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.

The books I picked & why

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Long and Winding Roads

By Kenneth Womack,

Book cover of 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.

Across the Great Divide: The Band and America

By Barney Hoskyns,

Book cover of 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.

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

By Joe Bonomo,

Book cover of 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.”

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

By Mike Stax,

Book cover of 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.

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

By Kristin J. Lieb,

Book cover of 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.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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

5,888 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 129 books about rock music
The Beatles Explore 20 books about The Beatles
Popular Music Explore 25 books about popular music

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Girls Like Us, Hit So Hard, and Tune In if you like this list.