn’t far off.


I wrote...

King of the Blues: The Rise and Reign of B.B. King

By Daniel de Visé,

Book cover of King of the Blues: The Rise and Reign of B.B. King

What is my book about?

King of the Blues is the definitive, cradle-to-grave biography of B.B. King, the Mississippi giant who rose from sharecropping poverty to global fame as the only superstar of the blues. The book chronicles how King developed a unique, lyrical style of solo guitar that became the defining sound of pop music until the end of the century: without B.B. King, there would be no Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, or Susan Tedeschi. Assembled from interviews with almost every survivor of Mr. King's inner circle, King of the Blues was longlisted for the PEN America award in biography.

The books I picked & why

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The Beatles: An Illustrated Record

By Roy Carr, Tony Tyler,

Book cover of The Beatles: An Illustrated Record

Why this book?

This floppy paperback matched the dimensions of an actual record, a geometry that made you feel you were flipping through your Beatles albums as you read it. It came to me as a birthday or Christmas present, probably around age eight. I read it cover to cover, over and over, memorizing entire passages like biblical verses. It was pretty much my only book until I discovered Mad magazine, around age ten. You could do a lot worse.


The Rolling Stone Record Guide

By Dave Marsh,

Book cover of The Rolling Stone Record Guide

Why this book?

I stumbled across the first great Rolling Stone record guide around the time I first encountered used record stores: Second Hand Tunes, Dr. Wax and the legendary Wax Trax, all within walking distance of my Chicago high school. I never had sufficient funds to actually purchase the guide, so I snuck it from the shelf at Kroch’s and Brentano’s downtown and memorized as much data as my brain would hold: The best B.B. King albums are the ones on the Crown and Kent labels. Grab any early Kinks LPs you can find. I still quote from Dave Marsh & co. whenever I write about music.


Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung: The Work of a Legendary Critic: Rock'n'roll as Literature and Literature as Rock 'n'roll

By Lester Bangs,

Book cover of Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung: The Work of a Legendary Critic: Rock'n'roll as Literature and Literature as Rock 'n'roll

Why this book?

Lester Bangs ranks as one of the great music writers and as a high priest of gonzo, the new-journalism approach that posited the writer as the dominant character in rambling, straight-from-the-typewriter pop-cultural manifestos published in Rolling Stone and Creem and their ilk. I think Lester rivals Hunter Thompson and Joan Didion as the most potent and enduring voice of that era. He’s one of my favorite writers. I don’t think he wrote anything but record reviews.


Life

By Keith Richards, James Fox,

Book cover of Life

Why this book?

The Keith Richards memoir, as told to British journo James Fox, not only captures his voice perfectly, I think it’s the closest thing to literature I’ve ever found on the music shelves. I love the way he hands the mic to other characters from his life, adding a dash of biographical remove to enrich his own story. As an artifact of performing-arts memoir, I think it’s as important as any Stones album.


Born to Run

By Bruce Springsteen,

Book cover of Born to Run

Why this book?

As far as I can tell, Springsteen wrote this himself. And, god, is he talented. I already knew him as the architect of arguably the greatest run of rock ‘n roll albums of the 1970s, an output matched only by Stevie Wonder and Joni Mitchell in the broader pop pantheon. Now I know he was an amazing guitarist to boot, and a wonderful writer. This book tells a great American story. Springsteen is that rare memoirist who manages to explain what makes himself tick.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in rock music, The Rolling Stones, and sound?

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