The best books about rock music and rock bands

Who am I?

Over the years, as a Professor of English at St. John's University, NY, I have shifted my research from American literature to popular culture, specifically rock music, a passion first ignited when I watched the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, and re-ignited time and time again over the years. I have written articles, reviews, interviews, and a few books and I edit Popular Music and Society and Rock Music Studies.

I wrote...

Ray Davies: Not Like Everybody Else

By Thomas Kitts,

Book cover of Ray Davies: Not Like Everybody Else

What is my book about?

My book on Ray Davies focuses on his life, his times, and, most significantly, his music. Not Like Everybody Else charts the evolution of one of the great artists of the rock era. I begin by considering how Davies’s working-class background shaped his character and infused his work. The book then studies Davies’s artistic growth from his early singles with the Kinks, through seminal Kinks albums like Village Green Preservation Society and Arthur, the daring rock operas and concept albums, his films, his innovative autobiography, his one-man show, and more.

Drawing on interviews, reviews, other writings, and a close study of Davies’s rich and complex work, Not Like Everybody Else creates a thorough picture of Davies the man and his artistic output.

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The books I picked & why

Long and Winding Roads

By Kenneth Womack,

Book cover of Long and Winding Roads

Why did I love this book?

If you read just one book on The Beatles, read Womack’s Long and Winding Roads. It is a lively account of the development of John, Paul, Ringo, and George as individuals, as musicians, and as artists. At every turn, Womack gives insight into The Beatles’ work from their earliest to their final recordings. It is an outstanding study that celebrates and illuminates the glory of the Beatles and, yes, their sometimes very human failings.

By Kenneth Womack,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In "Long and Winding Roads", Kenneth Womack brings the band's story vividly to life - from their salad days as a Liverpool Skiffle group and their apprenticeship in the nightclubs and mean streets of Hamburg through their early triumphs at the legendary Cavern Club and the massive onslaught of Beatlemania itself. By mapping the group's development as an artistic fusion, Womack traces the Beatles' creative arc from their first, primitive recordings through "Abbey Road" and the twilight of their career. In order to communicate the nature and power of the band's remarkable achievement, Womack examines the Beatles' body of work…

Book cover of Across the Great Divide: The Band and America

Why did I love this book?

Hoskyns’s biography of The Band takes us on journey. We travel with these five distinct individuals as they form a brotherhood as they back Ronnie Hawkins for tour after tour for some seven years before becoming Bob Dylan’s backup band for a couple of more years. The first two albums, Music from Big Pink and The Band (The Brown Album) are now regarded as classics signaling the advent of a new genre, Americana. However, The Band’s story is ultimately sad as their tight brotherhood unravels in a swirl of drugs, alcohol, exhaustion, jealousies, and accusations. Yet despite all the tumult, Hoskyns celebrates the music.

By Barney Hoskyns,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Across the Great Divide as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a vivid and rollicking account of The Band's journey across three decades. Spanning the history of American rock and boasting a supporting cast that includes Dylan, Janis Joplin, and U2, the book brilliantly captures the raw magic and complex personalities of a group George Harrison called “the best band in the history of the universe.”, This revised U.S. edition includes a postscript, together with an obituary of Rick Danko and a brand-new interview with Robbie Robertson.

Book cover of Sweat: The Story of the Fleshtones, America’s Garage Band

Why did I love this book?

Not many books are written about bands that labor in the trenches for over thirty years with little success. The Fleshtones formed in New York City in the mid 1970s, one of many new wave/punk bands seeking to fulfill their rock-‘n’-roll dream. Today, they are still looking to achieve that dream. Since 1982, they have released over 20 albums, none achieving commercial success. With just the right combination of humor and seriousness (like The Fleshtones themselves), Sweat documents the band’s bad luck, bad management, bad record contracts, bad decisions, and self-destructive behaviors. Always on the brink of breaking through, “The Fleshtones,” as lead-signer Peter Zaremba put it, “have stared in the face of success and laughed.”

By Joe Bonomo,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

It's June 2001. Keith Streng steers a cramped mini-van north along Lincoln Avenue in Chicago while Peter Zaremba, Bill Milhizer and Ken Fox sprawl in the back nursing hangovers and road weariness. They pull into the Apache, quaintly described as a "hooker hotel" by local folk, and drag their gear and merchandise into a decrepit room. Blood is splattered on the ceiling, roaches scurry on the walls and grainy porn blares on the television. Next door, two obese half-naked guys sit on a bed with an enormous bottle of cheap bourbon between them, staring idly at the TV.The Fleshtones are…

Book cover of Swim Through the Darkness: My Search for Craig Smith and the Mystery of Maitreya Kali

Why did I love this book?

Mike Stax, editor of the magazine Ugly Things, delivers a gripping and disturbing account of Craig Smith (aka Maitreya Kali), another pop music casualty. Smith, a gifted singer, and songwriter was a backup singer on The Andy Williams Show in the mid-1960s; wrote songs for Williams, Glen Campbell, The Monkees, and others; and self-released two solo albums in the early 1970s. Stax’s narrative focuses on what went wrong in Smith’s life. Most tellingly, he takes us along Smith’s shattering adventure in the late 1960s along the Hippie Trail from Afghanistan to India.

Stax interviews dozens of Smith’s friends, work partners, travel companions, and love interests to investigate the troubled life of Smith, who suffered from mental illness and the devastating effects of LSD and who spent his last 35 years homeless, wandering the streets of Los Angeles.

By Mike Stax,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Swim Through the Darkness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A successful young songwriter in 1960s becomes derailed by LSD and resulting madness.
Craig Smith was a 1960s golden boy – good looking, charismatic, outgoing; a preternaturally gifted musician and songwriter whose songs were recorded by some of the biggest names in entertainment – Andy Williams, Glen Campbell, the Monkees. His future success seemed assured, until an unexpected turn of events plunged him into a terrifying darkness. Clean-cut Craig Smith became Maitreya Kali, the self-proclaimed psychedelic Messiah. He laid out his poignant, disturbing schizophrenic vision on a sprawling self-released double-album before disappearing completely. Author Mike Stax spent fifteen years piecing…

Book cover of Gender, Branding, and the Modern Music Industry: The Social Construction of Female Popular Music Stars

Why did I love this book?

With Gender, Branding, and the Modern Music Industry, Kristin Lieb provides an enlightening but often troubling account of the contemporary pop music industry. By focusing on women artists in the post-MTV era, Lieb demonstrates that female pop singers are judged more than ever on their sex appeal—despite the advances of the women’s movement over the past several decades. Lieb draws from both theorists and music industry insiders, giving her conclusions weight and credibility. Yet despite its frequently disturbing findings, the book is not overly cynical. Lieb, an energetic writer, has managed to maintain her enthusiasm for pop music.

By Kristin J. Lieb,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Gender, Branding, and the Modern Music Industry as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Gender, Branding, and The Modern Music Industry combines interview data with music industry professionals with theoretical frameworks from sociology, mass communication, and marketing to explain and explore the gender differences female artists experience.

This book provides a rare lens on the rigid packaging process that transforms female artists of various genres into female pop stars. Stars -- and the industry power brokers who make their fortunes -- have learned to prioritize sexual attractiveness over talent as they fight a crowded field for movie deals, magazine covers, and fashion lines, let alone record deals. This focus on the female pop star's…

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Interested in rock music, The Beatles, and popular music?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about rock music, The Beatles, and popular music.

Rock Music Explore 205 books about rock music
The Beatles Explore 43 books about The Beatles
Popular Music Explore 43 books about popular music