The best books about rock music

The Books I Picked & Why

Long and Winding Roads

By Kenneth Womack

Long and Winding Roads

Why 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.


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Across the Great Divide: The Band and America

By Barney Hoskyns

Across the Great Divide: The Band and America

Why 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.


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

By Joe Bonomo

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

Why 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.”


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

By Mike Stax

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

Why 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.


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

By Kristin J. Lieb

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

Why 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.


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